Richard Melson

July 2006

John Buchan’s "jihad" novel


Shireen T. Hunter

"John Buchan, then a major in the British Army Intelligence Corps, based his 1916 novel The Greenmantle on a possible Muslim revolt that, had it happened, would have turned the fortunes of the World War I against the allied forces..."


John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir

John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir:

15th Governor General of Canada

In office November 2, 193511 February 1940

Born August 26, 1875 Perth, Scotland

Died February 11, 1940 Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Profession Author Religion Presbyterian

John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, GCMG, GCVO, CH, PC

(26 August 187511 February 1940),

was a Scottish novelist and politician who served as Governor General of Canada.

Early life

Born in Perth, Scotland and growing up in Fife, he spent many summer holidays with his grandparents in the Borders, developing a love of walking and the Border scenery and its wildlife that is often featured in his novels. He won a scholarship to the University of Glasgow where he studied Classics and wrote poetry and first became a published author. He then studied law at Brasenose College, Oxford, winning the Newdigate prize for poetry. He had a genius for friendship which he retained all his life. His friends at Oxford included Hilaire Belloc, Raymond Asquith and Aubrey Herbert.

Life as an author and politician

Buchan at first entered into a career in law in 1901, but almost immediately moved into politics, becoming private secretary to British colonial administrator Alfred Milner, who was high commissioner for South Africa, Governor of Cape Colony and colonial administrator of Transvaal and the Orange Free State—Buchan gained an acquaintance with the country that was to feature prominently in his writing. On his return to London, he became a partner in a publishing company while he continued to write books. Buchan married Susan Charlotte Grosvenor, cousin of the Duke of Westminster, on July 15, 1907. Together they had four children, two of whom would spend most of their lives in Canada.

In 1910, he wrote Prester John, the first of his adventure novels, set in South Africa. In 1911, he first suffered from duodenal ulcers, an illness he would give to one of his characters in later books. He also entered politics running as a Tory candidate for a Border constituency.

During World War I, he wrote for the War Propaganda Bureau and was a correspondent for The Times in France. In 1915, he published his most famous book The Thirty-Nine Steps, a spy thriller set just before the outbreak of World War I, featuring his hero Richard Hannay, who was based on a friend from South African days, Edmund Ironside.

The following year he published a sequel Greenmantle.

In 1916, he joined the British Army Intelligence Corps where as a 2nd Lieutenant he wrote speeches and communiques for Sir Douglas Haig.

In 1917, he returned to Britain where he became Director of Information under Lord Beaverbrook in 1917. After the war he began to write on historical subjects as well as continuing to write thrillers and historical novels. His career as an author was very successful, and he produced many well-respected historical works. He wrote biographies of Sir Walter Scott, Caesar Augustus, Oliver Cromwell and James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, but the most famous of his books were the Richard Hannay spy thrillers and it is probably for these that he is now best remembered.

The Thirty-Nine Steps was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935.

Buchan became president of the Scottish Historical Society. He was twice Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and in a 1927 by-election was elected a Scottish Unionist MP for the Scottish Universities. Politically he was of the Unionist-Nationalist Tradition that believed in Scotland's promotion as a nation within the British Empire and once remarked "I believe every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist. If it could be proved that a Scottish parliament were desirable...Scotsmen should support it". The effects of depression in Scotland and the subsequent high emigration also led him to say "We do not want to be like the Greeks, powerful and prosperous wherever we settle, but with a dead Greece behind us" (Hansard, November 24, 1932). The insightful quotation "It's a great life, if you don't weaken" is also famously attributed to him.

Life in Canada

In 1935 he became Governor General of Canada and was created Baron Tweedsmuir. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King had wanted him to go to Canada as a commoner, but King George V insisted on being represented by a peer.

Buchan's writing continued even after he was appointed Governor General. His later books included novels and histories and his views of Canada. He also wrote an autobiography, Memory Hold-the-Door, while Governor-General. His wife was a writer, producing many books and plays as Susan Buchan. While pursuing his own writing career, he also promoted the development of a distinctly Canadian culture. In 1936, encouraged by Lady Tweedsmuir, he founded the Governor General's Awards, still some of Canada's premier literary awards.

Lady Tweedsmuir was active in promoting literacy in Canada. She used Rideau Hall as a distribution centre for 40,000 books, which were sent out to readers in remote areas of the west. Her programme was known as the "Lady Tweedsmuir Prairie Library Scheme". Together, Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir established the first proper library at Rideau Hall.

Tweedsmuir took his responsibilities in Canada seriously and tried to make the office of Governor General relevant to the lives of ordinary Canadians. In his own words, "a Governor General is in a unique position for it is his duty to know the whole of Canada and all the various types of her people".

Tweedsmuir travelled throughout Canada, including the Arctic regions. He took every opportunity to speak to Canadians and to encourage them to develop their own distinct identity. He wanted to build national unity by diminishing the religious and linguistic barriers that divided the country. Tweedsmuir was aware of the suffering experienced by many Canadians due to the Depression and often wrote with compassion about their difficulties.

Tweedsmuir was recognized by Glasgow, St. Andrews, McGill, Toronto and Montréal Universities, all of which conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, and he was made an Honorary Fellow and an Honorary D.C.L. of Oxford.

When King George V died in 1936, the front of Rideau Hall was covered in black crepe and Lord Tweedsmuir cancelled all entertaining during the period of mourning. The new heir to the throne, King Edward VIII, soon abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson – creating a crisis for the monarchy. However, when the new King, George VI and Queen Elizabeth travelled throughout Canada in 1939; the regal visit – the first visit to Canada by a reigning Sovereign – was extremely popular.

Like many people of his time, the experience of the First World War convinced Tweedsmuir of the horrors of armed conflict and he worked with both United States President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Mackenzie King in trying to avert the ever-growing threat of another world war.

While shaving on February 6, 1940, Tweedsmuir had a stroke and injured his head badly in the fall. He received the best possible care – Canada's famous Dr. Wilder Penfield operated twice – but the injury proved fatal. On February 11, just 10 months before his term of office was to expire, Tweedsmuir died. Prime Minister Mackenzie King reflected the loss that all Canadians felt when he read the following words over the radio, "In the passing of His Excellency, the people of Canada have lost one of the greatest and most revered of their Governors General, and a friend who, from the day of his arrival in this country, dedicated his life to their service."

This was the first time a Governor General had died during his term of office since Confederation. After the lying-in-state in the Senate Chamber, a state funeral for Lord Tweedsmuir was held at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Ottawa. His ashes were returned to England on the warship H.M.S. Orion for final burial at Elsfield, where he had bought the Manor in 1920.


In recent years in common with many of his contemporaries, Buchan's reputation has been tarnished by the lack of political correctness perceived, with hindsight, in his novels. However, in many other ways, his work stands the test of time, and he is currently undergoing a resurgence in popularity.

Buchan had a reputation for discretion. He was involved with the Intelligence Corps as a propagandist during World War I and may have had an involvement with British intelligence later; he is cited as having some involvement during the years leading to the Second World War by Canadian-born British spymaster William Stephenson but the books about him are not always reliable.

In the 1930s Buchan gave financial and moral support to the poor, young academic Roberto Weiss, as Buchan was fascinated by the classical antiquity period Weiss studied, and wished to support this.

His autobiography "Memory Hold the Door" (Published as Pilgrims Way in the USA) was said to be John F. Kennedy's favourite book although a list given to Life magazine in 1961 quoted "Montrose" at the head of the list.

Editorial Review of Greenmantle:

A friend recommended I read Greenmantle. My friend thought

Buchan predicted the emergence of Jihad as a factor in world politics.

If so, I didn't notice it.

The story is rather lame, never providing much of a surprise or emotional undercurrent. Buchan relies on luck to extract our hero from almost every plot twist. The 'mystery' code is solved without requiring any discoveries by our spying expedition, so I had to wonder why they even left on their adventure.

Waiting for the insight on Jihad, I forced myself to finish the book. It never arrived. The Turks appearing in the plot are universally dim witted fools and/or larcenous scoundrels. Buchan suggests the jihad can be organized by the man who wears the 'green mantle'. Even Buchan seems uncomfortable with this plot device. Of course, the British and the Turks somehow fail to notice their 'prophet' is a British officer and spy. The book concludes with the British spy charging off into the sunset followed by a host of obedient Turks. I guess this was what Buchan and his faithful readers made of Jihad.

This was written as a follow-up to THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS.

In this adventure, Richard Hannay is aided in his mission of his undercover work by Greenmantle (modeled on American Aubrey Herbert).

The writer, John Buchan uses his experiences as assistant private secretary to the British High Commissioner in South Africa (1901-1903). He was literate, wrote adventure novels of three separate series. He wrote this story while serving in the Intelligence Corps during WWI (1916) in France.

He was born in Scotland, the son of a minister. He was a lawyer and partner in Thomas Nelson & Son publishing house in Edinburgh in 1907. In 1935, he was appointed Governor-General of Canada and died in Montreal in 1940 before I was born.

In his 1916 thriller Greenmantle, Richard and his group must

undermine a Holy War in the Near East of Muslims against the British.

As they work on this goal of preventing vast disaster, they are miraculosly aided by the Russian Cossack calvary. "

Then I knew that the prophecy had been true -- that their prophet had not failed them.

The long-looked-for revelation had come: Greenmantle."


Paperback: 320 pages

Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA

New Ed. (December 2, 1999)

ISBN: 0192836846

John Buchan's Greenmantle: 1916 novel

July 6, 2006