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175 posts categorized "Politics"

16 August 2019

Peterloo

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Today, 16 August 2019, marks the two hundredth anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre – a major event in British history in which dozens of peaceful protesters were killed and hundreds injured when Yeomanry cavalry charged into them as they rallied for parliamentary reform.

Map of St Peter's Field Manchester'Map of St. Peter's field, Manchester, as it appeared on the 16th of August, last' from Peterloo Massacre, containing a faithful narrative ... Edited by an Observer (Manchester, 1819) 601.aa.9.(1) Noc  Images Online

On 16 August 1819 thousands of political protesters met at St Peter’s Fields in Manchester to campaign for parliamentary reform.  They sought a widening of access to the vote and a more democratically accountable Parliament.  It is estimated that somewhere between 60,000-100,000 people gathered at the meeting.  A large draw for the crowd was the speech of the noted radical and orator Henry Hunt (1773-1835).  Concerned that his words might incite a riot the Manchester magistrates ordered the local volunteer Yeomanry to arrest him.  Inexperienced in crowd control, the Yeomanry rode into the crowd with their swords drawn followed by the 15th Hussars who sought to disperse the crowd.  Hunt was arrested, but in the process at least eleven people were killed and many hundreds were wounded.

Portrait of Henry Hunt, and title page of Peterloo MassacrePortrait of Henry Hunt, and title page of Peterloo Massacre, containing a faithful narrative ... Edited by an Observer (Manchester, 1819) 601.aa.9.(1) Noc Images Online

Though the magistrates were officially praised by the government for their actions, there was an immediate national outcry as news spread of the attack.  Very quickly the event was derisively dubbed as ‘Peterloo’ scornfully comparing it with the Battle of Waterloo.  There was considerable public sympathy for the protesters and, for decades after, Peterloo was invoked by radicals as a powerful symbol of political corruption, working-class oppression and the need for parliamentary reform.

One author who was particularly appalled by the Peterloo massacre was the radical poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822).  Shelley was living in Italy when the news reached him.  In response he drafted his, now famous, poem ‘The Masque of Anarchy’.  According to Shelley ‘the torrent of my indignation’ flowed into the work and throughout his anger is tangible. 

The poem gives an apocalyptic vision of a Regency England in political crisis.  Shelley describes several monstrous creatures riding upon horses wearing masks that look like leading politicians.  Taken together they personify murder, hypocrisy, and fraud and they parade a final beast: anarchy.  The poem then describes a ‘maniac maid’ called Hope, though ‘she looked more like Despair’.  Like the protestors at St Peter’s Fields,  Hope is about to be trampled under the horse’s hooves when ‘a Shape arrayed in mail’ rises to defeat the monstrous creatures.  ‘A great Assembly…Of the fearless and the free’ is then described, like the crowd at Peterloo, and a voice is heard advocating freedom and imploring the people to rise up for liberty.  Famously, the poem ends with the rallying cry:

‘Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number—
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many—they are few.’


Percy Bysshe Shelley, 'The Masque of Anarchy' autograph draftPercy Bysshe Shelley, 'The Masque of Anarchy' autograph draft, 1819. Ashley MS 4086 Noc

                 
The British Library holds the original manuscript of Shelley’s ‘The Masque of Anarchy’. It was never published in his lifetime. After writing the poem, Shelley sent a copy of it to his friend Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) who felt that it could not be published safely following government censorship in the aftermath of Peterloo. Others also refused to publish the poem and it did not come out in print until 1832.

Alexander Lock
Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
Peterloo
'The Masque of Anarchy’

 

06 August 2019

Indian Police exams August 1919

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August being the month of national GCSE and ‘A’-level results, today’s post is about a set of examinations taken exactly a century ago.

After the end of the First World War it was widely recognised that demobilised servicemen needed to be found suitable employment.  In 1919-20 the India Office collaborated with the Civil Service Commission to offer a set number of places in the higher grades of the Indian Police Force to British subjects of good character born between June 1894 and August 1900 who had served in the conflict.

Indian Police group photographPolice group at Dera Ghazi Khan 1924 Photo 348/(29) Images Online Noc

They did not, however, take in simply anyone who applied. The candidates were required to sit five papers in English, arithmetic and general knowledge, over nine hours in total, on 28 and 29 August 1919, and were expressly forbidden from trying to bring any undue influence to bear on the results:

‘Warning. Any attempt on the part of a candidate to enlist support for his application through Members of Parliament or other influential persons will disqualify him for appointment …'.

The English tests included making a 250-word precis of four pages of text, answering questions on extracts from Dickens and Sheridan, and writing an essay on one of the following:

1. Popularity as a test of merit.
2. The value of camouflage in military operations.
3. The advantages and drawbacks of official appointments in India, as compared with Home appointments.
4. An appreciation of President Wilson, or Mr Lloyd George, or M. Clemenceau.

Four out of twelve questions had to be chosen in the two hour general knowledge paper, such as

        How has the war affected the position of women?
        To what extent is the United Kingdom dependent on imported food supplies?
        Discuss the importance of the establishment of a Ministry of Health.
        Compare the constitution and powers of the House of Lords with those of the House of Commons.
        Describe the position and importance of the ex-German colonies.

The (anonymous) examiners marked the papers from A+ to C-.  A total of 70 brave applicants took the examinations, of whom 52 were selected for interview. While the answers submitted have not survived, the leading candidate was undoubtedly J.E. Reid, whose efforts garnered a range of A grades (including the only A+ awarded, for general knowledge), whereas the hapless A.R. Anderson and E.T. Everett could only muster a variety of C’s.  The examiners considered E.I. Wynne-Jones’s essays worthy of only a C+, but he managed A’s and A-‘s in everything else.  Mercifully B.M. Mahony, E. Allenby-Peters and W.N.C. Scott never knew how close they came to passing, their mix of B and B- grades just failing to better the efforts of F.W. Cresswell, R.A. Foucar and R.W. Jewett, who each gained one precious B+.

Little is known of the careers of the successful candidates, but let us hope that Mr. Reid’s opinion of President Wilson, and his knowledge of former German colonies, later helped him to catch lots of criminals in India.

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services Team Leader

Further reading:
IOR/L/PJ/6/1631, file 6510

04 July 2019

The Theatre Censors Part 1: George Colman

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Stage productions had been censored since the Tudor era but the Stage Licensing Act of 1737 established a procedure of theatre censorship overseen by the Office of the Lord Chamberlain.  Most of the work was carried out by an official reader, the Examiner of Plays.

The Examiner of Plays wielded a substantial amount of power. The theatre was a powerful means of communication and the censors decided the limits of creative licence, often influenced by their own moral, religious and political leanings.

The British Library’s collection of manuscripts for plays submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office for licensing begins in 1824 when playwright and theatre manager George Colman was appointed Examiner of Plays.

Portrait of George Colman the YoungerGeorge Colman the Younger, unknown artist, early 19th century NPG D16212 © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG CC By

Colman was particularly concerned by political themes in plays, dictated, in part, by the tumultuous times in which he was working.  The government wished to repress radical reformist politics and passed new laws meting out harsher punishments for publishing blasphemous and seditious works.  Colman was quick to deny authors the chance to show their plays if he deemed them politically dangerous.

We can see how tough Colman was by his reaction to Mary Russell Mitford’s play, Charles the First, when it was submitted to him in 1825.

First folio of Mary Russell Mitford’s play Charles the First  Add MS 42873, f.415. First folio of Mary Russell Mitford’s play Charles the First 

If we look at the entry in the Lord Chamberlain’s Office Day Book we can see that the play was refused a licence.

Mary Russell Mitford’s play Charles the First is refused a licence Add MS 53702, Lord Chamberlain’s Office Day Books, 1824-1852 - Mary Russell Mitford’s play Charles the First is refused a licence

Although, Mitford believed her play to be a favourable portrait of King Charles I, it was refused a licence.  Colman wrote to the Lord Chamberlain:  ‘…Charles the First (of England) – brings, instantly to mind the violent commotions & catastrophes of that unhappy Monarch’s reign…the piece abounds (blasphemously, I think) with Scriptural allusions & quotations, & invoked over & over again, by hypocrites, & regicides’.

Extract from Colman's letter to Lord ChamberlainAdd MS 42873, f.408

As the threat of revolution was in the air, Colman deemed Mitford’s representation of the execution of a King far too dangerous to allow on stage.  The Lord Chamberlain agreed.  Colman’s reply to the theatre owner was casually dismissive: ‘I have less regret in communicating this intelligence as I think you might have anticipated it’.

Mitford’s response to her censor showed that Colman had already threatened to censor her next project: ‘I shall not now meddle with Henry the Second – especially as I believe that I perceive the reason which induces you to think the subject is a bad one’.

Mary Russell Mitford’s letter to ColmanAdd MS 42873, f.413

Mitford realised that themes of conflict and betrayal against authority were never going to pass the censor and so decided not to pursue her project, exercising self-censorship.  Colman’s reputation as a harsh judge meant that authors often chose not to test him, as it was likely they would fail to receive a play licence. 

To the dismay of many playwrights, Colman continued to hold the office of Examiner of Plays until his death in 1836.  Until the end, he proved dedicated to his cause and many playwrights after Mitford were refused the right to produce their plays.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
J. R. Stephens, The Censorship of English Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980)
Add MS 42865- 43038, Plays submitted to the Lord Chamberlain's Office for licensing under the provisions of the Acts regulating the performance of stage plays
Add MS 53702-53708, Chamberlain’s Office Day Books. Registers of plays received in the Lord Chamberlain’s office

 

25 June 2019

The Revolutions of 1848: an English translation of Russian socialist Alexander Herzen

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A radical political thinker known as the ‘father of Russian socialism’, Alexander Herzen (1812-1870) witnessed first-hand the democratic and liberal revolutions that swept through Europe in 1848. Leaving Russia for Paris in 1847, Herzen soon became disillusioned with the uprisings which sought to replace European monarchies with republican government, but which resulted in the deaths and exile of thousands of people. His collection of essays ‘From the Other Shore’ explores the failures of the revolution. Originally written in Russian and sent to his friends in Moscow, he described the work as ‘a record of a strife in which I have sacrificed many things, but not the boldness of knowledge’ (‘To my Son’, Add MS 89364/1).

Title page of the Two Shores manuscriptThe Two Shores’, title page, Add MS 89364/1

The British Library has recently acquired an English manuscript translation from the late 19th century entitled ‘The Two Shores’. Although unpublished and unsigned, the translation can been attributed to the English suffragist and writer Lady Jane Maria Strachey (1840-1928). A letter addressed to Strachey by her friend Mlle Souvestre refers to her translation of Herzen’s work (29 October 1874, 9/27/G/064, Strachey Letters, The Women’s Library, LSE) and this particular manuscript was sold from the papers of her son, Giles Lytton Strachey, in 2015.

Strachey was an active feminist with a keen interest in politics. She moved in literary and political circles that included George Eliot and the leader of the women’s suffrage movement, Millicent Fawcett. Bold and forward thinking, it is easy to see why Herzen’s essays appealed to Strachey. Her translation begins with Herzen’s address to his son Alexander, in which the revolutionary spirit of the work is clear:

‘I am not afraid of placing in your young hands the protest – at times bold to rashness – of an independent mind against a system which is obsolete servile & lying, against those absurd idols of former times which are now stripped of all meaning and are ending their days in our midst,
hindering some and terrifying others’.

Manuscript draft of Herzen's address to his son‘To my Son’, Add MS 89364/2. Reproduced with permission from The Society of Authors as agents of The Strachey Trust.

Another passage articulates Herzen’s continued faith in socialist and individualist ideals – not dissimilar to Strachey’s own – despite his disappointment in the liberal revolutionaries:

‘… do not remain upon the shore of the old world – better perish, than seek safety in the hospital of re-action. Faith in a future social organisation is the only religion I bequeath you, it offers no paradise, & no rewards but those of our own Conscience’.

Covers of the German and French editionsGerman and French editions: Add MSS 89364/3 and 89364/4

Acquired with the manuscript were the first printed edition of Herzen’s work, a German copy ‘Vom anderen Ufer’, published in Hamburg in 1850, and a French translation ‘De l’autre rive’ (Geneva, 1871). The French edition was the source for this translation, which appears in draft form and was seemingly never published. Indeed, the first English translation of ‘From the Other Shore’ was not published until 1956. In this case Strachey’s translation – if it is by her – is likely to be the earliest translation of Herzen’s essays into English.

As well as providing an insight into the translation process, then, this manuscript and its accompanying volumes also reveal the radical political reading of an important figure in the British feminist movement. It further hints at Herzen’s engagement with British intellectuals in London, where he lived during the 1850s and 60s, and the reception of his writing in British political thought.

Further reading:

All translations cited are from 'The Two Shores', an English manuscript translation of Alexander Herzen's ‘From The Other Shore’, Add MS 89364

Alexander Herzen, From the other Shore, translated from the Russian by Moura Budberg; and The Russian People and Socialism: an open letter to Jules Michelet, translated from the French by Richard Wollheim; with an introduction by Isaiah Berlin (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1956)

On Jane Maria Strachey, see: R. Vetch, ‘Strachey, Sir Richard (1817–1908), scientist and administrator in India’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) [accessed 28 May 2019]

By Sara Hale
Heritage Made Digital and Modern Archives and Manuscripts

16 May 2019

Celebrating King Edward VIII’s Birthday at the Bahrain Political Agency

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On 23 June 1936 the Bahrain Political Agency held an official ceremony in celebration of King Edward VIII’s birthday. Announcing it as an official holiday, the Agency made a series of arrangements to mark the occasion. It is clear that the Agency was keen to make the occasion as inclusive and organised as it could be. Arabic invitation cards were ordered from the Times Press Limited at Baghdad and Basra.

Letter from the Times Press Limited about order for Arabic invitation cards IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 30

Arabic document connected to order for invitation cards IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 32

The Agency sent personal invitations to members of the Bahrain Government including Shaikhs ‘Abdullah bin ‘Isa and Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa.

Personal invitation to member of the Bahrain Government IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 37

Messrs Jashanmal (now Jashanmal Department Stores, Bahrain) supplied the Agency with refreshments including Nice biscuits, sherbet, chocolate, crystallised cherries, and Mackintosh toffees. Whereas Messrs Ashraf Brothers (now Ashrafs W.L.L.) supplied coffee, rose water, nuts and plates.

Order to Messrs Jashanmal for refreshments IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 43 
 

Order to Messrs Ashraf Brothers for coffee, rose water, nuts and plates.IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 44

To ensure everyone’s loyalty to the British Crown, the Agency invited representatives of various ethnic and religious communities living in Bahrain including Arabs, Persians, Hindu and Jewish. Indeed this could also display a British attempt to show an inclusive policy towards everyone in Bahrain.

List of names of people delivering speechesIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 60

A list of names was circulated among the invitees. In turn, each invitee left a note near his name either to confirm or apologise. In some cases, certain individuals sent letters of apology, like the one sent by Mr ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Qusaibi.

List of names circulated among the inviteesIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 48

Letter of apology from Mr ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-QusaibiIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 45

On the day, the Agency received its special guests by placing a guard of honour to wait for them at the door. After serving coffee and other refreshments, a number of invitees read out their letters of congratulation. The assistants of the heads of the Manama and Muharraq Municipalities read out the letters on behalf of their municipalities.

Letter of congratulation IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 54

Letter of congratulationIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 55

Others read out their letters on behalf of their companies or communities. These include Mullah Hasan bin al-Shaikh al-Majed, representing the Arab Bahrainis; Ghanshamdas Dhamanmal Isardas, representing the Hindu; and Mir Daoud Rouben, representing the Jewish community in Bahrain.
 

Letter of congratulation IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 58

Letter of congratulationIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 59

Further, both Haji Abdun Nabi Bushehri, representing the Iranian Shi‘a community; and Haji Muhammad Tayeb Khunji, representing the Iranian Sunni community read out their tabriknameh [congratulation letters] in Persian.

Letter of congratulationIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 56

Letter of congratulationIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 57

The language used in these letters reflected the purpose of the invitation in the first place. The letters were in praise of the British Empire, and all wishing King Edward VIII to live long and be prosperous. The similarity of their wordings display nothing but loyalty to the British Crown. Ironically, only six months after the occasion, Edward VIII abdicated on 11 December 1936 and soon his loyalty to the British Crown became a matter of dispute among many.

Ula Zeir
Content Specialist/ Arabic Language
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Further reading
IOR/R/15/2/1663 'File 20/1- Vol: III Ceremonial and Celebrations: New Year's and King's Birthday's Celebrations.'
Edward VIII

23 April 2019

Map showing Air Force of the USSR, 1939

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In a previous blog post, I noted that the files of the India Office contain many different kinds of maps, although not always of India.  Another fascinating example, marked ‘Secret’, is a map showing the strength and distribution of USSR Air Forces in 1939.

Cover of file on the order of battle of the Red Air Force IOR/L/WS/1/130 Noc

The map is in a file in the series of War Staff Papers in the India Office Records on the subject of the order of battle of the Red Air Force.  The War Staff was a section within the Military Department of the India Office, formed by the Military Secretary on the outbreak of war in 1939.  Routine military matters continued to be dealt with as normal by Military Department staff, while all administrative arrangements relating to the war were handled by the War Staff.

Distribution map of Soviet Air Force IOR/L/WS/1/130 Distribution map of Soviet Air Force Noc

The situation in the summer of 1939 would have looked very bleak indeed and the drift towards war seemingly unstoppable.  On 23 August 1939, a German Soviet Non-Aggression Pact was signed in Moscow by Soviet foreign minister Molotov and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.  In September 1939, Germany and Russia invaded Poland, dividing the country between them.  Information on the strength and position of the enemy’s armed forces was therefore vital in defence preparations.  However, access to information was tightly controlled and the first page of the file lists the names of those who were to see it. 

Document about Central Asiatic Military DistrictIOR/L/WS/1/130 Central Asiatic Military District Noc

The file contains tables of information analysing the strength of the Russian air force, such as the number and type of aircraft, and where they were stationed.  The map accompanies this analysis, and understandably shows the bulk of the Russian air force stationed along the European border.  However, the India Office would presumably have been particularly interested in the 58 aircraft stationed at Tashkent, and the 105 aircraft stationed at Baku, the places closest to India’s northern border.

Detail of map showing European borderIOR/L/WS/1/130 Detail of map showing European border Noc

Detail of map showing Indian border IOR/L/WS/1/130 Detail of map showing Indian border Noc

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
USSR: Order of battle of the Red Air Force, 1939 [Reference IOR/L/WS/1/130]

 

29 March 2019

Colours of the Royal East India Volunteers

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The British Library is celebrating the completion of a four-year project to conserve two unique but badly degraded silk flags dating from the 1790s.

 Colours of Royal East India Volunteers after conservation  Colours of Royal East India Volunteers after conservation (Foster 1068 and Foster 1069) - image © British Library Board

The flags are a set of colours belonging to the Royal East India Volunteers formed by the East India Company in London during the French Wars to protect East India House and the Company warehouses ‘against hazard from insurrections and tumults’ and to assist the City government in times of disorder. 

The REIV were embodied at two separate periods, from 1796 to 1814 and then from 1820 to 1834.  The field officers were elected from Company directors, and commissioned officers were recruited from clerks and officials at East India House and the warehouses.  The supervisory grades in the warehouses became non-commissioned officers who led labourers serving as privates. By 1799 there were three regiments with about 1500 men.  A register of labourers in the REIV soldiers 1820-1832 has survived giving age, height, home address, reason for discharge from the corps.  Some men were discharged because training clashed with their warehouse duties or secondary afternoon jobs. Others were judged unfit to serve – Charles Twort was discharged for having bad feet and corns.

'The Leadenhall volunteer, drest in his shawl' by James Gillray'The Leadenhall volunteer, drest in his shawl' by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 8 March 1797 NPG D12480 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Each REIV regiment had a set of colours.  It appears that Lady Jane Dundas embroidered all three sets. Her husband Henry Dundas wrote to Company director David Scott on 4 November 1796 that Lady Jane had taken a fancy that she ought to work a pair of colours for the East India Corps and that she needed instructions. Lady Jane presented the colours at three public ceremonies in April 1797, July 1797, and June 1799.

Consecration of colours which Lady Jane Dundas presented to the Third Regiment of Royal East India Volunteers at Lord's Cricket Ground on 29 June 1799Consecration of colours which Lady Jane Dundas presented to the Third Regiment of Royal East India Volunteers at Lord's Cricket Ground on 29 June 1799.  The watercolour by Henry Matthews is part of the British Library’s Visual Arts collections (WD2425). It is reproduced in William Griggs, Relics of the Honourable East India Company (1909).

One set of colours was presented to the re-embodied REIV on 14 June 1821. When the REIV was finally disbanded in 1834, these colours were deposited in the museum at East India House. Sir George Birdwood found the colours later in the 19th century at the India Store Depôt at Lambeth and placed them in the Military Committee Room at the India Office in Whitehall.  They were still on display in Whitehall as late as 1963. 

Photograph of the Military Committee Room, India Office, Whitehall  Photograph of the Military Committee Room, India Office, Whitehall  (BL, Photo 272). The colours can be seen in a degraded state unfurled above the door.

In 1895 the colours were lent to Empire of India Exhibition at Earl’s Court.  The catalogue described them as ‘tattered and torn in the most approved fashion but no tale of glory hangs thereby. Only in marches and reviews in London Fields did these colours wave to the breeze, and damp and the ravages of rats and mice are responsible for their present condition’.

Colours of Royal East India Volunteers before conservation Colours of Royal East India Volunteers before conservation (Foster 1068 and Foster 1069) - image © British Library Board

The colours had become fragile, fragmentary and soiled. Large areas of silk loss made the flags very hard to interpret. Surprisingly, the complex embroideries which decorated the centre of the flags were predominately intact although structurally very weak.

Colours of Royal East India Volunteers before conservation Colours of Royal East India Volunteers before conservation (Foster 1068 and Foster 1069) - image © British Library Board

The conservation treatment of these two flags included: surface cleaning; removal of the central embroideries; wet cleaning; crease removal; mounting on a padded board covered by a digitally printed image of the flag to enable interpretation and covering with a specially dyed nylon net which prevents the loss of the fragmentary silk.

The conservation will enable access, display and research by ensuring the longevity of these precious and important flags.

Liz Rose, Textile Conservator, and Margaret Makepeace, Lead Curator East India Company Records

Further reading:
William Foster, The East India House (1924), chapter XII.
Margaret Makepeace, The East India Company's London Workers: Management of the Warehouse Labourers, 1800-1858 (2010), chapter 6.
The Empire of India Exhibition – Illustrated official catalogue (1895).
C H Philips, The correspondence of David Scott Vol 1 1787-1799 (1951), p.88.
James D. Geddes, Colours of British Regiments (2002).

 

Conservator Liz Rose standing with Royal East India Volunteer colours

Come behind the scenes and meet those involved in this project on Tuesday 2 April at our Textile Conservation Show and Tell.

 

12 February 2019

Countess Waldegrave and Baron Carlingford, part 2: The Breakfast Club and 'the Irish Question'

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Stephen Noble continues to explore the lives of Countess Waldegrave and Baron Carlingford in this second of two blog posts. The correspondence and papers of this fascinating couple were acquired by the British Library in 2016 and are now available to be viewed in our Manuscripts Reading Room.

Chichester Samuel Parkinson-Fortescue was born 18 January 1823 in County Louth, Ireland, and became MP representing the County in 1847. He met Countess Waldegrave in 1849 and was devoted to her from the start. They eventually married in 1863.

Portrait photograph of CarlingfordChichester Samuel Parkinson-Fortescue, Baron Carlingford and 2nd Baron Clermont by Lock & Whitfield, published by Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington. Woodburytype, published 1883. NPG Ax17696. Used under Creative Commons Licence.

Countess Waldegrave supported Fortescue in his political career and was at the time widely regarded as the main cause of his rise through the Liberal Party, and his prominent roles in the Liberal governments of the late 19th century. The parties they hosted at Strawberry Hill were an opportunity for the top politicians of the day to network, and for Countess Waldegrave to influence the political conversation. Fortescue served as Chief Secretary for Ireland, President of the Board of Trade and Lord Privy Seal, and took his place in the Cabinet in 1868 in no small part thanks to Countess Waldegrave’s lobbying of Gladstone on his behalf.

Selections of letter spread out into a fanSelected correspondence of Lady Waldegrave, Add MS 89287/1/3/6

Fortescue was a member of a group called ‘The Breakfast Club’. This was a group of about a dozen leading political figures who met once a week for Breakfast, where discussion included Whig politics and Whig literary culture. Fortescue was by disposition more of a traditional Whig thinker than a Liberal one, and these meetings were a place to forge useful political connections with figures including Lord Aberdare (a Home Secretary under Gladstone), Thomas Erskine May (Chief Clerk to the House of Commons and author of an authoritative work on the British Constitution), and Lord Dufferin (Viceroy of India).

Handwritten Letter from Chichester Parkinson-Fortescue to Henry BruceLetter from Chichester Parkinson-Fortescue to Henry Bruce, later Lord Aberdare, 15 December 1870, Add MS 89287/2/2/1. Permission kindly given by Charles Strachey, 4th Baron O'Hagan.

Ireland was a central feature throughout Fortescue’s political career. He was first appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1865, and returned to the role in 1868. He was also made a member of the Irish Privy Council in 1866. In this time he drew up, and helped pass, some important pieces of legislation, including the Irish Church Act (1869) which disestablished the Anglican Church in Ireland. Vanity Fair commented at the time ‘it is fortunate that the new order of ideas should have been introduced under the guidance of one who knows so well as he the necessities of the country’. However, he was not rewarded for his work by the voters of County Louth, who voted him out in the 1874 election. He was immediately given the title Baron Carlingford and continued to play a role in front line politics from the House of Lords.

Oil painting of Gladstone's cabinet sitting around a tableGladstone's Cabinet of 1868 by Lowes Cato Dickinson. Oil on canvas, 1869-1874. NPG 5116. Used under Creative Commons License. (Chichester Parkinson-Fortescue is 5th from the left).

Ireland was a hotly debated political issue during this period. Legislation became difficult to pass with divisions arising between parties, and between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. For Baron Carlingford, it was the question of Irish Home Rule that led to his eventual split from Gladstone’s Liberal Party, aligning himself instead with the Liberal Unionists in 1886.

The correspondence and papers of Countess Waldegrave and Baron Carlingford (Add MS 89287) are now available to be viewed in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Stephen Noble
Modern Archives and Manuscripts