Castle Leslie Estate, Glaslough, Co. Monaghan, Ireland
Eton College, Windsor SL4 6DW, UK
King's College, King's Parade, Cambridge CB2 1ST, UK
Saint Salvator's Churchyard Glaslough, County Monaghan, Ireland
Sir John Randolph Leslie, 3rd Baronet (Irish: Sir Seaghán Leslaigh; 24 September 1885 – 14 August 1971), commonly known as Sir Shane Leslie, was an Irish-born diplomat and writer. He was a first cousin of Sir Winston Churchill, the British war time Prime Minister. In 1908, Leslie became a Roman Catholic and supported Irish Home Rule. Leslie, dedicatee of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned, reported in his memoirs that, when he lived in Paris as a student before the Great War, he frequented ‘two sub-worlds’ in his efforts to learn French, ‘the Catholic world and the world of Sodomy which has received many aliases since Lot’s spectacular adventure in the city of that name.’
Leslie was born in Glaslough, County Monaghan, into a wealthy Anglo-Irish landowning family. His father was Sir John Leslie, 2nd Baronet, and his mother, Leonie Jerome, was the sister of Winston Churchill's mother, Jennie. Both were daughters of Leonard W. Jerome. His ancestor, the Right Reverend John Leslie, Bishop of the Isles, moved from Scotland to Ireland in 1633 when he was made Bishop of Raphoe in County Donegal and was subsequently made Bishop of Clogher in 1661. Bishop Leslie was a vocal opponent of Oliver Cromwell. Together with his brother Norman, Leslie's early education began at home where a German governess, Clara Woelke, was their first teacher. As children the brothers had more contact with servants than they had with their parents. Leslie's own daughter, Anita, said that "In my parents' view schools performed the same functions that kennels did for dogs. They were places where pets could be conveniently deposited while their owners travelled." Leslie was educated at Ludgrove School, then Eton College and King's College, Cambridge. Not overly impressed by Eton, as a lower boy he and his roommates occupied "an old battered warren betwixt the chapel cemetery and Wise's horse yard ... [T]he food was wretched and tasteless ... As for thrashings which tyrannised rather than disciplined our house, they were excessive. Bullying was endemic and Irish boys were ridiculed, especially on St Patrick's Day." Leslie refused to send his own sons to Eton. They were educated at Roman Catholic Benedictine schools: Jack at Downside School and Desmond at Ampleforth College. While at Cambridge University he became a Roman Catholic and a supporter of Irish Home Rule. He adopted an anglicised Irish variant of his name ("Shane").
Sir John Randolph ('Shane') Leslie, 3rd Bt by Howard Coster bromide print, 1940s-1950s 8 in. x 6 in. (203 mm x 153 mm) image size Given by the estate of Howard Coster, 1959 Photographs Collection NPG x1976
In the January 1910 general election Leslie stood as the Irish Parliamentary Party candidate for the Londonderry City division, losing by just 57 votes. In the second general election later that year he was again narrowly defeated by the Unionist candidate. Before World War I, Leslie traveled extensively and in 1912 he married Marjorie Ide, the youngest daughter of Henry Clay Ide, the United States ambassador to Spain and Governor-General of The Philippines. His parents and other family members moved temporarily to London at the outbreak of war. During the war he was in a British Ambulance Corps, until invalided out; he was then sent to Washington, D.C. to help the British Ambassador, Sir Cecil Spring Rice, soften Irish-American hostility towards England and obtain American intervention in the war in the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin and the execution of its leaders. But he also looked to Ireland for inspiration when writing and edited a literary magazine that contained much Irish verse. He became a supporter of the ideals of Irish nationalism, although not physical force republicanism. In the 1918 election the Irish Parliamentary Party lost massively to Sinn Féin, putting an end to Shane Leslie's political career, but as the first cousin of Winston Churchill he remained a primary witness to much that was said and done outside the official record during the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Disappointed, he felt unwanted in Ireland and abandoned by the British. Like many members of the landed gentry from the 1880s who were obliged to turn to other occupations, he could no longer rely on income from landholdings. He wrote extensively, in a wide range of styles, in verse and prose, over several decades. His writings include The Oppidan (1922), a roman à clef about his life and contemporaries at Eton, an edition of the Letters of Herbert Cardinal Vaughan to Lady Herbert of Lea (1942), and a biography Mrs Fitzherbert: a life chiefly from unpublished sources (1939), together with an edition of her letters (with Maria Anne Fitzherbert), The letters of Mrs Fitzherbert and connected papers; being the second volume of the life of Mrs. Fitzherbert (1944). He also wrote Mark Sykes: His Life and Letters (1923), a biography of the English traveller, Conservative Party politician and diplomatic advisor. A passionate advocate of reforestation, he found the business of running an estate uncreative and boring, and transferred the estate entailed to him to his eldest son, John Norman Leslie, who succeeded as the 4th Baronet. He transferred St Patrick's Purgatory on Lough Derg to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clogher, The Most Rev. Dr. Eugene O'Callaghan. The wealth of the Leslies had waned by the 1930s following the Wall Street crash of 1929 and a farm that was loss making. In his unpublished memoirs, he wrote "a gentleman's standing in his world was signalled by his list of clubs and it was worth paying hundreds of pounds in subs". They continued to maintain their lifestyle, involving attendance at the London season and the entertainment of distinguished visitors, including Anthony Eden at Glaslough. At the outbreak of World War II in 1939 he joined the Home Guard. He spent the remainder of his life between Glaslough and London.
He was the elder son of Sir John Leslie, 2nd Baronet, and Leonie Blanche Jerome. He married, firstly, Marjorie Ide, daughter of General Henry Clay Ide, on 11 June 1912 and had two sons and one daughter:
After his wife Marjorie died on 8 February 1951, Shane Leslie married, secondly, Iris Carola Laing, daughter of Charles Miskin Laing, on 30 May 1958; she died in 1995. Shane Leslie died in 1971, aged 85.
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