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Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor

Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor (19 May 1879 – 30 September 1952) was a British politician and newspaper proprietor.


Early life

A member of the prominent Astor family, Waldorf was born in New York City. He was the son of William Waldorf Astor and Mary Dahlgren Paul (1858 - 1894); his brother was John Jacob Astor, later the first Baron Astor of Hever. He spent much of his life traveling and living in Europe before his family settled in Great Britain in 1889. There Waldorf attended Eton College and New College, Oxford, where he did not distinguish himself academically but excelled as a sportsman, earning accolades for both fencing and polo.[1]

In 1905, while a passenger on an Atlantic voyage returning to Britain, Astor met Nancy Witcher Langhorne, an American divorcée. After a rapid courtship, the two married in May 1906. As a wedding gift, Astor's father gave him and his bride the family estate at Cliveden, which Nancy redecorated and modernized with the installation of electricity. Theirs proved a close marriage, one that produced four sons and a daughter. Astor valued his wife; through her, Astor developed an interest in social reform, while it was Nancy who introduced him to Christian Science, to which he converted in 1924.[2]

Public career

Nancy also encouraged her husband to launch a career in politics. Though defeated in an initial attempt to win election to the House of Commons in the January 1910 general election, Astor won election as a Unionist for the borough of Plymouth in the December 1910 general election. He held the seat until the constituency was abolished in 1918, after which he moved to the borough of Plymouth Sutton. Despite his political affiliation, Astor quickly demonstrated his independence by his support for the so-called "People's Budget" and the National Insurance Act of 1911.[3]

In 1911, Astor was approached by J. L. Garvin, the editor of The Observer, about purchasing the newspaper from its owner, the press baron Lord Northcliffe. The two men had a disagreement over the issue of Imperial Preference, and Northcliffe had given Garvin the option of finding a buyer for the paper. Astor convinced his father to purchase the paper, which William did on the condition that Garvin also agree to edit the Pall Mall Gazette, which was also a property of the Astor family.[4] Though his father provided the funds, it was Waldorf who was in charge of the paper, and he developed a harmonious working relationship with Garvin. William formally turned over ownership of both papers to his son in 1915, who promptly sold the Pall Mall Gazette but retained ownership of The Observer.

Like many of his class, Astor joined the army at the start of the First World War. Having been diagnosed with a bad heart, Astor was unable to serve in combat and instead fought waste and inefficiency in munitions production. When his friend David Lloyd George became prime minister and formed a new coalition government, Astor became his parliamentary private secretary. In 1918 he served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food and from 1919 until 1921 he served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health while also playing a prominent role as a member of Lloyd George's "garden suburb" of advisers.[3]

In 1916 William Waldorf Astor was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Astor. Upon the death of his father in 1919 Waldorf Astor succeeded to the viscountcy, becoming the 2nd Viscount Astor despite Waldorf's attempts to disclaim the title.[5] Now a member of the House of Lords, Astor was forced to forfeit his seat in the House of Commons, though he remained active in the government. The seat was won subsequently in a by-election by Astor's wife Nancy, who became the second woman elected to the House of Commons and the first woman to take her seat in the House, after the first woman elected, Constance Markiewicz, had declined in accordance with her party's policy. Nancy retained the seat until she stepped down in the 1945 general election.[6]

Later years

With his political career eclipsed by that of his wife, Astor turned to greater involvement in charitable causes. He became governor of the Peabody Trust and Guy's Hospital, while his interest in international relations fueled his involvement with the Royal Institute of International Affairs, and he served as its chairman from 1935 to 1949. He was also a considerable benefactor to the city of Plymouth, and served as its Lord Mayor from 1939 to 1944. He took over a thoroughbred racing stable from his father and expanded it, winning a number of races, including the St. Leger Stakes in 1927.

During the military buildup in Germany in the 1930s, the Astors promoted entente with Germany, seen by some as appeasement of Hitler. Many of their associates felt sympathy for the state of Germany after World War I, feared Communism, and supported the position of the British government. Lord Astor had Anti-Semitic views and in the 1930s he told Thomas Jones that Germany was criticized because, Newspapers are influenced by those firms which advertise so largely in the press and are frequently under Jewish control.[7] However, Lady Astor was critical of the Nazis, mostly on women's rights. Lord Astor's Anti-Semitism was non-violent and he protested to Hitler about treatment of the Jews. In 1940, they urged Neville Chamberlain to resign and supported Churchill as replacement. He also supported war against Germany when it came although both remained uncomfortable with Joseph Stalin as an ally. His son David, who became owner and editor of The Observer in 1948, never forgave Claud Cockburn and his newssheet The Week for attacks on the "Cliveden Set".

The Astor family donated Cliveden Estate in Buckinghamshire to the National Trust.

Lord Astor died in 1952 at Cliveden.[5][8]


  1. R.J.Q. Adams, "Astor, Waldorf, second Viscount Astor", in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), vol. 2, p. 801.
  2. Christopher Sykes, Nancy: The Life of Lady Astor (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), pgs. 79-82, 87, 146.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Adams, op cit.
  4. Alfred M. Gollin, The Observer and J. L. Garvin, 1908-1914 (London: Oxford University Press, 1960), pgs. 300-303.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Viscount Astor, 73, Dead at Cliveden. American-Born Peer Was One of Set in 1930's That Failed to Recognize Nazi Threat. Astor One of Virginia's Langhorne Sisters. Father Had Been U. S. Diplomat". New York Times. October 1, 1952. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F40A15FE3558177B93C3A9178BD95F468585F9. Retrieved 2010-03-21. "In 1919, on his father's death, he became the second Viscount and Baron Astor" 
  6. Sykes, op cit, pgs. 187-209
  7. A Reevaluation of Cockburn's Cliveden Set
  8. "Death Claims British Peer". Eugene Register-Guard. September 30, 1952. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=RcoUAAAAIBAJ&sjid=xOIDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5848,5553735&dq=waldorf+astor+2nd+viscount+astor&hl=en. Retrieved 2010-03-21. 

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
[[Category:UK MPs 1910


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