First, I have to report that yesterday I went to the National Film Theatre to see a rarely (well, hardly ever) shown British film The Reluctant Widow, based on one of Georgette Heyer's Regency novels. Both Wikipedia and IMDB give a bizarre misinterpretation of what happens in the film, even calling the heroine Helena when she is Elinor. It is a little perplexing why anyone should put up a plot summary of a film they had not seen or know anything about. The summary of the book's plot shows that the film kept close to it with a few changes, some of which work and some of which are superflous.
Georgette Heyer disliked all that she heard about the film or saw when it was being made and she refused to see the finished product or sell the film rights ever again. That is a great pity as her books really cry out for dramatization. The film had all the Heyer atmosphere and characteristics as well as being highly entertaining (as are the novels). In addition, and Miss Heyer would have appreciated this, it is meticulously researched as far as design, clothes, uniforms, architecture and views of London is concerned. The Art Director responsible for that was Carmen Dillon, a woman of great stature who made her name in what was then a man's world, was the Art Director on some of the best known British films like The Importance of Being Earnest (for which she won the Best Production Design Award in Venice) and Richard III as well as winning the Oscar for the Art Direction of Hamlet, the first woman ever to do so.
The plot, which revolves round espionage during the 100 Days with an urgent despatch to the Duke of Wellington in Brussels stolen in London and having to be retrieved by the hero and, as it turns out, the heroine, inevitably takes one back to the subject of Waterloo. (Though, it would seem that the book's plot is about Wellington's plan to march in the Peninsula in 1813. Unquestionably, I shall have to read the book.)
Fortunately, there are many events and exhibitions that have to do with the anniversary and an excellent one is a free exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, entitled Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions.
As one would expect, much of the exhibition revolves round various portraits from very early ones to the famous 1844 daguerreotype. One of the big draws is the panoramic view of Wellington's state funeral in 1853 by Henry Alken and George Augustus Sala, which will be displayed in full for one hour on Thursday, June 18. At present one can see sections of it in the display case and in full on the screen above.
The funeral was watched by an estimated million and a half people and, as the notes say, reminded people of Wellington's days of glory, the somewhat more ambiguous record as a Prime Minister having been forgotten. One can draw certain parallels with the Churchill funeral of just over fifty years ago, as this blog wrote about it on the day of the anniversary. There is one important difference between the two farewells, both to great men, both symbols of their age: Wellington's victory in 1815 ushered in an age of British supremacy in the world in matters political, economic and ideological; Churchill's victory in 1945 saw the end of that age. Farewell to him was also a farewell to that.
Of particular interest were portraits and paintings by soldiers and young officers who were with Wellington in the Peninsula. Edmund Wheatley, a junior officer in the King's German Legion kept a diary and sketchbook for his fiancée, later wife, that has since been published. Wheatley was at Waterloo as well and left his account of that, too, as well as some pictures.
Thomas Staunton St Clair, an officer in the 94th Regiment of Foot, sold his sketches to a consortium of London publishers.
Other officers invited artists to paint battle scenes or portraits.
The most interesting couple of exhibits in the section on Waterloo are the two prize winners in a competition announced in 1815 by the British Institution on the theme of "successes of the British army". The winning entry was a truly hideous work by James Ward, entitled Waterloo Allegory for which I can only find the design as an illustration.
Possibly, the sheer hideousness of the work made the British Institution re-think matters and, unexpectedly, they announced a second prize, which went to George Jones, a former soldier though also a professional artist, who produced an interesting and fairly realistic painting that centred on the Duke of Wellington. George Jones, it seems, was so taken by the theme that he kept painting it over and over, earning the nickname "Waterloo Jones". To be fair, he also painted other wars and campaigns.
It is Waterloo year, the first that can be fully celebrated since the year itself as 1915 was hardly a time for celebrations. Tory Historian has been doing various things: going to the National Portrait Gallery exhibition about the great Duke, watching a poor play performed with great zest in a Regency toy theatre in the British Museum where there is an exhibition about propaganda for and against Bonaparte and, as of yesterday, re-reading Andrew Roberts's wonderfully well written Napoleon and Wellington.
Mr Roberts has more recently written an admiring biography of the Emperor but he is also something of an admirer of the Duke. The people he has little time for are the Whigs and this is what he has to say about them:
The exaggerated loathing of the Whigs for the man who threatened and finally defeated their idol Napoleon was to be a constant feature throughout Wellington's career. They emerge from their story not as witty, brilliant, big-hearted Olympians of politico-social mythology, but as quotidian, nit-picking, mean-minded quasi-traitors.Tory Historian has had a number of heated discussions with people who appear to believe seriously that the Whigs were somehow more democratic and more concerned with the fate of the common people than the Tories. They were mostly concerned with power that they wanted to and often did see in their own hands. Their attitude to the French Revolution once the heady early days gave way to state terror and oppression is extraordinary by any standard and their attitude to France once it became Britain's clear enemy verges on bizarre or, as Mr Roberts, treacherous.
There was much more to the suffragist movement than the WSPU, which was small, less and less influential in the years before the First World War and, many said even at the time, counter-productive in its actions and attitudes.
Martin Pugh, the well-known historian of popular politics and women's politics (sometimes these overlap and sometimes they are opposites) says this in the first chapter of his Women and the Women's Movement in Britain 1914 - 1959:
The important role traditionally claimed by the Pankhursts has not, so far, recovered from the careful analysis of their organization by Andrew Rosen. Their suffering and sacrifice made an indelible impression that can never be forgotten; but history is an unsentimental business, and it has clearly exploded many of the more extravagant claims made by the suffragettes.Martin Pugh has been accused before of an anti-Pankhurst bias and even inaccuracy but there is a good deal of evidence for what he says here. Lady Knightley, a prominent member of the Primrose League and a Conservative suffragist, certainly thought their methods are counter-productive though she admired Mrs Pankhurst personally.
Pankhurst claims that they had won public opinion to their side scarcely seem consistent with the antagonism towards them amongst working-class women which Jill Liddington has discussed in her valuable study of Lancashire. Nor does it square with the growing hostility of the crowds and the defeat of the Pankhurst-backed candidate at the Bow and Bromley election in 1912.
Always a small organization, the WSPU split repeatedly until it became a mere rump of personal followers of the Pankhurst family. Nor, ultimately, did militant tactics succeed in shaking the resolve of the government on women's suffrage; rather they alienated, if only temporarily, much of the support built up amongst politicians for enfranchising women.
History may be unsentimental but media, the art world and popular mythology all have a great dash of sentiment in their activity and the glorious Pankhursts together with their followers seem to figure prominently in all of them.
In the same way, it is a mistake to suppose that women, whether active or not, were all pacifists during and immediately after the First World War, no matter what we might glean from books by and about Vera Brittain. The National Portrait Gallery has a small but fascinating exhibition of women during the Great War, with nary a mention of either Miss Brittain or her friend Winifred Holtby. There are photographs and life stories of some of the many other women who became nurses, organizers and many other things during that conflict. The stories are fascinating and the conclusion is very sad: though women won many rights while their work was desperately needed, much of that was lost in the immediate period after the war.
Nevertheless, in 1918 a good many men and some women were enfranchised for the first time and there was, naturally enough, a good deal of worry and discussion how these groups would vote. The results were interesting in 1918 and subsequent elections. It seems that very few of the anti-suffrage MPs suffered because of their stance, most of those who stood being re-elected.
Here are some interesting points Martin Pugh makes about the 1918 election, which was somewhat unusual politically but interesting in what it showed in voting patterns.
The inclusion of the wives of workingmen - the bulk of the 8.4 million women - largely satisfied the non-Conservative politicians that there would be no additional advantage for the propertied classes. But the new electorate of women displayed an obvious bias towards age. Only the youngest of the women had been born in the late 1880s and thus reached an impressionable political age in the Edwardian period when Liberal-Labour reformism was at its height. The great majority of women voters are likely to have formed political loyalties in a period when the choice was between Conservative and Liberal, though we must allow for the realignment of some of the most politically active women as a result of the suffrage controversies prior to the war.He then turns to some of the details of the voting patterns.
Although most women electors had not voted even in a local government election before, the low turnout of 58.9 per cent in 1918 should almost certainly not be attributed to female abstention since the 12.9 million males included 3.9 million naval and military voters of whom it was reported that two thirds failed to take the chance of voting by post or by proxy.
Modern studies confirm that young voters are consistently the least likely to participate, and it thus seems very likely that abstention in 1918 was due to male behaviour rather than to the more mature female electorate. This is corroborated by many contemporary accounts which refer to the women as undemonstrative but determined in turning out to vote.
Dr John Turner has approached the 1918 election by using the evidence provided by the electoral register of 1915 and the number of men included in the 1918 register to estimate the total number of new male electors. He then examined the performance of the Labour Party's candidates and found that there was an inverse relationship between the size of the Labour poll and the proportion of new voters. In fact the greater the proportion of new male voters the less well Labour did and the greater proportion of women voters the less well Labour did.Accounts of the newly enfranchised women voters' behaviour at meetings confirm this view and there is a great deal of interesting material available on the differences between the servicemen and those who had stayed at home in their various attitudes towards the peace negotiations. It would have been interesting to know how many of the more bloodthirsty women had 'done their bit' during the war itself.
Yet a statistical relationship is one thing: explaining it is another. This can be done at two levels. From a long-term perspective the emergence of an organised Labour Party can be seen to have been linked to the relatively prosperous, unionised and politically aware working-class communities who were already enfranchised to a great extent. Consequently the incorporation of the whole of the male working class weakened Labour's position in the short run. Similarly, women as a group were as yet relatively uninvolved in the social and institutional networks that fostered support for Labour, and their enfranchisement was unlikely, without further changes, to prove advantageous.
More immediately women appear to have reacted to the 1918 campaign in a rather striking way, as contemporaries observed. It is easy to be misled by the prominence of a small group of women activists i n the anti-war cause. To those politicians who had hoped or feared that women would want to vote for international peace and conciliation the Coupon Election came as a shock. Anti-war candidates such as Ramsay MacDonald experienced heavy defeats in their constituencies, in his case at West Leicester where the women voters were reported to be 'bloodthirsty, cursing their hate', and as posing a physical threat to pacifist politicians.
Emmeline Pethwick-Lawrence first became aware of this in 1917 when helping a peace-by-negotiation candidate at Aberdeen; the women there 'were even more embittered than the men', she wrote. Subsequently as a Labour candidate herself in Manchester in 1918 she commented:
I realised at once that my supporters were not the women - this election was their chance of 'doing their bit' and the were all for 'going over the top' to avenge their husbands and their sons. My supporters were the soldiers themselves.
The Guildhall Library is not known well enough. Admittedly, it is housed in a hideous building just round the corner from the Guildhall, in itself a fascinating place, but the collection, which is freely available to anyone who wishes to consult it, is stupendous. There really is no other word for it.
Among other collections there is an enormous one on food and drink that includes numerous cookery books of past and present. At the moment there is an exhibition there, that I can strongly recommend, of three Victorian cooks and writers of cookery books, Mrs Beeton, of course, her predecessor, Eliza Acton and the "people's chef" Alexis Soyer. The exhibition is quite small, with three glass topped stands, one for each personality and an amusing display of cardboard models of various deserts from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management.
It has been said with some justification that Mrs Beeton, unlike some though not all modern cookery writers did not bother to test all the recipes (there was no time for that, given the speed with which she produced the installments that became the book eventually) and that she plagiarized a great deal, particularly from Eliza Acton.
We run into difficulties here. As the exhibition and the notes explain, Eliza Acton, though less well known, is more highly regarded by a number of experts like Elizabeth David and Delia Smith. Her life appears to be somewhat more glamorous than the overworked Mrs Beeton's and recently it has become fashionable to elevate her while denigrating her successor.
A few years ago Sheila Hardy produced a biography of Eliza Acton and called it The Real Mrs Beeton. I have not yet read the book but fully intend to and may well find it very interesting but I do think that is a silly title. Eliza Acton was not the real Mrs Beeton unless you use that name to describe any cookery writer; she was the real Eliza Acton and not, by a very long chalk, the first cookery writer for middle class families in England.
Kathryn Hughes, Isabella Beeton's biographer and the promulgator of the dubious theory that Sam Beeton had syphilis with which he infected his wife who died of it, reviewed Sheila Hardy's book with some irony:
Miss Acton has long been set up as the saint to Mrs Beeton's sinner. Where Isabella Beeton (pictured) is Victorian in a stodgy, over-boiling the veg, old biddyish kind of way, Eliza Acton is an Austenish heroine: a stylish Regency spinster, a poet rather than a journalist, a committed cookery writer rather than an opportunistic hack. Elizabeth David, herself a patron saint of food writing, enshrined Acton's superiority to Beeton in a couple of important revisionist articles that appeared in the 1960s. Jane Grigson, also generally agreed to be on the side of the cookery angels, further hymned Acton's greatness as the true founder of modern recipe making. So, too, does Delia Smith in her foreword to this new biography. In short, anyone who wants to be in the kitchen cool gang knows that the name to drop is Acton's.
There's an added frisson to the Acton/Beeton face-off, which comes from Beeton lifting scores of "receipts" from Acton's Modern Cookery for Private Families, stitching them into her own Book of Household Management as if they had emerged from her own steamy kitchen. Household Management went on to become a cultural behemoth, lumbering through the 19th and 20th centuries gathering millions of readers as it went, while Acton's Modern Cookery remained a minority taste. To like Acton, then, is to assert not just your culinary discrimination but your sense of moral justice too.
While we are on the subject of Austenish heroines, let it be noted that Miss Austen's heroines did not cook and only secondary characters supervised the kitchen. Mrs Bennett makes it very clear twice that her daughters did not have anything to do with cooking, baking or any kitchen activity.
There are many interesting things in the book but Tory Historian was particularly taken by some of the figures Mr Stewart gives of book sales in the 1860s, particularly of what was then called with increasing displeasure by critics "sensational literature".
And Mr Wilkie Collins could and did gloat over his receipts. Referring to his income from No Name (1862), he wrote to his mother: '... the amount reaches Four thousand, six hundred. Not so bad for story-telling!' While George Eliot wept: 'I sicken with despondency [she wrote in 1866 to her publisher, Blackwood] ... that the most carefully written books lie .... deep undermost in a heap of trash .... my 6/- editions are never on the railway bookstalls .... They are not so attractive to the majority as "The Trail of the Serpent".' Crocodile tears these, really; in 1863 Romola had brought her a near-record £7,000 with reversion of copyright.Whether George Eliot was really that mean-minded and short-sighted, history does not relate.
But George Eliot was right about the popularity of the author of The Trail of the Serpent (1861) - none other than Miss Braddon, who certainly seems to have deserved her title of 'Queen of the Circulating Libraries'. The Westminster Review was only just guilty of exaggeration in saying that her 'novels must appear in a second edition the very day after [their] first publication and .... a third follow the second before the week is well out.'
Keeping strictly to facts, however, the story of crowds queuing for the Strand with the next Sherlock Holmes story is well-known; less well remembered is the fact that their fathers had done the same for the next episode of The Moonstone, and when published in book form, having already been serialized, the first impression of 1,000 copies of The Woman in White sold in one day.
George Eliot could perhaps draw some consolation from the admission of an American pirate-publisher that he had sold 126,000 copies of the latter book and paid Collins not a penny.
Nevertheless, the figures are impressive when we consider the value of sterling at the time and the fact that the reading public of these books and magazines was limited not by illiteracy (that has been much exaggerated if not invented by advocates of state education) but by the fact that many people could not afford them. They bought and read penny dreadfuls, whose sales vastly exceeded those listed above.
Early in the afternoon of January 30, 1649, Charles I, who, apparently, insisted on wearing three shirts so he would not shiver from cold, stepped through the window of Whitehall Palace's Banqueting Hall to the scaffold. His execution did not solve the various issues of the Great Rebellion as Lord Clarendon called it or the Civil War. It was, nevertheless, a shattering event. Kings had been deposed and murdered before in English, Scottish and other histories. But no King had ever been tried before for treason.
Here is the document that can be said to be the beginning of modern political thought, the Death Warrant of Charles I, agreed on by a number of Parliamentarians who had the unbelievable imagination to separate the person of the King from the institution of Kingship and State or, as they are known by some, the Regicides.
For many, it is the figure of the sad, misguided but, ultimately very brave King that is of significance, as can be seen in this picture of Charles the Martyr:
But to me it is the people who dared to think otherwise even when they thought they were looking back to Biblical and Ancient precedents who remain fascinating. As it happens, I was recently sent Charles Spencer's book, Killers of the King, subtitled The Men Who Dared To Execute Charles I. I am greatly looking forward to reading it and writing about it.
It was the most extraordinary event. Many people have written about it and tried to understand it but it remains hard to comprehend. It is not as if Churchill died young, nor had he been in power for some years. In fact, when in power or just politically active, he was not particularly popular, not even as war leader and certainly not after the war. Let us not forget that under his leadership the Conservative Party lost two elections out of three and barely managed to win the third one because the Liberal Party could not stand the financial strain of two elections in one year.
In the ten years between his well-earned retirement and his death, however, he was transferred into an god-like figure, an icon of British history and a man whom no criticism must touch. Of course, historians have discussed his political career and even his wartime actions for some time but any disagreement with the generally worshipping attitude has been met with shrieks of horror until very recently (as discussed in this posting).
The funeral was something separate. It was, unusually, a state funeral for a former political figure; it was beautifully planned and executed, furthermore, but that is not surprising. Britain, this blog maintains does pomp and circumstance better than any country. Besides, it has been said that Churchill himself had contributed a great deal to the planning.
There was more, though: the country was saying good-bye to a great leader but also to its own past without, perhaps, quite realizing it. Still recovering from the war and, even more so, the immediate post-war years, still unable to work out her role in the world, the whole country looked back with sorrow to a period, so well represented by the figure of Churchill, when its greatness, courage and steadfastness seemed unassailable. We were saying goodbye to all that. Sadly, it took a good many years to start looking forward again.
Here is a slightly abbreviated film of the funeral, very well worth seeing:
And here is the moment that always brings a lump to my throat: the cranes of London's docks (that were not going to survive Churchill for long) saying their farewell and the coffin beginning its final journey:
Yesterday's event at the National Liberal Club was very successful: well attended, two fascinating presentations and a largely excellent discussion though there were a couple of contributors who asked the speakers to confirm something that the latter had already said. The event was recorded and as soon as it goes on line this blog will link to it.
The account of Asquith's 1915 - 1916 coalition and its eventual failure raised many interesting questions, one of which, in my mind, concerned the Churchill coalition of 1940.
In 1915, as both speakers, Dr Ian Packer and Dr Nigel Keohane, made clear, Asquith was in charge of the coalition negotiations, despite the fact that his position was weakened by continuing problems both domestically and with the conduct of the war. He created a Cabinet in which the Conservatives took a secondary position and continued to be the Prime Minister. (A couple of questions about his personal problems to do with Venetia Stanley breaking off the relationship in 1915 and his son Raymond being killed in 1916 elicited the replies that Asquith was not the man to give in to emotions publicly, regardless of his private reaction.)
By the end of 1916, however, the coalition was finished and Asquith's resignation together with most of his Cabinet (not Arthur Henderson, the Leader of the Labour Party) was a miscalculation: Bonar Law might not have been able to form the new government but David Lloyd George could and did. It lasted to the end of the war and was re-elected in 1918. It collapsed when Conservative MPs famously announced that they did not want to be part of a coalition in 1922. That was, effectively, the end of the Liberal Party as a powerful body in British politics.
The causes for the collapse of Asquith's coalition were many but the most important was that the failures continued. The Battle of the Somme did not produce the outcome that had been hoped for though being able to fight it said something about the government's ability to organize and arm a large army, the Battle of Jutland was, in many ways, a disaster, the landing at Gallipoli even more so and by the end of 1916 it was becoming clear that Russia was not likely to be a useful ally for much longer.
Food stocks were running low and conscription (which was pushed by Lloyd George) caused a great deal of discontent.
When we look at the coalition of 1940 we can see a good many of the same problems. Militarily, things were going badly even though it had been expected that Churchill becoming Prime Minister would help the war effort and produce some victories. At the same time, there was discontent over conscription, over the home front not being organized well, there were continuous strikes and continuing propaganda produced by the Communist Party, under orders from the Comintern to oppose the war and praise the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Unlike the British Union of Fascists, the CPGB was not banned and its propagandists were not interned as the government did not want to upset the unions. (Interestingly enough, the French Communist Party was proscribed as soon as war had been declared on Germany.)
While the latter disappeared on June 22, 1941 (to be replaced by demands for a Second Front Now) other difficulties remained to which one can add the fact that from about 1942 on Churchill spent a great deal of time out of the country and the very important fact that he categorically refused to discuss post-war aims, being even less interested in that subject than Lloyd George had been. Caught between Attlee who was working on post-war aims domestically and Stalin who had his eyes fixed on the post-war international structure from a very early stage, Churchill and the Conservative Party were to pay heavily in 1945.
There were criticism of the way the war was run and a number of votes of no confidence taken in the Commons there was never any serious consideration of Churchill's coalition being replaced before the end (near enough) of the war.
The most obvious reason is the absence of a credible alternative to Churchill once Halifax had been shipped off to the US although he, too, would have faced problems unless the Labour Party changed its 1940 attitude. For that very reason, as Dr Keohane pointed out yesterday, Bonar Law, whose political position was a good deal weaker than Asquith's, survived the débâcle of 1916 while his opponent did not: there was no Lloyd George in the Conservative Party and though the old boy was still around in 1940 he alone considered his claims to leadership seriously.
Added to that the fact that Churchill, unlike Asquith, was a great orator and an inspirational though, oddly enough, not a particularly popular leader and one can see why his position remained secure despite misjudgements, bad news, various mistakes and illnesses.
Perhaps, the fact that in 1940 Churchill was not as secure as Asquith in 1915 contributed to the success of his coalition: he had to share fairly with the Labour Party, whose senior members were given important positions, beginning with Attlee, who became Deputy Prime Minister and was in charge of the home front. The Labour Party and the unions used the war years to consolidate their control over large parts of the country and its economy, something that was vital in the post-war creation of their own brand of the welfare state.
As we approach the end of another coalition (well, maybe) there are bound to be various discussions on the subject. It is worth mentioning that Dr Packer started his presentation with a half-joking comment that the 1915 coalition indicated that coalitions may not be good news to the Liberal Party and, perhaps, its successor.