Horatio Bottomley

Horatio Bottomley

Horatio Bottomley  (1860-1933) was a man of humble origins, who became a famous, popular and larger than life character during the years before and during the First World War. He started up the populist magazine John Bull and other newspapers and magazines, and made a great deal of money out of these and other business ventures.

He could make money, though generally apparently through dishonesty, but he was incapable of keeping hold of it. In 1906 he entered Parliament as a Liberal MP, but later became a right-wing independent. After being declared bankrupt in 1912, he was obliged to leave the House of Commons.

During the war, after his offer to serve as Director of Recruiting was rejected by the Government, he set himself up as an unofficial war recruiter and propagandist, holding vast meetings which whipped up the crowd to a fever of anti-German feeling and patriotism. His style was bombastic and jingoistic, but wildly popular, and his hundreds of 'patriotic war lectures', publicised and performed like music-hall entertainment, made a great deal of money. The profits were advertised as going to his War Charity Fund; in fact they went into Bottomley’s own pocket.

After the war, he set up an investment scheme which proved to be wholly corrupt. He was obliged to resign as an MP, and was imprisoned for five years. He lived his last few years in poverty and died in 1933.

The poster advertises a lecture given by Bottomley in Edinburgh three days after the sinking of the Lusitania by a German torpedo on 7 May 1915. Some 1,200 lives were lost. Horatio Bottomley’s speech was reported in the Scotsman on 11 May 1915:

Mr Horatio Bottomley spoke in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, last night, on "The War – and After". The hall was fully occupied in every part...

Referring to the Lusitania disaster, he said there was no possible explanation of it, except that those who were waging the war against the country had gone absolutely raving mad with the lust of murder, and were absolutely unanswerable for their deeds. They must be exterminated from the face of the earth. (Loud applause.) Whatever might be the motive of Germany in committing this terrible act, he for one would be bitterly disappointed if their brethren of the United States did not throw down the gauntlet without a lot of diplomatic palavering, and say there were on the side of Britain and her Allies.

Horatio Bottomley demanded that the Empire be called on to supply soldiers, in terms that are startling to us today: 'The time had come when hundreds of thousands of dusky warriors, to whom death was a joy in war, should come and take their part in the trenches and play the Germans at their own game to their heart’s content... They had been too thin-skinned and sentimental at home in the past.  He was one of those who believed that the time had come to declare a vendetta against every German in the world.  He had informed the Prime Minister and the King’s secretary that if within seven days the Kaiser’s flag was not removed from the walls of St George’s Chapel, it would not be his fault if it remained there an hour longer.  (Applause.)...

This was not going to be a long war. The time was rapidly approaching when the terms of peace would have to be considered.  He appealed to those present to insist in name of the people that it would be their peace, and not that of the politicians.  There must be no patched-up peace behind their backs, and the terms must not be considered until the enemy was driven back beyond the Rhine.  (Applause.)

©West Lothian Local History Library


Haratio Bottomley Flyer.
'Mummy, why?' Propaganda postcard, published in both French and English, of the sinking of the Lusitania.