H. O. Arnold-Forster

Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster PC (19 August 1855 – 12 March 1909), known as H. O. Arnold-Forster, was a British politician and writer. He notably served as Secretary of State for War from 1903 in Balfour's Conservative government until December 1905.

H. O. Arnold-Forster
Secretary of State for War
In office
12 October 1903  4 December 1905
MonarchEdward VII
Prime MinisterArthur Balfour
Preceded byHon. St John Brodrick
Succeeded byRichard Haldane
Personal details
Born(1855-08-19)19 August 1855
Died12 March 1909(1909-03-12) (aged 53)
Political partyLiberal Unionist
Mary Story-Maskelyne (1861-1951)
(m. 1885; his death 1909)
Alma materUniversity College, Oxford

Background and education

Arnold-Forster was the son of William Delafield Arnold, Director of Public Instruction in Punjab, and grandson of Thomas Arnold, of Rugby. When his father died in 1859, he was adopted by William Edward Forster and his wife Jane, who was his father's sister. He was educated at Rugby and University College, Oxford, from which he graduated with 1st Class Honours. He was called to the bar in 1879.

Political career

Arnold-Forster acted as private secretary to his adoptive father, who became Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1880. He joined Cassell & Co. in 1885, for whom he prepared educational manuals, including the "Citizen Reader" series. He was secretary of the Imperial Federation League from 1884.

Arnold-Forster sat as Liberal Unionist Member of Parliament for West Belfast from 1892 to 1906 and Unionist member for Croydon from 1906 until his death. He served as Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty under Lord Salisbury and Arthur Balfour from 1900 to 1903. As such, he was during August 1902 invited by German authorities to tour the dockyards and naval establishments in Kiel and Wilhelmshaven and several of the great private shipyards in the country.[1] Balfour appointed him to Secretary of State for War (with a seat in the cabinet) in 1903, and he served as such until 1905, during which time he reorganized the War Office (see Esher Report). In 1903 he was sworn of the Privy Council. During the Army reforms he clashed with Lord Esher, the King's minister attendant. He complained to the Prime Minister that he was being circumvented by an unelected and unaccountable authority vested in the royal prerogative. Balfour's proposal, to annexe some of the royal prerogatives, was partly because of the challenge to the post of Commander-in-Chief which was abolished as a royal sinecure. Arnold-Foster was frequently ignored at cabinet meetings, as decisions had been taken behind his back by courtiers moving in Military circles.[2]


Arnold-Forster married Mary Lucy Story-Maskelyne (1861 –1951), daughter of Nevil Story Maskelyne, in 1885. They had four sons, of whom his Times obituary states "the eldest is just beginning to practise as an artist, and the youngest is a naval cadet." They were :

  • William Edward Arnold-Forster (8 May 1886 –1951) artist, author and Labour politician, married Katherine "Ka" Laird Cox in 1918. She was the former lover of Rupert Brooke. Their son was Mark Arnold-Forster. After Cox's death, he married Ruth Mallory, widow of George Mallory, the mountaineer.
  • Mervyn Nevill Arnold-Forster (21 March 1888 –6 May 1927)
  • John Anthony Arnold-Forster (20 September 1889 –1958), married Daphne Mansel-Pleydell in 1919. Vanda Morton, biographer of Nevil Story Maskelyne, is their daughter.
  • Hugh Christopher Arnold-Forster (9 December 1890 –21 July 1965), who rose to become a Commander in the Royal Navy and served as Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence during the Second World War; married Marcia Buddicom in 1922 and Frances Brown in 1948.

Arnold-Forster died in March 1909, aged fifty-three.


Arnold-Forster's publications include:


  1. "Naval & Military intelligence". The Times (36865). London. 5 September 1902. p. 4.
  2. Jane Ridley, "Bertie: the Life of Edward VII" ; Letters and Journals of Reginald Brett, Viscount Esher, volume 2, 1903-1910.; Peter Fraser, "The Life and Times of Reginald Brett, Viscount Esher"


Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Thomas Sexton
Member of Parliament for Belfast West
Succeeded by
Joseph Devlin
Preceded by
Charles Ritchie
Member of Parliament for Croydon
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Hermon-Hodge, Bt
Political offices
Preceded by
William Ellison-Macartney
Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty
Succeeded by
E. G. Pretyman
Preceded by
Hon. St John Brodrick
Secretary of State for War
Succeeded by
Richard Haldane
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