Election of Lord Kitchener as Rector, 1914

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Lord Kitchener on First World War recruitment poster by Alfred Leete, Edinburgh College of Art Library Image Collection

In a display of patriotic fervour at the onset of the First World War, Field Marshall Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener (1850-1916) was unanimously elected Rector of Edinburgh University.

The 1914 Rectorial Election was held two months after the start of the war. Following the death in March of Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, 4th Earl of Minto (1845-1914), Rector since 1911, the political clubs at Edinburgh University had nominated candidates for an election to be fought, as usual, on party political lines. When war broke out, however, both Conservatives and Liberals thought the normal kind of adversarial election would be inappropriate. Both prospective candidates were persuaded to withdraw, and the two sides jointly nominated Field Marshal Kitchener, Secretary for War and the face of the British Army's recruitment campaign. A mass meeting was called and Kitchener was unanimously voted in.

Kitchener was never installed as Rector, nor did he deliver a Rectorial Address. In 1916, he was drowned when the warship carrying him hit a mine and sank. His successor, another patriotic, unopposed candidate, was Admiral Sir David Richard Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty (1871-1936), Commander in Chief of the Grand Fleet.

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  • Donald Wintersgill, The Rectors of the University of Edinburgh 1859-2000 (Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic Press, 2005)