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Margot Asquith's Great War Diary 1914-1916: The View from Downing Street [Hardcover]

Michael Brock , Eleanor Brock
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Jun 2014
Margot Asquith was the wife of Herbert Henry Asquith, the Liberal Prime Minister who led Britain into war in August 1914. Asquith's early war leadership drew praise from all quarters, but in December 1916 he was forced from office in a palace coup, and replaced by Lloyd George, whose career he had done so much to promote. Margot had both the literary gifts and the vantage point to create, in her diary of these years, a compelling record of her husband's fall from grace. She once described herself as 'a sort of political clairvoyant', but she did not anticipate the premier's fall, and it is for her candour, not her clairvoyance, that the diary is valuable.

Margot was both a spectator of, and a participant in, the events that she describes, and in public affairs could be an ally or an embarrassment - sometimes both. Her diary evokes the wartime milieu, as experienced in 10 Downing Street, and describes the great political battles that lay behind the warfare on the Western Front. Her writing teems with character sketches, including those of Lloyd George ('a natural adventurer who may make or mar himself any day'), Churchill ('Winston's vanity is septic'), and Kitchener ('a man brutal by nature and by pose'). Witty and worldly, Margot also possessed a childlike vulnerability: 'This is the 84th day of the war' she wrote in October 1914, 'and speaking for myself I have never felt the same person since. I don't mean to say I have improved! On the contrary...'.

This volume brings together a wealth of previously-unpublished source material with an introductory essay from Michael and Eleanor Brock, two of the leading authorities in the field. This will be vital reading for anyone with an interest in the history of World War I or in British politics of the time.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 568 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (26 Jun 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198229771
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198229773
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 4.6 x 16 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 23,839 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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In a mass of new volumes on the First World War, Margot Asquith's diaries stand out. (Oldie)

This is one diary that pulls no punches. (Steve Craggs, Northern Echo)

The diaries start with the lead-up to war and end with the fall of the last Liberal government and David Lloyd Georges extraordinary coup against the prime minister. Mrs Asquith is well placed to watch it all. Michael and Eleanor Brock have done a fine job as editors. Their footnotes signpost all the major events of the great war and provide the reader with some delicious quotes. (Economist)

[A] beautiful work of conjugal editorship by Eleanor Brock and her late husband. (Miranda Seymour, Daily Mail)

Almost every page of her diary carries an interesting remark. The introduction is a model of its kind, setting people and events in context in masterly fashion. (Johnny Grimond, The Spectator)

They may not constitute the most important historical work published in this centenary year, but by a country mile they are the most entertaining. (Max Hastings, Sunday Times)

Michael and Eleanor Brock have edited Margot's writing with meticulous academic precision. This diary is an invaluable and fascinating text, and we must be thankful to the Brocks for producing it. (Jane Ridley, Literary Review)

Reading these diaries has been a pleasure enhanced by its editors, who have set the stage and introduced the cast with lucidity and scholarship. (The Times)

In the present torrent of books about the Great War, this deserves to stand out. (New Statesman)

This book offers a first-hand insight into what was happening, from the perspective of someone who was at the centre of things ... Once it's on the library shelves it will be worth taking down. (Methodist Recorder)

About the Author

Michael Brock is a modern historian, educationalist, and Oxford college head; he was Vice-President of Wolfson College; Director of the School of Education at Exeter University; Warden of Nuffield College, Oxford; and Warden of St George's House, Windsor Castle; he is the author of The Great Reform Act, and co-editor, with Mark Curthoys, of the two nineteenth-century volumes in the History of the University of Oxford. With his wife, Eleanor Brock, a former schoolteacher, he edited the acclaimed OUP edition H. H. Asquith: Letters to Venetia Stanley.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Margot Asquith's Great War Diary 30 Jun 2014
Margot Asquith's diary of the opening years of World War I paints a vivid picture of life at the top of British politics from 1914 until her husband's fall from power in 1916.

Sometimes perceptive in her judgement of people and events, but often very wide of the mark, she was deeply (but not always helpfully) loyal to both Asquith and the Liberal cause, which she (and he) saw as being virtually identical and inseparable.

Mostly written alongside the events described, sometimes delayed when time pressed, her writing conveys great immediacy and personal belief to the reader. It is liberally supplied with fascinating, verbatim snippets of conversations with the elite, much as we learn her own conversation was sometimes indiscreet when talking with those who were social friends but political rivals.

We gain the most intimate possible view of the key moments in the final years of Asquith's premiership, from the outbreak of war to parliamentary triumphs such as the imposition of the naval blockade of Germany in response to the ruthless U-Boat policy against even neutral shipping. There is political and party political turmoil over the formation of the wartime Coalition and the introduction of conscription, with both of which Margot (as a staunch Liberal) strongly disagreed.

Within the national tragedy come the deaths of friends, cousins and Asquith's personal loss of his brilliant son Raymond, Margot's step-son, killed at the Somme, and the damage to Asquith's reputation as a war leader when a speech publically revealed his ignorance of the truth about munitions shortages affecting the British army in France. Asquith's eventual fall from office is shocking to both husband and wife as an event that neither of them could ever truly imagine.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For all its flaws and misunderstandings, Margot Asquith's diary remains an important primary source for the period 1914 - 1916, and its accessibility in this published edition is to be welcomed.

The real gem of this book, however, is Michael Brock's wise and erudite 127-page Introduction. This would stand future republication as a stand-alone monograph and would serve as a key text on Great Britain's entry into the Great War and its role therein until Asquith's political fall in 1916.

Taken together, the important primary source of Margot Asquith's diaries, and Brock's Introduction, make this book a must-have for those interested in Britain and the Great War.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In Defence of Her Husband 28 Jun 2014
By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
Read these edited diaries if you enjoy gossip, occasional wit and the acid comments of a wife trying to defend her much loved husband, loved despite his many affairs (she had many before her marriage). But take most of her criticisms of generals annd politicians with a large pinch of salt for they are for the most part misplaced and horribly biased. This is a shame because for a time Margot was literally at the heart of government. She could have left an enormously important record of events.

To understand her bitterness and caustic wit it is necessary to recall the record of Herbert, her husband, while he was Prime Minister. Margot was Herbert's second wife. He was a staunch Liberal, a compassionate and warm human being. He did well in the domestic politics field but, unfortunately, he was not cut out to run a war, particularly one like that which erupted in 1914. He lacked the dynamism, drive and ruthlessness to wage a Great War, and the senior military plus his political opponents knew it; so did Margot but she would never admit it in public.

Herbert held dear the values of Victorian Liberalism. He hated war and, therefore, conscription which his wife described as' stupid unEnglish coercion'. As the casualty lists became longer and longer he became bitter and frustrated; his only son and many friends were killed, including the Grenfell brothers.

Herbert came under fire as the possibility of a quick victory receded. His detractors, who included the Times and The Daily Mail, attacked him over his running of the war, in particular the shell crisis and the badly planned and disastrous Gallipoli venture.

As the criticisms mounted, Margot hit back with withering comments in her diaries about stupid politicians and generals.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 7 Aug 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
very good thank you
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