Life & Soul

Heretic of the week: Philip Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian

Philip Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian (Wikimedia)

Apostasy is a bad thing, whoever may do it; but it seems particularly bad when it happens to a scion of one of those grand recusant families who kept the faith shining during the time of the penal laws. Leaving the faith, there are saner and crazier options – an intelligent person embracing the latter somehow seems worse. Of course, having left, one may treat one’s still-faithful relatives kindly or not. Thus the tragedy of this week’s subject.

Philip Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian (1882-1940), was the grandson of the 7th Marquess on his father’s side. After his grandfather died, his grandmother and father converted to Catholicism, and subsequently the father married the daughter of Henry Fitzalan-Howard, 14th Duke of Norfolk – head of an ancient Catholic family, and premier peer and Earl Marshal of England.

Educated at the Oratory School in Birmingham and New College, Oxford, Lothian was a member of “Milner’s Kindergarten” (Lord Milner’s associates in governing South Africa from 1905 to 1910). At that time, he made the acquaintance of Nancy Astor and with her embraced Mrs Eddy’s Christian Science.

Holding several Cabinet positions in the interwars years, Lothian was a member of the Cliveden House set, and thus pro-German – until Hitler violated the Munich Pact in March 1939. He was sent to Washington as ambassador that September, and worked hard to bring the United States into the war.

Lothian died in 1940 of a relatively simple liver ailment, which as a Christian Scientist he refused treatment for. In order to prevent Blickling Hall, the family seat, from passing with his title back into Catholic hands, Lothian left it to the National Trust. Ironically, Lothian’s replacement at the embassy was the Anglo-Catholic, Lord Halifax.