Paul Sanford Methuen was born at Corsham Court, Wiltshire, the eldest of three sons of Frederick Methuen, 2nd Baron Methuen and his wife Anna Horatia Caroline Methuen (née Sanford).
Educated at Eton College, Methuen served two years as a cornet in the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry and then joined the Scots Fusilier Guards as an ensign in the regiment and lieutenant in the army on 22 November 1864. He was promoted to lieutenant in the regiment and captain in the army on 25 December 1867, and became adjutant of the 1st battalion in 1868. He became brigade major, Home District in 1871 and saw active duty on the staff of Sir Garnet Wolseley at Amoaful in 1873 during the Third Anglo-Ashanti War. Promoted to captain in the regiment and lieutenant colonel in the army on 15 July 1876, he became assistant military secretary in Ireland in 1877, military attaché in Berlin in 1878 and quartermaster-general at the Home District in April 1881, before being promoted to colonel on 1 July. He was the commandant of headquarters in Egypt for three months in 1882, being present at the Battle of Tel el-Kebir. On return to the UK he became assistant-adjutant and quartermaster-general for the Home District again. He was promoted to major in the regiment on 25 October 1882.
Methuen served in the expedition of Sir Charles Warren to Bechuanaland in 1884 to 1885, where he commanded Methuen's Horse, a corps of mounted rifles. He became deputy adjutant-general, in South Africa in 1888, and having been promoted to major general on 21 May 1890, he succeeded his father as 3rd baron in 1891. He became Major-General commanding the Brigade of Guards and General Officer Commanding the Home District in April 1892 and then served as press censor at headquarters on the Tirah expedition in 1897. Promoted to lieutenant general on 1 April 1898, he was given the command of the 1st Division on the outbreak of the Second Boer War.
Methuen reached South Africa in November 1899 with orders to relieve Kimberley but initially just expelled the Boers from Belmont and Graspan. He was slightly wounded at the Battle of Modder River. He suffered both defeats and successes during the war. His greatest defeat was at the Battle of Magersfontein, during which he failed to carry out adequate reconnaissance and accordingly his artillery bombarded the wrong place leading to the Highland Brigade taking heavy casualties. The battle was regarded as one of the three British disasters in "Black Week" that led to the despatch of Lord Roberts to South Africa.
After Magersfontein, Methuen remained in the Kimberley–Boshof area trying to capture Boer General Christiaan de Wet. Methuen was himself captured by the Boers at Tweebosch on 7 March 1902. He had been wounded in the battle when he broke his leg after his horse fell on him. Boer General Koos de la Rey released him due to the severity of his injuries, providing his personal cart to take Methuen to hospital in Klerksdorp. The two allegedly became lifelong friends as a result of this action. Following the end of hostilities in early June 1902, he left Cape Town with other invalids and convalescents on board the SS Assaye, arriving in Southampton the following month, still walking with crutches.
In his final despatch from South Africa in June 1902, Lord Kitchener, Commander-in-Chief of the forces during the latter part of the war, described the effort of his brother officer the following way:
Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen has done more than most Officers towards maintaining throughout this campaign the high standard for personal courage, modesty and humanity which characterize the British Army. I share his own deep regret that his wounds have prevented him from remaining in the field until the conclusion of peace.
Despite visible setbacks on the battlefield during the Boer War, Methuen continued to be well regarded, and was given more responsibilities. Appointed colonel of the Scots Guards on 1 May 1904 and promoted to full general on 26 May, he was given the command of the IV Army Corps in June 1904, before it was reconstituted as Eastern Command in June 1905. He was also invited to become a board member of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation in August 1905. He became General Officer Commanding-in-Chief in South Africa in April 1908 and Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Natal in January 1910 before being promoted to field marshal on 19 June 1911.
Methuen helped raise the standards of training of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914 and was appointed Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Malta in February 1915, a post he held until he retired in May 1919.
In retirement Methuen was appointed Constable of the Tower late in 1919 and deputy lieutenant of Wiltshire in 1921. He devoted himself to the interests of the Brigade of Guards and died at Corsham Court on 30 October 1932.
Lord Methuen was married twice, first to Evelyn, the eldest daughter of Sir Frederick Hervey-Bathurst, of Clarendon Park, Wiltshire. They were married in 1878 until her death in 1879. He then married in 1884, his cousin Mary Ethel, the second daughter of William Ayshford Sanford, of Nynehead Court. They had three sons and two daughters. He was succeeded by his eldest son, the painter and zoologist Paul Ayshford Methuen, 4th Baron Methuen. A portrait painting of Methuen by his son from 1920 is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
BritishKnight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath – 31 October 1902 (KCB – 29 November 1900; CB – 17 November 1882)
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George – 3 June 1919 (CMG – 1886)
Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order – 1910 (KCVO – 30 June 1897)
ForeignGrand Officer of the Order of the Crown of Italy (Italy) – 31 August 1917
Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour (France) – 17 August 1918