James Rennell Rodd was the 1st Baron Rennell, a poet, a diplomat and an amateur painter and archaeologist.
Rodd was the only son of Major James Rennell Rodd and his wife Elizabeth Anne, the third daughter of Dr Anthony Todd Thomson. His grandfather was the Vice-Admiral Sir John Tremayne Rodd. His great-grandfather was James Rennell, the geographer. Rodd married Lilias Georgina, who died in 1951, and was the fifth daughter of James Alexander Guthrie, in 1894. Together they had two daughters and four sons, the eldest, Francis James Rennell, becoming a noted geographer and public servant.
Rodd attended Balliol College, Oxford. He then travelled in France and Italy. Rodd was a familiar face in artistic and literary circles in London. Edward Burne-Jones encouraged him to become an artist. Rodd, however, concentrated on a career in diplomacy, which proved to be successful. He was placed in Berlin in 1884 and Athens in 1888. In 1891 he moved to Rome but in 1892 was transferred to Paris, where he would stay for only a short while before his appointment as acting commissioner for British East Africa in 1893, during which time he was responsible for the British Agency in Zanzibar. Consequently, he was in charge of the second Witu campaign, present at both Pumwani and Jongeni. He moved again to Cairo, in 1894, and Abyssinia in 1897, to arrange a treaty with the Emperor Menelik. As a result of the favourable outcome of these negotiations he was appointed C.B. and then K.C.M.G., in 1899, in recognition of his contributions during the Fashoda crisis.
Rodd travelled to Rome in 1902 and then to Stockholm where, in 1905, he was accorded the G.C.V.O. He was installed at the embassy in Rome from 1908-1919 where his experience and assurance was of great value to the British Government, especially during 1915, when Italy's affiliation to the Allies was as yet undecided. After this he was awarded the G.C.M.G. On leaving Rome he was involved with Lord Milner's special commission on the status of Egypt.
He retired in 1921, having been promoted G.C.B. in 1920. Despite his retirement Rodd remained active as a diplomat. In 1928 he entered into politics and became the Conservative representative for St Marylebone until 1932. In 1933 he became Baron Rennell of Rodd.
Rodd was a prodigious author and poet publishing some twenty volumes of works, including his memoirs. Perhaps his best known literary works are Rome of the Renaissance and Today (1932) and Homer's Ithaca (1927). The latter work rejected Dörpfeld's assignation of Leucas (Santa Maura) as the birthplace of Odysseus. Excavations would later support Rodd's theories. At the age of 76, whilst pursuing his interest in archaeology, Rodd was almost shipwrecked. He received the Italian Order of St. Maurice and St. Lazarus and the Greek Order of the Redeemer, and was elected to the Accademia dei Lincei.
Rodd was a friend and correspondant of Whistler who moved in similar artistic and literary social circles.
Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004; Rodd, James Rennell, Social and Diplomatic Memories, 3 vols., London, 1922-1925.