Oriel Ross, 1907-1994
Portrait of Sir William George Eden, Wiseman, Tenth baronet (1885–1962)
Sir William George Eden, Wiseman, Tenth baronet

"ORIEL ROSS" and inscribed on the reverse "Sir William Wiseman"

pen and black ink
34 x 24 cm 13.1/4 x 9.3/4 in.


from the Artist's Estate


Sir William George Eden, Wiseman, tenth baronet (1885–1962), intelligence officer and businessman, was born on 1 February 1885 at Hatfield Broad Oak, Essex, the only son of a former naval officer, Captain Sir William Wiseman, ninth baronet (1845–1893), and his wife, Sarah Elizabeth (d. 1925), the third daughter of Lewis Langworthy of Ellesmere, Putney. He succeeded to the family title in 1893, then attended Winchester College before going up to Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1904. After leaving university without a degree he worked as a journalist with the Daily Express, and wrote three unperformed plays. In 1908 he married Florence Marjorie Hulton (d. 1961), the daughter of G. F. Sams, rector of Emberton, Buckinghamshire. The following year he went to North America to represent the London banking firm of Herndon's, which financed the Mexican government. He enjoyed modest successes in the Mexican meat-packing industry and in Canadian real estate, then, on the outbreak of the First World War, he returned to England to serve with the Duke of Cornwall's light infantry. In 1915 a German gas attack at Ypres affected his vision in one eye and incapacitated him for further active duty.

In December of that year Wiseman met Captain Mansfield Cumming, known in intelligence circles as ‘C’. As a result of this encounter he was sent back to America, ostensibly to run the British purchasing committee but in reality to take charge of section V. This was the American branch of MI1c, the precursor of the Secret Intelligence Service, popularly known as MI6. His deputy in Washington was Norman Thwaites, another wounded British officer having the advantages of connections in American newspapers and high society and of being friendly with Frank Polk, the state department official who oversaw U-1, the American intelligence co-ordinating organization. Wiseman soon acquired friends among those Americans who were ready to be impressed by a Cambridge bantamweight boxing blue who sported a well-groomed moustache and held a baronetcy stretching back to 1628.

Both Wiseman and Sir Guy Gaunt, who headed British naval intelligence in Washington, claimed retrospectively that they had been in overall charge of the British secret service in North America. Wiseman's claim is the stronger. He did not, like Gaunt and the British embassy hierarchy, have the encumbrance of knowing too many Republicans at a time of Democratic governance. The politically adroit Wiseman first persuaded his American counterparts that he had a direct channel to the British government independently of the Washington embassy, an apocryphal claim, then won the ear of British officialdom by stating that he had the confidence of high American officials, which by this time was true. By 6 April 1917, when the United States entered the war, Wiseman had forged a working intelligence relationship with his American counterparts.

Once America was in the fray, Wiseman proved to be a significant diplomatic, as well as intelligence go-between. Wiseman was a sensitive link between the department of state and the Foreign Office, and was able to exploit his particular friendships with Colonel E. M. House, President Woodrow Wilson's personal adviser, and Polk's assistant Gordon Auchincloss. House developed, or was allowed to believe that he had developed, a paternal relationship with the Englishman who had lost his biological father at the age of eight, while Auchincloss used Wiseman's London tailor.

The functions of section V were to run counter-intelligence operations against Germans and against nationalists from Ireland and the subcontinent of India, to contribute to British propaganda in the United States, and to run certain intelligence operations in central and east central Europe jointly with the Americans. Among the more notable European operations were Wiseman's collaboration with the Czech-American secret agent Emanuel Voska, who stirred up nationalist feelings within the Austrian empire, and with the writer W. Somerset Maugham, dispatched with American funding to report on Russia and try to prevent the Bolshevik take-over. As a diplomatic channel, Wiseman helped to ease problems arising from the financial crisis of 1917, the role of America in the war command, and the disposition of American troops in Europe and in Siberia. At the Paris peace conference Wiseman served his country in a further capacity, as chief adviser on American affairs to the British delegation.

Wiseman's judgement was sometimes questionable—it would take more than a covert operation, American dollars, and a gifted English novelist to arrest the tide of social change in Russia. Americans were not universally at ease with him: there were enduring suspicions that Wiseman and the British had led the American policy makers by the nose. But Wiseman's counter-intelligence operations were successful. He showed wisdom in not subjecting America to crude propaganda, and he bequeathed to Britain and America a legacy of intelligence co-operation that flowered once again in the Second World War. In June 1941, when Admiral John Godfrey was in Washington and wished to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt to co-operate in clandestine matters, Wiseman was at hand to give him sage advice prior to the presidential meeting.

On completion of his duties at the Paris peace conference Wiseman became a member of the Wall Street banking firm Kuhn, Loeb. In 1925 his first marriage was dissolved and he married Patrice Clark (d. 1951) in Connecticut; he travelled to Reno to divorce her in 1933. His final marriage, in 1944, was to Mrs Joan Mary Lesueur, the daughter of Arthur Phelps, of Harrow. The first marriage yielded three daughters, the second one daughter, and the third a son who succeeded to the baronetcy. In 1950 Wiseman became a member of the Dollar Exports Board, designed to help chancellor of the exchequer Sir Stafford Cripps's assault on the balance of trade problem and the ‘dollar gap’. He died in New York on 17 June 1962.

Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones DNB

Artist biography

Actress. Born Muriel Swinstead, she trained at the Royal College of Music and made her debut on stage at sixteen in Karel Capek's The Insect Play in 1923. In 1928 she appeared as Nature in Diaghilev 's Ballet Ode and then went to New York, where she appeared on Broadway and in revue and cabaret. She returned to London in 1931 and was in work throughout the 1930s and 40s, when she was a member of Lilian Baylis's Old Vic Company. She was married to the 8th Earl Poulett from 1935 to 1941.