Middle East Studies

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In Defence of Britain’s Middle Eastern Empire

A Life of Sir Gilbert Clayton

Timothy J. Paris holds a B.A. in history from Duke University and a J.D. from Indiana University. In 1997, he received a Ph.D. in history from Cambridge University. His first book, Britain, the Hashemites and Arab Rule, 1920–1925: The Sherifian Solution, was published in 2003. Dr. Paris currently practices law in Phoenix, Arizona.

T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) described his war-time chief as "the perfect leader", a man who "worked by influence rather than by loud direction. … He was like water, or permeating oil, creeping silently and insistently through everything. It was not possible to say where Clayton was and was not, and how much really belonged to him."

This is the first biography of General Sir Gilbert Clayton (1875–1929), Britain's pre-eminent "man-on-the-spot" during the formative years of the modern Middle East. Serving as a soldier, administrator and diplomat in ten different Middle Eastern countries during a 33-year Middle Eastern career, Clayton is best known as the Director of British Intelligence in Cairo during the Great War (1914–16), and as the instigator and sponsor of the Arab Revolt against the Turks.

Dedicated to the preservation of Britain's Middle Eastern empire, Clayton came to realize that in the transformed post-war world Britain could ill afford to control all aspects of the emerging nation-states in the region. In his work as adviser to the Egyptian government (1919–22), he advocated internal autonomy for the Egyptians, while asserting Britain's vital imperial interests in the country. As chief administrator in Palestine (1923–5), he sought to reconcile the Arabs to Britain's national home policy for the Jews, and, at the same time, to solidify Britain's position as Mandatory power. In Arabia, Clayton negotiated the first post-war treaties with the emerging power of Ibn Saud, (1925, 1927), but curtailed his designs on the British Mandates in Iraq and Transjordan. And, in Iraq, where Clayton served as High Commissioner (1929), he backed Iraq's independence within the framework of the British Empire.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-758-2
Hardback Price: £95.00 / $55.00
Release Date: January 2016
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-785-8
Paperback Price: £39.95 / $55.00
Release Date: September 2016
Page Extent / Format: 536 pp. / 246 x 171 mm
Illustrated: Yes, with pictures and maps


List of Illustrations and Maps
List of Abbreviations


1 Introduction: Following the Furrow
2 Vectensian: Youth, 1875–95
3 The Lion and the Sphinx: The British Empire and the Middle East
4 A Smack at the Khalifa: The Sudan Campaign, 1898
5 Bimbashi: Clayton in the Egyptian Army
6 It A'int all Violets Here: Inspector in southern Sudan, 1902–3
7 Master: Private Secretary to Wingate, 1907–13
8 Sudan Agent: Cairo, 1913–14

9 Intrusive: Organizing a Middle Eastern Intelligence, 1914–15
10 Our Friends Across the Water: Origins of the Anglo-Arab Alliance
11 Clayton and the Pledge: The McMahon–Hussein Correspondence
12 Like Permeating Oil: Counter-intelligence
13 Reorganizing the Intelligence, 1916
14 Egypt's Little Wars: The Conflicts in Libya and Darfur
15 Revolt!: The Arab Rising, 1916
16 Between the Upper and the Nether Millstone: The End of Intrusive, 1916
17 Chief of Staff, Hejaz Operations, 1917
18 A Very Deep Game: Anglo-French Rivalry in the Middle East

19 Jacob and Esau: Arabs and Jews in Palestine, 1918–19
20 A Nest of Intrigue: Allied Disputes in the Levant
21 The Shadow and the Substance: The Egyptian Revolution, 1919
22 Peace and Empire: The Middle Eastern Settlement
23 A Witch's Cauldron: Egypt, 1920–2


[T]his book does an excellent job of providing readers with a carefully researched work, full of detailed analysis as befits a study in intelligence work . . . an absolutely first-rate biography of a centrally important figure . . . Destined to be consulted by generations of researchers, Paris writes with a passion for his subject that makes this story shine on every page.
Excerpt from a review by Eamonn Gearon in Middle East Policy, vol. XXIV, no. 2 (summer 2017)

For students of Sudanese history, the main interest of Paris’ magisterial biography of Clayton may lie in discovering the influence his apprenticeship in the affairs of the Sudan had on his later career. Students of the history of the wider Middle East will derive new insights from the long formative period of a career that has until now hardly been considered in analyses of the Arab Bureau, the Hijaz campaign, Mandatory Palestine and the rise of Saudi Arabia. Excerpt from a review by M.W. Daly in Sudan Studies, no. 57 (March 2018)

“Man in the Middle.” The author was interviewed on January 11, 2022, by the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, @CarnegieMEC

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