Biography: David Lloyd George

Lloyd George, David, (First Earl of Dwyfor) 1863-1945


Because the focus of this website is the Balfour Declaration and its consequences, this biography will be limited to Lloyd George’s career until the end of the First World War, with particular attention to formative influences on him.

Early Life and evangelical background

Although he was born at Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester, United Kingdom, David Lloyd George was a Welsh-speaker and of Welsh descent and upbringing, the first and so far only Welsh politician to hold the office of Prime Minister in the United Kingdom.. In March 1863 his father returned to his native Pembrokeshire because of failing health and died in June 1864, aged 44. Then his mother Elizabeth George (1828–96) moved with her children to her native Llanystumdwy in Caernarvonshire, where she lived in Tŷ Newydd with her brother Richard Lloyd (1834–1917) who was a shoemaker, a minister in the Church of the Disciples of Christ, and strong Liberal. Lloyd George was educated at the local Anglican school at Llanystumdwy, and later by tutors. Lloyd George’s uncle was a towering influence on him, encouraging him to take up a career in law and enter politics, until his death in 1917 – by which time his nephew was Prime Minister.

What is significant for our theme is that, Lloyd George, like Balfour, was brought up as a devout evangelical  – his uncle’s Disciples of Christ met in a small building a mile from the village and the family attended 3 services a day. When David was 12 years old his uncle baptized him in a little brook that ran beside the chapel but in the night that followed, the young boy seemed to have experienced a negative revelation.[1] (Whether this in fact happened gradually, sources do not tell us). What seems true is that Lloyd George never returned to his early fervour. As his biographer says:

He would gladly attend a chapel service to hear a good preacher and to sing Welsh hymns. He was attracted by the Gospels as by other Bible stories, but to him the founder of Christianity was a prophet of social reform rather than a personal redeemer. [2]

In a speech given to the Jewish historical society in 1925 he reminisced about his inherited non-conformist conscience:

I was brought up in a school where I was taught far more history of the Jews than about my own land. I could tell you all the kings of Israel. But I doubt if I could have named half a dozen of the Kings of England, and not more of the Kings of Wales….We were thoroughly imbued with the history of your race in the days of its greatest glory. (Cited in Sizer, p.63)

It was the ethical code and free-thinking aspects of non-conformity that held an abiding appeal for him. In fact he kept quiet about his doubts and was hailed as ” one of the foremost fighting leaders of a fanatical Welsh Nonconformity.”[3]

As Stephen Sizer further remarks: (his)support for the World Zionist movement was a direct result of evangelical upbringing and the influence of clergy like Way, Simeon and Darby, as much as from a desire to dismember the Ottoman Empire and ensure British dominance in the Middle East.[4]

Beginning of his political career

Articled to a firm of solicitors in Porthmadog, Lloyd George was admitted in 1884 after taking Honours in his final law examination and set up his own practice, taking his brother William into partnership in 1887. He campaigned for the Liberal Party in the 1885 election which resulted firstly in a stalemate, neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives having a majority, the balance of power being held by the Irish Parliamentary Party.

On 24 January 1888 he married Margaret Owen,  and in that year he and other young Welsh Liberals founded a monthly paper Udgorn Rhyddid (Bugle of Freedom) and won on appeal to the Divisional Court of Queen’s Bench, the Llanfrothen burial case; this established the right of Nonconformists to be buried according to their own denominational rites in parish burial grounds.. It was this case, and his writings in Udgorn Rhyddid that led to his adoption as the Liberal candidate for Caernarvon Boroughs on 27 December 1888.

In 1890 Lloyd George became a Liberal MP for Carnarvon Boroughs — by a margin of 19 votes. The youngest MP in the House of Commons, he sat with an informal grouping of Welsh Liberal members with a programme of disestablishing and disendowing the Church of England in Wales, temperance reform, and Welsh home rule. He would remain an MP until 1945, 55 years later.[5] He was soon speaking on Liberal issues (particularly temperance  and national as opposed to denominational education) throughout England as well as Wales. During the next decade, Lloyd George campaigned in Parliament largely on Welsh issues and in particular for the disestablishment and disendowment of the Church of England. He also wrote extensively for Liberal papers such as the Manchester Guardian.

Lloyd George got to know the Zionists intimately in 1903. Herzl had authorized the preparation of a draft scheme for a Jewish settlement in East Africa. This became known as the Uganda scheme. This was prepared by the legal firm of Lloyd George, Roberts and Company, on the instructions of Herzl’s go-between with the British Government, Leopold Greenberg.

He gained national fame by his strong opposition to the Second Boer War: at this time the Liberal Party was badly split as Herbert Henry Asquith, Richard Burdon Haldane and others were supporters of the war and formed the Liberal Imperial League. Lloyd George’s attacks on the government’s Education Act, which provided that County Councils would fund church schools, helped reunite the Liberals. Having already gained national recognition for his anti-Boer War campaigns, his leadership of the attacks on the Education Act gave him a strong parliamentary reputation and marked him as a likely future cabinet member.

 Cabinet Minister (1906–1916)

David Lloyd George 1908

In 1906 Lloyd George entered the new Liberal Cabinet of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman as President of the Board of Trade. His main achievement was in stopping a proposed national strike of the railway unions by brokering an agreement between the unions and the railway companies. This was Lloyd George’s first great triumph, for which he received praises from, among others, Kaiser Wilhelm II. [6]

On Campbell-Bannerman’s death he succeeded Asquith, who had become Prime Minister, as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1908 to 1915. But his proposition to reduce the number of dreadnoughts[7]  was resisted by the  Conservatives and resulted in Lloyd George’s defeat in Cabinet and the adoption of estimates including provision for eight dreadnoughts (said later to be one of the main turning points in the naval arms race between Germany and Britain that contributed to the outbreak of World War I).

Portrait of David Lloyd George as Chancellor of the Exchequer



Portrait of David Lloyd George as Chancellor of the Exchequer by Christopher Williams (1911)

Lloyd George was largely responsible for the introduction of state financial support for the sick and in 1909 he introduced his budget imposing increased taxes on luxuries, liquor, tobacco, incomes, and land, so that money could be made available for the new welfare programs as well as new battleships. Although the nation’s landowners were intensely angry at the new taxes, Lloyd George – in the House of Commons-  gave a brilliant defence and the budget passed,  but was defeated by the Conservative majority in the House of Lords. The elections of 1910 upheld the Liberal government and the budget finally passed in the Lords. The social reforms of Lloyd George began the creation of a welfare state in Britain.[8] He was also responsible for the disestablishment of the Church of England in Wales.

 It was his actions in World War 1 that most concern us.

Lloyd George supported World War I when it broke out, not least as Belgium, for whose defence Britain was supposedly fighting, was a “small nation” like Wales. As Chancellor of the Exchequer for the first year of the war, Lloyd George was made Minister of Munitions in a Cabinet reconstitution in May 1915.  A brilliant success in this position, he was not satisfied with the progress of the war and wanted to attack Germany’s allies. He persuaded Lord Kitchener to raise a Welsh Division, but not to recognize nonconformist chaplains in the Army. Late in 1915 Lloyd George became a strong supporter of general conscription, and he helped to put through the conscription act of 1916. In spring 1916 Milner hoped Lloyd George could be persuaded to bring down the coalition government by resigning, but this did not happen. In June 1916 Lloyd George succeeded Kitchener as Secretary of State for War, although he had little control over strategy.

Lloyd George was increasingly frustrated at the limited gains of the Somme Offensive, criticizing Haig to Ferdinand Foch[9] on a visit to the Western Front in September He proposed sending Sir William Robertson on a mission to Russia  and demanded that more troops be sent to Salonika to help Romania. Robertson eventually threatened to resign.[10]

Much of the press still argued that the professional leadership of General Douglas Haig and Robertson were preferable to civilian interference which had led to disasters like Gallipoli and Kut. The weakness of Asquith as a planner and organiser was increasingly apparent to senior officials. After Asquith had refused to agree to Lloyd George’s demand that he be allowed to chair a small committee to manage the war, he was forced out in December 1916, and Lloyd George became Prime Minister, with the nation demanding he take vigorous charge of the war. Lloyd George was restricted by his promise to the Unionists to keep Haig as Commander-in-Chief and the press support for the generals, although Lords Milner and Curzon were also sympathetic to campaigns to increase British power in the Middle East. After Germany’s offer (12 December 1916) of a negotiated peace, Lloyd George rebuffed President Wilson’s request for the enemy to state its war aims by demanding terms tantamount to German defeat.

Lloyd George wanted to make the destruction of Turkey a major British war aim- he had a visceral dislike of the Turks[11] –  and two days after taking office told Robertson that he wanted a major victory, preferably the capture of Jerusalem, to impress British public opinion. At the Rome Conference (5–6 January 1917) Lloyd George was discreetly quiet about plans to take Jerusalem, an object which advanced British interests rather than doing much to win the war.

The Balfour Declaration

Lloyd George set up a War Policy Committee (himself, Curzon, Milner, Law and Smuts, with Maurice Hankey as secretary) to discuss strategy, which held 16 meetings over the next six weeks. At the very first meeting (11 June) , Lloyd George played a critical role in Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour’s famous Declaration in favour of  “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. It is here that his strong Christian Zionist background came into to play, although this is disputed. Tom Segev, in his significant book, (based on new material ),One Palestine Complete,[12] argues that it was Lloyd George himself, not the Zionists not the imperial planners who were responsible for the Declaration. Avi Shlaim writes:

In his memoirs, written some 20 years after the event,  Lloyd George explained his support for the Zionist government during the First world War as an alliance with a hugely influential political organization whose goodwill was worth paying for….Lloyd George’s support, Segev argues, was based not on British interests but on ignorance and prejudice. In his own way Lloyd George despised the Jews, but he also feared them and he proceeded on the basis of an absurdly inflated notion of the Zionists’ power and influence. [13]

Segev concludes that the Balfour Declaration was the product of neither military not diplomatic interests but of prejudice, faith and sleight of hand. The men who sired it were Christian and Zionist and, in many cases, anti-Semitic. They believed the Jews controlled the world.[14]

Such is the judgment of hindsight – contradicting many earlier arguments, for example, that the motivation for Balfour and Lloyd George was rooted in 19th century Protest restorationism.  [15]

However, Lloyd George’s intention to capture Jerusalem is indisputable. He had told Allenby, who was appointed the new commander in Egypt in June, that his objective was “Jerusalem before Christmas” and that he had only to ask for reinforcements, although the exact nature of his offensives was still undecided when he was appointed. Amidst months of argument throughout the autumn of 1917 Robertson was able to block Lloyd George’s plan to make Palestine the main theatre of operations by having Allenby make the impossible demand that thirteen extra divisions be sent to him. Allenby captured Jerusalem in December 1917.

The End of the War

In rapid succession in Spring 1918 a series of military and political crises occurred. The Germans, having moved troops from the Eastern front and retrained them in new tactics, and now had more soldiers on the Western Front than the Allies. Germany launched a full scale spring offensive starting March 21 against the British and French lines, hoping for victory on the battlefield before the American troops arrived in numbers. The Allied armies fell back 40 miles in confusion, and facing defeat London realized it needed more troops to fight a mobile war. Lloyd George found a half million soldiers and rushed them to France, asked American President Woodrow Wilson for immediate help, and agreed to the appointment of French General Foch as commander in chief on the Western Front. He considered taking on the role of War Minister himself, but was dissuaded by the king, and instead appointed Lord Milner.

Then the War Cabinet decided to impose conscription on Ireland. Meanwhile the German offensive stalled. By summer the Americans were sending 10,000 fresh men a day to the Western Front, a speedup made possible by leaving their equipment behind and using British and French munitions. The German army had used up its last reserves and was steadily shrinking in number and weakening in resolve. Victory came on November 11, 1918.

At the end of the war Lloyd George’s reputation stood at its zenith. A leading Conservative said “He can be dictator for life if he wishes:” yet in the “Coupon election” of December 1918 he led a coalition of Conservatives and his own faction of Liberals to a smashing landslide victory.

The election was fought not so much on the peace issue and what to do with Germany, although those themes played a role. More important was the voters’ evaluation of Lloyd George in terms of what he had accomplished so far and what he promised for the future. His supporters emphasized that he had won the Great War. Against his strong record in social legislation, he himself called for making “a country fit for heroes to live in”.


Barr, James, A Line in the Sand, (London: Simon and Schuster 2011

Grigg, John. Lloyd George The young Lloyd George (London: Methuen 1973)

Masalha,Nur, The Bible and Zionism, (London: Zed Books 2007

Owen, Frank, Tempestuous Journey: Lloyd George, His Life and Times (London: Hutchinson 1954)

Schneer, Jonathan, The Balfour Declaration: the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, (London: Bloomsbury 2010)

Segev, Tom, One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate, (London: Little, Brown 2000)

Shlaim, Avi, Israel and Palestine: Reappraisal, Revisions, Refutations, (London: Verso 2009).

Sizer, Stephen, Christian Zionism – Roadmap to Armageddon? (Leicester: Intervarsity Press 2004).


1. Grigg, The Young Lloyd George, p.33.

2. Grigg, p.34.

3. Frank Owen, Tempestuous Journey: Lloyd George, His Life and Times (1955) p. 31

4. Sizer, op cit., pp.65-6.  Lewis Way (1772-1840)  was the founder of the London Jewish society and the foremost exponent of 19th century restorationism. (Sizer p.35). Charles Simeon (1759-1846) was passionate about the conversion of Jews, believing that the millennium was already here. Though he supported restorationism he did not think physical restoration was as important as spiritual restoration to God. (Sizer pp. 36-7) John Nelson Darby ( 1800 – 1882) was an Anglo-Irish evangelist, and an influential figure among the original Plymouth Brethren. He is considered to be the father of modern Dispensationalism and Futurism in the English vernacular.

5. Yet he still continued practicing as a solicitor for some time.

6. Two weeks later, however, his great excitement was crushed by his daughter Mair’s death from appendicitis.

7. The dreadnought was the predominant type of battleship in the early 20th century.

8. In 1913 Lloyd George, along with Attorney-General Rufus Isaacs, was involved in the Marconi scandal. Accused of speculating in Marconi shares on the inside information that they were about to be awarded a key government contract (which would have caused them to increase in value), he told the House of Commons that he had not speculated in the shares of “that company”. This was not the whole truth as he had in fact speculated in shares of Marconi’s American sister company. This scandal, which would have destroyed his career if the whole truth had come out at the time, was a precursor to the whiff of corruption (e.g. the sale of honours) that later surrounded Lloyd George’s premiership.

9. Marshal Foch was an important  military strategist and  cooperated with the British forces at Ypres and the Somme.

10. Robertson was appointed as Chief of the General Staff, a position he retained until 1918 (renamed in December 1915 as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, receiving a promotion to Lieutenant-General in October 1915).In this role Robertson served as liaison between the army and the government (in which role he conspired against then Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, helping to install David Lloyd George as the new Prime Minister late in 1916).

11. James Barr, A Line in the Sand,  (London: Simon and Schuster 2011), p.65.

12. Tom Segev, One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate, (London: Little, Brown 2000)

13. Avi Shlaim, Israel and Palestine: Reappraisal, Revisions, Refutations, (London: Verso 2009), pp.10-11.

14. Ibid., p.11. He is citing Segev, op cit., p.43.

15. See, for example, Nur Masalha, The Bible and Zionism, (London: Zed Books 2007).  He cites earlier sources.

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