Cicely Mayhew

Cicely Elizabeth Mayhew, Baroness Mayhew (née Ludlam; 16 February 1924 – 8 July 2016) was a British diplomat. She was the second woman to work for the British Foreign Office,[1] and its first female diplomat.[2]

Cicely Mayhew, Baroness Mayhew
Cicely Elizabeth Ludlam

(1924-02-16)16 February 1924
Died8 July 2016(2016-07-08) (aged 92)
OccupationTranslator, diplomat
Known forFirst female diplomat for the British Foreign Office
Spouse(s)Christopher Mayhew

Early life

She was born on 16 February 1924, the daughter of a metallurgist father who made his fortune in copper in Rhodesia.[1] She grew up in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.[2] She attended Loreto Convent School, Pretoria until 1932.[3]

At age 10 she returned to Britain to be educated and did not see her mother again until her twenties. She attended Sheffield High School and then won a scholarship to Cheltenham Ladies College and went on to read French and German at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, graduating after only two years in 1944 with a First.[1]


In 1944, near the end of World War II, she was recruited by British naval intelligence and worked at Bletchley Park, in Hut 8, translating decoded German Navy signals.[1] After the war she was appointed as the UK's first woman diplomat. Her first posting was to Yugoslavia.[1] On her marriage in 1949 she was required to leave the service and her pension was converted to a dowry under rules which the Foreign Office maintained until 1973.[4]

Mayhew created a crucial pathway for women by becoming “the kings first female emissary" in 1947. Mayhew came up against previous barriers during her time spent at Bletchley Park decoding crucial messages, encountering issues which women faced during the wartime, which were hard to overcome. One of the main issues Mayhew encountered was in regards to “being paid significantly lower and being ranked beneath men,” who as Mayhew stated “could not boast a First from Oxford.”[4]

Personal life

In 1949 she married Christopher Mayhew, the politician, broadcaster and writer, whom she met when they were both in the diplomatic service, and they had two sons and two daughters. He died in 1997.[5]

She spent her later years in a care home in Wimbledon,[2] and died on 8 July 2016.[1]


In March 2019, the Mayhew Theatre at the Foreign Office's Diplomatic Academy was opened by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge.[6] The theatre was named after Mayhew following a vote amongst Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff in which she was the runaway winner.[7]

Published works

  • Beads on a String: A Fractured Childhood. Book Guild. 2000. ISBN 978-1-85776-421-5.


  1. "Obituary : Lady Mayhew". Retrieved 2016-07-23.
  2. Bowers, Mary (2010-03-31). "Crisis In Care Homes As New Staffing Rules Loom". Immigration Watch Canada. Retrieved 2016-07-23.
  3. "Mayhew Cicely Elizabeth IWM interview". 2000-03-23. Retrieved 2016-07-23.
  4. Barker, Alex (6 November 2009). "Britain's first female diplomats". Financial Times. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  5. Adams, Michael (9 January 1997). "Obituary: Lord Mayhew". The Independent. Retrieved 2016-07-23.
  6. "Duke pays tribute to pioneering woman diplomat". Jersey Evening Post. 4 March 2019. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  7. "New learning centre honours diplomat and codebreaker Lady Cicely Mayhew" (Press release). Foreign & Commonwealth Office. 4 March 2019. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
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