British lawyer, parliamentarian and cabinet minister, one of the architects of the League of Nations. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937 for his work with the League.
Cecil was educated at home until he was 13, and then at Eton and Oxford where he was a renowned debater. He was called to the Bar at the age of 23 in 1887. He married Lady Eleanor Lambton in 1889. He then turned to politics, representing East Marylebone in the House of Commons from 1906 to 1910, then as an independent Conservative in 1911 as member of Parliament for Hitchin in Hertfordshire. He remained in the Commons until 1923.
At the outbreak of World War I Cecil began to work with the Red Cross, but became undersecretary for foreign affairs in the coalition government in 1915, served as minister of blockade 1916–18, and assistant secretary of state for foreign affairs in 1918. Appalled by the destructiveness of war he became convinced that the only way to preserve civilization was to invent an international system to ensure peace. In September 1916 he circulated a memorandum proposing the means for the avoidance of war. This was, according to him, the ‘first document from which sprang British official advocacy of the League of Nations’.
Cecil's public life was then almost entirely devoted to the League until its demise in 1946. He was British representative of the League at the Paris Peace Conference 1920–22 and he made a five week lecture tour to the USA in 1923 to explain the purpose of the League. He held the title Lord Privy Seal (1923–24), and from 1924 until 1927 he was the minister responsible for British activities in the League under the title of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
He resigned from government office in 1927 and worked independently to mobilize support for the League until 1932. He was president of the British League of Nations 1923–45 and joint founder and president of the International Peace Campaign.
His many honours include first Viscount of Chelwood in 1923, companion of honour in 1956, chancellor of Birmingham University 1918–44, rector of Aberdeen University 1924–27, and peace award of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation in 1924. He received honorary degrees from the universities of Edinburgh, Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester, Liverpool, St Andrews, Princeton, Athens, and Columbia. His publications include The Way of Peace (1928), A Great Experiment (1941), and All the Way (1949), an autobiography.
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