George Buchanan (diplomat)

Sir George William Buchanan, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, PC (1854 - 1924) was a British diplomat. Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, he was the son of British Ambassador Sir Andrew Buchanan, Bt..

In 1908 he was appointed as minister in The Hague, The Netherlands. In 1910 Buchanan was appointed as the British Ambassador in Russia. He kept abreast of the political developments in Russia and met some of the leading liberal reformists in the country. It has been suggested that this was secretly encouraged by the then Liberal government in London.

Buchanan was the ambassador at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917. He had developed a strong bond with the Tsar, Nicholas II, and attempted to convince the Tsar that granting some constitutional reform would stave-off revolution. Unfortunately Nicholas's opinion of him was poisoned by the Tsarina's views. Knowing that there were plots to stage a palace coup to replace him, Sir George formally requested an audience of the Tsar in the troubled early days of 1917. At his last meeting with Nicholas he pleaded with him in 'undiplomatic' language: "I can but plead as my excuse the fact that I have throughout been inspired by my feelings of devotion for Your Majesty and the Empress. If I were to see a friend walking through a wood on a dark night along a path which I knew ended in a precipice, would it not be my duty, sir, to warn him of his danger? And is it not equally my duty to warn Your Majesty of the abyss that lies ahead of you? You have, sir, come to the parting of the ways, and you have now to choose between two paths. The one will lead you to victory and a glorious peace - the other to revolution and disaster. Let me implore Your Majesty to choose the former."(Jan 12, 1917- page 49, Vol.II autobiography)

Sadly, although the Tsar was touched by the Ambassador's devotion, he allowed his wife's malevolent attitudes to overbear the sensible advice he had been given. After the collapse of the Autocracy (see Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia), he developed close relations with the liberal Provisional Government led by Alexander Kerensky that formed after the February Revolution. However, after the events of the October Revolution and the Bolsheviks ascendency to power he was widely criticised for the failure to ensure that Tsar Nicholas II and his family were evacuated from Russia before their execution by the Bolsheviks at Ekaterinburg in 1918. It is now known that this was not his fault but that of King George V who, fearful of revolutionary trends in Britain, persuaded the Lloyd George government to rescind the offer they had made to provide sanctuary for the Imperial Family.

Sir George, disappointed that the fledgling democracy offered by the Provisional Government was strangled by the Bolshevik coup in October, finished his distinguished career as ambassador to the Holy See from 1919-21.

Sir George's autobiography, My Mission to Russia and Other Diplomatic Memories, was published in 1923. It is believed that he had to leave out some of what he knew under threat of losing his pension. He died in 1924.

Meriel Buchanan (daughter) wrote several perceptive books about the revolution,which she witnessed, and key figures she had personally known. Meriel married Major Harold Knowling in May 1925 and died 6 Feb. 1959.

  • Victorian Gallery, Cassell 1956.
  • Queen Victoria's Relations, Cassell, 1954.
  • Dissolution of an Empire, John Murray, 1932
  • Petrograd, City of Trouble, 1918
  • Recollections of Imperial Russia, 1923
  • Ambassador's Daughter, 1958

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