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Easy-Going Procrastinators

Ferdinand Mount: Margot Asquith’s War

8 January 2015
Margot Asquith’s Great War Diary 1914-16: The View from Downing Street 
edited by Michael Brock and Eleanor Brock, selected by Eleanor Brock.
Oxford, 566 pp., £30, June 2014, 978 0 19 822977 3
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Margot​ at War: Love And Betrayal In Downing Street, 1912-16 
by Anne de Courcy.
Weidenfeld, 376 pp., £20, November 2014, 978 0 297 86983 2
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The Darkest Days: The Truth Behind Britain’s Rush To War, 1914 
by Douglas Newton.
Verso, 386 pp., £20, July 2014, 978 1 78168 350 7
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... The Prince was walking up and down in silence. He caught me by the hands and said: ‘Oh! say there is surely not going to be “warr” (pronouncing it like “far”). Dear, dear Mrs Asquith, can we not stop it?’ (wringing his hands) … ‘I do not understand what has happened. What is it all about?’ Millions​ of people then and ever since have shared the bafflement and anguish of ...

Truffles for Potatoes

Ferdinand Mount: Little Rosebery

22 September 2005
Rosebery: Statesman in Turmoil 
by Leo McKinstry.
Murray, 626 pp., £25, May 2005, 0 7195 5879 4
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... crowds almost as big as for the queen’s jubilees. Thousands of spectators wore primroses as a gesture to the family name. The London Evening News printed its afternoon editions on primrose paper. MargotAsquith said that ‘when the Prince of Wales went up the aisle, he was a nobody compared to Rosebery.’ Until 1951 the Scottish football team would often turn out in primrose and rose hoops, the ...

Aubade before Breakfast

Tom Crewe: Balfour and the Souls

30 March 2016
Balfour’s World: Aristocracy and Political Culture at the Fin de Siècle 
by Nancy Ellenberger.
Boydell, 414 pp., £30, September 2015, 978 1 78327 037 8
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... Virginia Woolf’​ s body was still undiscovered, lodged under Southease Bridge, when MargotAsquith, approaching eighty, published her personal tribute in the Times. The two women had been friends of a sort (Leonard disapproved): both were leading lights in famous circles of famous friends; both ...
5 July 1984
MargotA Life of the Countess of Oxford and Asquith 
by Daphne Bennett.
Gollancz, 442 pp., £12.95, May 1984, 0 575 03279 0
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... whose later influence upon her was slight, the 11th of Sir Charles Tennant’s 15 children – three were born after he had remarried at the age of 75 – was to become famous and indeed notorious as Margot. W.E. Gladstone, allegedly more captivated by the challenge of the rhyme than by the personality of the 25-year-old woman who visited him at Hawarden in 1889, composed four stanzas of decidedly un ...

Prince Arthur

Paul Addison

21 August 1980
Balfour 
by Max Egremont.
Collins, 391 pp., £12.95, June 1980, 0 00 216043 9
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... Andrew Bonar Law. The rule of the charmed circle was finished, yet Balfour managed to stage a personal recovery and embark on a second career, this time as an elder statesman. In the First World War Asquith brought him back as First Lord of the Admiralty, and Lloyd George made him Foreign Secretary. An elderly and immaculate grandee, he was still to be seen pottering about doing the occasional odd job ...

Mauve Monkeys

William Fiennes

18 September 1997
Wilde’s Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy and the First World War 
by Philip Hoare.
Duckworth, 250 pp., £16.95, July 1997, 0 7156 2737 6
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... Maud Allan that she play the title role in Salome. Here was Grein (a foreigner) producing a decadent play by Oscar Wilde, starring a woman famous for her rumoured lesbian affairs, including one with MargotAsquith, wife of the Liberal leader and a good friend of the pro-German, homosexual and conspicuously Wildean Robert Ross. An article promptly appeared in Billing’s paper, now rechristened the ...

Hallelujah Lasses

E.S. Turner: The Salvation Army

24 May 2001
Pulling the Devil’s Kingdom down: The Salvation Army in Victorian Britain 
by Pamela Walker.
California, 337 pp., £22.95, April 2001, 0 520 22591 0
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... couple of years ago by Roy Hattersley for his massive biography of William and Catherine Booth, the Army’s founders. William, the ‘Fool of God’ who made such diverse sinners as Cecil Rhodes and MargotAsquith kneel and pray with him in railway carriages, remains something of a background figure in Pamela Walker’s pages. It is probably not a good idea to announce that a book began as a doctoral ...
17 November 2016
My Darling Mr AsquithThe Extraordinary Life and Times of Venetia Stanley 
by Stefan Buczacki.
Cato and Clarke, 464 pp., £28.99, April 2016, 978 0 9934186 0 0
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... becomes an insult. The Twitter account ‘Very British Problems’ cites the problem of ‘receiving an email ending in “regards” and wondering what you’ve done to cause so much anger’. MargotAsquith and Venetia Stanley at the Scott-Sackville trial (1913) In the age of letter-writing, deciding how to start and finish was so much simpler. In 1926, Fowler listed the various ways to end a ...

Our Boys

John Bayley

28 November 1996
Emily Tennyson 
by Ann Thwaite.
Faber, 716 pp., £25, October 1996, 0 571 96554 7
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... in the outside world. Eleanor’s charms did not have much to give, at least in comparison with those of his own mother, and he was always looking round elsewhere. In a letter to his little friend Margot Tennant, who would one day become MargotAsquith and an unconventional PM’s wife, he commented that it wasn’t so much that married people got tired of each other, ‘but often they become uneasy ...

Delighted to See Himself

Stefan Collini: Maurice Bowra

12 February 2009
Maurice Bowra: A Life 
by Leslie Mitchell.
Oxford, 385 pp., £25, February 2009, 978 0 19 929584 5
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... his biography. Though officially the champion of intelligence over status, Bowra proved susceptible to titles, including for himself, and he loved to shine in the salons of famous hostesses such as MargotAsquith and Ottoline Morrell. ‘Part of the fun of life was “to cause pain” to enemies,’ Mitchell records; cattiness about the dull and untalented was de rigueur. A rival elected by another ...

To the End of the Line

Ferdinand Mount: The Red Dean

26 April 2012
The Red Dean of Canterbury: The Public and Private Faces of Hewlett Johnson 
by John Butler.
Scala, 292 pp., £16.95, September 2011, 978 1 85759 736 3
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... about the debris with relish, writing to Nowell that ‘I would not have missed this for anything … The Cathedral looks glorious without its windows.’ One is reminded of Churchill saying to MargotAsquith in the darkest days of the Great War that ‘I would not be out of this glorious, delicious war for anything the world could give me.’ On VE Day, the dean was in Moscow with Stalin. Two ...
10 January 1983
Benjamin Disraeli Letters: Vol. I 1815-1834, Vol. II 1835-1837 
edited by J.A.W. Gunn, John Matthews, Donald Schurman and M.G. Wiebe.
Toronto, 482 pp., £37.50, June 1982, 0 8020 5523 0
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The Gladstone Diaries: with Cabinet Minutes and Prime Ministerial Correspondence, Vol. VII, January 1869-June 1871, Vol. VIII, July 1871-December 1874 
edited by H.C.G. Matthew.
Oxford, 641 pp., £35, September 1982, 0 19 822638 1
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Disraeli 
by Sarah Bradford.
Weidenfeld, 432 pp., £14.95, October 1982, 0 297 78153 7
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Gladstone: Vol. I 1809-1865 
by Richard Shannon.
Hamish Hamilton, 580 pp., £18, November 1982, 0 241 10780 6
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H.H. AsquithLetters to Venetia Stanley 
edited by Michael Brock and Eleanor Brock.
Oxford, 676 pp., £19.50, November 1982, 0 19 212200 2
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... of the same comfort, support and distraction that Venetia Stanley gave some 45 years later to another Liberal prime minister, though Gladstone never quite lost his head to the same degree as Asquith. Gladstone was a major statesman. So was Disraeli, and so was Palmerston, whose sex life was one of total libertinism. What makes them count in history is what they said and did in Whitehall and ...
18 April 1985
Lloyd George: From Peace to War 1912-1916 
by John Grigg.
Methuen, 527 pp., £19.95, February 1985, 0 413 46660 4
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... brought about by the impact of total war. His career in the period covered by this book may be divided into four phases: the three years down to May 1915 in which he continued to hold office under Asquith as Chancellor of the Exchequer; the subsequent year in which he presided over the Ministry of Munitions in the first wartime coalition; an unhappy period of seven months in which he succeeded Lord ...
12 July 1990
Serious Pleasures: The Life of Stephen Tennant 
by Philip Hoare.
Hamish Hamilton, 463 pp., £20, June 1990, 0 241 12416 6
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... 1906, the son of a rich industrialist, Edward Tennant, who became Lord Glenconner in 1911, and of Pamela Wyndham, one of the Wyndham sisters immortalised by Sargent in his painting The Three Graces. Margot Tennant, who married Asquith, the Liberal prime minister, was his paternal aunt. Tennant spent his childhood in the Glenconners’ mock-Jacobean mansion Wilsford Manor, in Wiltshire, being spoiled ...
26 November 1987
David Lloyd George: A Political Life. The Architect of Change, 1863-1912 
by Bentley Brinkerhoff Gilbert.
Batsford, 546 pp., £25, April 1987, 0 7134 5558 6
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... figure. His wife stood by him when his not-so-private life landed him in court. The Tory peers played into his hands over the 1909 budget. If the opposition had accepted the budget proposals, Asquith told Margot, ‘we should have been left high and dry ... they would have romped in.’ By the time Lloyd George made his blunders over Marconi and the 1914 budget he was too prominent to be thrown ...

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