Reginald McKenna

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The Right Honourable
Reginald McKenna
Reginald McKenna photo.jpg
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
27 May 1915 – 10 December 1916
Monarch George V
Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
Preceded by David Lloyd George
Succeeded by Bonar Law
Home Secretary
In office
23 October 1911 – 27 May 1915
Monarch George V
Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
Preceded by Winston Churchill
Succeeded by Sir John Simon
First Lord of the Admiralty
In office
12 April 1908 – 23 October 1911
Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
Preceded by Edward Marjoribanks
Succeeded by Winston Churchill
President of the Board of Education
In office
23 January 1907 – 12 April 1908
Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Preceded by Augustine Birrell
Succeeded by Walter Runciman
Financial Secretary to the Treasury
In office
12 December 1905 – 23 January 1907
Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Preceded by Victor Cavendish
Succeeded by Walter Runciman
Member of Parliament
for North Monmouthshire
In office
7 August 1895 – 14 December 1918
Preceded by Thomas Phillips Price
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Personal details
Born (1863-07-06)6 July 1863
Kensington, London[1]
Died 6 September 1943(1943-09-06) (aged 80)
Nationality British
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) Pamela Jekyll (d. 1943)
Alma mater Trinity Hall, Cambridge

Reginald McKenna (6 July 1863 – 6 September 1943) was a British banker and Liberal politician. He notably served as Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer during the premiership of H. H. Asquith. His first post under Henry Campbell-Bannerman was as President of the Board of Education. From there he was promoted to the Cabinet as an Imperialist to be First Lord of the Admiralty. As a friend of Asquith his politics were similar; but historians regard his politics as non-Asquithian. By character he was a studious, meticulous and dedicated mathematician. he was noted for paying attention to detail, but was bureaucratic and partisan. McKenna exhibited strong departmental loyalty, yet lacked the wider concern for national interests, typical of the statesmanlike group of Liberal Imperialists. The banker economist was urbane, sociable, and adaptive to more conservative and prudent ideals.[2]

Background and education

Born in Kensington, London,[1] McKenna was the son of William Columban McKenna and his wife Emma, daughter of Charles Hanby.[3] Sir Joseph Neale McKenna was his uncle. McKenna was educated at King's College School and at Trinity Hall, Cambridge.[4] At Cambridge he was a notable rower. In 1886 he was a member of the Trinity Hall Boat Club eight that won the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta.[5] He rowed bow in the winning Cambridge boat in the 1887 Boat Race. Also in 1887 he was a member of the Trinity Hall coxless four that won the Stewards' Challenge Cup at Henley.

Reginald McKenna by Leslie Ward (Vanity Fair caricatures) entitled "In the winning crew"

Political career

McKenna was elected at the 1895 general election as Member of Parliament (MP) for North Monmouthshire. McKenna was a Liberal Imperialist. After the Khaki Election of 1900, he supported Lord Rosebery's controversial return to government.[6] He served in the Liberal governments of Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith as President of the Board of Education, First Lord of the Admiralty (1908–11), and Home Secretary. In December 1905 he was appointed ahead of Winston Churchill, as Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

He was considered priggy, and prissy by his opponents, as well as methodical, and efficient, but with nil charisma by his critics. However his financial skills were such as to prompt Stanley Baldwin to demand his return to government in 1930s. McKenna's estimates were submitted to unprecedented scrutiny by the 'economists' Lloyd George and Churchill. McKenna made extravagant naval estimates in December 1906 for the years 1909-10 of £36 m. This was the Dreadnought building program inspired by reformer Admiral Fisher. In 1907, the Tory majority in the Lords emasculated the budget, failing a budget increase of 11%. The June Resolutions asked from Campbell-Bannerman prompted a censure motion on the radical ministry.

While serving on the Board of Education from 1907 to 1908, McKenna was responsible for such reforms as the introduction of free places in secondary schools[7][8] and the bestowing upon local authorities the powers to deal with the health and physical needs of children.[9] At the Admiralty in 1908, he worked through the unemployment problem. He started the Labour Exchange Bills from May 1909, a policy later associated with Churchill. McKenna came under increasing pressure from speeches outside parliament. The number of Dreadnoughts was increased from six to eight ships. McKenna survived the General Elections of 1910, and his post at the Admiralty in Asquith's government. Churchill his biggest critic was moved to the Home Office.[10] McKenna’s promotion to the Home Office one of numerous Cabinet appointments at the time which, according to historian Duncan Tanner, “pushed the (Liberal) party still further to the left.”[11]

As Chancellor of the Exchequer in Asquith's coalition government, he opposed the introduction of conscription in World War I, and retired into opposition upon the fall of Asquith at the end of 1916. In the meantime, McKenna oversaw the issue of the Second War Loan in June 1915, at an interest rate of 4.5%. The government also pledged that if they issued War Loan at even higher interest (as they did with the 5% issue of 1917), holders of the 4.5% bonds might also convert to the new rate. His predecessor David Lloyd George criticised McKenna in his memoirs for increasing the interest rate from the 3.5% of the 1914 War Loan at a time when investors had few alternatives and might even have had their capital "conscripted" by the government. Not only did the change ultimately increase the nation's interest payments by £100 million/year but it meant interest rates were higher throughout the economy during the post-war depression.[12] Compared to France, the British government relied more on short-term financing in the form of treasury bills and exchequer bonds during World War I; Treasury bills provided the bulk of British government funds in 1916.[13]

An anti-Lloyd George Liberal,[14] McKenna was critical of the Chancellor’s political approach, telling Conservative politician Arthur Balfour that

“you disagree with us, but you can understand our principles. Lloyd George doesn't understand them and we can't make him.”[15]

Although critical of Lloyd George, McKenna nevertheless saw the state as having an important role in society, a sentiment that he shared with his Liberal colleague Herbert Asquith. As noted by Stephen McKenna

“Without trying to define the whole duty of Liberal man, Asquith and McKenna were at one in seeing that if certain services were not undertaken by the state, they would not be undertaken at all. Old age pensions were a case in point. They had not been dangled as an electioneering bait; Asquith made no appeal to sentiment or emotion when the Cabinet committee of investigation was set up, but from their first days together at the Treasury he and McKenna had agreed that, if the money could be found, this was a matter on which a beginning must be made forthwith.”[16]

McKenna duties

In September 1915, he introduced a 33​13% levy on luxury imports in order to fund the war effort. This excluded commercial vehicles, which were needed for the war. The tax, which became known as the "McKenna Duties", was intended to be temporary but lasted for 41 years until it was finally axed in 1956. It was briefly waived between August 1924 and June 1925, then extended on 1 May 1926 to cover commercial vehicles.[17]

Chairman of the Midland Bank

He lost his seat in the 1918 general election and became Chairman of the Midland Bank. In 1922, the new Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law hoped to persuade him to come out of retirement and serve once again at the Exchequer, but he refused, and remained in private life. The following year Law's successor Stanley Baldwin repeated the request and McKenna was more agreeable. However he wished to enter Parliament as MP for the City of London and neither of the incumbent MPs would agree to vacate in order to make room. As a result, McKenna declined.

McKenna used his status as chairman of one of the big five British banks to argue that monetary policy could be used to achieve domestic macroeconomic objectives. At the Chamberlain-Bradbury committee he questioned whether a return to the gold standard was desirable. John Maynard Keynes was the only other witness to do so, although others proposed a delayed return.[18]


McKenna was married in 1908 to Pamela Jekyll (who died November 1943), younger daughter of Sir Herbert Jekyll (brother of landscape gardener Gertrude Jekyll) and his wife Dame Agnes Jekyll, née Graham.[3][19] They had two sons – Michael (died 1931) and David, who married Lady Cecilia Elizabeth Keppel (born 12 April 1910, died 16 June 2003), a daughter of Walter Keppel, 9th Earl of Albemarle in 1934.

Reginald McKenna died in London on 6 September 1943, and was buried at St Andrew's Church in Mells, Somerset. His wife died two months later, and is buried beside him. McKenna was a regular client of Sir Edwin Lutyens who designed the Midland Bank headquarters in Poultry, London, and several branches. Pamela McKenna was a high society hostess whose dinner parties charmed Asquith at their Lutyens-built townhouse in Smith Square. Lutyens the unofficial imperial-government architect built several homes for McKenna, and the political classes, as well as his grave.[20] Lutyens was commissioned to build 36 Smith Square in 1911,[21] followed by Park House in Mells Park, Somerset, built in 1925.[22] The owners of Mells Park were Sir John Horner and his wife Frances, née Graham, who was Agnes Jekyll's sister,[23] and they agreed to let the park to McKenna for a nominal rent, on the understanding that he would rebuild the house.[24] Lutyens built a final house for McKenna at Halnaker Park, in Halnaker, Sussex,[25] in 1938.[26] Lutyens designed the McKenna family tomb in St Andrew's Church, Mells, in 1932.[27]

His nephew Stephen McKenna was a popular novelist who published a biography of his uncle in 1948.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "McKenna, Reginald" - Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. S McKenna, Reginald McKenna, 1863-1943 (1948); R Jenkins, The Chancellors (1998), 158-206.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lundy, Darryl (14 August 2009). "Rt. Hon. Reginald McKenna". Retrieved 10 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[unreliable source?]
  4. "McKenna, Reginald (MKN882R)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. R C Lehmann "The Complete Oarsman
  6. on 17 November 1900, in conversation with Wemyss Reid, in McKinstry J (2005) "Rosebery", 425.
  10. Jenkins R (1998), 151-8.
  12. Lloyd George, David (1938). War Memoirs Volume I. London: Odhams Press. pp. 73–4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Horn, Martin (2002). Britain, France, and the financing of the First World War. McGill-Queen's Press. p. 82. ISBN 9780773522947.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Motoring Taxes". British Motor Manufacturers (1894-1960). Retrieved 8 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "The first 100 years: A policy that crippled: The gold standard debate".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>/
  19. Details of the Jekyll family and BBC: Making History: Sir Herbert Jekyll. Retrieved 4 December 2007. Sir Herbert's elder daughter Barbara married as her 2nd husband, Field Marshal Lord Freyberg; her grandson holds the peerage today.
  20. Jenkins, R, The Chancellors, (Macmillan, 1998), 192-193.
  21. Brown (1996), p. 133.
  22. Historic England. "Mells Park (1001150)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 4 November 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Brown (1996), pp. 108–109.
  24. Brown (1996), pp. 218–219.
  25. Brown (1996), p. 226.
  26. Historic England. "Halnaker Park (1026406)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 4 November 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Historic England. "Chest tomb of McKenna family (1345270)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 4 November 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


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Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Thomas Phillips Price
Member of Parliament for North Monmouthshire
Constituency abolished
Political offices
Preceded by
Victor Cavendish
Financial Secretary to the Treasury
Succeeded by
Walter Runciman
Preceded by
Augustine Birrell
President of the Board of Education
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First Lord of the Admiralty
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Winston Churchill
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Home Secretary
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Cover of Time Magazine
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