John Barnes, Historian

Sir George Hennessy, 1st Baron Windlesham and 1st Baronet (1877-1953)

George Hennessy was a popular and effective member of the Conservative Whips’ Office for more than a decade, rising to be deputy Chief Whip 1928-31 and acting as Chief Whip during Eyres-Monsell’s illness in 1931. After leaving the House of Commons, he spent the next decade as Vice Chairman of the Conservative party organisation, an effective party manager who well-merited his elevation to the House of Lords in 1937. Sir Patrick Hannon, a long-serving colleague in the Commons, described him as “gentle, kindly, understanding, but rigidly exacting in insistence upon the observance of party parliamentary duty”, and he thought that in his long memory there had been no more popular deputy Chief Whip in the Conservative Party. It is abundantly clear that George, as he was universally known, enjoyed the continued affection of his colleagues, even those who from time to time received a “wigging”. He also enjoyed the complete confidence of three party leaders as his decade–long appointment to Central Office shows. For much of that time he was responsible for the recruitment of new Parliamentary candidates.

George Richard James Hennessy was the second son of Richard Hennessy of Bagnolet, Cognac. He was born on 23 March 1877 and educated at Eton. At the age of 19 he joined a militia battalion of the Cheshire Regiment. His services during the South African war were recognised by the award of the Queen’s Medal with three clasps and he attained the rank of major in 1904. He resigned his commission in 1907. He had in the meantime become a partner in the family business, which distilled and sold cognac. He early showed that he had considerable organisational ability in addition to his willingness to apply himself. Settling in Hampshire, he played a prominent part in local affairs, serving on the County Council 1910-19 and as a magistrate. He was appointed High Sheriff in 1911.

Soon after the outbreak of war in 1914, he rejoined the army, serving as a Major in the 9th Battalion of King's Royal Rifle Corps from December 1914. He held a number of staff appointments including that of ADC to the GOC 8th Division February 1917- November 1918 and was twice mentioned in despatches. He was appointed OBE in 1918.

In 1918 he was elected to parliament for Winchester, a seat he held until 1931, and from 1920 until 1922 served as PPS to the Minister of Labour. He was then appointed to the Whips’ Office as a Junior Lord of the Treasury, serving under Bonar Law and Baldwin 1922-24. He remained a whip during the Conservative party’s brief spell in opposition and was again appointed a Junior Lord of the Treasury when the Conservatives returned to power in November 1924. He played an important part in easing the tensions that had resulted from the outcome of the Carlton Club meeting and was in the words of a colleague “the essence of tact”. That did not mean that he was anything less than firm in his requirements of them.

He was promoted to the more senior position of Vice-Chamberlain of the Household in 1925, in effect the fourth most senior position. During the General Strike he served as Civil Commissioner in the North West. He voted for the Prayer Book measure in December 1927. In 1928 further promotion came as a result of the elevation of Colonel G.A. Gibbs to the House of Lords and the resignation of Sir Harry Barnston through ill health. He was made Treasurer of the Household and deputy Chief Whip. He had already received a baronetcy in 1927.

Almost immediately he had to deputise for the Chief Whip, who was ordered to Jamaica to recover his health. In that capacity he had to deal with a rebellion on the Shop Hours Bill, which was not pressed after an indication that concessions would be made and with the Racecourse Betting Bill, on which the party was divided but a majority secured for the Government. Forty five Conservatives including four ministers voted against, but the support of 145 Conservatives, 3 Labour Members, 2 Liberals and an Independent was sufficient to give the bill a majority of 15. He was thought a possible candidate for the Speakership when Whitley retired in 1928 and would probably have made a better job of it than Fitzroy. Eyres Monsell returned to his post at Easter 1928 and Hennessy reverted to his position as deputy. Parliamentary colleagues have testified to his firmness and tact as a whip and it is generally held that these qualities proved of considerable value in ensuring that the Conservative party remained well-disciplined at a time when there were growing tensions over the leadership’s reluctance to espouse a more robust version of safeguarding.

Hennessy had briefly to act up again in March 1929 when the Monsell’s daughter was taken ill in Paris. In the 1929 election Hennessy found himself facing a powerful labour candidate in the person of Hampshire’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr Lyster, and an energetic Liberal in Miss F. Josephy. He also faced the need to explain that the revaluation which was in train had nothing to do with the Government’s Derating Measure, but seems to have been particularly adept at disassociating the two. He won his seat, but the party were defeated. 1929, however, brought him the happiness of seeing his son married on 6 June. He also attended the unveiling of the memorial to Haig at Montreuil in his capacity as Chairman of the United Associations of Britain and France, a body which he continued to chair through the 1930s and during the Second World War.

Hennessy continued as deputy Chief Whip after the election, again a sure hand as the party thought through its approach to a hung Parliament and disputed over the future of India and Empire Free Trade. His good work as acting Chief Whip during Eyres Monsell’s illness in 1931 was noted by both the party leaders and the rank and file and he briefly returned to office as Treasurer of the Household from September to November 1931 in the National Government led by Ramsay Macdonald, but a bout of ill health meant that he did not contest the 1931 General Election.

Baldwin invited him instead to become one of three Vice Chairmen of the Conservative and Unionist Party. His colleagues were Sir George Bowyer MP and Lady Falmouth. The appointment was well received and he was to be praised in the following decade not only for his efficiency and conscientiousness as a party manager but for his conciliatory qualities. He remained a popular figure within the party. He spoke in the 1935 election campaign, and insisted in a letter to The Times that whatever the merits of Italy’s case, she had gone about it in the wrong way. When Bowyer stood down from all his responsibilities in December 1935, Hennessy took them on. They included the selection of parliamentary candidates.

In the New Years Honours List for 1937 he was made a Baron and took the title of Lord Windlesham. In April 1937 He and Lady Falmouth were joined as Vice Chairmen of the party by Sir Malcolm Fraser, its former Principal Agent. He continued to be responsible for parliamentary candidates until he stood down at the end of June 1941. Thomas Dugdale, recently appointed deputy Chief Whip had been invited to take his place.

He joined the Board of the National Employers Mutual General Assurance Association in April 1939 and for the greater part of the Second World War he served as the Army Welfare officer for North Aldershot.

He had married Ethel Mary Wynter, the daughter of Charles Reginald Wynter, on 14 December 1898 at Our lady of Victories, Kennington. They had two sons and four daughters. She died in July 1951, and just over two years later on 8 October 1953 Hennessy died in a London hospital. He was 76. He was succeeded in the baronetcy and barony by his eldest son, Brigadier James Hennessy, formerly of the Grenadier Guards, who had been born in 1903. James had married Angela Duggan in June 1929 and his only son, David, (there were also three daughters), had been born in 1932. He was to become the Conservative Leader in the Lords 1973-4.