Tory Historian found another interesting mini-exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, this time a collection of drawings and prints by Richard George Mathews. In the introduction to the exhibition there is an unnecessarily snide comment about the pictures being of idle Edwardians who seemed to find a great deal of pleasure in just travelling.
As the drawings are of writers like Kipling, Hardy and Jerome K. Jerome, of the Manager of the Times newspaper, Charles Moberley Bell and of various actor-managers, idleness is not quite the word that immediately springs to mind.
The most interesting of the portraits is of Henry Algernon George Percy, Earl Percy (1871 – 1909), a man so well-known in his time, that in 1908 when the drawing was published in The Bystander, the title of it was “A Future Tory Leader”. A year later he was dead and how many people have even heard of him today?
Ever curious about past grandees, Tory Historian looked around, found a very inadequate piece on Wikipedia, which did, however, refer to the intriguing story of death being the result of a duel, and turned to the Oxford Dictionary of Biography and the Dictionary of National Biography.
True or otherwise, the official story of Earl Percy catching a chill in Paris and dying of it does irresistibly remind one of the unfortunate end of Ernest Worthing, Jack Worthing's mythical and wicked younger brother, in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”. In actual fact, Earl Percy was, if anything, more like the main character of “An Ideal Husband” without the unfortunate secret in the past.
Henry Percy was the eldest son of the 7th Duke of Northumberland but died too young to inherit the title. He seems to have done extraordinarily well at school and university, winning the 1892 Newdigate Prize for English Verse at Oxford. The slightly unusual subject he chose was St Francis of Assisi.
In 1895 he won a by-election at South Kensington and continued to represent that constituency until his death. Another important event of that year was his first visit to Turkey and the Near East. He went back in 1897 and published “Notes of a Diary in Asiatic Turkey” the following year.
His 1899 visit produced “The Highlands of Asiatic Turkey” in 1901. Earl Percy became known as an expert on the Near East and was made Parliamentary Under-Secretary for India in 1902 but really came into his own and Under-Secretary to Lord Lansdowne, the Foreign Secretary, in 1903. He specialized in matters to do with Turkey and often took an independent line from his superior and the government in general.
For instance, Earl Percy promoted the idea of an Anglo-German alliance that would stabilize Turkey and stem growing Russian influence. One can’t help wondering how the twentieth century would have developed if that idea had been followed instead of the later, liberal Entente Cordiale of 1904 and Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907.
Earl Percy was accused of having “perhaps excessive sympathy for Turkey”, an unpopular point of view by the time of the early twentieth century, though it might have been better received by Disraeli. He also showed himself to be rather concerned with the political position of Muslims in India as the discussions on possible reforms progressed in 1906 – 1907.
Another of his important political achievements was the renewal and strengthening of the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1905.
One can quite see why in an age when foreign policy mattered a great deal to a government, a man like Earl Percy would have been seen as a potential leader. An untimely death meant not just the end of his career (which would be obvious) but his disappearance from the history of the Conservative Party. One cannot help wanting to know about more “lost leaders” like Earl Percy.
More from Diane Urquhart's book on the formidable Londonderry ladies. This quote is singularly relevant to certain developments in the American presidential election, where the "second-wave feminists" have found themselves on the back foot:
There is no question that the marchionesses formed part of a small coterie of political confidantes and hosteses who worked by distinctly personal means in high society to promote their family, direct careers and impact change while their marriage and widowhood would respectively facilitate and impede their political influence.Actually, that "second-wave feminism" borrowed the idea from the Marxists.
Indeed, the idea of the personal being political, brought to the public's attention by the second-wave feminism of 1960s America, can be applied to a different place and a different time: in this instance to nineteenth and early twentieth century Britain and Ireland.
The glamour of the Duchess of Devonshire has eclipsed a very important historical fact. She was not the only lady to have become involved in politics long before female suffrage had become a political fact. Nor were the Whigs the only ones to have powerful and influential political hostesses.
Tory Historian is reading Diane Urquhart's "The Ladies of Londonderry", a history of that powerful family through the distaff side. The book follows the story for 150 years, from 1800 to 1959, by which time the role of the political hostess had diminished though had not disappeared completely.
With women entering politics directly and, as it turned out, ready to rise to the very top, back-stage management seemed to be a little less important. Further reports of the book will follow.
The Rosenbergs were really spies? Well, colour me surprised, as they say on the other side of the Pond. It seems that Morton Sobell, who was convicted of espionage with the notorious pair, has now admitted that yes, indeed, he and Julius Rosenberg with the help of his wife Ethel, spied for the Soviet Union.
As it happens, the Venona documents and more recent finds in the KGB archives before they were closed to the public again have shown some time ago that there was not the slightest doubt on the subject. But, as the Rosenbergs have been a cause célébre for the left during the last fifty odd years, it is all a surprise. Whatever next? Alger Hiss was really a GRU agent? Surely not!
A phone call from the Birmingham Council Leader’s office alerted me to the fact that this is not the first time the Conservative Party has decided to hold its annual conference in Birmingham. The Tory Council Leader wanted to know exactly when and in what circumstances did the previous events take place.
Well, naturally, my first port of call was John Barnes, who is a mine of information about the Conservative Party and its history. He knew, of course, and directed me to the books that could give me more information. Quite a story it is, too, as I put it together, using Andrew Roberts’s biography of Lord Salisbury, Robert Rhodes James’s biography of Lord Randolph Churchill and Richard Shannon’s “The Age of Salisbury”. Oh and a quick look at R. J. Q. Adams’s “Balfour”.
The story is quite fascinating and puts to pay the notion that somehow politics was a much more gentlemanly affair when it was run by “gentlemen”. The Salisbury/Northcote fight with Churchill was anything but gentlemanly. In the end, Churchill lost not because he was a nicer person but because, seduced by apparent party adulation, he could not envisage anybody outmanoeuvring him as Salisbury did. Lord Randolph Churchill, it seems, believed that he was indispensable – the most dangerous delusion any politician can have.
The National Union of Conservative Associations was founded in 1867 and held its first meeting in the Freemasons’ Tavern in London on November 12 of that year. In 1868 they went to Birmingham and there were 7 people in attendance. By 1869, in Liverpool there were 36 delegates. And so it would have continued but for the disastrous Conservative defeat in 1880. As Robert Rhodes James puts it in his biography of Lord Randolph:
It is a monotonous feature of English politics that the defeated party in an election blames its organization for the débâcle. The Conservatives in 1880 were no exception to this rule.So they formed a Central Committee under Lord Beaconsfield’s auspices and this organization was put in charge of direction and management of party affairs, as well as the disbursement of party funds. Clearly, this did not please the National Union, who considered themselves to be the representatives of the real Conservative Party.
The real difficulty (and I hope people who know far more about Conservative Party politics will wade in here) is to work out what motivated Lord Randolph Churchill. He presented himself as the man who spoke for Tory democracy, for the working class members of the party, for all the various constituent groups against the “Carlton Club” elite, who wanted to run things the old way. (By the way, the forthcoming issue of the Conservative History Journal will have an article on the Carlton Club by the eminent expert Alistair Cooke.)
The idea of Lord Randolph as a representative of the working man or of anything resembling real democracy is slightly odd and one cannot help thinking that he viewed the National Union as a convenient ladder for his own advancement to the leadership, something that he most definitely desired, his rebellious attitude notwithstanding.
In 1882 the National Union began to articulate complaints about its inferior status in the party’s structure and in July 1883 Churchill was elected to its Council with the help of the Chairman’s casting vote. The Chairman was Lord Percy. There were several resignations, including that of Sir Stafford Northcote and Henry de Worms.
We come to the great Birmingham Conference of the National Union, the 17th, held in October 1883, when Lord Randolph Churchill, with the aid of fellow “Fourth Party” member, John Gorst, made his first serious attempt to take over the party.
The leadership sent Viscount Cranbrook to deal with the attack and, according to Richard Shannon, he did it rather well. Responding to Churchill’s fiery speech that accused the Central Committee of being inward looking and hostile to “working men” in the party as well as of financial mismanagement, Cranbrook raised the question of whom the National Union really represented – the constituencies or the affiliated organizations. He also denied any financial mismanagement and, it seems, that Churchill and his allies never managed to prove that. On the other hand, they did point out that the National Union had no funds to speak of.
In his diary Cranbrook referred to “Randolph Churchill’s Birmingham intrigues”, which is what it looked like to the Conservative leadership. The membership was more divided in its opinion. (In parenthesis one may render thanks for the fact that so many British politicians, however busy they may have been, kept consistent and detailed diaries. This is a fascinating subject all by itself that needs to be written about more.)
In December of that year Churchill became Chairman of the National Union’s Organisation Committee, though the method used was rather dubious, as it ought to have been Lord Percy and this may well have alienated some potential supporters.
Lord Randolph’s exemplar was Joseph Chamberlain’s National Liberal Foundation, which was prospering at this time to the point of taking over the party. Coincidentally, of course, Birmingham was Chamberlain’s power base.
Subsequent manoeuvrings, snipings and open warfare between Salisbury with his allies and Churchill with his allies did culminate in some sort of a compromise, under which the latter went through various ministerial appointments, once there was a Conservative government, ending with the Chancellorship.
In December 1886 Churchill over-reached himself and using a disagreement over proposed army and navy spending, offered his resignation, probably not anticipating its acceptance. Famously, he had forgotten about Goschen, who took over as Chancellor, though he was a Liberal Unionist.
That is not how it was supposed to develop from that Annual Conference in Birmingham in 1883.
Tory Historian was somewhat underwhelmed by the news that Keira Knightley, one of our least talented young film actresses was going to play the notorious Duchess of Devonshire in a new film, directed by Saul Dibb, whose claim to cinematic fame (if that is what one means) is the 2004 “Bullet Boy”, which somehow escaped Tory Historian’s attention. Apparently it was another gritty, hard-hitting picture of ghetto youth in the East End. It may have been good but it may also have been extremely bad. Either way, it says little about Mr Dibb’s ability to understand history.
Naturally, Tory Historian is not a great fan of the duchess in question, a great Whig hostess and politician manqué. It would seem from the reviews and previews that Mr Dibb has little understanding of the duchess’s importance in history and, indeed, of the entire historical period. Instead, he has produced a film that purports to be the story of Diana, Princess of Wales in beautiful eighteenth century costume.
This is rather a shame because Amanda Foreman’s biography, “Georgiana”, on which the film is supposed to be based, was an extremely readable and well-researched book, even if the author seemed to accept that the Whigs were somehow speaking for the people and in favour of democracy, both notions somewhat anachronistic. She does not make much of it but it keeps bubbling up. Interestingly, Dr Foreman has complained about the Diana link but that has not stopped her from trying to cash in on what she must, presumably see, as a potentially very successful film.
The film, based on reviews and previews, seems to concentrate on the duke’s long-standing affair with the duchess’s friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster and then throws in the duchess’s late and somewhat catastrophic affair with Lord Grey. (Yes, he of the Reform Act in his younger incarnation. Tory Historian was stunned.)
Charles James Fox does get a look-in but nothing seems to be made of Georgiana’s involvement in politics, or of either the American or, more importantly, the French Revolution. One wonders how they deal with the insistent theory that she and Fox had an affair.
What is particularly ridiculous is the repeated reference to the “disturbed” and “unhappy” duchess, just like Diana. Even allowing for the fact that the ultra-skinny and expressionless Keira Knightley can play only disturbed and unhappy (did she bother to look at those wonderful portraits of the duchess, one wonders) this seems a daft way to talk.
There is no evidence for disturbance or unhappiness, except on occasion. Yes, her marriage was arranged and she was very young. That was the normal state of affairs in her circle and she married up, becoming the holder of a very grand title and enormous wealth. Was the marriage happy? Probably not but there was no expectation of that.
There is no evidence that Georgiana did not fit in very well with the rather dissolute Devonshire House way of life, doing what other ladies of her station in life did: spend a great deal of money on clothes and entertainment, drink and gamble, play politics and travel. How is any of that rebellious or going against what society expected from her?
Her involvement in Whig politics brought all sorts of rather brutal attacks in the Tory press, just as the Whig press attacked brutally ladies who were involved on the other side. Those were not sensitive days.
Her affair with Grey ended badly because she had a child (very bad luck) and her husband refused to have anything to do with her bastard while his own were brought up in the household. This was not necessarily the pattern with all such families so one can feel some compassion. Even more compassion goes out to the duchess because of the painful and disfiguring disease that she suffered from for some years afterwards but it is not clear whether the film deals with that.
Of course, historical films are rarely accurate and often use their theme to comment on other matters. Carol Reed’s “The Young Mr Pitt” simplified a complex biography and emphasised the theme of beleaguered Britain fighting an aggressive Continental empire. It was made during the Second World War, after all.
What is the aim of “Duchess”? Diana is hardly a figure of importance more than ten years after her death, though the sentimentalization of all things public, which many call dianafication is still with us. That has more to do with other people’s attitudes than with her own rather nebulous personality.
Why not try to make a good film out of the Duchess of Devonshire’s spectacularly interesting life story that would not make her into a victim of society and would include all the really scandalous aspects of her life (and her sister’s, the Countess of Bessborough)? Of course, one would have to have someone else play her. Someone who could act and make an attempt to resemble the original.
While looking up something in Andrew Roberts's outstanding biography of the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, Tory Historian came across the following paragraph, which raises a number of interesting points about the role and duty of MPs:
When Lord Randolph Churchill emerged as the leader of the movement for Party democracy in 1883 and 1884, Salisbury set his face against anything that he considered liable to fetter the complete independence of parliamentarians, as famously enunciated in Edmund Burke's 1774 address to the electors of Bristol. He was not about to allow parliamentary sovereignty to be circumscribed by caucuses of Party bureaucrats, let alone rank-and-file Party members.It is an interesting and unexpected use of the term parliamentary sovereignty, which is not usually applied to the relationship between MPs and other party members.
Control of Parties from outside Parliament both seemed to Salisbury impractical as it could not take into account the fast-moving mood swings of the Commons chamber, and repugnant in a Constitution in which an MP was expected to represent his whole constitutency, not just that part of it which voted for him.
There were, therefore, philosophical as well as practical considerations why Salisbury and Churchill were set upon a collision course.
There are also other issues. Edmund Burke was talking about whether MPs should represent their constituents' wishes or vote according to their conscience and view of what was best for the country. But, undoubtedly, it is important to recall that an MP must, if he or, these days, she is to represent directly the constituents, it must be all of them. Then again, should the said MP remain in thrall to those constituents, anyway? Probably, if a re-election is sought, but that is a somewhat cynical point of view.
Of greater interest is the role of the leaders of the party in parliament, who, also want to control MPs. What should their role be? Tory Historian can probably guess what the great marquess would have said but the whole issue remains unresolved with different groups emerging victorious at different times.
Well, experimental it may be but the theme is not far off what this blog is about, which gives Tory Historian a good deal of leeway.
Wandering round the British Museum, Tory Historian decided to take photographs of two of the choicest exhibits in one of the Greek galleries. One is of the face of the Kouros, the young boy, that is probably from the 6th century BC, when, as the notice said, "when the conventional smile was replaced by a solemn pout, the facial expression of classical sculpture". Does one get the feeling that the curator is fonder of Archaic Greek sculptures than of classical ones?
On this figure, though, the enigmatic smile is still present.
The other picture is of one of the earliest Greek bronzes, from the 5th century BC and probably from Cyprus, the head of Apollo. Tory Historian decided to take the picture in profile for no particular reason (not being a particularly artsy photographer). For all of that, the amateur photo seems to have more life than the official one on the BM page. Can't understand it. Normally they are much better.