Curzon was the eldest son and second of 11 children of Alfred Curzon, the 4th Baron Scarsdale (1831–1916), Rector of Kedleston in Derbyshire, and his wife Blanche (1837–1875), daughter of Joseph Pocklington Senhouse of Netherhall in Cumberland. He was born at Kedleston Hall, built on the site where his family, who were of Norman ancestry, had lived since the 12th century. His mother, worn out by childbirth, died when George was 16; her husband survived her by 41 years. Neither parent exerted a major influence on Curzon's life.He was educated at Eton College and Balliol College, Oxford. At Eton he was a favorite of Oscar Browning, an over-intimate relationship that led to his tutor's dismissal. While at Eton, he was a controversial figure who was liked and disliked with equal intensity by large numbers of masters and other boys. This strange talent for both attraction and repulsion stayed with him all his life: few people ever felt neutral about him. At Oxford he was President of the Union and Secretary of the Oxford Canning Club. Although he failed to achieve a first class degree in Greats, he won the Lothian and Arnold Prizes, the latter for an essay on Sir Thomas More (about whom he confessed to having known almost nothing before commencing study, literally delivered as the clocks were chiming midnight on the day of the deadline). He was elected a prize fellow of All Souls College in 1883.
Mary Victoria Leiter, the daughter of Levi Ziegler Leiter, an American millionaire of German origin and co-founder of the Chicago department store Field & Leiter (now Marshall Field). She had a long and nearly fatal illness near the end of summer 1904, from which she never really recovered. Falling ill again in July 1906, she died on the 18th of that month in her husband's arms, at the age of 36.It was the greatest personal loss of his life.
Viceroy of India (1899–1905)
Lord Curzon-Procession to Sanchi Tope, 28 Nov 1899
Lord Curzon and the Maharaja of Gwalior pose with hunted tigers, 1901In January 1899 he was appointed Viceroy of India. He was created a Peer of Ireland as Baron Curzon of Kedleston, in the County of Derby, on his appointment. This peerage was created in the Peerage of Ireland (the last so created) so that he would be free, until his father's death, to re-enter the House of Commons on his return to Britain.
Reaching India shortly after the suppression of the frontier risings of 1897–1898, he paid special attention to the independent tribes of the north-west frontier, inaugurated a new province called the North West Frontier Province, and pursued a policy of forceful control mingled with conciliation. The only major armed outbreak on this frontier during the period of his administration was the Mahsud-Waziri campaign of 1901.
In the context of the Great Game between the British and Russian Empires for control of Central Asia, he held deep mistrust of Russian intentions. This led him to encourage British trade in Persia, and he paid a visit to the Persian Gulf in 1903. At the end of that year, he sent a British expedition to Tibet under Francis Younghusband, ostensibly to forestall a Russian advance. After bloody conflicts with Tibet's poorly-armed defenders, the mission penetrated to Lhasa, where a treaty was signed in September 1904. No Russian presence was found in Lhasa.
Lord Curzon and Lady Curzon arriving at the Delhi Durbar, 1903.Within India, Curzon appointed a number of commissions to inquire into education, irrigation, police and other branches of administration, on whose reports legislation was based during his second term of office as viceroy. Reappointed Governor-General in August 1904, he presided over the 1905 partition of Bengal, which roused such bitter opposition among the people of the province that it was later revoked (1911).
He also took an active interest in military matters. In 1901, he founded the Imperial Cadet Corps, or ICC. The ICC was a corps d'elite, designed to give Indian princes and aristocrats military training, after which a few would be given officer commissions in the Indian Army. But these commissions were "special commissions" which did not empower their holders to command any troops. Predictably, this was a major stumbling block to the ICC's success, as it caused much resentment among former cadets. Though the ICC closed in 1914, it was a crucial stage in the drive to Indianise the Indian Army's officer Corps, which was haltingly begun in 1917. Military organisation proved to be the final issue faced by Curzon in India. A difference of opinion with the British military Commander-in-Chief in India, Lord Kitchener, regarding the status of the military member of the council in India, led to a controversy in which Curzon failed to obtain the support of the home government. He resigned in August 1905 and returned to England. During his tenure, Curzon undertook the restoration of the Taj Mahal, and expressed satisfaction that he had done so.
Lord and Lady Curzon on the elephant Lakshman Prasad, 29 December 1902. The Indian famineMain article:
Indian famine of 1899–1900
A major famine coincided with Curzon's time as viceroy in which 6.1 to 9 million people died. Large parts of India were affected and millions died, and Curzon is nowadays criticised for having done little to fight the famine. Curzon did, however, implement a variety of measures, including opening up famine reliefs works that fed between 3 and 5 million, reducing taxes and spending vast amounts of money on irrigation works. However, Curzon did state "any government which imperiled the financial position of India in the interests of prodigal philanthropy would be open to serious criticism; but any government which by indiscriminate alms-giving weakened the fibre and demoralized the self-reliance of the population, would be guilty of a public crime." He also cut back rations that he characterized as "dangerously high" and stiffened relief eligibility by reinstating the Temple tests.