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Cecil Spring Rice

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Cecil Spring Rice

The Right Honourable
Sir Cecil Spring Rice
British Ambassador to the United States
In office
Preceded by James Bryce
Succeeded by The Earl of Reading
British Ambassador to Sweden
In office
Preceded by Sir Rennell Rodd
Succeeded by Esme Howard
British Ambassador to Iran
In office
Preceded by Sir Arthur Hardinge
Succeeded by Sir George Barclay
Personal details
Born 27 February 1859
London, United Kingdom
Died 14 February 1918(1918-02-14) (aged 58)
Ottawa, Canada
Nationality British
Spouse(s) Florence Caroline Lascelles
Relations Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon, grandfather
Children Mary and Anthony Spring Rice
Alma mater Balliol College, Oxford
Occupation Diplomat
Religion Church of England

Sir Cecil Arthur Spring Rice GCMG GCVO PC (27 February 1859 – 14 February 1918) was a British diplomat who served as British Ambassador to the United States from 1912 to 1918. He is best known as the writer of the lyrics of the patriotic hymn, "I Vow to Thee, My Country". He was also a close friend of US President Theodore Roosevelt, and served as best man at his second wedding.


  • Early life and family 1
    • Marriage and issue 1.1
  • Career 2
  • Writings 3
  • Honours and legacy 4
    • Commemorations 4.1
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life and family

Spring Rice was born into an aristocratic and well-connected family. He was the son of the diplomat, Hon. Charles William Thomas Spring Rice, second son of the prominent Whig politician and former cabinet minister Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon. Spring Rice's maternal grandfather was the politician, William Marshall, and he was a cousin of Frederick Spring. He was the great-grandson of Edmund Pery, 1st Earl of Limerick and John Marshall. Spring Rice's father died when he was eleven, and he was brought up at his mother's family's house at Watermillock on the shore of Ullswater. He was often ill as a child and later suffered from Graves' disease.[1]

He was educated at John Strachey and Edward Grey. After completing university, Spring Rice travelled in Europe, where he improved his French, at the time the language of diplomacy. Uncertain about which career to pursue, he took an examination for the Foreign Office and was accepted. Although brought up as an Englishman, Spring Rice maintained a close affinity with Ireland, and he later wrote a poem about his dual Rice (Irish) and Spring (English) roots.[1]

Spring Rice had four sisters and four brothers, two of whom predeceased him. Stephen Spring Rice died in 1902 and Gerald Spring Rice was killed whilst serving as an officer on the Western Front in 1916.

Marriage and issue

In 1904, Spring Rice married Florence Caroline Lascelles, the daughter of Sir Frank Cavendish Lascelles and a cousin of the Duke of Devonshire.[2] He had two children with Florence:

  • Mary Elizabeth Spring Rice (1906–1994), married Sir Oswald Raynor Arthur in 1935.
  • Anthony Theodore Brandon Spring Rice (1908–1954), died unmarried.


Sir Cecil Spring Rice in court dress.

Spring Rice began his career as a clerk in the Foreign Office in 1882. In 1886, he was appointed Assistant Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary, the Liberal politician Lord Rosebery.[3] Spring Rice was known to be a supporter of the Liberal Party and was sympathetic to the Irish Home Rule movement, so he was relieved of his post when the Conservatives came to power later that year. Spring Rice subsequently made the unusual move to the diplomatic service, where he remained for the rest of his life, starting with his first posting to Washington in 1887. During the 1890s, he was posted to the Far East. Spring Rice was instrumental in laying the foundations of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, which he saw as vital if Russian expansion in the region was to be challenged. Spring Rice went on to become the British Chargé d'Affaires in Tehran (1900), Commissioner of Public Debt in Cairo (1901) and Chargé d'Affaires in St. Petersburg (1903). In November 1901 he had been promoted to the rank of Secretary of Embassy.[4] He later served in Persia (1906) and Sweden (1908) before his appointment as ambassador to the United States in 1912. Within two years of Spring Rice's posting to Washington, the First World War had broken out in Europe and his principal concern became working towards ending American neutrality. This was achieved with the USA's entry into the conflict in 1917. In 1916 he constantly sought a reprieve for Roger Casement, citing the danger of protests from Irish America, yet also advised political and religious leaders of Casement's "perversion" and the existence of the Black Diaries. In February 1918 he was abruptly recalled to London in a one-line telegram, and died in Ottawa shortly thereafter, where he is buried in Beechwood Cemetery.

In The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris described Spring Rice as "a born diplomat [who] invariably picked out and cultivated the most important person in any place".[5] He was well respected in London's diplomatic circles. Further, "he was one of [President] Theodore Roosevelt's most ardent and loyal admirers"[6] and acted as Roosevelt's best man in Roosevelt's wedding to Edith Carow. Roosevelt became the godfather of Spring Rice's son in 1908. Spring Rice memorably remarked about Roosevelt: "You must always remember that the president is about six".[7] The two men continued to write to each other until Spring Rice's death and their close relationship undoubtedly added to the Ambassador's diplomatic clout in the USA.

However, Spring Rice's success in turning these earlier close links to the US administration to a relationship of use to his government is debatable. By the end of his appointment, Spring Rice had earned the enmity of his government after becoming paranoid – seeing German spies everywhere – and also because of his immense dislike of any British visitors to Washington that were not under the control of his embassy. Furthermore, Spring Rice's personal connections to many notable Republican politicians was well known, meaning that some members of the Democratic administration of Woodrow Wilson were dubious about trusting him. Spring Rice found William Jennings Bryan, the Secretary of State, hard to take seriously and he disliked having to deal with Colonel House, Wilson's confidential adviser who held no official post in the US government. Even so, after his death the British government publicly recognised Spring Rice's extraordinary contribution to the war effort. His untiring attempts to get the United States to join the Allies were evident, as well as his success in frustrating the work of the German ambassador, Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff.[8] In a speech in the House of Commons in 1919, Lord Robert Cecil said:[9]

"No ambassador has ever had to discharge duties of greater delicacy or of more far reaching importance than fell to his lot. Nor has any ambassador ever fulfilled his task with more unwearied vigilance, conspicuous ability and ultimate success."


Spring Rice was a poet throughout his adult life.[1] In 1918, he rewrote the words of his most notable poem, Urbs Dei (The City of God) or The Two Fatherlands, to become the text for the hymn I Vow to Thee My Country. The hymn was first performed in 1925, after Spring Rice's death and has since become a widely recognised British anthem. He was a close friend of Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol, a British journalist and later diplomat, and Ronald Munro Ferguson, 1st Viscount Novar, with whom he corresponded for many years.[10] A fluent speaker of Persian, Spring Rice was responsible for translating numerous Persian poems into English. Spring Rice's letters and poems were collected together by his daughter, Lady Arthur, and many are now held by The National Archives. Further papers, relating to his diplomatic postings, and diaries of his travels in Japan, are held by the Churchill Archives Centre.[11]

Honours and legacy

Spring Rice was invested as a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order in 1908.[12] In 1906 he was made a Grand Cordon of Order of the Medjidie.[13] He was made a member of the Privy Council in 1913.[13] Spring Rice was going to be offered a peerage upon his return to the United Kingdom, but died before the honour could be proposed.

In his will he left money to Balliol College to found the Cecil Spring Rice Memorial Fund which funds the learning of languages by students who intend to join the diplomatic service. Before his death, Spring Rice gave substantial funds for repairs to be carried out on St Peter and St Paul's Church, Lavenham, the ancestral church of the Spring family.[14] Memorials to Spring Rice exist on Ullswater and in Ottawa.[2]


The memorial in Ottawa at his graveside was unveiled by Cecil Spring Rice's granddaughter, Caroline Kenny, in July 2013 having been organised by the British Consul, Ashley Prime, with support from the Freeman of the City of London (North America). Mount Spring Rice in British Columbia was named after Spring Rice in 1918 by surveyor Arthur Wheeler.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Burton, David Henry (1990). Cecil Spring Rice: A Diplomat's Life. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press.  
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ S. Gwynn, 'The Letters and Friendships of Sir Cecil Spring Rice' (Constable & Co Lt, London, 1929), 36-38.
  4. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27387. p. 8834. 13 December 1901.
  5. ^ Morris, Edmund (2001). The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Kindle Edition). 7271 of 20280 (Page 357): Modern Library.  
  6. ^ Morris, Edmund (2001). The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Kindle Edition). 7265 of 20280 (Page 356): Modern Library.  
  7. ^ Morris, Edmund (2001). The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Kindle Edition). 366 of 20280: Modern Library.  
  8. ^ S. Gwynn, 'The Letters and Friendships of Sir Cecil Spring Rice' (Constable & Co Lt, London, 1929), 352.
  9. ^ S. Gwynn, 'The Letters and Friendships of Sir Cecil Spring Rice' (Constable & Co Lt, London, 1929), 436.
  10. ^ The Spectator: 'Sir Cecil Spring Rice'
  11. ^ Churchill Archives Centre, The Papers of Sir Cecil Spring Rice, CASR:
  12. ^ The London Gazette, 24 November 1908
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^ Philip J. Turner, 'Romance of a Wool Merchant' (Homecraft Publications Limited, Canada, 1936)

External links

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
James Bryce
British Ambassador to the United States
Succeeded by
The Earl of Reading
Preceded by
Sir Rennell Rodd
British Ambassador to Sweden
Succeeded by
Esme Howard
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Hardinge
British Ambassador to Persia
Succeeded by
Sir George Barclay
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