Sir Robert Ponsonby Staples, 1853–1943
Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener of Khartoum 1850-1916
Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener
1st August 1902

signed  "Kitchener "  and further signed and inscribed  " R : Ponsony Staples /  Aug 1 1902 / Sketch by R Ponsnby Staples/at Grocers Hall"

colour halftone with watercolour heightened with bodytone,
46 x 38 cm. (18 x 15 in.)


This portrait was drawn on the occaission when Lord Kitchener and Neville Chamberlain were made freemen of the Worshipful Company of Grocers on the 1st August 1902. There is a similar faded version in the National Portrait Gallery collection NPG D36892.


Horatio Herbert Kitchener,  , Earl Kitchener of Khartoum (1850–1916), army officer, was born on 24 June 1850 at Gunsborough Villa (now Coolbeha House), near Listowel, co. Kerry, the third child and second son of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Horatio Kitchener (1805–1894) and his first wife, Frances Ann (d. 1864), daughter of the Revd John Chevallier and his third wife, Elizabeth, née Cole. Kitchener's family were English not Anglo-Irish: his father had only recently bought land in Ireland.

Henry Kitchener was a retired officer—an unpopular, tenant-evicting, improving landowner, a domestic martinet, and an eccentric who used newspapers instead of blankets in bed. As Frances Kitchener suffered from tuberculosis, the family moved to Switzerland in 1864. He attended an English boarding-school at the Château du Grand Clos at Renaz, where his Irish accent and country ways led to his being teased and unhappy. He devoted himself to his books, and became fluent in French and German. His health broke down in the spring of 1867, and he moved to Cambridge to stay with a cousin, Francis Kitchener. He prepared with a crammer for the entrance examination for the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He took the examination in January 1868, passing twenty-eighth out of fifty-six. After an undistinguished two years, he passed out in December 1870. He spent his Christmas holidays in France with his father. During the Franco-Prussian War Kitchener, pro-French and eager to see action, joined a field ambulance unit of the French Second Army of the Loire. The rout at the battle of Le Mans (January 1871) of ill-trained French levies apparently later influenced his attitude to the Territorial Force. Kitchener's first military experience was cut short when he caught pneumonia as the result of catching chill during a balloon ascent, and was taken back to England by his father. Meanwhile, he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers on 4 January 1871. His service in France had violated British neutrality, and he was reprimanded by the duke of Cambridge, the commander-in-chief.

From 1871 to 1873 Kitchener was at the School of Military Engineering, Chatham. His superior performance there attracted the attention of Brigadier-General George Richards Graves of the War Office staff. Kitchener was appointed his aide-de-camp in 1873 and attended the Austro-Hungarian military manoeuvres, where he favourably impressed the Austrian emperor. Kitchener was posted to Aldershot, but did not enjoy his time there—he longed for action rather than military routine—as much as he had his experiences at Chatham; however, he did perfect his surveying skills which, together with his high-church religious enthusiasm, then led to his being seconded to the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) in November 1874.

For the next four years Kitchener surveyed in Palestine. He learned passable Arabic and became familiar with Arabic culture and mores. Further, he learned to work with minimal supervision. During the Russo-Turkish War the position of the PEF's expedition was awkward, and, in dealing with local authorities, he developed negotiating skills that were to be of great value to him.

Kitchener's work earned him a minor reputation as both a surveyor and a man who knew the Near East. In 1878 he was seconded to the Foreign Office and charged with the mapping of Cyprus. An outsider to the Wolseley ‘ring’ of military reformers, his desire to prepare a thorough and scientific map ran foul of the desires of Wolseley, the high commissioner, who wanted only a rough guide for the purpose of local taxation. Kitchener's attempts to appeal over Wolseley's head failed, and he was saved only by Wolseley's transfer and his own new posting, as military vice-consul, to Kastamonu in northern Turkey. From June 1879, when he took up the post, he spent nine months gaining an acquaintance with Ottoman brutality. In March 1880 he returned to Cyprus at the request of the new high commissioner, Sir Robert Biddulph, and for the next two years continued his survey. At this time he began to cultivate two things which were to distinguish him for the rest of his life: his swooping moustaches and his collection of pottery and porcelain.

Kitchener still craved action, with its opportunity of advancement. He took leave in July 1882 and went to Egypt, where he served unofficially with the British force that bombarded Alexandria, reconnoitring ashore disguised as a Levantine. He was reprimanded, but secured a posting to Egypt early in 1883, at the same time as being promoted captain. In 1884 he acted as an intelligence officer for the relief expedition sent to the Sudan to rescue Charles George Gordon; he continually pressed Wolseley, the commander of the expedition, to push forward more rapidly. Despite the expedition's failure to save Gordon, Kitchener emerged with credit and some fame. Promoted brevet lieutenant-colonel in June 1885, he resigned his Egyptian commission and returned to England, where his fame had been spread by the press and his father. The press had a crucial role in creating the Kitchener legend. Kitchener used his new status as a social lion to make many connections which later proved useful.

Late in 1885 Kitchener was appointed the British member of the Zanzibar boundary commission. There he got a taste of international rivalries as he and the French and German commissioners wrangled over the limits of the sultan of Zanzibar's territory; he was created CMG in 1886. From 1886 to 1888 Kitchener was governor-general of the eastern Sudan and the Red sea littoral, and much of his time was spent fighting Osman Digna, a ruthless slave trader. During a skirmish in January 1888 Kitchener was shot in the jaw, and required several months' convalescence. That summer he returned to England on leave, where Lord Salisbury, the prime minister, arranged for him to be adjutant-general of the Egyptian army (Egyptian appointments were Foreign Office not War Office responsibility), a post he took up in September 1888. His promotion was resented, and he was unpopular with British officers and the British community in Egypt. In 1889 he had an important role in the battle of Toski on 3 August, for which he was created CB. After a brief leave in India he was given the additional position of inspector-general of police in the autumn of 1889. For the next two and half years Kitchener held this dual power, achieving a substantial reduction in crime.

On 13 April 1892 Kitchener was made sirdar (commander-in-chief) of the Egyptian army. This offended many who believed he owed his appointment more to his assiduous cultivation of the powerful than to his abilities. Such a view was reinforced by his tour of country houses when on leave in England, and by the prominent persons, including the prince of Wales, who stayed with him in Egypt. Kitchener however immediately set about reforming the Egyptian army, gathering around him a cadre of eager young officers nicknamed ‘Kitchener's band of boys’. The fact that Kitchener surrounded himself with similar groups throughout his career, and never married, led to speculations that he was a homosexual. There is no evidence that this was so. Early in his career Kitchener had several flirtations with women. He was apparently in love with, and may have been engaged to, Hermione Baker, the beautiful young daughter of Valentine Baker, commander of the Egyptian gendarmarie, but she died from typhoid in January 1885, aged eighteen. In 1902 he unsuccessfully courted Lord Londonderry's daughter, Helen Mary Theresa. He was friendly, in her old age, with the courtesan Catherine Walters (‘Skittles’).

With a limited budget, Kitchener developed in Egypt a reputation for efficiency, ruthlessness, and penny-pinching. He was created KCMG in 1894. Most of his army reform had been undertaken with the aim of reconquering Sudan. In 1896 the opportunity to secure this objective arose when the Italian government appealed for aid, worried that the disaster of Adowa would lead to the collapse of Italy's position in eastern Africa. Salisbury's government authorized Kitchener to begin the reconquest of Sudan. The first stage was to take the province of Dongola, which Kitchener began in June. The campaign consisted of a series of advances up the Nile, with Kitchener attending assiduously to logistics. Victory at Firket on 7 June was followed by methodical preparations and the occupation of Dongola on 24 September. Kitchener was made major-general and KCB. He wished to follow up his victories, but financial considerations enforced delay, and he went to England in the autumn to lobby for increased finance. His efforts were aided by fears of a French occupation of the upper Nile—Captain Marchand had begun a French expedition from west Africa towards the Nile watershed—and when Kitchener returned to Egypt in December he did so with financial backing for a further advance.

In 1897 Kitchener began a campaign noted as much for its impressive railway construction, organized by Percy Girouard, as for its battles. On 7 August Kitchener's army took Abu Hamed and then occupied Berber on 31 August. Here matters paused, as the Egyptian government, under the British agent, Lord Cromer, was reluctant to provide further funds. An open clash between Kitchener and Cromer was averted, but the sirdar insisted that his army would be perilously exposed unless a further advance were permitted. By the beginning of 1898 Kitchener had received more money and British reinforcements. The first battle of the renewed campaign was fought at the Atbara on 8 April. Kitchener's victory was followed by an advance towards the Mahdist capital, Omdurman, which the Anglo-Egyptian forces reached on 1 September. On 2 September the Madhists attacked the Anglo-Egyptian position, and were mown down by Anglo-Egyptian firepower. The result was a decisive victory and the occupation of Omdurman, accompanied by vigorous repression. Gordon had been avenged. This triumph did not end Kitchener's duties, for he was immediately ordered up the Nile to Fashoda, where Captain Marchand had claimed much of upper Sudan for France. Kitchener met Marchand on 19 September in what was quickly dubbed ‘the Fashoda incident’. Kitchener's cautious, correct, and considerate treatment of Marchand ensured that, in fact, no incident occurred at Fashoda that might have precipitated war between Britain and France. Even before France had decided that Marchand must withdraw, Kitchener had returned home to England to a hero's welcome.

As he rose Kitchener provoked continued resentment and criticism. Anti-imperialists hated his imperial victories and triumphs. Some British officers were jealous of his success, and for varied reasons there was among senior officers much suspicion of him. His relations with the press were largely poor: calling correspondents ‘drunken swabs’ may have been accurate, but was resented. However, he helped favoured journalists, and one of them, G. W. Steevens of the Daily Mail—through his popular With Kitchener to Khartum (1898), with its dramatic portrayal of Kitchener as the cold, dedicated, powerful ‘Sudan Machine’ and ‘man of destiny’—particularly helped to form the popular image of Kitchener.

Despite radicals' and others' criticism of Kitchener's behaviour, particularly his desecration of the Mahdi's tomb at Omdurman and his taking of the latter's skull, the British public lionized the sirdar. Awarded many honours—including an Oxford DCL in 1899—he was frequently mobbed when he appeared in public. A grateful government gave him a reward of £30,000, and he was created Baron Kitchener of Khartoum and Aspall in 1898. While being fêted throughout Britain he began to display the avarice that characterized him the rest of his life. Offered gifts, he requested gold plate, and he made a habit of asking for objects that he admired. He sometimes stole attractive objects from his hosts, and at Simla he took plants from his neighbour's garden.

Kitchener served as governor-general of Sudan from 19 January to 18 December 1899; then, at the height of the emergency in South Africa, was appointed chief of staff to the commander-in-chief, Lord Roberts, who was dispatched to restore the reputation of British arms. Kitchener's governor-generalship had not been particularly successful, despite his military achievement in pacifying Sudan and his rebuilding of Khartoum, for his style of governance—a lack of system, with power concentrated in his own hands—did not prove as effective in civil affairs as it had in war.

South Africa increased Kitchener's reputation as a soldier. Officially chief of staff, in fact he was Roberts's deputy, right-hand man, and troubleshooter: he and Roberts worked well and harmoniously together. The war suited his experience and abilities: it required both logistical expertise and the ability to operate over difficult terrain, and Kitchener had proved himself master of these in Sudan. On arriving in Cape Town on 10 January 1900 Kitchener and Roberts faced a difficult situation; from the beginning of the war the Boers had enjoyed almost unbroken success, culminating with their triumphs in ‘black week’ in December 1899.

Kitchener's initial task was to reorganize the transportation system. He utilized the methods—the creation of a pool of transport under centralized control—effective in Sudan. This policy proved inefficient. Its implementation, despite officers' protests, was typical of Kitchener: he showed no respect for what he believed to be a foolish adherence to outmoded methods and organization. The British army moved swiftly in early February to raise the siege of Kimberley, but it was at Paardeberg on 18 February that Kitchener saw his first action. This battle was one of the most controversial of his career. Overruling, with Roberts's authorization, officers of senior rank and greater experience, he ordered an assault on the Boer position. His attempt to command his dispersed force by galloping from position to position led to confusion. The entrenched Boers, armed with the modern weapons the Sudanese had wholly lacked, defeated his attack, inflicting heavy casualties. When Roberts arrived on the 19th the British settled down to besiege the Boers, the action that Kitchener's critics had suggested.

While Paardeberg was besieged Roberts sent Kitchener to repair the railway system in the Orange Free State. At the end of March he rejoined Roberts at Bloemfontein, where the two spent April planning the next phase of the war—the advance on Pretoria. This began in May, and on 5 June Roberts entered Pretoria. With the Boers in disarray it appeared the war might soon end. That it did not was largely due to the action of Christian De Wet, one of the most intrepid of the Boer commanders. De Wet's forces had evaded Roberts's drive from Bloemfontein to Pretoria, and, after most of the British force had moved forward, on 7 June De Wet struck at its lines of communication. Kitchener was sent southward from Pretoria to deal with this new menace. For the next two months Kitchener pursued the Boer guerrillas, De Wet finally eluding his pursuer by mid-August. However, Kitchener had secured Roberts's supply lines, and the British successes against the Boers continued unabated. By November President Kruger had fled to Europe, and Roberts returned to Britain on the 29th, leaving Kitchener in command.

Kitchener was left with the task of ending the war, and his efforts to do so belied his reputation as a man interested only in fighting and complete victory. In February 1901 he opened peace negotiations with General Louis Botha. Kitchener offered generous terms: an amnesty for all rebels (although they would be temporarily disfranchised), the status of a crown colony with a clear timetable for a transition to self-government, a promise of no new taxes to pay for the war, assistance to re-establish farmers, and £1 million compensation for war loss of property. The Boers rejected the terms and fighting resumed.

To deal with the Boers' guerrilla tactics, Kitchener used two complementary methods. The first was to divide the country up into a grid by building a series of blockhouses and barbed-wire fences, and by instituting drives along these grids using columns of mounted troops. It was owing to the rugged terrain and the Boers' familiarity with the countryside that this policy was not initially successful. Kitchener's second method was resource denial, achieved by destroying Boer farms and—continuing and intensifying the process begun under Roberts—gathering the occupants, mostly women and children, into forty-six ‘refugee’ or ‘concentration’ camps where they could not aid the commandos. However, the hastily improvised and initially under-supplied camps were insanitary, and as many as 26,000 (the figure is uncertain) died of disease. Emily Hobhouse, whom Kitchener called ‘that bloody woman’ and whom he deported, revealed the extent of what Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman called ‘methods of barbarism’, and a War Office inquiry was held. This found that the disease and mortality were largely the result of administrative incompetence rather than of Kitchener's policy. His priorities were elsewhere, and he agreed to the transfer of the camps to the Colonial Office (March 1901), and to reforms. Reforms were implemented, and the death rate had been greatly reduced by the beginning of 1902.

By April 1902, harried by Kitchener's drives and tired of war, the Boer leadership put out peace feelers. During the negotiations Kitchener played an important role. He wanted the war to end, partly so that he could move on to India. He displayed the same tact and sensitivity to the amour propre of the Boers that he had in dealing with Marchand earlier. He acted as a conciliatory middleman between the Boers and the British high commissioner, Lord Milner, the latter pushing for a more severe peace than the former were willing to accept. The result was the moderate treaty of Vereeniging, signed on 31 May 1902.

When Kitchener returned to Britain in July 1902, to another hero's welcome, he was given the thanks of parliament and a grant of £50,000, and Edward VII made him both one of the inaugural members of the Order of Merit and a viscount. He was also promoted full general, preliminary to his taking command of the Indian army. In the tradition of imperial conquest, he had returned with Boer statues looted from their capitals, which he intended to erect in his private park, when acquired; but in 1909, at government insistence, they were secretly returned to South Africa. Kitchener used his time in England to further his social ties, particularly to Lady Cranborne—wife of Viscount Cranborne (from 1903 fourth marquess of Salisbury), first cousin of A. J. Balfour—whose widespread web of political influence made her a particularly valuable confidante. He also gave evidence to the royal commission on the South African War, scathingly condemning regular army methods. Many, including the secretary of state for war, St John Brodrick, wanted him to go to the War Office to implement reforms, but he was adamant that he wished to go to India.

The new commander-in-chief left for India on 17 October 1902. On 28 November he landed in Bombay and, three days later, met the viceroy, Lord Curzon. Their relationship was to be difficult. Although from different backgrounds—Curzon an aristocrat and Kitchener gentry—they were of similar temperament: each was imperious, sensitive to the merest slight, and convinced that his opinion was the only possible correct one. Although Curzon had pushed hard for Kitchener's appointment—he was convinced that only a man of Kitchener's drive could carry out the necessary army reforms—he did not expect that Kitchener would prove unmalleable and, more surprisingly, able to better him in intrigue.

Kitchener's initial aim in India was to reorganize the army and to make it an effective force. Beginning in April 1903 Kitchener explored the reaches of India, particularly the north-west frontier, where he expected a Russian advance in the near future. By the end of August he had travelled thousands of miles over rugged terrain and had obtained a first-hand knowledge of the country. He believed that the Indian army was backward technically and organizationally. He reorganized it, and increased the number of troops available to fight against Russia at the expense of those dedicated to maintaining internal security. Further, he wished to build an extensive series of military railways to transport troops to the north-west frontier. This plan was deemed too expensive and too likely to offend the amir of Afghanistan, whose friendship the British government courted. These were the kinds of reform that Curzon had hoped for when he had lobbied for Kitchener's appointment, and there was no particular friction between the two men on these issues.

Instead, the centre of contention was civil–military relations. The existing military system in India had a dual nature, as it comprised, in addition to the commander-in-chief, the military member of the viceroy's council. The commander-in-chief was the executive head of the army, responsible for its training and direction; the military member was in charge of non-combatant matters, including supply and transport, and prepared the army's budget. Thus the military member acted in some ways as a military officer but in other ways as a civilian minister in the viceroy's council. While the military member was an army officer (normally a major-general), he was responsible to the viceroy, and therefore outside the military line of command. With competent, co-operative men—such as Roberts and G. T. Chesney—the system could work adequately, but it had potential for conflict. Roberts continued to favour it, claiming that nobody could satisfactorily carry out the duties of both officials, and that the Indian government needed the advice of an officer expert on India and the Indian army. However, the situation was unacceptable to Kitchener, who was used to having full authority and near-complete autonomy. Curzon argued that the military member was necessary in order that the viceroy could be kept informed on military matters.

Several clashes between the two men over this issue early in 1903 led to an uneasy truce. But in June 1904 Curzon, on leave in London, attended a meeting of the committee of imperial defence. There he found that Kitchener had submitted an analysis of Indian defence in which all defects were blamed on the existence of the military member. Curzon reacted sharply, and argued that the issue was constitutional, involving the principle of whether the military should be subordinated to civilian authority. Roberts, Kitchener's predecessor in India, concurred with Curzon's arguments, as initially did Balfour, the prime minister. However, the matter was not easily decided. Kitchener had his own adherents in the cabinet, and his threat (on 24 September) to resign was viewed with dismay. The Unionist government was unpopular and politically vulnerable, and the resignation of Britain's most popular serving soldier would have exposed it to further attack. The result was that Balfour persuaded Curzon to re-examine dual control when he returned to India. Kitchener continued to intrigue against Curzon, using Lady Salisbury particularly as a channel to Balfour, as well as St John Brodrick (war minister, 1900–03, and secretary of state for India, 1903–5), who was apparently jealous of Curzon, Repington (the Times military correspondent), H. A. Gwynne (editor of The Standard), and others.

The reconsideration took place in early 1905. By March it was clear that no compromise was possible. At a key meeting of the viceroy's council on 10 March Kitchener refused to defend his position orally, fearing that Curzon, a master of debate, would out-argue him. Such unwillingness to engage in discussion was typical of Kitchener: he was to behave similarly during the First World War. However, the result of the meeting was that the dispute was referred to London. Curzon and Kitchener began intense lobbying. The cabinet reached an uneasy compromise: the military member would be retained, but would have a new title (military supply member), a restricted purview, and would wear civilian clothes. This was a victory for Kitchener, although not a complete one. However, Curzon refused to give up. In June he denounced the settlement, and in August threatened to resign unless the British cabinet accepted his nominee (whom Kitchener opposed) as the new military supply member. The cabinet accepted Curzon's resignation: Kitchener had triumphed.

Kitchener spent just over four more years in India. In the period until September 1907 he spent much of his time demanding a greater allocation of forces to India in order to defend against any possible Russian invasion. He also bitterly opposed the Anglo-Russian convention, with its implication that the defence of India would rely on détente with Russia rather than on military strength. Throughout the negotiation of the convention, and even after its signing, Kitchener attempted, as the foreign editor of The Times wrote, to ‘wirepull the press against it’ (Chirol to Nicolson, 27 Oct 1907, TNA: PRO, Nicolson papers, FO 800/340). However, he was not successful, and earned the dislike of the Liberal secretary of state for India, Lord Morley.

Morley's hostility was of particular significance when Kitchener left India in September 1909. While Kitchener was promoted field marshal, his future employment was in doubt. Earlier in the year he had turned down the offer of the Mediterranean command, based on Malta, then had reluctantly agreed to it when pressed by Edward VII. But he was not pleased with the appointment. Before taking up the post Kitchener made a seven-month tour, visiting Singapore, Hong Kong, the Manchurian battlefields, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand before returning home via the United States. When he arrived in Britain on 26 April 1910 the king released him from his promise on the Mediterranean command. He coveted two posts: the viceroyalty of India and the ambassadorship at Constantinople. However, Morley threatened resignation if Kitchener were sent to India, and Sir Edward Grey, the foreign secretary, wished to reserve ambassadorial posts for career diplomats. Kitchener's attempts to utilize his social connections were weakened by the death on 6 May of Edward VII (though George V was to support him during the First World War), and the prime minister, Asquith, was not inclined to risk political difficulties by overruling one of his own cabinet members during the constitutional crisis.

For the next year Kitchener was at loose ends, concentrating on private matters, including the purchase and renovation of Broome Park, near Canterbury. He gutted and redecorated it, ornamenting the walls with a ‘K. K.’ monogram, and intending it as the stately home of an enduring Kitchener landed dynasty. In July 1911 the death of the British agent and consul-general in Egypt, Eldon Gorst, cleared the way for Kitchener's appointment to that office. He arrived in Egypt on 29 September 1911, and for the next three years governed the country. He maintained Egypt's neutrality during the war between Turkey and Italy. Despite hostility from nationalists—some of whom tried to assassinate him—and from Khedive Abbas Hilmi II, whom he described as ‘this wicked little Khedive’ (Magnus, 272) and wanted to depose—Kitchener introduced important reforms, including those to protect fellahin from usurers and lawyers, and promote large-scale land reclamation. He also implemented constitutional change: the organic law of 1913. He lived longer in Egypt than anywhere else and apparently regarded it as his spiritual home. Introduced by the duke of Connaught, Kitchener became a keen freemason. He was grand master of Egypt and Sudan, and also held important office in India and England. His personal politics were tory, and he disliked the Liberal social reforms.

Kitchener's time in Egypt was considered a success and in June 1914 he was granted an earldom. He travelled to England to receive it, but before he could return to Egypt Asquith requested that he stay in England, pending the outcome of the July crisis. At the outbreak of war in August 1914 the secretaryship of state for war was—since J. E. B. Seely had resigned over the Curragh incident earlier in 1914—being held on an interim basis by the prime minister. Asquith initially wanted Haldane back at the War Office, but Repington in The Times and others in the press demanded Kitchener. Asquith had misgivings, considering it ‘a hazardous experiment’, but invited Kitchener. Kitchener was reluctant, but agreed: he told Girouard, ‘May God preserve me from the politicians’ (Simkins, 35). On 6 August he became secretary of state for war: a popular appointment which strengthened the government and increased public confidence. Kitchener brought to his new office both strengths and weaknesses. He had waged two wars in which he had dealt with all aspects of warfare, including both command and logistics. He was used to being in charge of large enterprises, he was not afraid to take responsibility and make decisions, and he enjoyed public confidence. However, he had no experience of modern European war, almost no knowledge of the British army at home, and a limited understanding of the War Office. Perhaps most importantly, he had no experience of working in a cabinet. Nevertheless in the opening stage of the war he, Asquith, and Churchill formed a dominant triumvirate in the cabinet.

Kitchener's initial response to the war was prescient. The British government had entered it expecting to fight in a limited fashion and to make a primarily naval and financial contribution, otherwise carrying on with ‘business as usual’. Further, the general military consensus was that the war would be short, decided by early decisive battles, and ‘over by Christmas’. Kitchener, though accepting the continental strategy, rejected all these assumptions. He believed the war would be long—three years—and that Britain would have to raise a continental-scale army; the cabinet accepted. Thus Kitchener, as David French has written, ‘was responsible for one of the most complete and far-reaching reversals of policy of the whole war … one of the most important and far-reaching decisions taken by the British throughout the war’ (French, Economic and Strategic Planning, 124, 127). Agreeing with his cabinet colleagues that conscription was then impractical and unnecessary, he appealed for volunteers. The response was massive.

Controversially, instead of utilizing the existing structure of the Territorial Force (TF), Kitchener chose to create a new mass volunteer force (known as the ‘new’ or ‘Kitchener’ armies), essentially by expanding the regular army through the normal recruiting channels under the adjutant-general's department of the War Office. While Kitchener had a professional prejudice against the TF, viewing it as an army of amateurs, he had solid military reasons for his decision. First, he was concerned that the TF might not be available for service overseas, since the terms of enrolment in the TF did not oblige its members to serve abroad and some actually refused to do so. Second, Kitchener feared a possible German invasion of Britain; he saw the TF as a home defence force against invasion or raids, and believed that the use of the TF to expand the army would disorganize the TF for its home defence role.

Kitchener was also aware that Britain was fighting in an alliance. He therefore attempted to ensure cordial Anglo-French relations, notably by making a dramatic trip to France in early September 1914 to order the commander of the British expeditionary force (BEF), Sir John French, not to withdraw the BEF, and assure the French that it would remain in the field. In an effort to reinforce his authority he wore his field marshal's uniform on this mission, which angered French. Kitchener kept a close eye on the eastern front, believing Russian success necessary to keep the German forces divided and so prevent their defeating the French—of whose military strength he held an unfavourable opinion—and attempting an invasion of Britain. Kitchener also began a massive programme of producing munitions for his New Armies. Peter Simkins has written: ‘it was in providing the vital impetus for the mobilisation of national resources that he made his most significant contribution to the war effort’ (Simkins, 39).

While Kitchener's predictions were accurate and his actions sound, his methods of carrying out his ideas and his ability to explain them were not. At the War Office he found himself with an inadequate staff, for most of the most competent officers had accompanied the BEF to France. This only accentuated his own inclination to run a one-man show, in his usual style. However, the war was too complex for any one person to deal with adequately, and the nickname ‘K of Chaos’, coined by General Neville Lyttelton during the South African War, soon resurfaced. Nevertheless, it was no small feat to create a large-scale armaments industry, capable of supplying a multi-million man army. Kitchener was severely criticized, notably by The Times and other Northcliffe papers, for not providing sufficient shells for the BEF, particularly in May 1915 during the ‘shell scandal’. The ‘scandal’ was fomented both by French, who needed a scapegoat for his western front failure and who intensely disliked Kitchener and wanted him removed, and by that ‘deceitful fellow’ Repington, the Times correspondent and French's personal guest. Yet munition shortages were common to all the belligerents. Subsequent scholarship has shown that the great increases in production of armaments that took place in 1916, and for which Lloyd George took credit as the first minister of munitions, were largely the result of Kitchener's earlier initiatives. Kitchener was generally in favour of the creation of new ministries to help wage the war more efficiently; however, he did not wish to lose his overall direction of affairs.

Kitchener's aim in the war stemmed from his assumptions about its long duration. He wanted Britain to play the decisive role. He reckoned that by about the end of 1916 the other belligerents would have exhausted their forces, while Britain's newly created armies would make her the dominant partner in the entente. Therefore he wished to retain in Britain as much of the New Armies as possible, rather than send them to the continent piecemeal. He did, not, however, explain his policies well to his cabinet colleagues. Kitchener rightly believed them too indiscreet, and mostly ignorant of military matters; in any case, he did not wish to argue with them. As a result, and because changing news from the eastern front influenced him, his views often seemed erratic to the other members of the government, and they soon became disenchanted with his advice.

This was particularly noticeable over the Dardanelles campaign of 1915. Kitchener himself had agreed to the attack only as a naval venture, believing that, if it were not successful, the Royal Navy could withdraw without a further British commitment. However, once events had led to the sending of British troops to the Dardanelles, Kitchener seemed to vacillate between advocating the retention of the British forces there and arguing that they should be evacuated. This seeming irresolution was based on his attempt to balance both the effect of withdrawal on British prestige among Muslims and its impact on French government stability against the need to end a failed and costly operation, wasting troops and resources needed elsewhere. But the subtlety of his reasoning was not evident to others. In December 1915 one of Kitchener's admirers, George V's private secretary, wrote: ‘K.'s position at present is untenable. He is discredited with all his 21 colleagues in the Cabinet. Even his colleagues on the War Commtee think he is a positive danger. He has been so unstable in his advice on military affairs’ (Wigram to Robertson, Dec 1915, King's Lond., Liddell Hart C., I/12/28). Nevertheless the king, ‘a strong Kitchenerite’ (who in June 1915 made him a KG), continued to support him; his reputation with the public continued high, and thus he remained an asset to the government which, L. S. Amery wrote in 1916, ‘largely rested (as far as the opinion of the masses was concerned) upon K.'s reputation’ (Amery Diaries, 1.130). His image aided recruiting: the ‘Your Country needs You’ poster, designed by Alfred Leete in 1914 and depicting Kitchener pointing vigorously at the viewer, became perhaps the best-known poster in the world.

Concern about Kitchener's ability to carry on the war led, in mid-December 1915, to the appointment of Major-General Sir William Robertson as chief of the Imperial General Staff. Robertson was charged with bringing improved administrative methods to the War Office, while providing the cabinet with military information and advice. While Kitchener might well have resented this diminution in his own powers, he and Robertson worked closely and effectively together. To some extent Kitchener became a figurehead in the government, more valuable for his public presence than for his actual contributions, but was still able to do useful service, particularly during the Anglo-French Sykes–Picot discussions on the post-war Near East.

On 5 June 1916 Kitchener sailed from Scapa Flow for Russia on the armoured cruiser HMS Hampshire. His ostensibly secret mission was to discuss with the Russian government co-ordination between the western and eastern fronts. That evening, in heavy seas off Orkney, the Hampshire struck a German mine and sank with the loss of nearly all aboard, including Kitchener. His body was never found. His death shocked the public and was followed by enormous public mourning. The available evidence suggests the loss of the Hampshire resulted not, as some alleged, from conspiracy, treachery, sabotage, or deliberate German intent, but from British naval bungling, and from a refusal to consider intelligence of U-boat activity and the weather forecast. Strange rumours circulated that Kitchener was not really dead, but a German prisoner, or sleeping in a cave in some remote island of the Hebrides.

Kitchener was a dominating figure. He was tall (6 feet 2 inches, then well above average height), powerfully built, straight, and soldierly, with a suntanned florid complexion, the well-known moustaches, and ‘an expression made all the more inscrutable by a strong cast in his bright blue eyes’ (Amery, Political Life, 1.124). A ‘Herculean personality’, intensely ambitious, proud, autocratic, determined, tough-minded, obsessional, acquisitive, secretive, devious, contradictory, enigmatic, and, perhaps necessarily, callous, he was regarded by some of his contemporaries as ‘oriental’ and ‘un-Europeanized’. Responses to him varied. Lord Esher wrote in 1899, ‘Kitchener is not attractive … it is the coarseness of his fibre, which appears in his face to a marked degree’ (Magnus, 152). Lord Cromer said he was ‘not a very likeable fellow’ (Pakenham, 315). Amery considered ‘he was essentially an improviser and hustler, one who could achieve results by force of will-power and dominating personality’ (Amery, Political Life, 1.124). Yet he could be charming, and he attracted ladies. Despite some hostility among politicians and officers, from the Sudan until his death Kitchener was to the British public a popular imperial hero—‘the Paladin of the War’ (Reginald, Viscount Esher, 120)—though apparently, unlike Roberts, admired but not loved. Arguably Gordon was a hero for an age of evangelicalism, Kitchener for an age of social Darwinism. After his death Kitchener was often dismissed, in Margot Asquith's phrase, as a great poster but not a great man. Much of the credit for his successes during the war was appropriated by Lloyd George and others, while his early death made him a convenient scapegoat for governmental mistakes. His secretive methods and unwillingness to explain his actions to his colleagues facilitated the reduction of his reputation. For years historians followed Lloyd George's War Memoirs in criticizing Kitchener as a strategist and administrator and minimizing his achievement in munitions production, and he was regarded as one of the bunglers who mismanaged the First World War. Since the 1970s, and with the availability of more First World War primary documents, scholarship has largely rehabilitated Kitchener's reputation. George Cassar, David French, and Keith Neilson have gone far to vindicate Kitchener's strategic vision in the First World War, while Peter Simkins has shown his role in the raising of the British army in 1914 and 1915. Historians have agreed that his greatest achievement was, having inherited a continental commitment, to provide an army capable of meeting it. Trevor Royle's 1985 biography of Kitchener showed that many of the earlier criticisms of Kitchener were based on personal animosities rather than on historical evidence. While his faults—a lack of organization and a tendency to attempt to do too much on his own—are still acknowledged, Kitchener's strengths—his foresight, his industry, and his strength of character—have been re-emphasized. Kitchener, with his many warts, has been recognized as among the greatest of Victorian imperial soldiers, and as the architect of Britain's victory in the First World War.

Keith Neilson DNB

Artist biography

Staples, Sir Robert Ponsonby, twelfth baronet (1853–1943), painter, was born in Dundee on 30 June 1853, the third son in the family of three sons and two daughters of Sir Nathaniel Alexander Staples, tenth baronet (1817–1899), a captain and interpreter in the Bengal artillery, and his wife, Elizabeth Lindsay, née Head (d. 1907). On resigning his commission in 1853, his father spent much of his time in Belgium, and succeeded to the baronetcy in succession to an uncle, Sir Thomas Staples, ninth baronet, in 1865, but did not take up residence at the family estate at Lissan House, Cookstown, co. Tyrone, until the death of his uncle's widow in 1872.

Staples was educated by his father until the age of twelve, then studied art and architecture at the Louvain Academy of Fine Arts from 1865 to 1870; he also studied at Dresden in 1867 and the Brussels Academy from 1872 to 1874. His works were first exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1875. Apart from a year spent in Australia (1879–80) he sought to build his career in the London art world under the patronage of his cousin, Sir Coutts Lindsay, who owned the Grosvenor Gallery. He married, at Pancras register office on 25 April 1883, Ada Louise (1862–1940), daughter of Hassard Stammers, photographer; they had a son and three daughters.

Staples made his name by a succession of group portraits of participants in late Victorian public events. Australia v. England (MCC Museum, Lord's cricket ground), painted jointly with George Augustus Hamilton Barrable (1845–1893), was an imaginary scene of a cricket match at Lord's, composed of ‘ideal’ teams on both sides, with W. G. Grace and W. W. Read at the wickets, F. R. Spofforth bowling, and fashionable spectators in the foreground, including the prince and princess of Wales and Lily Langtry. Portrait heads of the two elevens appeared in the predella. Exhibited at the Goupil Gallery in June 1887, it was painted for exhibition by Coutts Lindsay in Australia and New Zealand and was reproduced in photogravure. The formula was repeated in The Last Shot for the Queen's Prize, Wimbledon (1889; Worthing Museum and Art Gallery), begun in the summer of 1887 at the invitation of the National Rifle Association, when it was believed that that year would be the last in which the competition would be held in south-west London (the move to Bisley did not in fact occur until 1890). The central figure of Reginald Olliver Warren, queen's prizewinner in 1887, is placed in a crowded scene, also including the prince and princess of Wales. This was accompanied by the Queen's Prizemen (1889; Worthing Museum and Art Gallery), a chronological line of twenty-seven prizewinners. Cardinal Manning's Last Reception(Archbishop's House, Westminster Cathedral), first exhibited in March 1892, showed leading British Roman Catholics, including the duke of Norfolk, Henry Vaughan, Charles Russell, and Henry Matthews. His The House of Commons, February 13, 1893: Mr Gladstone Introducing the Second Home Rule Bill, was based on individual portraits of the leading figures made during the subsequent parliamentary recess, and was first shown in May 1894.

From 1884 Staples and his family lived in Kensington. Letters from his father refer to money problems and the latter's assistance, in particular his involvement in Staples's borrowing money on the strength of Australia v. England. In 1897 he became an art master at the People's Palace in Mile End Road, London, and was also elected a member of the Royal Society of British Artists. He was a member of the Savage Club, and sketched several of its members. An exhibition of his portraits, ‘One Hundred Men and Women of the Time’, as a souvenir of the century, was held in 1900. His subjects included Phil May (1898; NPG), Edward Carson (1898; NPG), Swinburne (1900; NPG), Whistler (1901; NPG), and Kitchener (1902; NPG). He also exhibited domestic subjects, sometimes including his daughters, and landscapes; On the Beach, Broadstairs, Kent (1899; NG Ire.), combined the two genres.

In 1904 Staples moved to Belfast, where he exhibited with the Belfast Art Society. He was offered a commission to paint two triptychs on shipbuilding and linen for the new city hall, but only the former was completed because of a disagreement with the council. Shipbuilding in Belfast: Liner on Stocks; Turbine Makers; Bangor Boat (Ulster Museum, Belfast) was completed over a twenty-year period, between 1904 and 1924. When he was living in Belfast he also completed portraits of Winston Churchill, Lord Kitchener, Sir Edward Carson, and the nationalist MP Joseph Devlin. In politics he was a protestant home ruler, and a member of the nationalist United Irish League, though he supported recruitment to the army on the outbreak of the First World War.

About 1912 Staples took up residence at the family home, Lissan House, where he sketched and painted. The estate had lost considerably by land legislation and the building ventures of his father, and Staples spent many years unsuccessfully endeavouring to re-open the coalfield at Coalisland, which had been closed after a pit explosion. He made various attempts to sell his work in the 1920s to raise funds, offering works for sale to the National Portrait Gallery, and there is evidence that on occasion he had to pawn his pictures. His granddaughter Hazel Dolling (1922–2006) recalled that

money just slipped through his fingers. So little for his pictures—four children to educate and only the pawn broker available when the kitty was empty. He was always short of the price of a ‘half un’ and much of the estate shrank during his guardianship. (Dolling, 32)

He was nearly eighty when he succeeded to the baronetcy on the death, in February 1933, of his elder brother, Sir John Molesworth Staples, eleventh baronet, who had spent much of his life as an inmate of an asylum in Belgium.

Since his days as an art student Staples had preferred to work in bare feet, and he avoided footwear except on social occasions. His belief in a regime of fresh air and barefoot early morning walks gained him the nickname the Barefoot Baronet. He died at Lissan House, Cookstown, on 18 October 1943 and was buried in the family plot at Lissan parish church. His unpublished diaries provide a continuous record of his engagements and work from 1888 to 1930.

Annesley Malley  DNB