The Conservative History Group will be holding a meeting on November 24 in the House of Lords in Committee Room 1: Professor Steven Fielding and Michael Dobbs will speak on Politics in Fiction - from Disraeli to Dobbs. You may think that one of the speakers will not be able to avoid a few references to himself but I couldn't possibly comment.

Here is the information as sent out by the Group:

Steven Fielding is Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham. His new book, A State of Play, explores the depiction of British politics in fiction, from the reverence of Anthony Trollope to the cynicism of The Thick of It. Drawing on a wide range of material - from Yes Mininster and the novels of H.G. Wells to less obvious sources such as Steptoe and Son and the works of Agatha Christie - he argues that these depictions have played an important but insidious part in shaping how we think about our democracy and have helped to ventilate the British public's many frustrations with Westminster.

Prof. Fielding will be talking to us about his book, focusing particularly on the way Conservatives have been portrayed down the ages. He will be joined by Michael, Lord Dobbs, the political author and creator of one of the most famous fictional Tories - Francis Urquhart of the House of Cards trilogy, which has now spawned award-winning TV adaptations on both sides of the Atlantic.
Attendance is free but it is advisable to book here.

Ahem, I seem to have blogged about one of the speakers in another place, here and here. The talks should be interesting, though. Try and get to the event if you are anywhere near Westminster that evening.

That anniversary is coming and many preparations are being made, some attractive, some less so. One cannot help suspecting that a great deal of nonsense will be written and spoken (indeed, already are written and spoken) on the subject as well as a great deal of sense.

The British Library is bringing together all four existing versions of that great document but, it seems, only for one day. There is a ballot for 1,215 people "to be part of history" and to take advantage of "the unique opportunity to see all four Magna Carta documents at the British Library in London". Despite those words I considered taking part in the ballot but abandoned that idea when I read about the circus I would have to submit to, should I win (an unlikely event but one must consider all possibilities.
On arrival, winners will be welcomed to the British Library by historian and TV presenter Dan Jones, who will explain the history and significance of Magna Carta. To the sound of live medieval music in the British Library’s entrance hall, winners will then be taken by costumed characters from the 13th century to view the four original Magna Carta manuscripts on display together for the first time.
One can only hope that there will be other exhibitions and events without the faux mediaeval atmosphere.

In the meantime, this blog will indulge in some random thoughts on the subject of the Great Charter and related events. The first random thought came to me as I considered other countries in which similar documents were produced, one of them, Hungary, then a great kingdom, where the magnates forced King Andrew II to sign The Golden Bull in 1222. (Here is a somewhat more romantic view of the event that reminds one of many a comment about the Magna Carta.) The notion of The Golden Bull being Hungary's Magna Carta is not particularly odd as anyone who compares the Articles of the two documents can see. Of course, what with the Mongol invasion, subsequent wars and the Ottoman occupation, Hungary's history turned out to be somewhat different from England's though even the latter saw the imposition of authoritarian government under the Tudors as well as a civil war or two. Here is what the historian László Kontler says on the subject in his carefully argued book, A History of Hungary.
In 1222, the country-wide movement of the servientes compelled Andrew II to issue the famous Golden Bull, sometimes mentioned as a counterpart of the English Magna Carta of 1215. Most of its thirty articles concerned the encroachment of the king and his barons and the unlawfulness of these as well as the alienation of large royal estates, but the ones most important for posterity decreed the uniform rights and privileges of the nobility: the exemption from taxes and from quartering troops, from the jurisdiction of others than the king and thepalatine, the freedom of the servientes from harassment by the barons, the requirement of a legal warrant to detain them, etc. An additional clause invested the secular and ecclesiastical lords with a right of resistance in case the aforementioned were violated by the king; a clause rarely invoked during the rest of the Middle Ages, but all the more often during the long period of Hungary's association with the House of Habsburg. However much of a mere plot the movement of the servientes, and however rudimentary the Golden Bull was, these were the beginnings of a process in which the idea of communitas regni became influential in Hungary and an estates based parliamentarianism developed, and groups outside the royal council had access to policy-making (for the first time at the assembly of 1277).
Clearly, a few explanations are needed. Who were the servitas, for instance? Back to László Kontler's book:
Of the many opposition movements [to Andrew II] the most important was that of the so-called royal servientes. "Servants" by name, they were in fact the freest agents in a society where even the relatively independent jobbágy warriors were high-placed subjects within the manorial system; the servientes themselvese were landlords, small or great, and possessed subjects, few or many, and called themselvess "servants of the king" because it was only to the king that they owed service and obedience - not as their landlord but as the ruler of the country.
The concepts and ideas are not unfamiliar to those who know English mediaeval history and neither is that of communitas regni: as this dictionary of mediaeval legal terms explains it is "the Community of the Realm; the general representation of the nation in Parliament".

There were some differences, obviously, one of which was the murder of Queen Gertrude, Andrew II's German wife who had brought with her, as was usual, large numbers of courtiers and relatives, whose influence and privileges were resented by the Magyar nobility of whatever status. This story is told (somewhat romantically and patriotically) in József Katona's play Bánk bán (1819) that was performed at the National Theatre on March 15,1848 and in the opera by Ferenc Erkel (1861) that was performed in the Opera House on a crucial day in 1956. The opera has a very fine patriotic aria sung by Bánk bán himself.

None of this aims to diminish the importance of Magna Carta. Indeed, it is possible, as Wikipedia says, that "[i]t may even have been inspired by Magna Carta, as its greatest supporters met with exiled Magna Carta leaders such as Robert Fitzwalter during the Fifth Crusade". And that would make the influence of the Great Charter even more obvious.


Captain Frederick Burnaby has appeared on this blog before (here, for example) and deserves a great deal of attention. It so happens that I have recently finished his second book of adventures to do with Russia, whom he did not trust in the slightest, On Horseback Through Asia Minor, written and published in 1877.

Burnaby was definitely in the Turcophile camp, politically speaking, though he found some of the Turkish attitudes frustrating. He also found it hard to understand why the Turks should be so anxious to fight Russia (though sometimes this seemed like a fatalistic acceptance of the inevitable) while doing so little to build up their military strength, defence structures and equipment (also shrugged off fatalistically). Nevertheless, he thought that Britain should support Turkey against Russia whom he saw not just as an enemy but also as a barbaric country whose treatment of numerous people, especially in her push forward in the Caucasus and Central Asia, was abominable. Turkey, he thought, could conceivably become a well governed country with Britain's help but Russia was determined to prevent that as the idea of a well-governed country on her border was an abomination to her. (Ahem, sounds familiar?)

During his ride, Burnaby spent some time in Erzingan [sic] where he had a long conversation with Mutasaraf Pascha, the civil governor of the province, who told him of the capture of a Russian agent with various incriminating papers on him that proved beyond doubt that the Russians were fomenting trouble in Bulgaria and various vulnerable parts of the Ottoman Empire. The papers were sent to Constantinople but nothing was done about them or the information in them because the Sultan was under the control (more or less) of the Russian ambassador, Count Ignatieff. [Needless to say, Russian historians view the period differently.]

Burnaby asked Mutasaraf Pascha whether there were any names in the papers that had been taken from the Russian agent.

Yes, names implicating some very high Russian functionaries. I hope that we shall soon be engaged in hostilities with Russia. Ever since the battle of Sedan she has been secretly at war with Turkey, and trying to stab us under the guise of friendship. Ignatieff encouraged Abdul Aziz in his extravagance. He knew this would lead to bankruptcy and to a rupture of the alliance with England; and you may depend upon it, that the Russian Ambassador was one of the first men to advise his majesty to repudiate the debt.

They are very clever, these Russian diplomats and however poor Russia may be, she has always enough gold to sow the seeds of sedition and rebellion in her neighbour's territory. You will find this out for yourselves one day.
This was meat and drink to Burnaby who considered that Russia was a definite threat to India as well as to Constantinople.

Later, especially under the Soviet regime it became obvious that poverty and even famine could be disregarded if money was to be spent on propaganda and destabilization abroad. As to sowing the seeds of sedition and rebellion, it is possible that many Ukrainians, Georgians and Moldovans would agree with the Turkish official.

This September's issue of the Conservative History Journal (the printed edition) published by the Conservative History Group concentrates, understandably, on the two great anniversaries: 100 years since the beginning of the world-shaking war of 1914 - 1918 and 300 years since the Hanoverians assumed the throne of this country with their descendants still there. They have not yet overtaken the Plantagenets in their longevity as a ruling dynasty but they are well on the road to it.

Lord Lexden, official historian of the Conservative Party (and who could fill that position better?) and Chairman of the Conservative History Group has a long article on the transition from the last Stuart Monarch, Anne to the first Hanoverian one, George I and what that meant in political terms for the two parties: the Tories and the Whigs. He explains very clearly how the Tories mismanaged their affairs to the extent they did and how they lost their political supremacy (brief though it was) to the Whigs who maintained it more or less for the rest of the eighteenth century.

Lord Lexden also gave a talk on the subject at the Carlton Club on October 9.

One paragraph particularly caught my attention as it demolishes so many modern myths about politics at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries:
Frequent elections, required under the Triennial Act of 1694, ensured that the country as a whole was divided as sharply and passionately as Parliament itself. Both parties had highly developed organizations which attracted abundant support in the constituencies amongst voters and the unenfranchised alike (the latter enjoyed the excitement and money that elections brought), and both maintained close links with journalists and pamphleteers committed to their cause in a country where literacy rates were high by European levels (perhaps nearly two-thirds of men and one-third of women).

It is estimated that at this time Britain had an electorate of some 250,000, or 4.7 per cent of the population, a slightly higher proportion than after the Reform Act of 1832. [Another myth that needs to be destroyed: the notion that the First Reform Act enfranchised people.]

The country went to the polls no fewer than ten times between 1690 and 1714, far more frequently than any modern generation of democrats would contemplate in such a short period. The pendulum swung between the two parties, producing either small or significant majorities for one or the other until 1710. Then the Tories achieved two landslides in a row. In 1719 they won 346 seats, leaving the Whigs with 193; three years later, following a sudden upsurge of fanatical popular support for the Church, the margin was even greater: 370 Tory MPs were returned and only 177 Whigs. The party of Church and King had at last secured the ascendancy for which it had worked since 1688. Moreover, the monarch was a staunch Anglican. The Tories looked forward to serving her in government indefinitely
Naturally, things did not work out quite as planned, partly because of Queen Anne dying and partly because of the in-fighting within the party as well as sympathy for the Jacobite cause expressed by some Tories.

It would be useful if people who talk loudly about politics being particularly venomous at the moment would spend a modicum of time on reading history. They might find much to surprise them and to put "the present discontents" into perspective.

The more Tory Historian reads works by and about Dorothy L. Sayers (who has appeared on this blog a few times) the more it becomes apparent that Miss Sayers (who was, for certain purposes Mrs Fleming) would not have liked the appropriation of her carefully crafted characters by Jill Paton Walsh. She spent some time discussing the whole process of creation both in literary and theological terms in The Mind of the Maker, a book TH has read twice and intends to read again at some later stage. She has also referred to the subject if obliquely in the letters she exchanged with Dr Eustace Barton, her co-author or, at least, collaborator in the unusual Documents in the Case. [The link gives away some of the plot.]

Dr Barton was a fascinating character, a doctor and a writer of mystery stories (not an unusual combination) but mostly a collaborator with other writers like L. T. Meade and, in the case of one novel, Dorothy L. Sayers. He supplied the outline of the plot and the scientific details about which there was a great deal of discussion in various letters and scientific journals after the book's publication. So far as Tory Historian who is, most definitely not a scientist, can tell, the general view now is that the detection of the crime is entirely possible but there might be more recent theories that say otherwise. Catherine Kenney discusses his role in the creation of the book here as part of her own study, The Remarkable Case of Dorothy L. Sayers, mentioned on this blog before.

In an early letter ( 7 May 1938) to Dr Barton in which Sayers discusses various aspects of the planned book, she writes:
I am so glad you like Lord Peter. I certainly don't intend to kill him off yet, but I think it would be better to invent a new detective for any tales we do together. For one thing, people would associate his name with mine and be inclined to hand me out more than my half-share of credit for the story, which wouldn't be just. Also, it would simplify matters to have somebody with more scientific surroundings, don't you think? Lord Peter isn't supposed to know a lot about chemistry and that sort of thing, and it would mean inventing a docotr or somebody to help him out. Also, I'm looking forward to getting a rest from him, because his everlasting breeziness does become a bit of a tax at times!
A whole list of reasons for not writing a novel about Lord Peter in collaboration with "Robert Eustace" but what one cannot help feeling behind it is a reluctance to share the character and his associates. They are her creation and hers they must remain. Which raises a question or two about Ms Paton Walsh's calm appropriation of them all.

Interestingly the first volume of the letters that takes up the story to 1936, with the last complete Lord Peter Wimsey novel, first written and produced as a play, Busman's Honeymoon, does not solve the mystery of why he and his entourage were abandoned. Sayers did not comlete the novel she started that year, Thrones, Dominations, later completed by Paton Walsh, and produced only odds and ends about the Wimseys and those around them: a couple of short stories and a series of letters, published in The Spectator in 1939 - 40 as part of her war effort.

There are indications in the letters of 1935 and 1936 that Sayers was planning further adventures. There are references to Viscount St George (Wimsey's nephew and the heir to the Dukedom of Denver) coming a cropper matrimonially (to Helen Simpson 25 March 1936) but also losing his life (eventually she told somebody that he would be killed in the Battle of Britain but she could not have had that in mind in 1936)), leaving Lord Peter as the "heir to those damned strawberry leaves" (to Donald Tovey 22 November 1935). In the same letter she outlined plans for tidying up the chronology a little and to dispose of various ladies in Lord Peter's pre-Harriet life. She certainly made plans for Thrones, Dominations and produced ideas for the Wimseys' future. None of that seems to have materialized and though Tory Historian has read various theories by authors who had known the lady and others who had not but read everything by and about her (TH has a long way to go), none of them seem completely satisfactory. Possibly, she did suddenly get bored with the whole menage but that does not mean that she would have liked someone else appropriating them.

The excitement of the Scottish referendum is over and it is time to turn our attention to other and, possibly, more important matters: the coming issue of the Conservative History Journal. First things first: if, by some remote chance, you have not subscribed to this excellent publication, you still have time to do so by using this link. As to why you should do it? Well, here are a few answers:

Matthew Francis writing about the search for Constructive Conservatism, which will discuss the idea of "property owning democracy". I must admit that I am particularly looking forward to this as I am in the middle of a book about Noel Skelton, the onlie begetter of that concept. In fact, I may preempt the Journal and write a blog on the subject before that.

Articles by Nigel West on MI5 and the First World War (was it really called that at the time?) and Professor Simon Ball on Prime Ministers in the First World War (hmm, I wonder whose side he will take).

Dr Richard A. Gaunt, an expert on Robert Peel has an article entitled A Power Behind the Throne? Sir Robert Peel, Prince Albert and the Making of the Modern Monarchy and Dr John W. Hawkins on The Queen’s Member: The unregretted life of Colonel Robert Richardson-Gardner.

There is much more but those are enough to be going on with.

On September 17, 1939 the war that is known as the Second World War entered its crucial phase though, possibly, this was not recognized at the time. The Soviet Union, acting in accordance with the Pact that the two Foreign Minister, Molotov and Ribbentrop had signed, invaded eastern Poland, thus squeezing the Polish army and the population of that country between themselves and Nazi Germany.

One cannot really ignore Low's brilliant cartoon on the subject.


Here is a photograph that remains one of my favourites from that period and that region: the jolly meeting at a German military parade in Brest of two tank commanders, General Heinz Guderian and General Semyon Krivoshein who was, as it happens, Jewish. Astonishingly enough, General Krivoshein survived two purges: that of the armed forces in 1938 and that of prominent (and not so prominent) Jews in 1951. As the great Sovietologist, Robert Conquest, said to me when I asked him why he thought Krivoshein survived: "Someone had to".

Both generals were prominent in the Battle of Kursk. Friendships between tyrants have a short life.


I wrote more about that here.

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