Macready, Sir (Cecil Frederick) Nevil (1862–1946), 1st baronet, soldier, was born 7 May 1862 in Cheltenham, England, youngest child (of three who survived infancy) of William Charles Macready, actor, and only child of William's second wife, Cecile Louise Frederica Macready (née Spencer), a granddaughter of the painter Sir William Beechey. Macready was known as Nevil throughout his life, and in the army acquired the nickname ‘Make-ready’, which matched the preferred pronunciation of his surname.
Macready was mainly educated at Cheltenham College (1878–80), from where he proceeded to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst (1880–81). In 1881 he was commissioned into the Gordon Highlanders and until 1899 served at home and abroad, including five years as a military policeman in Egypt. He saw active service during the Boer war (1899–1902), and was one of the besieged garrison of Ladysmith. Promoted colonel in 1903, he served in a number of staff jobs in the War Office, and commanded a brigade in 1909–10. In 1910 he was promoted major-general and became director of personal services at the War Office, responsible for army discipline and the use of troops in aid of the civil power, a sensitive responsibility at a time of serious labour unrest in Great Britain and threatened civil unrest in Ireland arising from the Ulster crisis of 1912–14. He earned the confidence of the government as a safe pair of hands in times and circumstances where passions ran high and precipitate action could prove very costly. His own liberal political opinions (he conceded, for example, the right to strike, and favoured Irish home rule) marked him out from the British officer corps as a whole, and underpinned his reputation among ministers in Asquith's liberal administration. He was knighted in 1912. In the spring of 1914 Macready was nominated to be ‘military governor’ in Belfast should serious civil unrest break out and the army be sent in to keep order. With the outbreak of war in August, however, and the temporary cessation of unionist–nationalist hostilities, this did not occur.
During the first world war, Macready successively served as adjutant general of the British expeditionary force in France, and, from 1916 to 1918, as adjutant general at the War Office, responsible for the supply of military manpower. In August 1918 he was appointed commissioner of the metropolitan police, after the London police had gone on strike for better pay and the right to form a trade union. Macready ended the action by granting a pay rise and promising to set up some representative machinery for the men. A year later he responded to a second strike with summary dismissals and the firm enforcement of discipline.
Macready's reputation, as a man with considerable political nous and experience of civil and military security matters, led to the British prime minister, Lloyd George, appointing him general officer commanding in Ireland in the spring of 1920. Macready was extremely reluctant to take the job, averring that he loathed Ireland and the Irish more even than he hated the Germans. But he accepted the challenge principally as a favour to his old chief, Lord French (qv), now lord-lieutenant of Ireland. Macready did much to reinvigorate the British garrison in Ireland, boosting morale, heightening efficiency, and providing much-needed technical support, such as motor transport. But the security effort was fatally undermined by his refusal to take on command of the police as well as the army, and his evident condoning of the ill-conceived rough-and-ready tactics adopted by the RIC and their semi-military reinforcements in the ‘Black and Tans’ and the auxiliary division. Macready made it clear to the British government that without a drive of Cromwellian severity (which was politically quite unacceptable) no military solution was possible in Ireland. Unlike his friend and colleague Sir Henry Wilson (qv), chief of the imperial general staff, Macready recognised the necessity of trying to negotiate some sort of settlement with the Irish republican leadership. After the Anglo–Irish treaty of December 1921 he superintended the evacuation of the British garrison without serious incident. Following the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson in June 1922, moreover, Macready deliberately delayed acting on orders from London to deploy British forces against the republican-occupied Four Courts on the sensible grounds that this would plunge Ireland and Anglo–Irish relations into deep crisis. On his retirement from the army in 1923 Macready was created a baronet.
In 1886 Macready married Sophia Geraldine Atkin, who came from a Co. Cork family. They had two daughters and one son, Gordon Nevil Macready, who had a distinguished military career. Macready died 9 June 1946 in London and was succeeded by his son as second baronet. There are portraits of Macready by Percy Anderson (Royal Collection, Windsor Castle) and Francis Dodd (Imperial War Museum, London). On completion of his memoirs in 1924, Macready destroyed his diary and other personal papers.