Papers of Sir Walford Selby, 1900-65, with family papers, 15th-20th century

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 161 MSS. Eng. a. 2030-1, b. 2094, c. 6580-644, d. 3223-35, e. 3272-6, Photogr. c. 116-19
  • Dates of Creation
      15th-20th century
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      90 shelfmarks

Scope and Content

The papers of Selby and his immediate family comprise:

  • Papers concerning his career, 1901-86
  • Correspondence, 1900-64
  • Literary papers, 1940-60
  • Family correspondence and papers, ca. 1890-1987
  • Financial and business papers, 1845-1953
  • Newscuttings, 1880-1957, printed material and memorabilia, ca. 1900-55
  • Photographs, ca. 1881-1950
  • Early family papers, 15th-19th century

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Walford Harmood Montague Selby (1881-1965) was born in Brighton, the son of Charles Edward Montague Selby and Ellen Maria Harmood-Banner. He was educated at Charterhouse, Brighton College and Christ Church, Oxford, and in 1904 entered the Diplomatic Service as an attach. His early career was divided between postings in Berlin and The Hague and spells at the Foreign Office. In 1911 he became assistant private secretary to Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary, and in 1918 spent a few months in the Grenadier Guards before being reclaimed by the Foreign Office at the armistice.

In 1919 Selby became First Secretary and Head of the Chancery at Cairo where his knowledge of Arabic helped his work with Lord Allenby, Special High Commissioner to Egypt, on the negotiations leading up to the abolition of the British Protectorate in February 1922. Selby returned to London that year and in 1924 began his long career as Principal Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary, serving Ramsay MacDonald, Sir Austen Chamberlain, Arthur Henderson, Lord Reading and Sir John Simon. In this capacity he attended the Locarno Conference in 1925.

In 1932 Selby resigned from the Principal Private Secretaryship, and declined the post of Under-Secretary of State in favour of an appointment abroad. In 1933 he became British Minister in Vienna, one of the most important observation posts in Europe at the time. Selby was a strong supporter of Austrian independence, and became popular in Vienna. Edward VIII visited Austria in September 1936, returning to Vienna for five months following his abdication, and was frequently entertained at the British Legation.

In December 1937 Selby moved to Lisbon as Ambassador, his final posting. With the outbreak of war the importance of Portugal, a neutral country, increased. Selby left Portugal and retired from the Foreign Office in December 1940.

On his return to England Selby became involved in fund-raising for Austria and Poland. In the late 1940s he emigrated to Rhodesia where he worked on his book criticizing the Foreign Office between the wars, which was published as Diplomatic Twilight in 1953. Selby died in Salisbury, Rhodesia, in 1965.

In 1912 Selby married Dorothy Orme Carter and they had three children, Vera, Ralph, who also entered the Diplomatic Service, and Derek.

Access Information

Entry to read in the Library is permitted only on presentation of a valid reader's card (for admissions procedures see

Acquisition Information

The papers were given to the Bodleian Library by Selby's granddaughters, Virginia Knowles, Pamela Cavazza and Cynthia Selby, in 1997-8. A wallet of fishing flies, horse tail, posy of dried flowers, 1907 Hague Peace Conference medal and YMCA medal are now Janitor's List of Library Objects and Portraits, nos. 740/1-5.


Collection level description created by Emily Tarrant, Department of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts.

Other Finding Aids

A catalogue of the collection is available online at

Family Names