Fitzmaurice, Henry Charles Keith Petty - (1845–1927), 5th marquess of Lansdowne , landowner, and politician, was born 14 January 1845 at Lansdowne House, Berkeley Square, London, eldest son of Henry Thomas Fitzmaurice (1816–66), 4th marquess of Lansdowne, and his second wife, Emily Jane Mercer Elphinstone de Flahault, first daughter of the comte de Flahault, but believed to be the offspring of the notorious French diplomat and politician, Talleyrand. Educated privately, he entered Eton (1858–62), where he was ‘fag-master’ to Arthur James Balfour (qv). After some private tutoring to prepare him for university, he entered Balliol College, Oxford, graduating BA in 1867. Styled Viscount Clanmaurice till 1863 (he was known affectionately as ‘Clan’ by his friends throughout his lifetime), he was earl of Kerry (1863–6) before succeeding his father as 5th marquess of Lansdowne. Thus he became a member of the house of lords, and a vast landowner; in 1883 he was estimated to be the sixteenth richest peer in the United Kingdom, fourth in order of land, possessing about 143,000 acres, of which 122,000 were in Ireland.
Although initially reluctant to engage in politics, he soon became a member of Gladstone's first two liberal administrations. He was successively a lord of the treasury (1868–72), under-secretary for war (1872–4), and under-secretary for India (April–July 1880). He resigned this last position in protest at Gladstone's compensation for disturbances bill, which he opposed in the lords in August 1880. This position subjected him to much nationalist abuse in Ireland, and he became a target of the Land League's plan of campaign, which became particularly vicious at his estate at Luggacurran, Queen's Co.
With many of his rents being withheld, he reluctantly accepted the office of governor general of Canada (1883–8), where his tenure passed smoothly. The only controversial incident occurred in 1887 when William O'Brien (qv), the nationalist MP, followed him to Canada to stir up agitation against him on behalf of his tenants back in Ireland. O'Brien's campaign was an embarrassing failure, however, and Lansdowne's position in Canada was, if anything, strengthened. In 1887 he was offered a position in Lord Salisbury's conservative administration, and the following year accepted the office of viceroy of India (1888–93). His time there passed smoothly and – his reputation as a careful diplomat assured – he was offered, but declined, the position of ambassador to St Petersburg. Returning to England he accepted the office of secretary of state for war (1895–1900) in Lord Salisbury's government, presiding over a reorganisation of the war office. The outbreak of the Boer war in 1899 damaged his reputation; the failures of the British army reflected badly on him, and after the 1900 general election he was moved to a different office as secretary of state for foreign affairs (1900–05). These were perhaps his years of greatest achievement. He negotiated two important alliances, with Japan in 1901 and with France in 1905, that shifted the global balance of power. His attempts at rapprochement with Germany, however, proved unsuccessful. When Balfour succeeded Salisbury as prime minister (1903), Lansdowne became leader of the conservative and unionist party in the lords. The liberal landslide in the 1906 general election posed his sternest test. Working closely with Balfour, he persistently used the power of the upper house to veto legislation passed by the massive liberal majority in the commons. This culminated in the constitutional crisis of 1910–11 arising from the lords' rejection of Lloyd George's budget in 1909. The two elections of 1910 gave the balance of power in the commons to the Irish parliamentary party which kept the liberals in government in return for a parliament bill limiting the lords' veto to two years and opening the way for a third home bill for Ireland. When the crisis came to a head, in August 1911, Lansdowne was confronted by the revelation that the king would create as many new peers as were necessary to enact the parliament bill thereby destroying the inbuilt conservative majority in the upper house. His determination at least to postpone the passage of the third home rule bill prompted him to side with the ‘hedgers’ (set on retaining the residual power to veto legislation for two years) against the ‘ditchers’ (set on resisting the bill at all costs). Many die-hard unionists never forgave him for his acquiescence in the enactment of the parliament bill. The split foreshadowed strategic differences on how best to oppose the third home rule bill between Ulster unionist extremists and the more moderate ‘southern’ unionists, personified by Lansdowne whose influence diminished after Bonar Law succeeded Balfour as leader of the conservative and unionist party in November 1911 and as Ulster unionist resistance became increasingly violent throughout 1912–14.
Lansdowne attended the unsuccessful Buckingham Palace conference in July 1914 that attempted to prevent civil war in Ireland, and on 2 August allowed Lansdowne House to be used for a meeting between Bonar Law, himself, and other party figures, which pledged support for France in its war with Germany. In May 1915 he joined the coalition government as minister without portfolio (having helped to defeat the women's enfranchisement bill in the lords the previous year). The death of his son, Charles Fitzmaurice, in the trenches in 1914, however, sent him into a deep depression, and coloured his later perceptions of the war. In November 1916 he wrote a lengthy memorandum to the prime minister, Asquith, arguing that victory was impossible, and that peace should be made. This contributed to the collapse of the government the following month, and he was not invited to join the new ministry. He made his views on the war public in a controversial letter to the Daily Telegraph on 29 November 1917. Immediately he drew on himself the opprobrium of the nation and was denounced for disloyalty, the Irish Times accusing him of having lost his nerve. The day after the letter was published Bonar Law, in Lansdowne's words, ‘excommunicated’ him from the conservative party; he was forced to withdraw from politics, his isolation soon becoming complete.
The war of independence made it difficult for him to reside in Ireland, and in 1922, during the civil war, his beloved house at Dereen, Co. Kerry, was looted and later burned. Having designed the house himself, he found this a crushing blow, and never quite recovered. Magnanimously, one of his final speeches in the lords was in November 1922 on the third reading of the Free State constitution bill, which he supported despite reservations. He returned to Dereen in 1925 but his health was failing, and he died of an aneurism during his annual trip to Ireland on 3 June 1927 at Newtown Anner, Co. Tipperary, and was buried at Christ Church, Derry Hill.
Although he appeared aloof and forbidding this was probably because he was a man of few words. If he had few close friends, it could also be said that he had no real enemies; many may have disagreed with his beliefs, but few disliked him personally. He was uncompromisingly cautious and conservative in his outlook. An opponent of democracy, he believed that ‘the man on the street is the most mischievous product of the age’. He loved Ireland, but worked tirelessly to thwart home rule, and clung to increasingly out-dated ideas about how the country should be governed.
He married (8 November 1869) Maud Evelyn Hamilton, seventh and youngest daughter of the 1st duke of Abercorn (qv) by his wife Louisa Jane Russell. They had two sons and six daughters. He was succeeded as 6th marquess by his eldest son Henry William Edmond Fitzmaurice (1872–1935), who as earl of Kerry was a member of the first Irish Free State senate.