While he was still an undergraduate at Oxford University, John Buchan received two major prizes for writing: the Stanhope Historical Essay Prize for an essay on Sir Walter Raleigh (1897) and the Newdigate Prize for Poetry for The Pilgrim Fathers (1898). He graduated in 1899 with a first-class honors degree, and shortly thereafter he was appointed private secretary to the high commissioner for South Africa (1901-1903). This was the first of many prestigious posts that Buchan filled: He was a conservative member of Parliament for the Scottish universities (1927-1935), president of the Scottish History Society (1929-1933), lord high commissioner to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland (1933, 1934), chancellor of the University of Edinburgh (1937-1940), and governor-general of Canada (1935-1940). In 1935, in recognition of his accomplishments and of his new post as governor-general, he was created Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield.
In part because of his political prominence and his reputation as a historian and in part because of his achievements as a novelist, Buchan received honorary doctorates from Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, McGill, and McMaster universities and from the Universities of Glasgow, St. Andrews, Edinburgh, Toronto, Manitoba, and British Columbia. He also became an honorary fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford.
Although Buchan was clearly not a full-time writer of fiction, his achievements as a novelist include some degree of critical success and a great deal of commercial popularity, particularly during the period between World War I and the 1960’s. His novels appealed to a wide and varied audience, including students, laborers, clergy, academics, members of various professions, and such celebrities as A. J. Balfour, Stanley Baldwin, Clement Atlee, Ezra Pound, C. S. Lewis, J. B. Priestley, King George V, and Czar Nicholas II. Although they have declined in popularity in the United States since the early 1960’s, Buchan’s novels continue to sell moderately well in Great Britain, and they have been translated into a number of foreign languages, including French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Czech, Swedish, and Arabic.