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Aubrey Nigel Henry Molyneux Herbert (1880 – 26 September 1923) was a British diplomat, traveller and intelligence officer associated with Albanian independence. Twice he was offered the throne of Albania. From 1911 until his death he was a Conservative Member of Parliament.


Aubrey Herbert was the second son of Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon, a wealthy landowner, British cabinet minister and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and his second wife, Elizabeth Howard of Greystoke Castle, Cumberland, sister of Esme Howard, 1st Baron Howard of Penrith. He was a half-brother to George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, the famous Egyptologist who co-discovered King Tutankhamen's tomb along with Howard Carter. He was afflicted with eye problems which left him nearly blind from early childhood, losing all his sight towards the end of his life.

Herbert was educated at Eton College and Balliol College, Oxford University, where he obtained a first class degree in modern history. He was famous for climbing the roofs of the university buildings, despite his near blindness. He numbered among his friends Adrian Carton De Wiart, Raymond Asquith, John Buchan and Hilaire Belloc. Reginald Farrer remained close throughout his life.

His friendship with Middle Eastern traveller and advisor Sir Mark Sykes dates from his entry into parliament in 1911 when, with George Lloyd, they were the three youngest Conservative MPs. They shared an interest in foreign policy and worked closely together in the Arab Bureau (1916). Herbert was also a close friend of T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia); their letters do not feature in the standard Lawrence collections,[1] but are quoted by Margaret Fitzherbert in the biography of her grandfather, The Man Who Was Greenmantle.

Languages and travelsEdit

Herbert was in his own right a considerable Orientalist, and a linguist who spoke French, Italian, German, Turkish, Arabic, Greek and Albanian as well as English. A renowned traveller, especially in the Middle East, his trips include voyages through Japan, Yemen, Anatolia and Albania. During the period 1902-04 he was an honorary attache in Tokyo, then in Constantinople during 1904-05. He was much more interested in the Middle East than in the Far East.

Herbert often dressed as a tramp on his travels.


He became a passionate advocate of Albanian independence, having visited the country in 1907, 1911 and 1913. During a stay in Tirana (1913) he befriended Essad Pasha. When the Albanian delegates to the 1912–13 London Balkan Peace Conference arrived, they secured the assistance of Herbert as an advisor. He was very active in their cause and is regarded as having a considerable influence on Albania's obtaining independence in the resulting Treaty of London (1913). One of his constant correspondents on Albania was Edith Durham.

He was twice offered the throne of Albania. On the first occasion, just before World War I, he was interested, but was dissuaded by the then prime minister, Herbert Asquith, a family friend. The offer remained unofficial and was rejected by the Foreign Office. The Albanian crown went to William of Wied.

The second occasion the crown was offered was after the defeat of the Italian Army by the Albanians in September 1920. Again the offer was unofficial, though it was made on behalf of the Albanian government. Herbert discussed the offer with Philip Kerr and Maurice Hankey, pursuing the idea of perhaps acting under the banner of the League of Nations; Eric Drummond, a friend of Herbert, had become its first Secretary General, and lobbying by Herbert led to the acceptance of Albania as a member in the League of Nations in December 1920.[2] With a change of Foreign Minister in the Albanian government Herbert's chance of a crown greatly diminished. The crown was then (April 1921), still more unofficially, offered to the Duke of Atholl by Jim Barnes of the British Friends of Albania residing in Italy.[3]

The National Library of Albania in Tirana was once named after Herbert, as was a village in the country.


He was a very independent Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for the Southern division of Somerset from 1911 to 1918, and for Yeovil from 1918 to his death. Always an advocate of the rights of smaller nations, Herbert opposed the British Government's Irish policy. Herbert was, however, always seen as something of a lightweight in the House of Commons.

World War OneEdit


Despite very poor eyesight, Herbert was able, at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, to join the Irish Guards, in which he served in a supernumerary position. He did this by purchasing a uniform and boarding a troopship bound for France. During the Battle of Mons he was wounded, taken prisoner, and escaped. After a convalescence in England and unable to rejoin due to his ocular disability, Aubrey was proposed for service in military intelligence in Egypt by Kitchener's military secretary Oswald FitzGerald via Mark Sykes (see Baghdad Railway). Herbert was attached to the Intelligence Bureau in Caïro under Colonel Clayton in January 1915. In mid-February he was sent on an intelligence gathering mission in the Eastern Mediterranean aboard the cruiser Bacchante. When the Gallipoli Campaign started, General Alexander Godley, formerly of the Irish Guards and second in command to General Birdwood of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, now commanding the New Zealanders, offered him an appointment as liaison officer and interpreter on the General's staff. His pre-war contacts (a.o. Rıza Tevfik Bölükbaşı) and ability to speak Turkish were to prove useful. He became famous for arranging a truce[4] of eight hours, on Whit Monday, 24 May, with the Turkish commander Mustafa Kemal, for the purpose of burying the dead. (This episode appears, with him as "the Honourable Herbert", in Louis de Bernières's novel Birds Without Wings.[5]) In Eastern Mediterranean Intelligence he worked together with Compton Mackenzie.[6]

In October 1915, on sick leave in England, Herbert carried with him a memorandum[7] from the Arab Bureau from Colonel Clayton to the Foreign Office explaining the situation in the Middle East. In November, the memorandum, at first favourably received, became obsolete after the visit of François Georges-Picot and his subsequent negotiations with Mark Sykes. It would appear that the Arab Bureau, however, continued working along the lines of the memorandum[8] which led to contrary promises resulting in accusations of bad faith.[9]

In November 1915 Herbert was in Paris and Rome on a secret mission related to Albania. Following the plan to evacuate Anzac Cove beginning the following month, he volunteered to return to Anzac to stay with the rear guard, convinced that his knowledge of language and his network of acquaintances would greatly benefit that body if captured. The successful evacuation of Anzac and Suvla Bay on 20 December and the good prospects for Cape Helles countered his proposal.


Impatient with the indecision of the Foreign Office over Albania, at the start of 1916 Herbert went prospecting for new opportunities. Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss proposed a job for him as Captain in Intelligence. When in February the War Office cleared him from involvement in Albania, he took up the offer and found himself in charge of Naval intelligence in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and the Gulf.

Following the critical situation of British troops at Kut-al-Amara, the War Office was instructed to offer Herbert's services to General Townshend to negotiate terms with the Turks. T. E. Lawrence was sent on behalf of the Arab Bureau while Colonel Beach acted for Intelligence of the Indian Expeditionary Force. Together they were to oversee the exchange of prisoners and wounded, and eventually to offer the commander Khalil Pasha up to ₤2 million for the relief of Kut. The offer was rejected by Enver Pasha, and the evacuation of the wounded severely hampered through lack of transport.

The situation at Kut led Aubrey to send a telegram to Austen Chamberlain, Secretary of State for India, with the support of General Lake but still in breach of army regulations, condemning incompetence in the handling of the Mesopotamian campaign. The Government of India ordered a court martial but the War Office refused. Admiral Wemyss, who travelled to Simla for the purpose, supported him throughout.[9]

Back in England in July 1916, Aubrey Herbert started asking in the House of Commons for a Royal Commission to inquire into the conduct of the Mesopotamian campaign. He opposed the routine evasiveness of the Prime Minister, Asquith (a close friend), by speaking in the House four times on Mesopotamia, and his critics saw in his obstinacy a personal vendetta[10] against Sir Beauchamp Duff, the Commander-in-Chief in India, and Sir William Meyer, the Financial Secretary.,[9] but his persistence paid off, and a Special Commission Mesopotamia was subsequently appointed.

In October 1916 Aubrey Herbert started his post as a liaison officer with the Italian army, whose frontline lay in Albania. It seems that he was unaware of the clause partitioning Albania signed with Italy in the secret Treaty of London on 26 April 1915. When the Bolsheviks published its secret provisions in 1917, he rejected the idea of Albania as merely a small Muslim state, the fiefdom he believed of Essad Pasha. In December he was back in England.[11]

In December 1916 also he learned of the death of his cousin Bron, the son of his (pacifist) uncle Auberon Herbert, to whom he had felt closest. From that date Aubrey was to consistently support the idea of negotiated peace.


1917 saw him working, under General MacDonogh, the Director of Military Intelligence, on plans for a separate peace with Turkey. On 16 July he conducted a series of meetings with the Turks in Geneva, Interlaken and Bern, among them a (secret) representative of an influential anti-Enver group.[12] It should be noted that Mustafa Kemal, whom Aubrey knew from Gallipoli, had fallen out with Enver Pasha over the way that - by personal order of the Sultan - his command over the Seventh Army opposite Allenby in Syria had been bestowed on him on 5 July (he had been a Staff Captain with the Fifth Army in Damascus in 1905).[13] Aubrey took his notes to the Inter-Allied Conference in Paris. In a memorandum for the Foreign Office he said "If we get the luggage it does not matter very much if the Turks get the labels. When Lord Kitchener was all-powerful in Egypt his secretary was wearing a fez. Mesopotamia and Palestine are worth a fez."[14]

In November 1917 Aubrey Herbert was again sent to Italy under the orders of General Macdonogh. Now he was in charge of the British Adriatic Mission,[15] with Samuel Hoare coordinating the Mission's special intelligence in Rome.[16] An earlier proposal by "Vatra", The Pan Albanian Federation of America, of raising an Albanian regiment under Aubrey's command had been renewed. The matter was a contentious one for the Italians, as "Vatra" became increasingly anti-Italian. On 17 July 1918 the proposal was formally approved in Boston, and the Italian Consulate accepted, provided it became a unit in the Italian Army. The end of the war prevented the issue from growing more complex.[17]

Herbert ended the war as head of the British mission to the Italian army in Albania with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.


Unclear policy led to nationalist criticism from Imperial bases such as Egypt[18] (see Saad Zaghlul, 1919) at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, nor was the resulting political handling cause for much optimism to privileged witnesses such as Aubrey, T. E. Lawrence or Gertrude Bell.

At the Conference there was a glimpse of further prospect for Aubrey Herbert when the Italian delegates proposed to assume shared responsibility[19] over the Caucasus, an area of vital strategic importance[20] - the Baku oilfields, access from the north to Mosul and Kirkuk. By May 1919, the proposal appeared to be quite empty.

By May 1919 also, the Directorate of Intelligence had changed hands, on the authority of Lord Curzon (acting Foreign Secretary while Arthur Balfour was negotiating in Paris) from Aubrey's chief General MacDonogh to Sir Basil Thomson of Scotland Yard Special Branch i.e. from military to civilian in view of the Bolshevik threat on the home front.[21] Thus it was possible for Aubrey in February 1921 to amaze a friend he could confide to, Lord Robert Cecil, that he was going abroad as an inspector of Scotland Yard: he went to Berlin to interview Talaat Pasha for intelligence.[22]

Family life and premature deathEdit

Aubrey Herbert married Mary, daughter of the 4th Viscount de Vesci, a member of the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. Lord de Vesci and his wife had converted to Roman Catholicism and raised their children accordingly. Herbert's mother-in-law gave the family a fine house in London. Herbert's mother gave him both a country estate at Pixton Park in Somerset with 5,000 acres (20 km²) of land and a substantial villa on the Gulf of Genoa at Portofino.

Aubrey and Mary Herbert had four children, a son named Auberon who died unmarried and three daughters, Gabriel Mary, Bridget, and Laura, the last of whom married the novelist Evelyn Waugh.[23] Waugh featured the Herberts' Italian villa in his war trilogy Sword of Honour, although he moved it to an imaginary location on the Bay of Naples. Herbert was thus the grandfather of the journalist Auberon Waugh (who was named after Herbert's own son) and the great-grandfather of Daisy and Alexander Waugh.

Herbert was a slim man of more than average height and contemporaries described him as having perfect manners. Towards the end of his life, he became totally blind. He was given very bad advice to the effect that having all his teeth extracted would restore his sight. The dental operation resulted in blood poisoning from which he died in London on 26 September 1923. Herbert's estate was probated in 1924 at 49,970 pounds sterling. His son Auberon inherited the Pixton Park and Portofino properties.

Model for literatureEdit

It is widely believed that Herbert is the inspiration for the character Sandy Arbuthnot, a hero in several John Buchan novels. The series starts with The Thirty-Nine Steps, but Arbuthnot's first appearance is in Greenmantle, hence the title of his granddaughter's biography of him, The Man Who Was Greenmantle. Herbert's Italian family villa is the model for that in the Sword of Honour trilogy by his son-in-law Evelyn Waugh.

The cameo character of the 'Honourable Herbert' in Louis de Bernières's novel Birds Without Wings is clearly based on Herbert. He appears as a British liaison officer with the ANZAC troops serving in the Gallipoli campaign. A polyglot officer able to communicate with both sides, he arranges the burial of the dead of both sides, achieving great popularity with both sides - a description that mirrors his role in the 1915 truce.[24]


  1. David Garnett, Malcolm Brown
  2. Margaret FitzHerbert 1985, The man who was Greenmantle chapter 14, 'The dear journey's end'
  3. S. J. Hetherington Katharine Atholl (1874-1960) Against the Tide pg 88-90, Aberdeen University Press 1989 ISBN 0-08-036592-2
  4. Lord Kinross Atatürk - The Rebirth of a Nation K. Rustem & Brother, Nicosia 1984
  5. Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières, pp 366-368
  6. Margaret FitzHerbert The man who was Greenmantle - a biography of Aubrey Herbert Oxford University Press 1985 ISBN 0-19-281856-2 chapter 9, Anzac 1915
  7. A letter on the memorandum from 3 November 1915 from Herbert to Clayton containing:" They (FO) trust Egypt with the running of the Arabian Question..." is extensively quoted (pg 171) in H. V. F. Winstone's Gertrude Bell Jonathan Cape, 1978 ISBN 0-224-01432-3
  8. Compare: Lord Hardinge's letter on the memorandum to Wingate of 28 November 1915 in : Winstone 1978, Gertrude Bell pg 171-172
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Margaret FitzHerbert, 1985 The man who was Greenmantle chapter 10, Kut 1916
  10. A letter from George Lloyd to Wingate of 27 May 1915 reads :"...the Government of India seem to be doubly cursed with a Commander in Chief with too little grip and a Finance Member called Mayer with too much..." in: Winstone 1978, Gertrude Bell pg 177. Aubrey Herbert's interventions in the House of Commons date 12th, 17th, 18th, 20th, 26th Juli ref: FitzHerbert 1985
  11. Margaret FitzHerbert 1985 The man who was Greenmantle , chapter 11 Balkan soldiering and Swiss Peacemaking
  12. FitzHerbert 1985, Chapter 11
  13. Lord Kinross Atatürk - The Rebirth of a Nation Rustem & Brother Nicosia 1984, Chapter Fourteen
  14. Mem. 26 July 1917. F.O. 371/3057 No. 148986 see: Notes Page 193 in: Margaret Fitzherbert, 1985 The man who was Greenmantle
  15. Margaret FitzHerbert 1985, The man who was Greenmantle chapter 12 Rebellious MP
  16. J.A.Cross Sir Samuel Hoare - A Political Biography Jonathan Cape 1977 ISBN 0-224-01350-5
  17. FitzHerbert, 1985 chapter 12
  18. Keith Jeffery The British army and the crisis of empire 1918-22 Manchester University Press - Studies in Military History, 1984 ISBN 0-7190-1717-3
  19. Keith Jeffery, 1984, Chapter 8, Persia and Mesopotamia, pg 136
  20. Peter Hopkirk On Secret Service East of Constantinople Oxford University Press 1995 ISBN 0-19-285303-1
  21. Christopher Andrew Secret Service - The Making of the British Intelligence Community Sceptre, 1986 ISBN 0-340-40430-2 pg 336
  22. Margaret Fitzherbert, 1985 chapter 14, 'The dear yourney's end'
  23. Conqueror 38 at
  24. Birds Without Wings, approx pp 366-68


External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Edward Strachey
Member of Parliament for South Somerset
Succeeded by
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Yeovil
1918–1923 by-election
Succeeded by
George Davies

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