Robert William Seton-Watson

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Person.png Robert William Seton-Watson  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(propagandist, Journalist)
Robert William Seton-Watson.jpg
Died1951-07-25 (Age 71)
Skye, Scotland
Alma materWinchester College, New College (Oxford)
ParentsWilliam Livingstone Watson Elizabeth Lindsay Seton
Children • Hugh Seton-Watson
• Christopher Seton-Watson
• Mary Seton-Watson
InterestsMilner Group
Spooky UK historian

Robert William "R. W." Seton-Watson (who used the pseudonym 'Scotus Viator') was a British historian who also played an active role in encouraging the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during and after World War I.[1]

In 1917-1918, Seton-Watson served on the Intelligence Bureau of the War Cabinet in the Enemy Propaganda Department where he was responsible for British propaganda to the Austrian and Hungarian peoples. [2] His son was Hugh Seton-Watson, who also became involved in propaganda in the 1970s with the Institute for the Study of Conflict.

Early life

Seton-Watson was born in London to Scottish parents. His father, William Livingstone Watson, had been a tea-merchant in Calcutta, and his mother, Elizabeth Lindsay Seton, was the daughter of George Seton, a genealogist and historian and the son of George Seton of the East India Company.

He was educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford, where he read modern history under the historian, politician and UK deep state operative Herbert Fisher. He graduated with a first-class degree in 1901.

In Austro-Hungary

After graduation, Seton-Watson travelled to Berlin University, the Sorbonne and Vienna University, from where he wrote a number of articles on Hungary for The Spectator. His research for these articles took him to Hungary in 1906, and his discoveries there turned his sympathies against Hungary and in favour of then subjected Slovaks, Romanians, and the Southern Slavs. He learned Hungarian, Serbian and Czech, and, in 1908, he published his first major work, Racial Problems in Hungary.

Seton-Watson became friends with the Vienna correspondent of The Times, Henry Wickham Steed and the Czechoslovak philosopher and politician Tomáš Masaryk. He argued in books and articles for a federal solution [3] to the problems of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then riven by the tensions between its ancient dynastic model and the forces of ethnic nationalism.

First World War and aftermath

After the outbreak of the First World War, Seton-Watson took practical steps to support the causes that he had formerly supported merely in print. He was honorary secretary of the Serbian Relief Fund from 1914 and supported and found employment for his friend Masaryk after the latter fled to England to escape arrest. Both founded and published The New Europe (1916), a weekly periodical to promote the cause of the Czechs and other subject peoples. Seton-Watson financed this periodical himself.[4]

Seton-Watson's private political activity was not appreciated in all quarters, and his critics within the British government finally succeeded in temporarily silencing him in 1917 by drafting him into the Royal Army Medical Corps, where he was given the job of scrubbing hospital floors. Others, however, rescued him, and from 1917 to 1918 he served on the Intelligence Bureau of the War Cabinet in the Enemy Propaganda Department, where he was responsible for British propaganda to the peoples of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.[5] He assisted in the preparations for the Rome Congress of subject Habsburg peoples, held in April 1918.

Following the end of the War, Seton-Watson attended the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 in a private capacity, advising the representatives there of formerly subject peoples. Although on bad terms with the governments of the major powers, whom he famously referred to as "the pygmies of Paris", he contributed to discussions of where the new frontiers of Europe should be and was especially influential in setting the postwar frontiers between Italy and the new state of Yugoslavia.

Although the British Government was unenthusiastic about Seton-Watson, other governments were not, showing their gratitude after the conference. Masaryk became the first president of the new state of Czechoslovakia and welcomed him there. His friendship with Edvard Beneš, now Czechoslovakia's foreign minister, was consolidated. Seton-Watson was made an honorary citizen of Cluj in Transylvania, which had been incorporated into Romania despite the claims of Hungary and, in 1920, it was formally acclaimed by the Romanian parliament. Yugoslavia rewarded him with an honorary degree from the University of Zagreb.

Between the wars

Seton-Watson had played a prominent role in establishing a School of Slavonic Studies (later the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now a faculty of University College London) in 1915, partly to provide employment for his then-exiled friend Masaryk, and in 1922, he was appointed there as the first holder of the Masaryk chair in Central European history, a post that he held until 1945. He concentrated on his academic duties especially after 1931, when stock market losses removed much of his personal fortune, and he was appreciated by his students despite being somewhat impractical: according to Steed, he was "unpunctual, untidy, and too preoccupied with other matters. Pupils were advised not to hand over their work to him, for it would probably be mislaid".[6]

During this time, he founded and edited The Slavonic Review with Sir Bernard Pares.

Second World War

As a long-established partisan of Czechoslovakia, Seton-Watson was naturally a firm opponent of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement. In Britain and the Dictators: A Survey of Post-War British Policy (1938), he made one of the most devastating attacks on this policy. After Chamberlain's resignation, Seton-Watson held posts in the Foreign Research and Press Service (1939–1940) and Political Intelligence Bureau of the Foreign Office (1940–1942).

However, he had little influence on policy, partly because he did not have the access to decision makers that he had during the First World War and partly because he was not allowed to publish his writings.

Later career

In 1945, Seton-Watson was appointed to the new chair of Czechoslovak Studies at Oxford University. He was president of the Royal Historical Society from 1946 to 1949.

In 1949, saddened by both the new Soviet control of countries to whose independence he had devoted much of his life and the death of his friend Edvard Beneš, Czechoslovakia's last non-Communist leader before the end of the Cold War, Seton-Watson retired to Kyle House on the Isle of Skye, where he died in 1951.


  • Racial Problems in Hungary (1908)
  • The Southern Slav Question (1911)
  • Sarajevo : A Study In The Origin Of The Great War (1926)
  • A History Of The Roumanians (1934)
  • Disrali, Gladstone And The Eastern Question (1935)
  • Britain In Europe (1789-1914): A Survey Of Foreign Policy (1937)
  • Britain And The Dictators: A Survey Of Post-War British Policy (1938)
  • From Munich to Danzig (1939)
  • Masaryk In England (1943)
  • A History Of The Czechs And Slovaks (1943)


  • Calcott, W. R. "The Last War Aim: British Opinion and the Decision for Czechoslovak Independence, 1914-1919." The Historical Journal, Vol. 27, No. 4. (Dec., 1984), 979-989.
  • Evans, R., Kováč, D., Ivaničová, E. "Great Britain and Central Europe 1867-1914", Veda - Publishing House of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, 1992.
  • May, Arthur J. "R. W. Seton-Watson and British Anti-Hapsburg Sentiment". American Slavic and East European Review, Vol. 20, No. 1. (Feb., 1961), 40-54.
----. "Seton-Watson and the Treaty of London." The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 29, No. 1. (Mar., 1957), 42-47.
  • (ed.) Rychlík et al.: "R. W. Seton-Watson and his Relations with the Czechs and Slovaks. R. W. Seton-Watson a jeho vztahy k Čechům a Slovákům. R. W. Seton-Watson a jeho vzťahy k Čechom a Slovákom. Documents. Dokumenty. 1906-1951", 2 vols., 1995-1996.
  • Torrey, Glenn. Review of R. W. Seton-Watson and the Romanians, 1906-1920[2], by Cornella Bodea and Hugh Seton-Watson, The American Historical Review, Vol. 95, No. 5. (Dec., 1990), 1581.

External links

  • Scotus Viator (pseudonym), Racial Problems in Hungary, London: Archibald and Constable (1908), reproduced in its entirety on line.


  1. See, for example, Glenn Torrey, review of R. W. Seton-Watson and the Romanians, 1906-1920, by Cornella Bodea and Hugh Seton-Watson, The American Historical Review, Vol. 95, No. 5. (Dec., 1990), 1581.[1]
  2. SSEES
  3. PRECLÍK, Vratislav. Masaryk a legie, váz. kniha, 219 pages, first issue - vydalo nakladatelství Paris Karviná, Žižkova 2379 (734 01 Karvina, Czechia) ve spolupráci s Masarykovým demokratickým hnutím (cooperation with Masaryk democratic movement, Prague), 2019, pp.12 - 25, 77 - 83, 140 - 148, 159 - 164, 165 - 190
  4. Arthur J. May, "Seton-Watson and the Treaty of London." Journal of Modern History 29.1 (1957): 42-47. Online
  5. SSEES
  6. Steed, DNB