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Sir Cecil Arthur Spring-Rice - Diplomat and Poet

Sir Cecil Arthur Spring Rice, who was brought up on the shores of Ullswater in Watermillock, was British Ambassador in Washington from 1913-1918 and played a crucial role in influencing President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to abandon neutrality and enter the war on the side of the Allies.

In 1914 there was no ‘Special Relationship’ between Great Britain and America and indeed many in the US advocated joining the Central Powers, the consequences of which would undoubtedly have resulted in defeat for the Allies and a complete rewriting of world history.

Following Sir Cecil’s death in 1918*, Lord Robert Cecil, speaking in the House of Commons, said of him, "No ambassador has ever had to discharge duties of greater delicacy or of more far reaching importance than fell to his lot. Nor has any ambassador ever fulfilled his task with more unwearied vigilance, conspicuous ability and ultimate success."

Sir Cecil was not just an outstanding diplomat but also a great poet. His upbringing at his mother’s house, The Old Church, on the shores of Ullswater, aroused his love of nature, of poetry, of England itself. His most famous poem ‘Urbs Dei’ was to become the text for one of Britain’s best-loved hymns ‘I Vow To Thee My Country’. The tune, ‘Thaxted’ is by Gustav Holst, taken from the ‘Jupiter’ movement of his suite ‘The Planets’. Sir Cecil’s daughter was a pupil at St. Paul’s School for Girls where Holst was Director of music for nearly 30 years.

Sir Cecil Spring Rice died in Ottawa in 1918 at Rideau Hall, the official residence of Canada’s Governor General who at the time was the Duke of Devonshire, his wife’s first cousin. After Sir Cecil’s death his widow, herself a diplomat’s daughter, was left to raise her two daughters with no home or pension – in those days Ambassadors were expected to have family money.

There are memorial plaques to Sir Cecil Spring Rice at Watermillock Church and on the upper bridge spanning Aira Force.

*Sir Cecil Spring Rice died on 14th February 1918. The date on the plaque is incorrect.

By Gordon Lightburn and Valerie Abraham of Matterdale


Spring Rice Memorial Aira Force - Photo Credit © Janet Wedgwood Ullswater Way Sir Cecil Arthur Spring Rice in court dress Spring Rice Memorial Watermillock Church - Photo Credit © Janet Wedgwood Ullswater Way

I Vow to Thee My Country

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.