Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, fifth Marquess of Lansdowne (1845–1927), personifies the positive qualities of the aristocracy. The reason these people were given fine educations, enormous privileges and almost unlimited leisure was so that they could offer disinterested counsel and dedicate their lives to the public good. If they had something important but unpopular to say, they would be so confident of themselves and their place in society that they would not care about the obloquy that would descend upon them. Lord Lansdowne was such a man. The hatred that erupted following the publication in 1917 of the so-called Lansdowne Letter, which called for Britain to negotiate a peace treaty with Germany, would have crushed a lesser man; for him it was merely the chirruping of the populace.
After Eton and Balliol, Lansdowne inherited, aged twenty-one, Bowood in Wiltshire, Lansdowne House near Berkeley Square (with its four-acre garden), 138,000 acres in Ireland, 10,000 acres in Scotland and an art collection that meant that when he got into debt he could sell a Rembrandt – one such work went for a record price of £100,000 in 1911. True to his Whig political inheritance, he became a Liberal Unionist and so was