Lot 51
Venetia Stanley transcribes PM Asquith's letters

Estimate: $1,000 - $1,500

Have one like this?

About this Lot

Herbert Henry ASQUITH, Earl of Oxford and Asquith (1852-1928). – Venetia STANLEY (1887-1948). 8pp. of autograph transcriptions in ink by Stanley of portions of letters written to her by Asquith, with occasional penciled emendations by a second hand: transcribed by Venetia in 1919 or later (?), but the extracts are from letters dated between 8th and 24th July 1914, the pages are numbered from 3-10. (Old folds, some browning and staining, pp. ‘1’ and ‘2’ are not present).  

A reminder of the extraordinary situation at the heart of the British government at the start of World War I: the Prime Minister provided a running commentary on events (which should probably/certainly have been top secret) in a long series of letters to a woman who was (possibly) his mistress and certainly a confidante and un-official advisor. She went on to marry a Liberal MP who was a protégé of Asquith’s, and have a number of affairs with a number of prominent public figures, including, allegedly, Lord Beaverbrook.

 The present transcriptions are from two possible sources. It looks like Venetia Stanley at various times produced two lots of copies of Asquith's letters to her: 1. for Asquith and 2. for Lord Beaverbrook. M. & E. Brock, note in 'H.H. Asquith Letters to Venetia Stanley' (OUP: 1985) that 'When Asquith ... was preparing his 'Memories and Reflections' ... he asked some of his women friends to lend him letters which might help with his narrative. Venetia had a typed copy prepared for him. She reproduced what she called "extracts from Mr.A's letters leaving out the sentimentalities"’ , or, 'By 1919 Venetia was reported to be [Lord Beaverbrook's]... mistress, and at various times she made extracts from the Letters for him...' (pp.615-616)

 The Brooks note that 'There are thus two sets of extracts in Beaverbrook MSS [House of Lords], G/9. The earlier ones are largely in Venetia's hand…. The later set consists of the typescript [prepared for Asquith]' (p.617)

 The short period covered by these letters was historically important from two points of view: the 'Irish question' and the fall-out from the assassination of Arch-Duke Ferdinand in Sarajavo. The extracts end with the prophetic 'we are within measurable distance of a real Armageddon' - this is Venetia's edited version (and was as used by Asquith in his 'Memories...'). However, the original letter continues 'Happily there seems to be no reason why we should be anything more than spectators. But it is a blood-curdling prospect - is it not?' – the resonance with today’s situation is worrying.

 Provenance: accompanied by a typed transcription, with a note that the papers were found "in a blitzed house in 1943 by Mr P. Carmody. Page 1 was missing when found".).

Some extracts: on July 16th it has been decided that Asquith "should advise the King to intervene with the object of securing a pacific accommodation, through a Conference of the representatives of all parties concerned - both British and Irish"; the conference was held at Buckingham Palace 21st and on the 24th Asquith says that "the Conference broke down, and I announced to the House the terms of the Speaker 's rather bald and jejune report. The last meeting this morning was in some way dramatic tho' the actual business consisted merely in settling the words to be publicly used"; he also adds "At 3.15 we had a Cabinet, where there was a lot of vague talk about Ulster, but the real interest was Grey's statement of the European situation, which is about as bad as it can possibly be. Austria has sent a bullying and humiliating ultimatum to Servia, who cannot possibly comply with it, and demands an answer in 48 hours "failing which she will march. This means almost inevitably that Russia will come on the scene in defence of Servia [sic.], and if so it is difficult both for Germany and France to refrain from lending a hand. So that we are within measurable distance of a real Armageddon"

Click here for more information and to bid