He was born in London and educated at Eton College and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was elected as Liberal MP for Penryn and Falmouth from 1880, serving as Parlimentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for War from 1882, but was defeated at the 1885 election, and thereafter took a back seat role in public affairs. In 1895, he became Permanent Secretary at the Office of Works, where the Prince of Wales was impressed by his dedication to the elderly Queen Victoria. In 1899 he succeeded his father at Viscount Esher, with a seat in the House of Lords.
Esher was married, with four children, but had homosexual inclinations. His flirtations with young men were regarded with tolerant amusement in polite society. He was evidently sufficiently discreet to avoid becoming entangled in the Cleveland Street scandal, unlike his friend Lord Arthur Somerset.
- Walter Reid, Architect of Victory: Douglas Haig (Birlinn Ltd, Edinburgh, 2006) ISBN 1-84158-517-3, pages 127-31