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Rufus Isaacs, Marquess of Reading

Full nameRufus Daniel Isaacs, 1st Marquess of Reading (cr 1926; 1st Earl cr 1917; Viscount, Erleigh cr 1917; 1st Viscount, Reading cr 1916; Baron cr 1914), PC 1911, Kt 1910, GCB 1915, GCSI 1921, GCIE 1921, GCVO 1922, KCVO 1911
Born10 Oct 1860, London, United Kingdom
Died30 Dec 1935, London, United Kingdom

The second son of a Jewish fruit-importer, Rufus Daniel Isaacs had an inauspicious schooling, attending an Anglo-Jewish school and University College School in London, before entering the family business aged thirteen. Happy neither with this life, nor with spells as a seaman or on the Stock Exchange, in 1885 Isaacs enrolled at Middle Temple, and was called to the Bar in 1887. He proved highly successful, and was appointed QC in 1898, Solicitor-General in 1910, and Attorney-General a few months later, serving also as Liberal MP for Reading from 1904-13. From 1913-21 he served as Lord Chief Justice of England, during which he led important diplomatic missions to the US, where he was appointed High Commissioner and Special Ambassador in 1918. From 1921-26 he was Viceroy and Governor-General of India, upon return being elevated to a Marquessate.

Reading was the leading British Liberal delegate at the conference.

For additional biographical information, see the official delegate Who's Who for the Second Session. See also Emery Kelen's caricature, from his portfolio of delegates at the Round Table Conference.


  • September 1929: Reading played a key role in negotiating Irwin’s declaration through the networks of British politics, securing Liberal support but opposing any commitment to Dominion Status beyond the 1917 declaration. (Moore, 1974:68-69)
  • 5th November 1929: Reading led protests against the nature of the Irwin declaration. (Moore, 1974:86)
  • June 1930: Reading also opposed a statement drafted by Irwin in an attempt to appeal to Congress sentiment ahead of the RTC, by suggesting that it could have a Dominion constitution as its aim. (Moore, 1974:110)
  • October 1930: Reading pressed Benn to confirm that the British delegates would work as one team, which Benn resisted. (Moore, 1974:119)

First Session

  • Reading led the Liberal delegation, determined to be the dominant opposition delegate, which could mean supporting Irwin’s proposals. (Moore, 1974:119)
  • November 10th 1930: Benn convened an Agenda Committee, including Reading, who agreed that the first few days of conference work should be spend discussing federation: “Reading had found deliverance from the menace of a united British Indian demand for Dominion Status at the opening of the conference.” (Moore, 1974:142)
  • November 17th 1930: Reading joined the Federal Structure Committee, and was felt to be hold the balance of power between the Government and Tory delegates. (Moore, 1974:151)
  • December 16th 1930: Reading hosted a party for the Indian Princes, which featured in the “Woman’s World” column of the Evening Standard
    • “Lord Reading’s reception last night for the Indian Princes was nearer to being an old-fashioned ‘crush’ party than any entertainment of this season. Distinguished guests followed close on one another’s heels up the staircase, women wore their loveliest jewels, and impressive collections of decorations enlivened black dress coats.” (Evening Standard)
  • January 5th 1931: Reading assented to plans for federation with central responsibility with safeguards within an all-India federation. This was widely acknowledged as making federation a realisable objective for the conference. (Moore, 1974:151)
  • January 8th 1931: Hailey letter to Irwin: While the conservatives are in a bad position “Lord Reading has captured the whole of the limelight at the Conference and no India speaker can refer to him without throwing a bouquet across the table.” (British Library: E220.34)
  • August 1931: Appointed Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Lords in MacDonald’s First National Government, though stood down in the post-election government formed in November.

Second Session

  • 17th December 1931: Reading addressed the Federal Structure Committee: 
    • “May I be permitted to say, Lord Chancellor, in order to save time, that I have done a thing that I very rarely do, and dislike doing, namely, to study a speech which I made some time ago? I have been reading what I said in January. I have now come to the conclusion that if I were to make it to-day there is nothing that I would change in what I then said except for certain matters of detail which were left open for adjustment, and upon which my mind would be perfectly free and open now—matters of detail which are hardly, I think, worth discussing at this stage. I can see no reason for changing any of the views I then expressed.” (Proceedings of Federal Structure Committee and Minorities Committee (Volume II), pp. 996-997)
  • 30th November 1931, plenary address; Reading suggested that many difficult things have been said and heard but “…in the end the method of this Conference, with its full discussion, its free and outspoken opinions, its friendly contacts between all the members, has been in my judgement, Prime Minister, completely vindicated. Whatever critics—and there are many—may have to say, in my view the method of the conference has triumphed, and in my hope the method of the conference will continue.” (Indian Round Table Conference (Second Session), Proceedings, p. 240)

Third Session

  • 9th December 1932: Hoare to Willingdon: the British delegation was described as working as one, in part because Hoare had been feeding Reading and Lothian all the relevant Cabinet papers and leaving them to form their own opinion, which matched his: “We meet every morning before the session of the Conference and so far have arranged not unsatisfactorily for the general conduct of the debate. I only hope that it will go on like this until the end.” (British Library E240.2)


  • Reading (1933:618) wrote in Foreign Affairs: “If we could express the results of the Conference in a graph it would look like one of the familiar graphs of a normal trade cycle. The first session would be shown as a steeply mounting line from depression to hope; then a sharp drop during the second session; and finally a well-marked rise for the third session. The declaration of the Princes at the first session in favor of an All-India Conference started the upward 'move.”
  • 1934: Appointed Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports

Sources used


Secondary literature

  • Who Was Who:
  • A. Lentin, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:
  • Earl of Birkenhead, “The Right Hon. The Earl of Reading”, in Contemporary Personalities (London: Cassell and Company; 1924), pp. 103-112:
  • The Times, “Lord Reading”, Issue Number 47259 (31 Dec 1935), p. 6; , “Lord Reading”, p. 13
  • Manchester Guardian, “Death of Lord Reading: Liberal Statesman's Career: Lord Chief Justice and Viceroy: A Brilliant Advocate” (31 Dec 1935), p. 4
  • Denis Judd, Lord Reading: Rufus Isaacs, first Marquess of Reading, Lord Chief Justice and Viceroy of India, 1860-1935 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson; 1982)
ImagesPhotograph of Rufus Isaacs, Marquess of Reading, from the published biographical guide to delegates at the second session of the Round Table Conference, 1931

"The Most Hon. the Marquess of Reading, G.C.B., G.C.S.I., G.C.I.E., G.C.V.O., Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 1931; 1st Marquess of, created 1926; Rufus Daniel Isaacs, 1st Earl, created 1917; Viscount Erleigh, created 1917; 1st Viscount Reading, created 1916; Baron, created 1914; Knight, created 1910; G.C.B., created 1915, P.C., 1911; G.C.V.O., created 1922; K.C.V.O., created 1911; G.C.S.I., G.C.I.E.; Captain of Deal Castle since 1926." From Indian Round Table Conference Second Session 1931: Biographical Notes and Photographs of the British and Indian Delegates (London: St. James's Palace). By permission of the British Library (shelfmark T 11187). Reproduced under Open Government Licence v3.0 (

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