Sunday, October 7, 2018

We had great fun

‘We had great fun. C. gave me a beautiful set of Barrie’s works for a birthday present. It is sweet of him, he was so keen about it, & it gives him such pleasure to give anyone a present. I was very touched. We hated leaving each other. C. said he might have been going to the war, judging from the parting we had.’ This is Frances Stevenson, born 130 years ago today, writing in her diary about the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George, soon to become prime minister. They were already illicit lovers, and would remain so until, eventually, after the death of his wife, they married. However, from very early on, Stevenson played a much larger role than just mistress in Lloyd George’s life.

Stevenson was born on 7 October 1888 in London, and was educated at Clapham High School and Royal Holloway College. After being employed as a teacher at a boarding school in Wimbledon, she went to work, in 1911, for David Lloyd George, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to coach his youngest daughter Megan. By 1913, however, she had become Lloyd George’s personal secretary, and his secret lover (Lloyd George having been married to Margaret Owen since 1888, with five children). In 1915, she fell pregnant by him, though she lost the baby, possibly through an abortion. Over time, she became a considerable power in the Lloyd George household. She was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1918, and the following year she accompanied Lloyd George to the Paris Peace Conference. She was responsible for organising the building of Lloyd George’s country home at Churt in Surrey.

In 1929, Stevenson gave birth to a daughter, Jennifer, though it is unknown whether Llolyd George was the father, or Thomas Frederic Tweed, with whom she was also having an affair. During the 1930s, she organised Lloyd George’s extensive archive which was necessary for the drafting of his war memoirs. After Margaret’s death, Lloyd George married Frances, but he lived only another 18 months. Thereafter, Frances - now titled Dowager Countess Lloyd-George of Dwyfor - continued to live at Churt and became involved in an array of projects aimed at perpetuating her late husband’s name and memory. She died in 1972. Further information is available from Wikipedia, a scandal-rich article in the Daily Mail, or the BBC.  Several biographies can be previewed at Googlebooks, for example If Love Were All by John Campbell and Frances, Countess Lloyd George: More Than a Mistress by her granddaughter Ruth Longford.

In the last years of her life, Lady Lloyd-George published two books: a memoir, Years That Are Past, and extracts from her diary, as edited by the eminent historian A.J.P. Taylor: Lloyd George: A Diary (Hutchinson and Co., 1971). She seems to have kept a diary from 1914 to 1944, though in the latter years the entries are far thinner than during Lloyd George’s politically active years. A few quotations from the diaries can be found at WikiQuotes. According to J. Graham Jones, writing for Cercles in 2011, Stevenson’s diaries were ‘heavily quarried’ for Lloyd George’s war memoirs ‘as a contemporary record of chronology, events and impressions’. (However, as far as I can tell, she and her diaries are barely mentioned in the six volumes - certainly never acknowledged as a source!)

Taylor, in his preface to the edited diaries, describes how he came to find the diary in the Beaverbrook Library, and how/why some parts of it may have been lost. He explains that, although the diary starts off as mainly a personal document, for a year two, ‘it is predominantly a political record in which Lloyd George bulks larger than events’. He calls the diary ‘a unique document - a claim often made but rarely with as much justification as in this case’ for ‘where else have we the detailed picture of a British prime minister by one who was at once his devoted mistress and his confidential secretary?’

See also other diarists who wrote about Lloyd George: Maurice Hankey (Dreadful meetings) and George Riddell (Riddell and Lloyd George). Meanwhile, here are several extracts from Stevenson’s diary taken from A.J.P. Taylor’s book (
both ‘C’ and ‘D’ refer to Lloyd George).

21 September 1914
‘Last Saturday was the Chancellor’s great speech on the War, at the Queen’s Hall. There is no doubt that it was a tremendous success, but C. was very depressed after it. He said the audience made him sick - they were far too stodgy and “comfortable” - “you had to talk your way through layers of fat”. He thought the meeting had not been a success, but the newspapers on Sunday put his mind at rest - most enthusiastic. They were loud in their praises this morning. Tory papers loudest of all. He laughed at the exuberance of The Times. “These people become almost sickly,” he remarked, “when one happens to fall in with their ideas.” Many people say it is the finest effort of his career. Masterman on Sunday [20 September] pronounced it “the finest speech in the history of England”.

C.’s colleagues in the Cabinet help to reassure him as to success of speech. The Prime Minister said with tears in his eyes that it was “a wonderful speech”. Sir Edward Grey said he wept when he read the peroration. C. is satisfied, but very tired.’

9 October 1914
‘Returned to the Office on October 7th, my birthday. On Tuesday C. turned in to see me, and we had a long chat together. He looked tired & worried at first, and I found that passing through Clapham had depressed him, calling up sad memories of Mair. He avoids Clapham as much as possible. He told me that Antwerp was in a bad way. The Govt, had that day decided to send some 20,000 men over to Ostend, in order to march on Antwerp and relieve it. They discovered however that the Admiralty had mined the sea right up to Ostend, making a landing impossible. The difficulty was to be overcome by sending a pilot ship with the troopships, & landing south of Ostend. The pilot ship to be supplied by the Admiralty. Some time after troops had started, it was discovered that the pilot ship had been forgotten, & that our troops were therefore in imminent danger of being blown up by our own mines. A torpedo-boat was therefore dispatched at full speed to recall troopships. This was done, & ships eventually re-started safely with pilot, but only after some hours delay. I fear they will not be able to save Antwerp. I cannot sleep for thinking of the horrible tortures that Belgium is undergoing.

On Wednesday C. went to Committee of Imperial Defence. It seems that Kitchener fears an attempted invasion as soon as the two armies are ‘stalemate’ in France. Both the P.M. and C. are convinced that this could not be successfully attempted.

C. & I had a very primitive dinner together at No. 11 (which is under repair) before C. departed for W.H.

Yesterday (Thursday) we dined again in the same primitive way. He was to have dined with Donald & friends, but decided to go straight to theatre instead. We had great fun. C. gave me a beautiful set of Barrie’s works for a birthday present. It is sweet of him, he was so keen about it, & it gives him such pleasure to give anyone a present. I was very touched. We hated leaving each other. C. said he might have been going to the war, judging from the parting we had.

Have not seen much of him today as he has been very busy in Board Room, with occasional flying visits in here. He has left for weekend at W.H. His last words. “Same address. ‘Virtuous’ - Walton Heath.”

Winston has returned from Antwerp, admitting failure, and blaming Kitchener & War Office for lack of foresight.’

13 April 1915 (Walton Heath)
‘Returned from Brighton this morning, & came on here this evening. Am waiting for C., who will not be here till late, as he has a dinner. He wrote me that his scheme for Drink was progressing, but that it would be a hard fight, & I am anxious to hear all about it from his own lips.

I had Muriel’s company for the weekend, as I got terribly lonely. But it was much brighter after she arrived, & we had a good time together. She was very frightened on Sunday [11 April] by the appearance of an airship, which we both thought was a Zeppelin, but as it went away without doing any damage we concluded we were mistaken.’

3 August 1916
‘Had a most exciting night. D. rang up about one o’clock, saying I had better go down to the cellar, as there was going to be an air raid on London. I asked him if he were going down too: he said yes. I put on some clothes & went out to see if there were anything to be seen, then sat & watched at the window for sometime on the chance of anything happening. About 2 D. rang up again to say it was all right, & I could go back to bed. “Where have you been?” I asked. “On the roof”, he replied, “but there was nothing to be seen!” ’

12 April 1917
‘D. made a magnificent speech at the American Luncheon Club. I heard the speeches tucked away behind a screen on the orchestra platform, with some of the wives of the American members. It was a great meeting, & they were most enthusiastic. I fear however that he will get another little note from the King on the undignified tone in which he spoke of “kings & their tricks!” After the speech D. & I drove down to Windsor as D. had to see H.M. about the Emperor of Austria’s letter. I had tea in the town while D. was at the Castle & then we drove back again together to Walton Heath. We were very happy. D. was in excellent spirits & very pleased with his speech.’

8 March 1919
‘Churchill arrived late last night from London, & breakfasted with the P.M. this morning. Full of his speech in the House on the Military Service Bill. He certainly does not lack self-confidence - in fact if he had a little less he might think a little more before he acts & speaks. One cannot help being fascinated by him, although I cannot bring myself to like him.’

19 April 1919
‘We intended to go for a tour round the devastated areas, starting this afternoon & spending the night at Amiens, & returning to Paris tomorrow night. At lunch time, however, D. returned & said it would be impossible as there would have to be a meeting this afternoon & tomorrow morning. Very disappointed, but still, ‘duty first’. Perhaps we shall be able to go for a short run tomorrow.

D. very tired after a heavy day & we dined very quietly & went to bed early. The Italian claims are giving a certain amount of trouble, the Italians being very obstinate. It is a difficult position, as we must stand by them & the Pact of London, though D. says they are making a mistake in pressing it. They on the other hand say that Germany promised them more than this if they remained neutral, & Orlando naturally feels that he cannot go back to Italy empty handed.’

27 November 1934
‘Had a marvellous morning hunting for holly with D. in the woods behind Old Bam. It was a divinely beautiful day, the little mauve clouds in a sunny blue sky reminding one of early spring rather than late November. But the woods were autumnal, the larches dropping gold from their boughs, the birches looking more ethereal than ever in their slender bareness, the hollies almost vulgar in their wealth of red berries. D. knew exactly where to seek for the holly treasure: he seemed to have marked down at some time or other every holly tree on the estate, & made for them unerringly. It is the same instinct which made him when a boy mark down wild cherry trees in the woods at Llanystumdwy, or a fern in the river bank, & then come back to it again & again & watch & note its progress. I think these rambles through the woods for a definite treasure take him back to his childhood: in fact, he is the boy D. again, with all the eagerness and enjoyment of boyhood.

This afternoon he went through the speech with me that he intends to make in the House of Commons tomorrow, on defence. He is very nervous. He says it is a speech which will please neither one side nor the other, but I think it is a very good one. It all depends on his mood & how he will deliver it. He has not been feeling very well the last day or two.’

24 May 1944
‘D. decided on Wednesday [today] to go to hear Winston’s speech, and we are both glad, for the House gave him (D.) a touching welcome. I wonder if they realise how near it may be to his last appearances. Winston, whom we met in the corridor afterwards, was nice to us both. D. was rather inclined to be critical of the Government’s policy, but I thought Winston very patient & I finally managed to turn the conversation to his pictures: we parted very happily. It was a perfect spring day, but as we drove through the smiling countryside there was a heavy sadness in my heart.’

The Diary Junction

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