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Margot Asquith's Great War Diary 1914-1916: The View from Downing Street Hardcover – 26 Jun 2014

3.9 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 568 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; First Edition edition (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 (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 375,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


This book is full of minor gems, throwing light on the extraordinary domestic bubble within which the wartime premier operated... the editors have provided us with a rollicking good read! (Journal of Liberal History, David Dutton)

Mrs. Asquith's diaries are both entertainingly and splendidly edited by the late Michael Brock and his wife Eleanor and copious footnotes add hugely to the context, accuracy, and frequent inaccuracy, of the writings. Perhaps even more valuable than Margot's own record is the editors' 147-page introduction and its corrective to the reputation of her husband Herbert, and the events of his wartime premiership and government. (Stand-To: Magazine of The Western Front Association, David Filsell)

The diaries may be 100 years old, but political life has changed little, it seems. (Suffolk & Norfolk Life, Chris Green)

Margot Asquith's long-awaited Great War Diary 1914-16 edited by Michael and Eleanor Brock takes the lid of No. 10 during Asquith's difficult wartime premiership, and gives a compelling picture of Liberal England and the belle epoque in meltdown under the nightmare stresses of a war that no one could have predicted or planned for. (Jane Ridley, Book of the Year 2014, Spectator)

The diaries never cease to entertain, and they turn out to be remarkably enlightening too. (London Review of Books, Ferdinand Mount)

Lovingly edited (Andy McSmith, Independent)

Sharply observant, witty, tactless, idiosyncratic, lacking in judgment, acerbic, invariably wrong headed in her loudly voiced opinions, Margot Asquith, was a peerless diarist. With her ringside seat as the wife of the Prime Minister, H. H Asquith, her writing adds an incomparable dimension to our understanding of politics and society during the First World War, its heroes and its incompetents. Superb. (Juliet Gardiner)

Margot Asquith's Great War Diary provides lively and outspoken comments on many of the leading personalities of the era. (Ronald Quinault, History Today)

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 was 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. Michael Brock died in April 2014.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
good but some sun tan on the pages .
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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's hard to rate this book because I'm not sure what I should be evaluating it against; as diaries or as history?

As political diaries, they don't compared to those of Chips Channon, Duff Cooper, Harold Nicolson or Charles Greville (for example). They are not as interesting (or maybe gossipy) but suffer above all from Margot's almost incredible ability to be wrong in her assessments of other political figures and events.

As history, even though I consider myself well read on the topic, I learned a couple of very interesting things from the quite brilliant Introduction by the late Michael Brock. First, that a major cause of Grey's apparent vacillation on whether to declare war was the fact that the Belgians themselves declared that they would not invoke their treaty rights if Germany only committed a 'minor violation' of their territory (the southern corner), so it wasn't until it was clear that the Germans intended to go through Liege that King Albert did so. Second, while more of a benefit than deliberate policy, Kitchener fully appreciated that delaying the deployment of his New Army until he considered it to be ready to achieve victory in 1916 would substantially increase Britain's position at the subsequent peace negotiations. Which provides some substance to later French accusations of 'fighting to the last Frenchman' and was a policy deliberately copied by Pershing for the same reasons.

But my main learning was that based on these Diaries, the so-called 'strange death of Liberal England' that we used to discuss at university was not strange at all; their leadership was anachronistic and out of date, their two most vital components (Churchill and Lloyd George) essentially opportunists.
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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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