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This article is about Kenelm Digby, the English lawyer and civil servant. For other people with the same name, see Kenelm Digby (disambiguation)

Sir Kenelm Edward Digby KCB, GCB, (9 September 1836 - 21 April 1916) was an English lawyer and civil servant. He was Permanent Under Secretary of State at the Home Office from 1895-1903.

Digby was born in Wootton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire, England, the son of Hon. and Revd. Kenelm Henry Digby (1811–1891) and his wife Caroline. The Digbys were an old-established county family from Dorset, with a strong tradition of public service. The Revd. Kenelm Henry Digby was the younger brother of Edward Digby, 9th Baron Digby) and Jane Digby.

Digby schooled at Blakeney in Norfolk and then at Harrow School. He graduated in 1859 from Corpus Christi College Oxford, and was called to the bar as a member of Lincoln's Inn in 1865. From 1868-1875 he taught at Oxford University, and published An Introduction to the History of the Law of Real Property in 1875, which soon became a standard textbook. He was a strong supporter of Gladstonian Liberalism and believed in "the greater importance of giving substantial power to the working classes". Later in his life he was involved in working out fair and effective means of compensating workmen for industrial injuries.

In 1892 Digby was appointed County Court Judge in Derbyshire, and in 1891 he became a bencher of Lincoln's Inn and in 1904 took silk. In 1894 he was unexpectedly approached on behalf of the Liberal home secretary, H. H. Asquith, about an appointment as Permanent Under Secretary of State at the Home Office. However, a strong devotion to public duty weighed in the balance against his fears about his inexperience in administration and public office. In January 1895 Digby was appointed Permanent Under Secretary of State at the Home Office, succeeding Sir Godfrey Lushington.

Digby was created KCB in 1898, retired in September 1903 and was created GCB in 1906. Over the subsequent ten years he sat as a member of numerous departmental committees of inquiry, chairing the Home Office departmental committee on workmen's compensation (1904), and acted as an arbitrator in labour disputes. In 1914 he was appointed a member of the commission to investigate alleged German war atrocities in Belgium.

Digby married Caroline (1848–1926), second daughter of Edward Strutt, 1st Baron Belper, the Liberal politician, on 30 August 1870. They had four children - two sons and two daughters. One of his grandchildren was Kenelm Hubert Digby, the proposer of the notorious 1933 "King and Country" debate in the Oxford Union, and later Attorney General and judge in Sarawak.[1] Digby died on 21 April 1916 at Studland in Dorset.


  1. ^ Derek Round and Kenelm Digby (2002). Barbed Wire Between Us: A Story of Love and War. Random House, Auckland.  
  • Pellew, Jill, "Digby, Sir Kenelm Edward (1836–1916), lawyer and civil servant" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online edition)


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