Harold Nicolson

Harold Nicolson

Sir Harold George Nicolson KCVO CMG (November 21 1886 – May 1 1968) was an English diplomat, author, diarist and politician. He was the husband of writer Vita Sackville-West, their unusual relationship being described in their son's book, "Portrait of a Marriage".

Early life

Nicolson was born in Tehran, Persia, the younger son of a diplomat, Arthur Nicolson, 1st Baron Carnock. He was educated at Wellington College and Balliol College, Oxford.

Diplomatic career

In 1909 he joined HM Diplomatic Service. He served as attaché at Madrid from February to September 1911, and then Third Secretary at Constantinople from January 1912 to October 1914. During the First World War, he served at the Foreign Office in London, during which time he was promoted Second Secretary. He served in a junior capacity in the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, for which he was appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 1920 New Year Honours. [LondonGazette |issue=31712 |date=30 December 1919 |startpage=5 |supp=yes]

Promoted First Secretary in 1920, he was appointed private secretary to Sir Eric Drummond, first Secretary-General of the League of Nations, but was recalled to the Foreign Office in June 1920.

In 1925, he was promoted Counsellor and posted to Tehran as Chargé d'affaires. However, in Summer 1927 he was recalled to London and demoted to First Secretary for criticising his Minister, Sir Percy Loraine, in a dispatch. He was posted to Berlin as Chargé d'affaires in 1928. He was promoted Counsellor again, but resigned from the Diplomatic Service in September 1929.

Political career

From 1930 to 1931, Nicolson wrote for the "Evening Standard", but found it increasingly tedious.

In 1931, he joined Sir Oswald Mosley and his recently formed New Party. He stood unsuccessfully for Parliament for the Combined English Universities in the general election that year and edited the party newspaper, "Action". He ceased to support Mosley when the latter formed the British Union of Fascists the following year.

Nicolson entered the House of Commons as National Labour Party Member of Parliament for Leicester West in the 1935 election. In the latter half of the 1930s he was among a relatively small number of MPs who alerted the country to the threat of Fascism. More a follower of Anthony Eden in this regard than of Winston Churchill, he nevertheless was a friend (though not an intimate) of Churchill, and often supported his efforts in the Commons to stiffen British resolve and support rearmament.

He became Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Information in Churchill's 1940 war time government of national unity, serving under Cabinet member Duff Cooper for approximately a year; thereafter he was a well-respected backbencher, especially on foreign policy issues given his early and prominent diplomatic career. From 1941 to 1946 he was also on the Board of Governors of the BBC. He lost his seat in the 1945 election. Having joined the Labour Party, he stood in the Croydon North by-election in 1948, but lost once again.

Personal life

In 1913, he married the writer Vita Sackville-West, who encouraged his literary ambitions. He published a biography of French poet Paul Verlaine in 1921, to be followed by studies of other literary figures such as Tennyson, Byron, Swinburne and Sainte-Beuve. In 1933, he wrote an account of the Paris conference entitled "Peacemaking, 1919".

Nicolson and his wife practiced what today would be called an open marriage. They each had a number of same-sex affairs, and once Harold had to follow Vita to France, where she had "eloped" with Violet Trefusis, to try to win her back. However, they remained happy together – in fact, they were famously devoted to each other, writing almost every day when they were separated, for example, because of long diplomatic postings abroad. Eventually, he gave up diplomacy, partly so they could live together in England. They had two sons, Nigel, also a politician and writer, and Benedict, an art historian.

In the 1930s, he and his wife acquired and moved to Sissinghurst Castle, in the rural depths of Kent, the county known as the garden of England. There they created the renowned gardens that are now run by the National Trust.

Later life and legacy

After Nicolson's last attempt to enter Parliament, he continued with an extensive social schedule and his programme of writing, which included books, book reviews, and a weekly column for "The Spectator". He was appointed Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO) in 1953, as a reward for writing the official biography of George V, which had been published in the previous year.

His younger son, the publisher and writer Nigel Nicolson, published works by and about his parents, including "Portrait of a Marriage" (frankly covering his parents' bisexuality), their correspondence, and Nicolson's diary. The latter is one of the pre-eminent British diaries of the 20th century and an invaluable source on British political history from 1930 through the 1950s, particularly in regard to the run-up to World War II and the war itself: Nicolson served in high enough echelons to write of the workings of the circles of power and the day-to-day unfolding of great events from, as it were, a medium distance. (His fellow parliamentarian Robert Bernays aptly characterized Nicolson as being "...a national figure of the second degree.") It is perhaps his diary, of all of his voluminous "oeuvre", for which Harold Nicolson will be most remembered, as the author was variously an acquaintance, associate, friend, or intimate to such figures as Ramsay MacDonald, David Lloyd George, Duff Cooper, Charles de Gaulle, Anthony Eden and Winston Churchill, along with a host of literary and artistic figures.

There is a brown "blue plaque" commemorating him and Vita Sackville-West on their house in Ebury Street, London SW1.


* "Paul Verlaine" (1921)
* "Sweet Waters" (1921) novel
* "Tennyson - Aspects of His Life, Character and Poetry" (1923)
* "Byron: The Last Journey" (1924)
* "Swinburne" (1926)
* "Some People" (1927)
* "The Development of English Biography" (Hogarth Press, 1927) Hogarth Lectures on Literature No. 4
* "Portrait of a Diplomatist" (1930) on Sir Arthur Nicolson
* "Swinburne and Baudelaire" (1930) Zaharoff Lecture
* "People and Things: Wireless Talks" (1931)
* "The Changing World 2 , The New Spirit in Literature" (1932)
* "Peacemaking 1919" (1933)
* "Public Faces" (1933) novel
* "Curzon: The Last Phase, 1919 – 1925: A Study in Post-War Diplomacy" (1934)
* "Dwight Morrow" (1935)
* "Politics in the Train" (1936)
* "Germany and the Rhineland, a Record of Addresses Delivered at Meetings Held at Chatham House" (1936) with Norman Angell and others
* "Helen's Tower" (1937) biography of Lord Dufferin
* "Small Talk" (1937)
* "The Meaning Of Prestige" (1937) Rede Lecture
* "Diplomacy: a Basic Guide to the Conduct of Contemporary Foreign Affairs" (1939)
* "Why Britain is at War" (1939)
* "Marginal Comment" (1939)
* "The Desire to Please: A Story of Hamilton Rowan and the United Irishmen" (1943)
* "England, An Anthology" (1944) editor
* "Friday Mornings 1941-1944" (1944)
* "Another World Than This" (1945) anthology, editor with Vita Sackville-West
* "The Congress of Vienna: A Study in Allied Unity: 1812-1822" (1946)
* "The English Sense of Humor: An Essay" (1946)
* "Tennyson's Two Brothers" (1947) Leslie Stephen Lecture
* "Comments 1944-1948" (1948)
* "The Future of the English-Speaking World" (1949) The ninth W.P. Ker Memorial Lecture
* "Benjamin Constant" (1949)
* "King George V" (1952)
* "The Evolution of Diplomacy" (1954) Chichele Lectures 1953
* "Good Behaviour: Being A Study Of Certain Types Of Civility" (1955)
* "The English Sense of Humour and other Essays" (1956)
* "Journey to Java" (1957)
* "Sainte-Beuve" (1957)
* "The Age of Reason (1700-1789)" (1960)
* "The Old Diplomacy and the New" (1961) David Davies Memorial Institute of International Studies Lecture, March 1961
* "Kings, Courts and Monarchy" (1962)
* "Diaries and Letters" (1968), edited by Nigel Nicolson, published by Collins, London


Further reading

* Nigel Nicolson, "Portrait of a Marriage", (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1973), ISBN 0-297-76645-7.
* Nigel Nicolson (ed.), "The Harold Nicolson Diaries 1907 - 1963", (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004), ISBN 0-297-847643
* James Lees-Milne, "Harold Nicolson, A Biography", (Chatto & Windus), 1980, Vol. I (1886-1929), ISBN 0-7011-2520-9; 1981, Vol. II (1930-1968), ISBN 0-7011-2602-7.
* Nigel Nicolson (ed.), "Vita and Harold. The Letters of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson 1910-1962" (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1992), ISBN 0-297-81182-7.
* David Cannadine: "Portrait of More Than a Marriage: Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West Revisited." From "Aspects of Aristocracy," pp.210-42. (Yale University Press, 1994), ISBN 0-300-05981-7.
* Norman Rose, "Harold Nicolson" (Jonathan Cape, 2005), ISBN 0-224-06218-2.
* Derek Drinkwater, "Sir Harold Nicolson & International Relations", ( Oxford University Press, 2005), ISBN 0-19-927385-5.

External links


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  • Harold Nicolson — Sir Harold George Nicolson (* 21. November 1886 in Teheran, Iran; † 1. Mai 1968 auf Sissinghurst Castle in Kent) war ein britischer Diplomat, Autor und Politiker. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Leben 2 Werke 3 …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Harold Nicolson — noun English diplomat and author (1886 1968) • Syn: ↑Nicolson, ↑Sir Harold George Nicolson • Instance Hypernyms: ↑diplomat, ↑diplomatist, ↑writer, ↑author * * * …   Useful english dictionary

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  • Nicolson — ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Arthur Nicolson (1849–1928), englischer Diplomat, Autor und Politiker Benedict Nicolson (1914–1978), englischer Kunsthistoriker, Sohn Harold Nicolsons Gerda Nicolson (1937–1992), australische… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Nicolson, Sir Harold — ▪ British diplomat and author in full  Harold George Nicholson   born Nov. 21, 1886, Tehrān, Iran died May 1, 1968, Sissinghurst Castle, Kent, Eng.       British diplomat and author of more than 125 books, including political essays, travel… …   Universalium

  • Nicolson —  Cette page d’homonymie répertorie des personnes (réelles ou fictives) partageant un même patronyme.  Pour l’article homophone, voir Nicholson. Nicolson est un nom de famille notamment porté par : Sir Arthur Nicolson (1849 – 1928) …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Nicolson, Nigel — ▪ 2005       British biographer, publisher, and politician (b. Jan. 19, 1917, London, Eng. d. Sept. 23, 2004, Sissinghurst, Kent, Eng.), created a furor in 1973 with Portrait of a Marriage, a frank and to many shocking analysis of the unorthodox… …   Universalium

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