Goschen was born at Eltham, England, the twelfth child and sixth son of Wilhelm Heinrich Göschen, originally of Leipzig, Saxony, and Henrietta Ohmann, who was born in London. At the time of his birth his father was 54. The Liberal Unionist politician Lord Goschen was Goschen’s elder brother. He was educated at Rugby and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He twice represented Oxford at real tennis, played five matches of first-class cricket as a right-handed batsman for the University of Oxford and throughout his life was a keen sportsman.
Goschen entered the Diplomatic Service in 1869 and after an initial few months at the Foreign Office he served in Madrid, as Third Secretary in Buenos Aires, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Constantinople, Peking, Copenhagen as secretary to the legation (1888–1890), Lisbon as secretary to the legation, Washington (1893–1894) as secretary and Saint Petersburg (1895–1898).
Goschen was offered the Belgrade legation and took up post in Serbia in September 1899. He was later to recall that his only instructions from the Foreign Secretary Lord Salisbury was to “keep [an] eye [on] King Milan“. He remained in Serbia until 1900.
According to Goschen himself he was initially less than happy to be offered the Copenhagen legation. “Oh dear, oh dear! I am not thrilled and later accepted but with misgivings”. He served as Minister to Denmark from 1900 until 1905 and although recognising the posting as something of a diplomatic backwater he at least revelled in the social aspects of his position.
Goschen’s appointment as Ambassador to Austria-Hungary was seemingly made at the behest of King Edward VII. Goschen most probably expected the Vienna posting to be his last but the imminent retirement of Sir Frank Lascelles at the Berlin embassy posed problems for the Foreign Secretary.
Finding a successor for Lascelles was not easy. Berlin made it clear that Sir Arthur Nicolson would be unacceptable as the successor and although the Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign AffairsCharles Hardinge had initially favoured Fairfax Cartwright, the Minister at Munich, he was in his turn vetoed by the Germans who wanted a public figure. Eventually a reluctant Kaiser was persuaded to accept Goschen. In Goschen’s last conversation with the German ChancellorTheobald von Bethmann-Hollweg before asking for his passports, on 4 August 1914, Bethmann famously expressed his astonishment that England would go to war for “a scrap of paper” (the 1839 treaty guaranteeing Belgium’s neutrality).