My teacher said in a motivational speech that there was a person (some king or duke etc) who had to make a speech/sermon after assuming his hereditary office. But when he appeared before the public he couldn't say a word because he was afraid of public speaking. So the people jokingly named him Lord Mum, for his speech was nothing but silence ("mum" sound). Then he worked on his fears and delivered great speeches later.

I tried searching it on Google but found nothing. So can anyone tell if this story is true? My teacher told me this a few years ago so I cannot go back asking for references.


Your teacher was quite correct that the term 'Lord Mum' was a nickname given to James Harris, 1st Earl of Malmesbury, as applied, for example in this political satire from 1796, relating to his peace mission to France, now held in the collection of the British Museum:


  • copyright British Museum, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license

The text above Malmesbury in the picture reads:

Q - Are you empowered to treat for yourself only? A. I don't Know Q - Can you treat for your Friends ? - A - I don't Know. Q - What proposals have you to make? A - i don't know. Q - Have you been fully instructed in this business? A - No. Q - What are you come here for? A - I don't Know Q - Then it seems you know nothing at all about the Matter? A No. but I'll send back & enquire'

or this example, Lord Mum overwhelmed with Parisian embraces, also dated 1796, and also from the British Museum collection:

Lord Malmesbury arriving in Paris

  • copyright British Museum, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license

However, there doesn't seem to be any evidence that the nickname related to any fear of public speaking.

In fact, it seems to have been simply a play on his title. The 'l' is silent, so Malmesbury is pronounced "m AA m s - b er - ee", or more simply "Mumsbury", which reduced to the simpler 'Lord Mum', for the purpose of satire.

Interestingly, another contemporary satire (in the Lancashire dialect) titled Whistle Pig and Tom Grunt, by Tim Bobbin, esq (a pseudonym) uses a different play on Malmesbury's title, referring to the Earl as 'Lord Mumblebery':

"... when lord Mumblebery whent to Paris; an agen, when the' sent's him to Lisle e Flanders; an agen, th' last yeor, when Bonnipeeter sent o'er th' mit'n ha mede a farrantlier pecoss thin the' han mede neaw; ..."

  • 1
    Given his extraordinary career, this motivational speech sounds like an amalgamation of the nickname – acquired in one special diplomatic situation – and that King George. Could you differentiate the two a bit more? – LаngLаngС Oct 15 '18 at 18:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.