Stewart, Charles Stewart Henry Vane - Tempest (1878–1949), 7th marquess of Londonderry , politician, was born 13 May 1878 in London, eldest son of Charles Stewart Vane-Tempest-Stewart (qv), 6th marquess, and his wife, the former Lady Theresa Chetwynd Talbot. He was educated at Eton and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and in 1897 obtained a commission in the Royal Horse Guards, marrying two years later (28 November 1899) Edith Helen (Edith Helen Vane-Tempest-Stewart (qv)), daughter of Henry (later Viscount) Chaplin. He left the army in 1906, when (as Viscount Castlereagh) he was elected conservative MP for Maidstone, and held the seat until the death of his father in 1915, when he transferred to the lords. With substantial estates in the counties of Down, Montgomery, and Durham, including highly lucrative mines, Londonderry was among the richest landowners in the United Kingdom. On the outbreak of war in 1914 he served in France as ADC to Sir William Pulteney, and was made lieutenant-colonel and twice mentioned in dispatches. However, he complained that he was being overlooked and could only work properly when in command. Such complaints became a trend in his career. Recalled in 1917 to attend the Irish Convention, he proved among the more conciliatory of the Ulster unionist delegates, putting forward a proposal for a federal all-Ireland solution within the empire, which was rejected by his colleagues but brought him favourable notice from Sir Horace Plunkett (qv), the convention chairman.
His prestige and connections – in particular his kinship with Winston Churchill – helped him politically. In January 1919 Churchill, then secretary of state for war, secured his nomination as finance member of the air council. The post was unpaid, but in April 1920 he became under-secretary at the air ministry (1920–21), having been passed over for this post once already. In 1921 he was invited by James Craig (qv) to become education minister and leader of the senate of Northern Ireland. Londonderry had a strong, lasting interest in the air force and was not as atavistically attached to Northern Ireland as was his father, but he was painfully conscious of his lineage, and regarded the invitation as a call of the blood. Acutely sensitive, he was also possibly smarting from his failure to get a second promotion in the air ministry.
At Stormont he cut an aristocratic figure. Lady Spender noted: ‘he apes his ancestor, the great Lord Castlereagh, wears a high black stock over his collar, and a very tightly fitting frock coat and doesn't look as if he belongs to this century at all’ (Barton, 501). He addressed his civil servants like domestics and emphasised points by striking the ministerial table with his riding crop. Liberal and cosmopolitan, he successfully opposed a proposal that would virtually eliminate female jurors, and unsuccessfully advocated a conciliatory approach to questions of law and order. After accompanying Craig to talks (30 March 1922) with Michael Collins (qv), he met Collins informally and was greatly impressed by him. His education act, introduced 14 March 1923, was known as the Londonderry act and has been called by Nicholas Mansergh (qv) ‘perhaps the most significant legislative achievement of the northern parliament’ (Mansergh, 300). Londonderry insisted on a rigorously secular system, which granted a large measure of control to local education authorities. In many ways a model act, it was introduced without a full consideration of the problems, and met with the opposition of catholic and protestant clergy alike. The United Education Committee of protestant churches, founded 1924, joined forces with the Orange order and forced Craig to amend the act in 1925. It was amended in all five times between 1925 and 1935.
On Craig's pleading, Londonderry had turned down an offer from Andrew Bonar Law in 1922 to be secretary of state for air, but he remained more interested in playing a British than a Northern Irish role, and more interested in air than education, where his efforts had in any case been thwarted. He resigned in 1926, and in 1928 was admitted to Stanley Baldwin's cabinet as commissioner of works (1928–9), again at the behest of Churchill. The Baldwin government fell the following year but in 1931 the national government under the labour leader, Ramsay MacDonald, took power. MacDonald, a close friend of Lady Londonderry since 1924, appointed Londonderry secretary of state for air (1931–5). Londonderry owed much of his political advancement to his wife's talent as a political hostess but some, including Baldwin, thought his alliance with MacDonald did him no good.
The air ministry was Londonderry's cherished ambition, but his tenure was largely unhappy. When he took office the international mood favoured disarmament, and this gelled with the treasury's desire to cut the budget for his ministry and the RAF. Londonderry resisted the worst of the cuts but received considerable criticism for his efforts to maintain an air force. In late 1934, after the collapse of the Geneva disarmament conference and evidence of Germany's increasing bellicosity, cabinet opinion began to move towards rearmament; however, Londonderry failed to capitalise on this. Unlike Churchill, he did not favour rearmament because he thought Germany a threat – on the contrary, he was sympathetic to Germany and convinced it was non-aggressive. Rather he saw rearmament as an insurance policy enabling Britain to argue from a position of strength, and also as necessary for policing the colonies. In his obsession with defending his ministry's too modest calculation of German air strength, he failed to press home his advantage in having resisted disarmament from the start. At a parliamentary debate (22 May 1935) he launched into a justification of his past rather than concentrating on the future, and alienated public opinion by referring to the need to preserve the air force for bombing in the Middle East and the frontiers of India. The following month his protector, MacDonald, left the premiership, and Baldwin moved him from the air ministry to be lord privy seal and leader of the house of lords. Five months later he was dismissed outright in Baldwin's ministerial reshuffle. He never again held position in government. Londonderry had a good record as air minister: he was proved right over rearmament, preserved the RAF from excessive treasury cuts, and encouraged the building of a new generation of fighters and the development of radar. However, this record was obscured by his defensiveness, stubbornness, inability to persuade, and poor political sense.
His next step was unfortunate but in keeping with his general need to justify himself: he embarked with his wife on a series of visits (between January 1936 and September 1938) to the Third Reich, where they were the guests of high-ranking Nazis, including Hermann Goering. The Londonderrys also entertained the German ambassador to Britain, Joachim von Ribbentrop, in Mount Stewart, Co. Down. As a result of these meetings Londonderry concluded that Germany was non-bellicose and that it sought friendship with Britain, but he was distressed that his former colleagues in cabinet were uninterested in his opinion; he had hoped to act as an informal channel between the two governments. His book Ourselves and Germany (1938) was little attended to on publication and did not help his postwar reputation: he praised Nazi Germany and admitted to having no great affection for Jews. Londonderry was no racial anti-Semite – he had a Jewish son-in-law and numerous Jewish friends – but he was prejudiced, and ready to blame international disturbances on covert Jewish influence.
His views and his political failings meant that he was left out of Churchill's wartime government, although Churchill remained supportive and in his memoirs, The gathering storm, generously commended him for supporting the building of Hurricanes and Spitfires. Londonderry retired to Mount Stewart and was regional commandant of the Air Training Corps in Northern Ireland and honorary air commodore of 502 (Ulster) Squadron of the RAF. The self-justifying The wings of destiny, about his years in the air ministry, was published in 1943. He died a disappointed man, at home in Mount Stewart, on 11 February 1949, having suffered a series of strokes in summer 1947, following a gliding accident in 1945. He was survived by his wife, son, and four daughters.
Despite his overriding interest in British politics, Londonderry left a more lasting legacy in Northern Ireland, including the presentation (1934) of his own land at Newtownards for Northern Ireland's first civil airport. His papers are in PRONI. A portrait by Sir John Lavery (qv) is in the Ulster Museum, and one by William Conor (qv) is in QUB.