READING


READING, family of British statesmen and lawyers. RUFUS DANIEL ISAACS (1860–1935), first marquess of Reading, British statesman, advocate and lord chief justice. Born in London into a family of fruit merchants, and a relative of the famous boxer Daniel *Mendoza, Isaacs went to sea as a ship's boy at the age of 16. He returned to England two years later and in 1879 went into the London Stock Exchange in an attempt to make his fortune. In 1884, however, he was unable to meet his obligations and was "hammered" (suspended from the exchange). Isaacs planned to sail to Panama to recoup his losses but was persuaded by his mother to study for the bar instead and was admitted in 1887. His knowledge of the commercial world enabled him to establish himself as a leading commercial counsel and in 1898 he was made a queen's counsel. Subsequently he was involved in a series of cases which brought him before the public eye. His ability to master complicated facts and his magnificent cross-examination of the financier Whittaker Wright on charges of fraud and of Frederick Seddon on charges of murdering his lodger won him the reputation as one of the greatest advocates of all time. Isaacs' success at the bar was phenomenal. He amassed a considerable fortune and honors were heaped upon him. He was elected to parliament as a Liberal Imperialist in 1904 and was made solicitor-general in 1910. In the same year Isaacs was given a knighthood and appointed attorney-general. Nevertheless, he was passed over for the appointment of lord chancellor because of his involvement in the Marconi scandal in which he was one of four ministers accused of attempting to make financial gain out of a government contract with the English Marconi Company. In 1913 Isaacs was made lord chief justice of England, the first Jew ever to hold this post, and took the title of Lord Reading. He presided over several famous criminal cases, among them the trial of the Irish nationalist, Roger Casement, on charges of treason. Yet although he was well known for his humanity and impartiality he was not considered a great judge.

Following the outbreak of World War I, Isaacs became increasingly involved in problems of government finance and introduced the scheme by which the state guaranteed all bills of exchange, thereby preventing a panic in the London bill market. In 1915 he went to the United States as president of the Anglo-French mission and secured a loan of 500 million dollars. Isaacs returned to the U.S. two years later as special envoy with the object of persuading America to join the Allies. In the following spring he went to the U.S. for a third time as high commissioner and special ambassador to convince the American government to send half a million American troops to France immediately. Isaacs remained lord chief justice until 1920 when he was made viceroy of India, ruler of India on behalf of the British crown, the only Jew ever to hold this post. His appointment was hailed as a move to reconcile warring factions in India and also to assuage the growing hostility toward British rule. Isaacs succeeded in initiating the widespread reforms embodied in the Montagu-Chelmsford report (1918), establishing a form of self-government in most of the Indian provinces and introducing improvements in agriculture and housing. He was much admired for the genuine sympathy he and his wife showed for the people of India but he failed, nevertheless, to obtain the cooperation of Mahatma Gandhi and the Hindu nationalists and was eventually obliged to arrest Gandhi for incitement to civil disobedience and to call in the army to keep order. Isaacs returned to England in 1926 and was given the title of marquess, the only Jew to be so honored. He held numerous company directorships and remained a prominent figure in the Liberal Party, representing the party at the Indian Round Table Conference of 1930. For a short period in 1931 he was foreign secretary in the national government headed by J. Ramsay Mac-Donald and he retired in 1934 from public life with the honorary post of lord warden of the Cinque ports.

Rufus Isaacs was one of the outstanding figures of his age and in Anglo-Jewish history. He showed considerable interest in Jewish and Zionist affairs toward the end of his life and in 1926 became chairman of the Palestine Electric Corporation. He visited Palestine in 1932 and associated himself with various Zionist projects. After the advent of Hitler, Isaacs resigned the presidency of the Anglo-German Fellowship and spoke in the House of Lords against the persecution of the Jews in Germany.

GERALD RUFUS ISAACS (1889–1960), second marquess of Reading, British statesman and lawyer. Born in London, he was the only son of Rufus Isaacs and succeeded to his father's titles in 1935. He was admitted to the bar and was a bencher of the Middle Temple from 1936, becoming treasurer in 1958. Isaacs was chairman of several government committees and was undersecretary of state for foreign affairs from 1951 to 1953. He served as minister of state for foreign affairs from 1953 until his retirement in 1957. Isaacs was active in Jewish affairs as chairman of the Council for German Jewry and president of the London Jewish Hospital.

EVA VIOLET, MARCHIONESS OF READING (1895–1973), English social worker. The daughter of Alfred *Mond, first Lord Melchett, she married Gerald Rufus Isaacs in 1914. Eva Reading devoted her life to problems of nursing and child care and was adviser to the ministry of health on child care during World War II. From 1957 to 1959 she was president of the National Council of Women. Though brought up as a Christian, Eva Reading reverted to Judaism in the 1930s and became a staunch Zionist; she toured the United States on behalf of the *United Jewish Appeal in 1939, and later served as chairman of the British section of the *World Jewish Congress. She should not be confused with Stella Isaacs, marchioness of Reading (1894–1971), the second wife of Rufus Isaacs, first marquess of Reading, who was not Jewish. She was the founder of the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, and, in 1958, was the first woman to be given a life peerage and to sit in the House of Lords, where she took the title of Baroness Swanborough.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

H.M. Hyde, Lord Reading; the Life of Rufus Isaacs, First Marquess of Reading (1968); D. Walker Smith, Lord Reading and his Cases (1934); L. Broad, Advocates of the Golden Age; Their Lives and Cases (1958); P.H. Emden, Jews of Britain (1943), 295–316; N.B. Birkett, Six Great Advocates (1962); I. Butler, The Viceroy's Wife (1970). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: ODNB online; (G.R. Isaacs) Marquess of Reading, Rufus Isaacs, First Marquess of Reading (2 vols, 1942–45); D. Judd, Lord Reading (1982).


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.