The Life and World of Francis Rodd, Lord Rennell (1895-1978)

The Life and World of Francis Rodd, Lord Rennell (1895-1978)

Geography, Money and War

By Philip Boobbyer

Anthem Studies in British History

This book is a biographical study of the geographer/explorer and banker Francis Rodd, Lord Rennell (1895-1978), who during World War II became an important figure in wartime military administration. In 1943, during the Allied invasion of Italy, he was head of AMGOT (Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories).

Hardback, 268 Pages


January 2021

£80.00, $125.00

  • About This Book
  • Reviews
  • Author Information
  • Series
  • Table of Contents
  • Links
  • Podcasts

About This Book

Francis Rodd’s life is interesting for the way it connected the worlds of geography, international finance, politics, espionage, and wartime military administration. Rodd was a generalist in an age of growing specialisation; he had an instinct for problem-solving, which he applied in a range of areas. He was both a pragmatist and a man of strong convictions, and in relation to African society a traditionalist as well as a moderniser. His life, interesting in itself for what it tells us about British geography, banking and military government, is also a window onto British society at a time of great change. 

More specifically, Rodd’s claim to fame lies in two fields in particular: geography and military government. Geography was in the family; he was a direct descendant of the cartographer and oceanographer James Rennell (1742-1830), who was for a time Survey-General of the East India Company. His first trip to the Mountains of Aïr in what is now Niger, took place in 1922. His gravestone in the Welsh border town of Presteigne contains a saying in the Tuareg language of Tamasheq ‘Naught by good’, reflecting the fact that he always felt connected to this remote desert region. A product of Eton and Balliol College Oxford, he spent a year with the Royal Field Artillery in Northern France 1914-15, before moving to work in Italy and North Africa—including intelligence duties. He then worked for a time in the Foreign Office (1919-24); and it was from there that he took time out to do this first Saharan expedition. His acclaimed book—still admired to this day—on the Tuareg, People of the Veil (1926), was the result. A second expedition to the Sahara in 1927 earned him the Royal Geographical Society’s Founders’ Medal in 1929. Later he was President of the Royal Geographical Society as it re-established its post-war agenda (1945-48). In old age, he was increasingly preoccupied with Welsh border geography and the agriculture of Western Australia. 

If geography was a life-long passion for Rodd, it was only one of his interests; indeed it was for the range of his activities that he was once called the ‘last of the Elizabethans’. He left the Foreign Office for the Stock Exchange, and then joined the Bank of England in 1929, soon becoming the bank’s representative at the Bank for International Settlements in Basle (1930-31). Between 1933 and 1961 he was a Partner in Morgan Grenfell, the British branch of the Morgan banks that has close links with Whitehall. He was one of the bank’s main conduits with Italy, and this led in 1939 to him being seconded to the Ministry of Economic Warfare, where he became the ministry’s chief negotiator with Rome before Italy entered the war. During the war itself, he had meteoric career in the War Office; he rose to being Chief Political Officer in East Africa in 1942 (when he was also made an acting Major-General)—a role that involved him briefly being the Chief Military Administrator of Madagascar, after the Vichy regime fell. He was then made Chief Civil Affairs Officer of AMGOT in 1943, a high profile role that effectively made him the civilian governor of Sicily and Southern Italy in the wake of the Allied military advance. He returned to Britain in December 1943. Rodd inherited a peerage from his father in 1941. After the war, he was much involved in the House of Lords, first as a Liberal and then as a Conservative, with a particular interest in economic and colonial affairs.


“Francis Rodd lived a life shaped by war and with an enduring pragmatic commitment to the service of the state and to geographical thinking, whether about the Tuareg, international banking, Sicily during WWII or post-war African administration. This deeply researched biography – both a faithful tribute and an intelligent historical commentary – will interest many.” — Professor Charles W J Withers, Professor Emeritus of Historical Geography, University of Edinburgh, UK

‘Who better than his grandson to tell the intriguing story of Francis Rodd, explorer, banker, intelligence officer and military administrator in Africa and Italy? This is an immaculately researched and written study which significantly adds to our understanding of the nature of the later British Empire’.” — Saul Kelly, Reader at the Defence Studies Department, King’s College London

“Using the lens of biography, Philip Boobbyer shines a much-needed light on the activities of Francis Rodd who worked in and on a number of crucial activities in two world wars. This highly original contribution demonstrates how travel, intelligence gathering, diplomacy and allied liaison work intersected in the life of one man who was at the sharp end of British policy-making for almost 40 years.” — Dr Kent Fedorowich, Reader in British Imperial and Commonwealth History, University of the West of England, Bristol

"The twenty-first century has taught us that the governance of conquered territory is difficult. Philip Boobbyer's The Life and World of Francis Rodd expertly illuminates the twentieth century's master of the art." — Simon Ball, Professor of International History and Politics, University of Leeds

"Boobbyer’s biography finally gives full credit to Major General Lord Rennell’s remarkably diverse career. From bold explorer to international banker to hammer of the Mafia, his service to his country and the wider world was extensive and ingenious – a great British hero rediscovered." — Tim Newark,,them%20with%20local%20Mafia%20bosses, 26 February, 2021"

Author Information

Dr Philip Boobbyer is Reader in History at the University of Kent in Canterbury (UK).


Anthem Studies in British History

Table of Contents

List of Figures; List of Abbreviations; A Note on Names; Acknowledgements; A Personal Note; Introduction; Chapter One Family and Youth; Chapter Two The First World War; Chapter Three Into the Sahara; Chapter Four International Banker; Chapter Five Negotiating with Italy; Chapter Six West Africa, 1940; Chapter Seven East Africa in Transition; Chapter Eight AMGOT (Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories); Chapter Nine ‘Jack of Many Trades’; Conclusion; Sources and Bibliography; Index.


No Podcasts for this title.
Comodo SSL