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Asquith, Herbert Henry (1852-1928), 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, Prime Minister
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Letter from Roger Cary to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

The British Broadcasting Corporation, 200 Oxford Street, London, W.1.—Encloses the script of a programme about Asquith (5/125c). Some cuts have had to be made, but he hopes that Pethick-Lawrence will like the programme.

(Signed as Producer, Overseas Talks.)

Letter from —— to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

The British Broadcasting Corporation, Broadcastinh House, London, W.1.—Invites him (retrospectively) to prepare and deliver, on stated terms, a radio talk on H. H. Asquith for the series ‘British Prime Ministers since 1900’ (cf. 5/123a–b, 5/124a).

(A printed form, with details typed in. Signed p.p. the Talks Booking Manager (the name is indistinct, but is probably Ronald Boswell).)

Copy letter from J. S. Nicholson to J. G. Frazer

3 Belford Park, Edinburgh. Dated 18 February, 1923 - [James] Gow has died, lived on the same stair in the Bishop's Hostel, wanted to make way at the bar, but was instead forced to become a schoolmaster, about which he 'spoke ... most bitterly'; Adam Sedgwick asked Asquith why he didn't make Cunningham bishop and he said 'I can't make a tariff reformer a bishop'; is an odd world in which Lloyd George is an appointer of bishops and keeper of England's conscience and maker of peace; sends an article on the mark [not transcribed]; is very busy with large classes.

Copy of a letter from Lord Pethick-Lawrence to G. M. Trevelyan

Explains his view of the historical importance of the women’s suffrage movement (in response to views expressed by Trevelyan).

(Carbon-copy, with handwritten alterations.)



3rd. October, 1949.

My dear Master,

You may remember that when I had the honour of dining in Trinity last June {1} I mentioned to you that I should like some day to have a talk with you about the woman’s militant movement for the franchise at the beginning of the century. Thinking it over I have come to the conclusion that it will probably suit you better if I put what I have to say in writing.

I must begin by apologising for troubling you at all about the matter but as you know I have been for a great part of my life a propagandist and I am still incorrigible in my old age. I do not like to think that you, our foremost British historian, should have, as it seems to me, the wrong slant on this movement which I hold to have been of considerable historic importance. The fact that I played a prominent part in it myself entitles me to speak on its behalf though I am free to admit that it also entitles you to charge me with bias. But then you have said (and I agree) that even an historian is none the worse for bias.

My case is:— 1) that any section of the community that has no political rights should endeavour to win them by reason and argument, but that if prolonged peaceful agitation fails to influence those who have the power, then it has no alternative but to use extraordinary and extralegal methods unless it is prepared to acquiesce in its own subjection.

2) that such methods should be designed so as a) to rouse the largest number of the unenfranchised section to a consciousness of their subjection b) to create the greatest difficulties for the Government, and c) to win the support of the bulk of the population by casting odium on the Government for its repressive counter measures.

3) that the militant suffrage agitation acted broadly on these lines (though it naturally made some mistakes), and that it was instrumental—though not exclusively—in creating a situation from which there was no escape except by conferring a measure of enfranchisement on women.

I do not think you will substantially disagree with me on either of the first two points which are borne out by countless examples, the latest of which come from Asia—India and Indonesia, in the former of which I was acting for the Government—but I gather that you do not accept my version of the facts as to the third.

It is to this point therefore that I will specially devote myself.

I was brought up, like you, in the Liberal fold and I still think that we owe much of our national democratic heritage to the great Liberal statesmen of the 19th century. Nevertheless I think that the Liberal Party bungled the case of the women and of the working man and lost its prestige and pre-eminence by so doing. By the time that the militant suffrage movement began women had grown tired of asking politely for the vote and being fobbed off it by discreditable political devices; and some younger spirits had become rebellious.

The militants directed the spear-head of their attack upon the members of the Liberal Government because they were the most vulnerable in that it was contrary to Liberal principles to deny enfranchisement to a section of the community which paid taxes and was subject to the laws made by a parliament in which they were not represented. In the earlier stages of the agitation they abstained from violence and concentrated on questioning Cabinet Ministers, campaigning against Liberal candidates at by-elections and committing technical breaches of the law. As a consequence they were subjected to considerable violence at the hands of stewards at meetings and of the police in the streets and they suffered terms of imprisonment.

I think it is indisputable that in this way they succeeded in rousing the sympathy of a very large number of their own sex. Many thousands enrolled themselves in the militant organisations. They included such prominent women as Dr. Garrett Anderson the Mayor of Aldeburgh, Mrs. Saul Solomon widow of the Cape Premier, Lady Constance Lytton, and leading actresses, novelists and others. Funds were contributed running into hundreds of thousands of pounds. The paper Votes for Women the weekly organ of the movement had a circulation of 30,000 to 40,000. About a thousand women served terms of imprisonment. Moreover after militancy began (and in my opinion, and in the publicly expressed opinion of Mrs. Fawcett the leader of the “constitutional” suffragists, largely in consequence of it) the membership of the non-militant suffrage societies showed a marked and rapid increase.

They succeeded also in directing the attention of the general public to the question. At one time from 100 to 200 meetings were being held every week, some of them vast open-air demonstrations, others in the largest halls of the country which were packed to overflowing. I do not suggest that all the members of the audiences were supporters though many were, but there was little or no hostility; and in the street demonstrations the crowds were mostly sympathetic. In fact in the so-called “raids on Parliament” the women counted on the crowd to protect them from the police.

How far electors were influenced at by-elections to vote against Liberal candidates by suffragette orators and canvassers can never be proved one way or the other but the press frequently alleged that they were, and there is no doubt that Cabinet Ministers were greatly embarrassed and hard put to to defend their attitude. Naturally, as is always the case when coercive action is taken by a Government, the British public opinion reacted against the Government.

During this period of the agitation there was a growing feeling among all parties in the House of Commons that the question of woman suffrage ought to be treated seriously and sympathetically and in 1910 an all-party committee devised a compromise proposal which came to be known as the “Conciliation Bill”. In order not to prejudice the chances of this compromise the militant societies were asked to desist from any militant action. They agreed; and for several months they carried out strictly constitutional and non-provocative activities. But in the end the Liberal Government made it quite clear that they would have nothing to do with the Conciliation Bill and Mr. Asquith remained adamant in his opposition. Militancy was therefore resumed in all its forms. Women continued to go to prison in increasing numbers and suffered violence in the streets and at Liberal meetings for their insubordination.

It was then that some militant women decided upon a change of tactics in the direction of actual violence against property. They were influenced to take this course 1) by the preference for being arrested quickly rather than after being knocked about and 2) by the taunts levelled against them by Cabinet Ministers that their rebellion was trumpery and not of the same account as the riots indulged in by men agitators in the 19th century. The form of violence adopted was that of breaking windows. At first the leaders of the militant movement opposed and tried to restrain women from taking this course but later they recognised it and organised it. A great shop-window breaking raid took place in London and created a sensation. The Government took action by arresting the leaders of the militant movement on a charge of conspiracy. I was one of those leaders and I made a speech in the dock at the Old Bailey in my own defence. I enclose with this letter, a verbatim report of it which you may feel disposed to read (not the biographical note which precedes it which has no relevance to the present issue.) It gives a number of further facts which I have not repeated in this letter. The trial, which was given immense prominence in the press, ended in our conviction, the jury appending a sympathetic rider, and we were sentenced to nine months imprisonment. At the same time several hundreds of the rank and file of the movement were also imprisoned. After serving part of our sentence the prisoners adopted the hunger strike. Some of us were forcibly fed and then released.

Subsequently there was a division in the leadership. Mrs. Pankhurst decided on new and more violent tactics which did not appeal to my wife and myself and we parted company. The Government also adopted new tactics and instead of applying forcible feeding the hunger strikers, took powers in a special Act of Parliament—The Cat & Mouse Bill—to release them and to rearrest them when they had recovered their health. The agitation continued with increasing bitterness on both sides up to the outbreak of the first world war.

Meanwhile of the purely political side there had been many developments. Supporters of woman suffrage did not succeed in inducing Mr. Asquith to support a woman suffrage measure. Instead, he promised that the franchise Bill which would be introduced to extend the male franchise would be open to amendment to include women. In the event the Speaker ruled that the Bill could not be so amended. This created an impasse in which it became evident that though the supporters of woman suffrage were not strong enough to insist on the passage of a Bill to enfranchise women they were strong enough to prevent the passage of a Bill to enfranchise more men from which women were excluded.

The external war brought a truce to the domestic militant campaign and during the war women rendered great services to the nation. When in the middle of the war a new registration and franchise reform measure became necessary a Speaker’s conference was constituted to frame the basis of its provisions and a partial enfranchisement of women was included among them and was accepted as a reasonable compromise and as such was enacted.

I am in no doubt that the women’s war service reconciled a large number of doubters to the inclusion of women in the future lists of electors. But I equally have no doubt that the prominence given to the question by the pre-war agitation made it impossible to ignore their claims and that, without it, gratitude to women for their help in critical hours might easily have fizzled out without the accordance of any tangible recognition of their right to participate in the future governance of their common country.


{1} 21st. See PETH 6/279.

Letter from R. C. Trevelyan to Edward Marsh

A subscription is being got up to pay for Bertie [Russell]'s appeal [against a prison sentence for publicly lecturing against inviting the US to enter the First World War]. He is being defended by [Edmund] Tindal Atkinson K.C.; a hundred and fifty pounds of the approximate four hundred and twenty pounds total costs is required at once; Bertie will not be able to pay anything himself as he is 'very hard up'. His friends are afraid that if the six months hard labour is confirmed, he may 'break down mentally'. Gilbert Murray has talked to Asquith about it, who is 'very strong that kind of offence is properly punished by a fine, and not imprisonment'. They hope at least for a reduction of the sentence. Eddie should send any contributions to F. W. Hirst at "Common Sense", who is organising the subscription; Bob and Goldie [Dickinson] are writing to friends of Bertie.

Letter from Venetia Montagu to Edwin Montagu

In the train to Breccles.—Has received his letters up to 10 February. Is sorry he is depressed. She has heard that he is now not expected back till early May. Discusses the progress of work at Breccles. Has been to Bath with Bluey and her mother and bought some furniture. As Sidney Herbert is on leave they have had parties most eve-nings. Michael goes back to France in a week, but doesn’t seem fit to go. She dined last night at Lady Paget’s. She is thinking of spending a day at the Wharf for a day af-ter Easter, after going to Pixton. Sylvia is ill and has to have a large operation; Card-ie’s operation is on Saturday.

[24 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.]—(Later.) Has spent the day inspecting the progress of work at Breccles. She gave a dinner-party tonight and they read Montagu’s ‘Indian’s poem’. Is dining with friends tomorrow. They are coping with the rationing and there have been few air-raids recently. She has recently lunched with Lord D[erby] and dined with Victoria Primrose, whom she hadn’t seen since Neil was killed. Has bought some books for Breccles, but no clothes at all since he left. Reminds him to get her some Toute la Forêt [perfume] in Paris.

Letter from Venetia Montagu to Edwin Montagu

24 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.—(21 Nov.) Breccles needs a new hot-water supply, so she has planned to go down with Lutyens to the Nobles’ [Wretham Hall] to investigate. Will consult Surtees about further mortgages. This afternoon she went with Phyllis to see Viola's first night, and dined at home with guests.—(22 Nov.) She lunched with Nancy and Sydney, whom she dislikes. She dined [at home] with guests, including Coates, who is still in love with Diana.—(22 Nov.) Is dining with Cardie, K, and Asquith, which she thinks is a good sign. After the hospital she played tennis with Edgar and lunched with Hankey and Masterton, who is increasingly ‘soppy’ about Winston. Both seemed disappointed by the failure of the latest attack. Has just heard that Edward has been killed. Reflects on the number of friends who have been, and may be, killed.—(24 Nov.) Has not seen Diana yet, as she was at K’s and did not come to the hospital. Last night she dined with only Cardie and the Old Boy, and she and Asquith reminisced about Sicily. Today she lunched at the Curzons, where Hardinge and Curzon made friendly remarks about Montagu. She had tea with Viola and Hugo, who plans to start a small theatre with Nigel Playfair. She dined with Duff, and Patrick and Phyllis arrived later. Patrick is worried that he may have to marry Phyllis, but she has a new lover, Edgar Vincent.—(25 Nov.) After the hospital she saw Diana, who is wretched but determined to give Duff as much fun as possible. She lunched and dined with Pat, Duff, and Diana, and were joined by Phyllis and Hugo came in later.—(26 Nov.) She lunched with de Noailles, and went to see K and Frances. Discusses the effects of Edward’s death. She dined at Mansfield Street. Refers to the progress of Montagu’s bed.—(27 Nov.) She lunched at home with guests, including Birrell and Freyberg, whom she could not get to talk to each other; then, after visiting Frances, she went to the cinema with her ‘futurist friend’ Wyndham Lewis, and then to Cardie’s for a farewell party for Oc, though he has now got a fortnight’s extension. It is rumoured that he is engaged to Betty Manners.—(28 Nov.) She had lunch with Waxworks and Mikky, then sewed and read with Diana and Duff. She dined at Claude Lowther’s with Goonie, the Duke of Marlborough (who Duff thinks may be Goonie’s lover), and others. Lowther’s house is lovely, but his bedroom is ridiculous. ‘If you had wanted to caricature a bugger’s bedroom you couldnt have done it differently.’ She returned home to find Diana, Duff, and Pat reading.—(29 Nov.) Lord Lansdowne’s letter [to the Daily Telegraph, calling for a negotiated peace with Germany], more because she doesn’t want to lose anyone else than because she thinks it right. K[atharine] and Viola, who, with Diana, dined with her, disagreed violently on the subject.—(1 Dec.) The King and Queen visited the hospital yesterday and asked after Montagu. The King referred to Mrs Besant as an ‘odious woman’. Afterwards she visited Montagu’s mother and went to a party at the India Office to meet some Indian officers. Birrell, Phyllis, and Blanche dined with her. She and Lutyens are lunching together today, then going off with the Nobles.

Wretham Hall, Thetford.—Describes Wretham Hall and its estate.

24 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.—(2 Dec.) She drove with Lutyens to Breccles and they examined the house and discussed what needs to be done. They returned to Wretham for lunch, and are now off to London. (3 Dec.) Has received his letter from Aden [B1/146].

(The first sheet was rewritten on 1 December, the original having been lost.)

Letter from Venetia Montagu to Edwin Montagu

24 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.—(11 Nov.) On Friday [9th], after dinner at Cassel’s, she and Margot shared a taxi driven by a Miss Ryder, who had been at the Slade School with Phyllis. At home she found Edward, Bluey, and Phyllis. Edward and Phyllis spent the night together. Phyllis has now left. Today she lunched with friends, including Bluey, who is leaving for Canada next week on ‘air board business’. Has begun painting the silk for Montagu’s bed. Is dining with Cardie and William, who needs another operation.—(12 Nov.) Nash came to lunch, and she dined at Wimborne House. Ivor is having great success with Diana. Has been put in charge of a ward at the hospital.—(13 Nov.) Norah and Nancy Lindsay made an irritating visit in the afternoon.—[14 Nov.] She dined at home last night. Her guests included Cowans, who seemed more than usually hostile to Lloyd George, whose speech [in Paris] is endlessly discussed. She lunched with Willie Tyrrell and Bluey, who also discussed the speech. Has been unable to see Hankey or Eric since Montagu left. Is going tonight to a farewell party for Edward.—[Later.] Rosemary has denied there is much chance of her becoming the future Queen. ‘Oc is home, slightly gassed, & may be going to get both a brigade and a V.C!’—(15 Nov.) She dined with Ava, where she sat next to Josh Wedgwood, who gave her some earnest advice about Bampfylde Fuller’s letter in The Times. Afterwards she played bridge and went to a wedding-party at the Fairbairns’, which she left with the Baroness d’Erlanger, whom she likes. ‘J’aime toujours les maitresses de mes amants.’ She denies, however, that Hugo is her lover, even though Diana and the Baroness suspect it.—(16 Nov.) She dined at Osbert’s new house, and thought him and Sachie ‘a truly strange pair’.—(17 Nov.) She set off to see the Jimmy Rothschilds at Witney, but Dolly met her at the station to tell her that Neil had been fatally wounded, so went to Munstead instead for lunch. On her return home she found Montagu’s Cairo letter [B1/145]. Lloyd George is in a mess over his Air Ministry, but Northcliffe’s letter will do Northcliffe more harm than Lloyd George. Denies that she is unhappy. Last night she dined with the Roy and various guests.—(18 Nov.) Asks about the carpets at Cairo.—(19 Nov.) She lunched with friends at the Savoy, and she and Diana reminisced about lunches there with Neil. She dined with the Baroness, who is having a row with Hugo about some infidelity of his. Has received a letter from Scatters, who has been in action. In the afternoon she went to a ‘ghastly’ party given by Sen in honour of his father [Keshub Chunder Sen], and this evening some friends called briefly on the way to a ball.—(20 Nov.) Wedgwood, who came to lunch, says that yesterday’s debate was a triumph for Lloyd George, and that Asquith’s position of ‘hands off the soldiers’ is unpopular with the Liberals. Has just visited William Rawle, who is convalescing after his operation.

Letter from Venetia Montagu to Edwin Montagu

In the train from Folkestone.—(20 Oct.) Has learnt of his safe arrival at Boulogne. Hopes that Alan and Kisch will prove more competent than expected.

[24 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.]—Is depressed at having to spend the winter without him, despite the prospect of arranging Breccles. Reflects on their relationship and plans. After he left she and Viola went shopping, and she saw a sideboard she liked. Has dealt with some correspondence.—(Later.) Diana has visited. Is going to the opera.—(21 Oct.) Discusses her visit to the opera last night. This morning she went to Arlington Street [the Rutland Hospital], lunched with Diana and the Duchess, drove to Bushey in a vain attempt to meet Duff, and dined at Arlington Street for a ‘working reading aloud evening’. She intends to go to the hospital every morning, but will go away if the air-raids are bad.—[Later.] They read again in the evening.—(22 Oct.) Has received two notes from him. She went to Arlington Street and lunched at the Bath [Club]. Goonie is bored by having Jack home. Has ordered some things for the house.—(23 Oct.) She lunched with friends, including Masterton, who reported the rumour of a new coalition including ‘the old bird’ [Asquith], then went to South Kensington to show Diana David Garrick’s bed, which she is thinking of copying for Montagu. She dined and went to the opera with Bluey, and they discussed sapphism. Has had no news about letting the house.—(24 Oct.) After the hospital she went to the Bath, and to the House of Lords. Gives an account of the debate [on the situation in India]. In the evening she went to a play with Viola. Has let the house and bought the sideboard.—(25 Oct.) She dined with Cardie for Rawle’s farewell party, then went to a party at Lady Howard’s, which included Hugo Rumbold, who she is ‘crazy’ about, and Teddie Gerard, who enchanted Winston.—[26 Oct.] Has learnt of Montagu’s arrival at Port Said and has received his letter from Modane. She went to the Bath, where Clemmie was ‘very typical’ about Winston and Teddie. Some friends are dining with her, and they may go to the opera afterwards.—(27 Oct.) Only some of her guests went to the opera last night; she stayed in talking till late with the others. After Arlington Street she went shopping and to lunch with Katherine and Diana. Later she may go to Arlington Street for a ‘working reading evening’. Has received his letter from Rome and eagerly awaits his diary. The house has not, after all, been let.—(28 Oct.) She went to Bushey with Diana and Michael Herbert to see Duff, and dined with Diana and Edward, who has just come home on ‘Mells fire leave’ [Mells Park had been destroyed by fire on the 11th].—(29 Oct.) After the hospital and the Bath they lunched with Edward, after which Venetia took him to Lucile’s, where they found Viola choosing dresses for her new part. She got home to find Phyllis there, having turned out by her father for throwing a hair-brush at him. Rib writes to her daily, but they are trying to persuade her that he must marry her or stop seeing her. There was an abortive air-raid warning.—(30 Oct.) Edward has fallen in love with Phyllis. She lunched with friends, and Hugo Rumbold, who is probably another of Phyllis’s lovers, came to tea. Has received a telegram from Cairo and has heard that Montagu’s party has already broken up into groups. Some friends are dining with her tonight. Is appalled by the household expenses.—(31 Oct.) Her dinner went well, but she and Diana got into an argument with Edward. She had lunch with friends at home. Phyllis has told Ribblesdale that she will have to stop seeing him if he does not mean to marry her, but it is unlikely that her good intentions will last. Diana said to Phyllis that her mind had been corrupted by Scatters, and later Ribblesdale asked Phyllis whether she had ever slept with him, ‘which she had the sense to deny’. Lutyens brought her Blow’s plans [of Breccles], but as they are not of the house as it is now she will have to go down there to correct them. Is going to the opera.

Train to Breccles.—(1 Nov.) Was kept awake by an air-raid. Is on the way to meet Horner.

[24 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.]—(2 Nov.) She did a lot of business with Horner at Breccles and planted some bulbs. Lutyens will probably come next time.—(3 Nov.) Has had no letter from him for a week, but has replied to his telegram. She played bridge this evening, and yesterday dined with friends and went to a play. Phyllis has gone to Arkers; her relationship with Lord Ribblesdale is still unsettled. Today she lunched with Maud and they went to the opera. Eric says Lloyd George is worried about the effect of the air-raids on public opinion.—(4 Nov.) She spent the day at Taplow. Ettie was on good form.—(5 Nov.) She went to Charing Cross [Hospital] again this morning and found it squalid, but she will only be going there two mornings a week. She had tea with friends and dined and went to a play with Duff, who starts his career at Chelsea Barracks on Monday. Phyllis is dining with Edward, Rib, and Arkers, and as the Viceroy is in London she will probably not come back tonight. Edward is still in love with her, but Venetia doesn’t know whether he has seduced her yet.—(6 Nov.) She lunched with Diana, Duffy, and Edward. Edward and Diana are reconciled. She is giving a dinner tonight. Hugo Wemyss has gone to Paris as Flavia Forbes has been bitten by a mad dog. He is corresponding acrimoniously with Lord Derby about Lady Angela [Forbes], who has been asked to leave France on account of alleged drunkenness.—(8 Nov.) Margot and the ‘old Boy’ [Asquith] were at Hazel’s party last night and asked after Montagu, but Vizee gave her (Venetia) a sour look; she and Bongie are the only ones who have said nothing about Montagu having gone [to India]. Has received his letter from Port Said [B1/144a]. She lunched with Winston and Clemmie, went to see Gladys, then played bridge at Lady Essex’s. Tonight she and Phyllis are dining with the McKennas and then going to a party at the Baroness’s.—(9 Nov.) Has seen his mother and shown her his typed notes [his ‘Diary’]. Phyllis leaves tomorrow.

Copy of a letter from Winston Churchill to H. H. Asquith, 5 Jan. 1915

(Place of writing not indicated.)—Urges the need to develop ‘special mechanical devices for taking trenches’, drawing attention to recent changes in the nature of warfare. Suggests the use of steam-tractors with armoured shelters, mounted on caterpillar tracks [i.e. tanks], shields on wheels, and artificially-produced smoke.

(Typed transcript, sent by Churchill to Edwin Montagu about 18 Oct. 1916.)

Letter from Venetia Montagu to Edwin Montagu

Penrhôs, Holyhead.—Asks whether she should come to Coventry, and whether Reggie is going with him. Agrees that Viola is being a bore about the Prime Minister. Hopes that Neil will be a success. Is cheered by the hope that they may go to Uist. Asks about his proposed journey to France with Lloyd George. They have been swimming and are about to play tennis.

Letter from Venetia Montagu to Edwin Montagu

Penrhôs, Holyhead.—Has received his telegram but no letters. Viola and Margot would like some ducks [from Hickling] if he and and the ‘old Boy’ [Asquith] don’t get through them all. Has done nothing yet but walk to the beach. Suggests he go to Chester and Queensferry before coming to Penrhôs. Besides a large number of children, there are only ‘examples of Hugh Smith family’ there at present. She enjoyed the summer in London, and is looking forward to going to the Hebrides together.

Letter from Venetia Montagu to Edwin Montagu

The Manor House, Mells, Frome.—‘I see in the papers that your worst fears were realised, I wonder if you had them with you all today as well.’ Asquith’s speech [at Ladybank] was not very good. Discusses her companions at Mells and a chandelier she saw in Bath. Asks him to inquire about Frida at the H[ome] O[ffice]. Has heard that the new War Secretary will be Lord Derby. Sends domestic instructions and inquiries.

Letter from Sir George Trevelyan to R. C. Trevelyan

Welcombe, Stratford on Avon. - Caroline received a most interesting letter from Bessy this morning; he has ordered Drummond [his banker] to pay thirty five pounds into Robert's account for Julian's 'little affair' [an operation on an umbilical hernia]; 'quod optime eveniat!' [Latin: may this turn out well]. Sends George's account of their 'little ceremony of Boxing Day'; asks for it back. Has been reading Herodotus, 'with a play of Plautus between each book'; has reached the last book and wishes there were nine more; Plautus grows on him more with each reading, as also happened to Macaulay when he read and re-read him in India. Is now going to read Thucydides, again with a Plautus play between each book. Sir John Simon stayed last week, and mentioned that he had shown Thucydides 2.71-74 to Asquith as 'a curious parable to the story of Belgium'. Was glad to find the narrative easy to read.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

[The British Hospital, Wimereux.]—(4th.) She picnicked this afternoon with the three other amateurs [volunteer nurses] and Hunter. Is annoyed that she will have to tell Lady Norman her reason for leaving.—(5th.) Has received his letter [B1/137], and approves in general his letter to Asquith. Has received a telegram from Vizee announcing her engagement. Discusses arrangements for her return to England. Is sorry he is feeling ill.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

[The British Hospital, Wimereux.]—Has received his two letters. Is glad that the Prime Minister is pleased by Violet and Bongie’s engagement. Discusses the arrangements for her return to England. Is glad that Sylvia will have Anthony at home for a week or so, but fears for his safety if he transfers to a regiment in the fighting line. Is pleased at Birrell’s approval [of their engagement]. Has met Lord Wemyss, and may dine with him tomorrow. Asks for news of Edward’s progress.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

[The British Hospital, Wimereux.]—Has received the books and his letter. She expects to leave on Saturday or Sunday and see the ‘old boy’ [Asquith] on Monday. Has fallen in love with a man named Capel, has seen Gilbert, and may lunch with Conrad tomorrow. When she returns she will tell him about something marvellous that happened to her yesterday. Two of the orderlies nearly drowned today while bathing.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

[The British Hospital, Wimereux.]—Has received his letter. Praises the [Prime Minister’s] speech in The Times and refers to his letter to Montagu. The hospital is full as a result of the Ypres attack. Has been walking with Hunter. Diana has the measles, and will not come to France. Reflects on what she will do when they are married.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

[The British Hospital, Wimereux.]—Is depressed, because her injuries prevent her from working. Is thinking of going to [a casualty clearing station at] Hazebrouck, where she would be near Oliver and Anthony. Has received his letter [B1/128], and commends his ‘robust’ reaction to her own. The Prime Minister too has sent her a ‘divine’ letter, but she reassures Montagu that they will never renew their old relationship. Reflects on her last weeks in England. Discusses the plans for their marriage.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

Hotel Folkestone, Boulogne-sur-Mer.—Has received two letters from him [B1/116–17]. Arranges to meet him [when he comes to France]. Discusses the war news and her relationship with the Prime Minister. Describes her half-day off in Boulogne and her meetings with Edward, Geoffrey, and Frances.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

18 Mansfield Street, Portland Place, W.—Nothing matters to her but him, though she is deeply affected by the Prime Minister’s unhappiness and encourages Montagu to help him. Is sorry to be leaving at this time, and depressed at the prospect of ‘Lady N’s sickly folly’ (the hospital at Wimereux). Urges him to write to her frequently.



18 Mansfield Street, Portland Place, W.
May 24th 1915

My most darling

I’m afraid I added to your sadness by what I said about the P.M, but I want you to remember that nothing really matters to me but you.

It would be absurd to pretend that his unhappiness doesnt affect me very deeply, how could it not, for 3 years he has been to me the most the most wonderful friend and companion, and to see him just now made wretched by me, is, and should be if I pretend to any heart at all, a real sorrow.

I want you to see him if he wants to, to help him and protect him, not only for his sake but for mine. I know you will.

Its horrible leaving you now & my heart rather sinks at Lady N’s sickly folly, but once there I shant see much of her.

Write me as much as you can be bothered to of all your doings.

Dont omit any “I said to him” “He replied” {1} etc etc. I love it all.

You have been too wonderful to me, your generosity and unselfishness almost frighten me. How bad you’ll be for my character!

Goodbye my darling

Always your loving


{1} Closing inverted commas supplied.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

In the train (from London to Alderley).—Is travelling with the Prime Minister, who is more cheerful now, but she does not think the party will be a success. Discusses Montagu’s behaviour and feelings towards her, and reflects on the prospects of their future together. Discusses arrangements for meeting.



April 30th 1915. In train {1}.

Darling I wish I felt the faintest inspiration, but this infernal train shakes so that I find it impossible to concentrate either my mind or my pen. Opposite me sits the P.M in a more cheerful frame of mind I think, but I’ve a feeling in my bones that this party isnt going to be a success, I feel I shall quarrel with Bongie, be odious to the P.M, & have to avoid Violets questions, if she bothers to ask them. Why were you so transparent? Diana & I settled last night that “if & when” we were ever engaged we would never, once it was announced, go out together, because one can so easily see how supremely ridiculous it makes people. I dont know what is the right attitude to adopt. What do you think? I saw Katharine this morning & she asked me if we’d had a good drive as she thought you were preparing to be rather crusty to me. So you were werent you, but we had great fun in spite of it. I think she was quite right to tell you that I was “queer”. I’m sure I am! & if we keep our minds fixed on that we shall be quite all right. But please darling dont be too ready at once to think that because I dont see you every day, & can contemplate going to Boulogne, that I dont any longer like you. I’ve told you over & over again that I’m no fun to be in love with, that my supply of emotion is a thin & meagre one, but such as it is, had in quantity & quality its yours.

And you mustnt always be examining it under a microscope or subjecting it to severe tests because it wont stand it!

We can have such fun together and are & I’m sure could be so really happy, & if that cant be made a good basis for marriage I dont know that I shall ever find a better. We’ve both I’m bound to say always put ourselves before the other in the most unprepossessing terms. You take every opportunity of telling me that nothing that I want will ever make you alter your mode of life, & I am always impressing on you the fact that I’m completely & cold bloodedly detached from all interest in my own life. It doesnt sound good on paper. And yet I’m simply longing for you to be here, & miss you horribly. Its again such a lovely day & we should have been so happy. I was an idiot not to make you come, & to risk you being cross with me because I talked too much to the P.M, & his thinking I was spending more time than I need with you.

Winston was much touched at yr letter, I’m glad you wrote. God how bored I feel, how glorious one’s life ought to be & how bloody it is. But I was happy yesterday thank you so much.

Lets have a Diana Raymond party on Friday {2}, arrange this with Diana, & I’ll dine with you Tuesday either alone or go to the Tree play {3}. But Friday we’ll have a buffy. I hope this isnt a horrible letter. I’m never sure.



Letter-head of 8 Little College Street, Westminster, the home of Francis and Barbara McLaren, where Venetia had been staying.

{1} Venetia and the Prime Minister were travelling from London to Alderley for the weekend. Cf. H. H. Asquith: Letters to Venetia Stanley, p. 562.

{2} 7 May.

{3} The Right to Kill, a melodrama adapted from the French by Gilbert Cannan and Frances Keyzer, produced by Sir Herbert Tree at His Majesty’s Theatre on 4 May. Tree also took one of the leading parts. There appears to have only been one performance.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

Alderley Park, Chelford, Cheshire.—Geoffrey is very happy (about his engagement). Reflects on how she and Montagu felt towards each other three years ago, and on the difficulties of detaching herself from the Prime Minister. Is depressed that most of their friends and relations would by annoyed if they were to marry. Arranges to meet, and asks after his mother.



Alderley Park, Chelford, Cheshire
April 20th 1915

My darling Isnt Geoffrey wonderful. {1} I’ve never seen anyone so happy. I am glad for him. Isnt it cruel that 3 years ago that summer at Penrhos I didnt like you enough (tho’ you tell me also that you didnt really love me much either) because then, tho’ the P.M had already begun to think he was fond of me, it wouldnt really have mattered to him, & now? Will it? What a fool I’ve been havent I? You, being prejudiced in my favour, may say that I’ve made him very happy for 3 years, but I know quite well that if it hadnt been me there would have been someone else or a series of others who wd have made him just as happy. I feel so ungrateful to him & yet at times I resent very bitterly that he should stand in the way. And yet I know you are right & that it wd be almost impossible for me to go to him & say. “In spite of the fact that you’ve again & again told me that if I were to marry life would have nothing left to offer you, I am going to marry Edwin” How could he be so cruel as to say that to me But I must see you, he has not [a] claim on me has he?

You suggest that I should gradually detach & free myself. But do you know what that wd mean to someone like me. I should perhaps for a week see nothing of him, make excuses for not doing so, then there’d be a scene & in order to mollify & propitiate and make him happy again I should say anything he wanted. And in all this can you understand how completely unmoved I am.

My darling dont be angry with me and think me worse than I am, there must be some way out, you’ll come Friday, there’ll be no Bluey & I’ll wait for you even if you are 10 minutes late.

I do hope you’ve found yr mother all right. Isnt it a depressing thought that amongst all our friends & relations (except perhaps my mother) there isnt one who wd be otherwise than annoyed if we were to marry? Particularly our families.

Write to me every day. Wednesday, Thursday Friday.



{1} Geoffrey Howard had just become engaged to Christian Methuen. They were married on 15 May.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

Admiralty, Whitehall.—This weekend has made it difficult for her to continue writing to the Prime Minister as though nothing had happened, but she is anxious to keep them (Montagu and Asquith) both happy. Refers to her plan to go to Serbia. Suggests arrangements for meeting.

(Dated Sunday.)



Alderley Park, Chelford, Cheshire

My darling (you’ll think this I suppose merely a sign that I’m an accommodating woman & ready to comply in small things if it makes you happier) What can I say to you after this short time that you’ve been gone. That I want you back fearfully. Yes I do. And I havent in my time written this to Bongie, the P.M. Raymond and half a dozen others. I suppose it ought not to be necessary for me even to have to affirm this, but I cant help feeling that this idea is often cross-ing your mind, you’ve said it so often, & I’ve always laughed at it as a joke and not minded you thinking it, but I do now.

I know quite well that I want you back again, and I’m only afraid that this feeling will pass. Do you understand me at all. I also know that this Sunday has made it very difficult for me to go on writing to the P.M as tho’ nothing had happened. Darling what am I to do, obviously what I ought to do would be to try & carry on as I’ve been doing, you’ve both been fairly happy under that régime, and as there can be no hard and fast rule of right & wrong and as I feel none of that that people call duty towards themselves, that would be the simplest plan. But are you both happy and can I make you so if I’m not and should I be now?

Then again when to tell him. Just before Newcastle {1}, oh no not then, then just after something else will turn up & if I’m ready to tell him then you (who are far the fonder of him of us two) will have scruples, & so we shall go on till in a short time you’ll loathe me. Why cant I marry you & yet go on making him happy, but you’d neither of you think that fun & I suppose my suggesting it or thinking it possible shows to you how peculiar I am emotionally. I wish to God I’d got a really well defined idea of right & wrong, but nothing that one does to oneself seems wrong and thats how one gets into so infernal a tangle.

You cant help me no one can and if I go to Servia its only really shifting the whole responsibility & giving up.

My very dearest I want so much to see you, I’m rather frightened about what I feel, first lest it shouldnt last, & secondly lest yours shouldnt.

Write to me and say you are coming next Sunday. I want you fearfully.
I am so perplexed & wretched, I want so much to be happy and yet not to make anyone else unhappy. You made everything seem so simple, but now you are gone its as tangled as ever.

Go on loving me & above all make me love you. Perhaps Wednesday may see me in London, but I count on you Friday & we’ll have no nonsense about dinner with Sir E Grey.

Yes you shall you shall dine with him just the same.

Darling I think I love you.



{1} Asquith was to address a meeting of munitions workers at Newcastle on the 20th.

Letter from Venetia Stanley to Edwin Montagu

Alderley Park, Chelford, Cheshire.—Has written him an odious letter, which she will not send. Her feelings towards him are confused, but she looks forward to seeing him on Friday. She has just received a wonderful letter from the Prime Minister.



Alderley Park, Chelford, Cheshire
April 21st 1915

My darling I’ve been in a terrible frame of mind all to-day & have written you an odious letter which I shant send as if you got it you’d probably refuse to come here & I want you very much. I’m so glad that I do, because most of the day I’ve felt I didnt much care if you did or didnt.

I am so glad for you that you should have found everything going on so well at home.

Were you rather disgusted by my letter yesterday, I was rather ashamed of it, & more so when this morning I got a wonderful letter from the P.M {1} which shows me how wrong I was to think that he only thought of his own happiness & never of mine. I think I’ll show it you if you like.

We wont think of those things for a little but just be very happy. If you dont come, however good your reasons, I shall wash you forever.

If you were here I should probably be odious to you, but by Friday I shall be all right.

Goodbye darling think of me


I shall only write to you once again before I see you.


{1} See H. H. Asquith: Letters to Venetia Stanley, pp. 553–4. The letter is dated the 19th.

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