The English statesman Edgar Algernon Robert Cecil, Viscount Cecil of Chelwood (1864-1958), received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937, in large part because of his untiring efforts to establish the League of Nations and ensure its continuing success.
Robert Cecil was born in London on Sept. 14, 1864, the third son of Lord Salisbury, Disraeli's successor as leader of the Conservative party. Cecil was educated at Eton and University College, Oxford. While preparing for the bar, he served as private secretary to his father. Cecil was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1887, and until 1906, when he was elected to Parliament, he carried on a successful parliamentary law practice.
Cecil's victory in 1906 was not shared by most of his Unionist party colleagues, for they were deeply divided over protective tariffs. Cecil himself supported free trade. He also supported the state church, a concept to which he was always devoted. Defeated twice in 1910 in two different constituencies, he regained his seat in the Commons in a by election in 1911.
In 1915 Cecil was appointed undersecretary in the Foreign Office, where he worked under the foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey and his successor Arthur Balfour. From 1916 Cecil also held Cabinet rank as minister of blockade, and in 1918 he became assistant foreign secretary, acting in Balfour's place for extended periods when the foreign secretary was ill. Cecil's smooth handling of British blockade was an outstanding contribution to the war effort. His maintenance of satisfactory relations with the United States was particularly important.
After the war Cecil turned his attention to the League of Nations. He led the British delegation to the League, and he and Gen. Smuts of South Africa were primarily responsible for drafting the League Covenant. For the next 20 years Cecil devoted much of his energy to the League and was widely recognized for his contribution to peace-keeping efforts. Although holding a position in the Cabinet in 1923 and from 1924 to 1927, he spent most of his time on League affairs.
In 1937 Cecil was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his dedication to the international amity and cooperation; but his hopes for the League were not fulfilled. He had been a delegate to the League's first assembly in 1920, and he was present at its dissolution in 1946. Having been raised to the peerage in 1923 as Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, he was a member of the House of Lords until his death on Nov. 24, 1958.
The best account of Cecil's life is his autobiography All the Way (1949). His earlier autobiography, A Great Experiment (1941), emphasizes his experience with the League of Nations. Cecil and his most important work can be examined in F. P. Walters, A History of the League of Nations (2 vols., 1952), and in A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914-1945 (1965). □