Born in Perth, Scotland, he was educated at Glasgow University and Brasenose College, Oxford, winning the Newdigate prize for poetry while a student at the latter. Buchan at first entered into a career in law in 1901, but almost immediately moved into politics, becoming private secretary to Alfred Milner, who was high commissioner of South Africa - hence Buchan gained an acquaintance with the country that was to feature prominently in his writing. Buchan married Susan Charlotte Grosvenor, cousin of the Duke of Westminster, on July 15, 1907. Together they had four children, two of whom would spend most of their lives in Canada.
During World War I, he was a correspondent for the London Times in France before becoming Director of Information under Lord Beaverbrook in 1917. After the war he began to write on historical subjects, and became president of the Scottish Historical Society. He was twice High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and in 1927 was elected a Member of Parliament. In 1935 he became Governor General of Canada and was made a lord.
His career as a novelist was by then a thriving one, and he had produced his best-known works, including Prester John (1910), The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), and Greenmantle (1916). He moved on to write biographies of Sir Walter Scott, Augustus Caesar, Oliver Cromwell and Montrose. His autobiography, Memory Hold-the-Door, was also written while he was Governor General. The Thirty-Nine Steps later became famous when Alfred Hitchcock made it into a movie. Lady Tweedsmuir wrote many books and plays under the name of Susan Buchan.
While he pursued his own writing career, he also promoted the development of a distinctly Canadian culture. In 1936, encouraged by Lady Tweedsmuir, he founded the Governor General's Awards for many years Canada's premier literary awards.
Lady Tweedsmuir was active in promoting literacy in Canada. She used Rideau Hall as a distribution centre for 40,000 books, which were sent out to readers in remote areas of the west. Her program was known as the "Lady Tweedsmuir Prairie Library Scheme". Together, Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir established the first proper library at Rideau Hall.
Lord Tweedsmuir took his responsibilities in Canada seriously and tried to make the office of Governor General relevant to the lives of ordinary Canadians. In his own words, "a Governor General is in a unique position for it is his duty to know the whole of Canada and all the various types of her people".
Lord Tweedsmuir travelled throughout Canada, including the Arctic Circle. He took every opportunity to speak to Canadians and to encourage them to develop their own distinct identity. He wanted to build national unity by diminishing the religious and linguistic barriers that divided the country. Lord Tweedsmuir was aware of the suffering experienced by many Canadians due to the Depression and often wrote with compassion about their difficulties.
Lord Tweedsmuir was recognized by Glasgow, St. Andrews, McGill, Toronto and Montreal Universities, all of which conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, and he was made an Honorary Fellow and an Honorary D.C.L. of Oxford.
When His Majesty King George V died in 1936, the front of Rideau Hall was covered in black crepe and Lord Tweedsmuir cancelled all entertaining during the period of mourning. The new heir to the throne, King Edward VIII, soon abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson – creating a crisis for the monarchy. However, when the new King, His Majesty George VI and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth travelled throughout Canada in 1939, the regal visit – the first visit to Canada by a reigning Sovereign – was extremely popular.
Like many people of his time, the experience of the First World War convinced Lord Tweedsmuir of the horrors of armed conflict and he worked with both United States President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Mackenzie King in trying to avert the ever-growing threat of another world war.
While shaving on February 6, 1940, Lord Tweedsmuir had a stroke and injured his head badly in the fall. He received the best possible care – Canada's famous Dr. Wilder Penfield operated twice – but the injury proved fatal. On February 11, just 10 months before his term of office was to expire, Lord Tweedsmuir died. Prime Minister Mackenzie King reflected the loss that all Canadians felt when he read the following words over the radio, "In the passing of His Excellency, the people of Canada have lost one of the greatest and most revered of their Governors General, and a friend who, from the day of his arrival in this country, dedicated his life to their service."
This was the first time a Governor General had died during his term of office since Confederation. After the lying-in-state in the Senate Chamber, a State funeral for Lord Tweedsmuir was held at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Ottawa. His ashes were returned to England on the warship H.M.S. Orion for final burial at Elsfield.
In recent years, Buchan's reputation has been tarnished by the lack of political correctness perceived, with hindsight, in his novels. However, in many other ways, his work stands the test of time, and he is currently undergoing a resurgence in popularity.
Earl of Bessborough
|Governor General of Canada||Followed by:|
Earl of Athlone
|Baron Tweedsmuir||Followed by:|