Ancient history

Horatio Herbert Kitchener

Last updated:2022-07-25

Horatio Herbert Kitchener, known as Lord Kitchener, born in Ballylongford (County Kerry, Ireland) on June 24, 1850 and died off the coast of Orkney on June 5, 1916, was a British marshal and politician.


Horatio Herbert Kitchener was the third child of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Horatio Kitchener (1805-1894), and his first wife, Frances Ann Chevallier, a descendant of a family of French Protestants exiled at the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (died in 1864). In 1864, her family moved to Switzerland to treat her mother's tuberculosis, but she died the same year. He then studied in a French college in Geneva. Then he entered the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich in 1868. In 1870, he was with his family in Dinan when the Franco-Prussian War broke out. He enlisted as a volunteer in the army of Napoleon III; because he did so in defiance of British neutrality, he could only serve as a nurse and was reprimanded on his return by his military hierarchy. He served in particular in a battalion of the Côtes-du-Nord. Before the end of the war, pneumonia forced him to return to the United Kingdom.

A controversial hero

Became an officer of the Royal Engineers on January 4, 1871, he made several stays in Palestine, Cyprus and Egypt, where he learned Arabic. In 1874, he was commissioned to map Palestine with the help of Officer Conder. In 1875, after being attacked by natives in the Galilee at Safed, he returned to England, where his cartographic surveys of 1881 to 1885, which are the first modern maps of the region, were published. In 1884-1885, he was part of the expedition to rescue General Charles Gordon, a Mahdi prisoner in Khartoum, Sudan during the Mahdist War. The campaign is a failure, and General Gordon is killed. But, after having been appointed Sirdar, that is to say commander-in-chief of the army of Egypt in 1892, he returned to Sudan in 1896, avenged Gordon Pasha and took back Khartoum in 1898. This campaign ended with the brilliant victory of Omdurman (September 2, 1898), which makes Kitchener the most popular of the military chiefs of the British Empire; he is made Governor of Sudan.

A second event marks his glory:he notably confronts Captain Marchand during the Fashoda crisis. A third event brought Kitchener to the height of its glory:the Second Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa. On his return in 1902, he was made Viscount by Queen Victoria (he was not made Lord until 1914). Finally, he commanded the Army of India, which he reorganized (1902-1909); creates the Australian Army; and ended up being consul-general of Egypt (1911-1914). He dreams of occupying the most important position in the British Empire:to be Viceroy of India; but Queen Victoria refuses him this promotion, considering that "he does not like the natives". His career made him a true national hero.

In the eyes of historians, Lord Kitchener is one of the great instigators of modern warfare, in particular by the systematic use of Maxim machine guns against the Mahdist cavalry as well as by the establishment of the first concentration camps during the Second Boer War. . But he was also criticized for this last measure and his decision to destroy the Boer farms. The authors of these criticisms were notably Lloyd George and Charles Trevelyan.

The First World War

In August 1914, he was appointed Minister of War. His effigy on recruitment posters, based on a portrait by Alexander Bassano, encourages volunteers to enlist. In a short time, the British army went from 150,000 professional soldiers to more than 1.5 million mobilized. In three months, he obtained 2 million voluntary commitments. By the conscription law of January 1916, the numbers reached more than 3 million soldiers. Gallipoli's campaign and his mistake in the choice of shells (he preferred shrapnel to high-explosive shells) somewhat dented his credit with the public, but he remained very popular. Sinn Féin (ally of the Germans against the English) is preparing a defamatory press campaign, likening Lord Kitchener to a homosexual; but Scotland Yard manages to prevent the operation.

But he falls out with politicians like Lloyd George, or rather politicians resent his efficiency and popularity. He was thus removed from the post of Minister of Armaments and Chief of Staff. He wants to resign, but he is made to understand that the country needs unity and that his resignation would have the worst effect.

He died in a shipwreck on June 5, 1916. His death shocked the British, and until today it arouses controversy:some see it as an assassination ordered by Lloyd George (without this ever being proven).

The circumstances of his death

He perished during a mission that was to take him to Russia:on June 5, 1916, northwest of Orkney, the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hampshire was en route to the Russian Empire when it struck a German mine laid by the U75 two kilometers off Marwick Head. The boat did not sink immediately, but within fifteen minutes. Sixty-six-year-old Lord Kitchener preferred to sink with the ship rather than freeze to death in the waters, and his body was never found. Rumors affirmed that the English political power had thus got rid of an embarrassing soldier; and indeed, soon after, Lloyd George took over as head of the English government (something Kitchener had previously forbidden). Lloyd George would thus have, through the intermediary of Scotland Yard, let the German and Irish intelligence services (of Sinn Féin) filter the trip of Lord Kitchener. A white paper appeared in 1926 to silence the rumours, but without putting an end to them.

Fritz Joubert Duquesne, resentful of Kitchener's abuses during the Second Boer War, also claimed responsibility.

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