Andrew Bonar Law

16-09-1858, Kingston, New Brunswick - 30-10-1923, London, England

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
23 October 1922 - 22 May 1923

He was referred to as Bonar Law (Bonar pronounced like honour), and called Bonar by his family and close friends, never Andrew. In early years he signed his name as A.B. Law, but in his thirties he changed this to A. Bonar Law. In politics he was known to the public as Bonar Law.


Member of Parliament for Glasgow Blackfriars and Hutchesontown
1900 - 1906

Member of Parliament for Dulwich
1906 - 1910

Member of Parliament for Bootle
1911 - 1918

Member of Parliament for Glasgow Central
1918 - 1923


Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade
1902 - 1905

Leader of the Opposition
1911 - 1915

Secretary of State for the Colonies
1915 - 1916

Chancellor of the Exchequer
1916 - 1919

Leader of the House of Commons
1916 - 1921

Lord Privy Seal
1919 - 1921

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
23 October 1922 - 22 May 1923

Leader of the House of Commons
1922 - 1923


Andrew Bonar Law was born in what at that time was a British colony, for Canada was not founded until the Confederation of several provinces in 1867. His parents were the James Law, a Presbyterian minister of the Free Church of Scotland, and Eliza Kidston Law. He had three brothers, Robert, William and John, and one sister, Mary.

At the local school he excelled at his studies, and it was here that his his excellent memory was noted, a feature that that would later be extremely useful in his political career, and which was later commented on by several people.

When Bonar Law's mother died in 1861 an aunt, Janet Kidston, came from Scotland to New Brunswick to help look after the family. When James Law remarried in 1870, Janet returned to Scotland, taking Bonar Law with her, having persuaded his father that he would have better opportunities through her family connections.

The Kidston family had a long association with Helensburgh and it was Janet's house in that town that would become Law's main home.

Bonar Law was educated at Gilbertfield School in Hamilton, transferring to the High School of Glasgow when he was fourteen. Here, his outstanding memory was once again to the fore, allowing him to excel in Greek, French and German language studies.

His aunt, Janet Kidston, also had a home in Gibson Street, Glasgow, and, as a means of self-improvement, when Bonar Law stayed there with her he attended the early morning class of Professor Edward Caird, who occupied the Chair of Moral Philosophy at the nearby University of Glasgow. Law did not receive a university education himself (though he would be elected Lord Rector of that institution 1919-1922), for it had been decided that his future lay in the family business. He therefore left school at sixteen.


Bonar Law began his working life as a clerk at William Kidston & Sons, whose offices were at 19 Queen Street, Glasgow ("merchants; iron warehouse").

In 1885 the brothers Charles, Richard and William Kidston decided to retire, meaning that Law was out of a job. However, the brothers financed the purchase of a partnership for him at the firm of William Jacks & Co., and iron merchant based in Glasgow.

Jacks, who had noticed Bonar Law when both were involved with a literary society in Helensburgh, was at this time becoming involved in politics (elected in 1885 as a Liberal MP for Leith District of Burghs), so he was less active in the running of the business. Law, with a proven record of sound business training, commercial judgement and a reputation for integrity, effectively became the managing partner of the company.

It is possible that Jacks' interest in politics may have influenced Bonar Law in some way, for he became a member of the Glasgow Parliamentary Debating Association, developing skills that would later be put to good use.

Bonar Law soon gained a position of some prominence in the business life of Glasgow. He became in the course of time chairman of the Glasgow Iron Trade Association and the Scottish Iron Trade Association, a director of the Clydesdale Bank and of Messrs. G. and J. Burns (Limited), and a member of the Chamber of Commerce.

In 1888 he moved into his own house - Seabank - on East Clyde Street, Helensburgh. His sister Mary Law, who had earlier arrived from Canada, acted as housekeeper.

Law married Annie Robley in Helensburgh on 24 March 1891, Seabank being the family home. However, after the death of Annie's father in 1895, Law and his wife purchased the father's house, Kintillo, in Suffolk Street, Helensburgh.

Law's success in his professional life (as well as an inheritance after the death of Kidston family members) allowed him to retire from business in 1900 to concentrate more on his political future. It was in this year that he was returned as M.P for the district of Blackfriars and Hutchesontown in Glasgow, a seat he would hold until 1906.


Law had allegedly been interested in the game since his teens, one report stating that when attending school in Glasgow he carried a pocket set with him on the train and challenged other passengers to play.

Law took part in several of the annual congresses organised by the Scottish Chess Association (SCA), one of the oldest national chess organisations in the world, having been formed in 1884.

In 1888 he took part in the Minor Tournament, coming 2nd with 6 points behind G. Andrews. However, with improvement in his play he was soon playing in the championship tournaments of 1894, 1897 and 1899. He would also be involved with the SCA from an administrative point of view, being appointed President in 1897, and being appointed Vice-President at the AGMs of 1900, 1901, 1902 and 1903... (he was still a Vice-President at the time of his death in 1923). He also donated prize money for Brilliancy Prizes on several occasions.

John D. Chambers – A. Bonar Law 
Scottish Championship, Glasgow, April 1897 
Giuoco Piano

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 d3 d6 5 c3 h6 6 h3 Nf6 7 Bb3 O-O 8 O-O Kh8 9 Qe2 Nh7 10 Be3 Bb6 11 Nfd2 f5 12 Bxb6 axb6 13 f4 exf4 14 Rxf4 fxe4 15 Rxf8+ Qxf8 16 Nxe4 Bd7 17 Nbd2 Ra5 18 Nf3 Qe8 19 d4 Bf5 20 Re1 Ra8 21 Nh4 Qd7 22 Ng3 g6 23 Ngxf5 gxf5 24 Qh5 Ne7 25 Rxe7 Resigns.

Source: Falkirk Herald, 31 January 1923.


He was a benefactor in other ways, too. After the third West of Scotland Challenge Cup was retained by the player who had won it three years consecutively, Bonar Law donated the fourth Challenge Cup. (This trophy was also "lost" when J.R. Longwill won it outright in 1901. Eighteen years later Longwill donated it to Glasgow CC to encourage and develop the Gambit Tournament. It became known as the Longwill Cup.)

Law had taken part in the West of Scotland championships, though never managing to win it outright. His best performance was in the 1896-7 season when four of the twelve entrants, including Law, tied with 7½ points; the others were Sheriff Spens, W. Black and James McGrouther. Sheriff Spens won the play-off and took the title.

Sheriff Spens - A. Bonar Law
West of Scotland Championship 1897 (play-off)

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. e4 e5 4. d4 exd4 5. Nxd4 Bb4 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. Bd3 O-O 8. O-O d5 This seems to give Black a distinct advantage.
9. Bg5 Bxc3 10. bxc3 dxe4 11. Bxf6 Qxf6 12. Bxe4 Qxc3 13. Re1 Be6 14. Re3 Qc5 15. Qf3 Rad8 Black feared Bxh7+ and Qh5, if he played 15...Bd5. White, however, was by no means sure of the soundness of the attack.}
16. Rc3 Qe5 17. Bxc6 Rd6 18. Qg3 Qxg3 We think Black made a mistake here. He was in a good attacking position and gave up his principal weapon.
19. hxg3 Rfd8 20. Bf3 R8d7 21. a3 Kf8 22. Re1 Bf5 23. g4 Be6 24. Re5 Ke7 25. Bc6 Rd8 26. Bb5 Rc8 27. f4 Rd5 28. Rxd5 Bxd5 29. Ba6 Rd8 30. Rxc7+ Rd7 31. Rc3 Kd6 32. Kf2 Rc7 33. Rxc7 The exchange is now forced.
33... Kxc7 34. c4 This advance was premature.
34... Bc6 35. c5 Had the pawn not been advanced Black could really have drawn by attacking the B with his K and advancing ...P-Kt3. White elected to let the KKtP fall.
35... Bd5 36. Bb5 Bc6 37. Bc4 f6 38. g3 Bd7 39. Ke3 Kc6 40. Kd4 Bxg4 Up to this point the game after the exchange of rooks has been well played by Mr Law.
41. Bd5+ Kd7 42. Be4 g6 43. Kc4 Be2+ 44. Kb4 Kc7 45. Kc3 Bb5 46. Kd4 Bc6 47. Bd3 Kd7 48. Bc4 h6 49. Bd5 Bxd5 50. Kxd5 g5 We believe the game should have been drawn had Black advanced the RP. 51. fxg5 fxg5 52. g4 The winning move.
52... a6 53. c6+ Kc7 54. Kc5 h5 55. gxh5 g4 56. Kd4 Black resigned.

Source: Glasgow Herald chess column, 3 November 1923, p. 4, which states the game was taken from the Glasgow Weekly Herald of April 10, 1897. Notes in that earlier column were presumably by Spens, who edited the chess section in that publication.

Law also played three times for the West of Scotland team in matches against the East of Scotland:
1889, 1890 and 1892.


Law was associated with three chess clubs in Scotland; Helensburgh, Glasgow and Hillhead (Glasgow).

Helensburgh Chess Club seems to have had several incarnations. One reference says a club was formed in 1870, but there are detailed reports of a club being founded in September 1874, with Sheriff Spens travelling down from Glasgow to offer support to the newly-formed club, and deliver a lecture. Further, the British Chess Magazine of November 1895, p. 469, refers to a meeting on 15 October that year for the purpose of forming a club. If indeed Law had developed an interest in the game in his teenage years then it is possible that he was associated with the club from some point in the 1870s, for he was living in the town at that time. Law was an office-bearer for Helensburgh CC, being president in 1899 and honorary-president in 1903.

The club's brightest moment was clearly the Spens Cup competition of 1901-2, winning the trophy in its inaugural season.

The Spens Cup was instituted in memory of Sheriff Spens [Walter Cook Spens, 1842-1900]. The trophy was to be competed for yearly by those clubs not eligible to compete for the Richardson Cup. 

1. A.B. Law 0 1 J. Borthwick
2. E. Lecaille ½ ½ W. Bremner
3. J.R.K. Law ½ ½ J.J.S. Gray
4. F. Lacaille 1 0 R.A. Blackwood
5. Thos. Brash 1 0 W.R.C. Murdoch
  3 2  

Bonar Law's brother, John Richard Kidston Law, played on board 3. Since coming over from Canada, he had also been employed by William Jacks & Co., eventually becoming chairman of the same firm that his brother had worked for.

Bonar Law represented Glasgow Chess Club in a number of matches, occasionally playing top board. One early encounter saw a very strong Glasgow CC team travel to Edinburgh to face Edinburgh CC on Saturday 3rd December 1887. The Glasgow team scored a crushing victory, with Law (on the lowest board at this time) scoring a win and a loss in his two games against W.C. Wisby.

In September 1889 Capt. G.H. Mackenzie visited Scotland for a series of exhibitions, and in a simultaneous display at Glasgow CC, Bonar Law defeated the vastly experienced master. In November 1895, shortly after having been elected president of the club for season 1895-6, he won against the English master Joseph Blackburne in a similar display at the club.

Hillhead Chess Club was founded in 1890 in the West End of Glasgow. Several of the members lived in that part of the city and, like Bonar Law, were also members of Glasgow CC.

Bonar Law was Hillhead club champion in season 1892/3. When reporting on that success, The Chess Monthly of July 1893 (p. 325) commented:

"Mr Law has proved by his play this year that if he had sufficient leisure for the practice and study of the game he would probably hold his own with anyone in Scotland."

In 1899 Bonar Law represented Hillhead CC in the Richardson Cup, premier club competition in Scotland. In the first round of the competition the club lost to Dundee.


In the British Chess Magazine of August 1941, p. 211-12, Jacques Mieses wrote in some detail about meeting Bonar Law during his stay in Glasgow in 1900.


In 1909 Bonar Law sold his home in Helensburgh and moved the family to London. By this time he was an M.P. for the English seat of Dulwich and he was finding that commuting between Helensburgh and London was ever more tiring. Unfortunately, soon after arriving in London, tragedy struck; his wife took ill and died in October while recuperating from gall bladder surgery.

With six children, Bonar Law was fortunate to have his sister Mary continue to act as housekeeper, and assist in bringing up the family.


After becoming an M.P., his involvement in tournament and club chess naturally declined, but he showed his strong interest in other ways, including encouraging chess activities by Members of Parliament.

As mentioned above, Bonar Law regularly offered prize money to be used at Scottish Chess Association congresses, as well as donating a replacement West of Scotland Championship trophy. This generosity was seen in other ways.

In 1902 he donated a trophy for a Parliamentary Chess Tournament - a "House of Commons Chess Championship", the first winner of which was Reginald McKenna, M.P.

Another donated trophy was for an annual competition between the House of Commons and the Combined Universities. The following game is from one of these encounters, as shown by Edward Winter in his Chess Notes web pages.

A. Bonar Law – R. Lob (Oxford) 
House of Commons, London, 23 March 1909 
Ruy López

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 f5 4 d4 fxe4 5 Bxc6 dxc6 6 Nxe5 Nf6 7 Bg5 Be6 8 O-O c5 9 c3 cxd4 10 cxd4 Be7 11 Nc3 Bf5 12 Qb3 Bg6 13 Qxb7 O-O 14 Nxg6 hxg6 15 Nxe4 Nxe4 16 Bxe7 Qxe7 17 Rae1 Nd6 18 Qxa8 Qf6 19 Qxa7 Nb5 20 Qc5 Nxd4 21 Qxc7 Kh7 22 Re3 Nf5 23 Rh3+ Kg8 24 Qc4+ Rf7 25 Rc3 Kh7 26 Rf3 Re7 27 g4 Qg5 28 Kh1 Nh4 29 Rf8 Qe5 30 Qg8+ Kh6 31 Qh8+ Kg5 32 f4+ Resigns.

Source: Times Literary Supplement, 20 May 1909, page 192. R. Lob was Oxford University’s top player at that time.

Interestingly, the BCM of June 1928 (pp. 240-1) indicates that this trophy was missing for a while:

'Thanks to a notice inserted by the Chess Editor of The Times in that newspaper the cup presented by the late Mr. Bonar Law for annual competition between the House of Commons and the Combined Universities has now been found. It had been cared for by a gentleman who was subsequently in the Army, and who has now sent it to Sir Richard Barnett. We now understand the interesting fixture may now be revived.'

He also donated a trophy for competition between Civil Service teams, the first year of the event being 1923, when it was won by the Patent Office. The trophy was described as "somewhat unique, as it represents a Rook in silver, copied from a carved ivory piece in the Victoria and Albert Museum" (BCM, 1923, p. 233).

In 1911, when a testimonial was raised to help provide financial assistance to the 'Grand Old Man' of British chess, Joseph Henry Blackburne, Bonar Law acted as trustee of the fund.


Bonar Law's time for chess while in political office was restricted of course, but he did use chess as a form of relaxation and distraction from the pressures of work.

Law had, naturally, been hit hard by the death of his wife in 1909. Then, during the 1914-18 war two of his sons were killed and Law's health deteriorated.

In Chess and its Stars (1936), Brian Harley relates how he was one of several amateurs who made themselves available to play against Bonar Law. Harley was brought into this circle in 1919, visiting Law on a regular basis for chess sessions from 9 p.m. to midnight.

Law's health worsened in the post-WWI years and he resigned his offices in March 1921, but retained his seat as an M.P. for Glasgow Central. Law took time off in France, which included a visit to the famous chess rendevouz, the Café de la Régence.


The London International Congress of 1922 was an important event in the British chess calendar, and included masters such as Capablanca, Alekhine, Bogoljobow, Vidmar, Rubinstein and Réti.

Bonar Law, an M.P. at the time, was one of several people who gave speeches prior to the opening round of the tournament on 31 July.

Preparing for the start of the first round of the London Congress. Euwe, on the right, is about to play Capablanca (a few pawns have been moved for a press photo). Bonar Law with hands crossed. The other dignitary is the Mayor of Westminster.

Shortly after the London tournament, on 23 October 1922, Bonar Law assumed the position of Prime Minister. He resigned the position on 22 May 1923, having been diagnosed with terminal throat cancer. He died a few months later on on 30 October. HIs funeral was at Westminster Abbey, where his ashes are interred.


Edward Winter's web site has two excellent pages that should be read for further information. Among many interesting items there are several more games by Bonar Law, including a consultation game against Capablanca.

A review of material about Bonar Law

CN 7114 about chess and the House of Commons.


Helensburgh Heritage

The Chess Monthly, Vol XIV, July 1893, p 325.
British Chess Magazine (BCM) 1895, p. 262, 513.
BCM 1889, p. 423.
BCM May 1897, page 174.
BCM 1902, pp. 116, 183 and 398.
BCM 1903, p. 469.
BCM 1923, p.233.
Chess and its Stars, by Brian Harley (1936)
Glasgow Herald, October 21, 1923, p. 5.
Glasgow Herald, November 3, 1923, p. 4.
History of Glasgow Chess Club (unpublished).
Chess Player's Annual and Club Directory 1891, p. 67.
Post Office Directories: 1874-75, 1899.

Alan McGowan