Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Disconsolate on the pavement

On the day that a future Prime Minister was writing in his diary about Churchill’s General Election victory (see below - We are in easily), Evelyn Shuckburgh, a career diplomat and future ambassador, was doing the same. ‘Just as I was shaking hands with [Herbert Morrison, outgoing Foreign Secretary], he was recognized by the crowd, who booed him the whole way down Downing Street; they had come, of course, to see the new men, not the old. I felt very sorry about this but assumed politicians are used to this kind of thing. I, on the contrary, was disconsolate on the pavement.’ Earlier that year, Shuckburgh had been appointed Principal Private Secretary to Morrison, a position he then retained with the new Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden. Some 30 years later, Shuckburgh would publish his diaries under the title Descent to Suez.

Charles Arthur Evelyn Shuckburgh, born in London in 1909 to an aristocratic family, was educated at Winchester and King’s College, Cambridge. He joined the diplomatic service in 1933 with postings in Egypt and Canada. He married Nancy Brett in 1937 and they had three children. For most of the Second World War he was Charge d’Affaires in Argentina, but after the war he was posted to Prague as First Secretary before returning to London and the Foreign Office as Head of the South American and, later, the Western Department.

In 1951, Shuckburgh was appointed Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, then Herbert Morrison. Later that year, Churchill won a General Election and appointed Anthony Eden as Foreign Secretary. During the three years that followed, Eden and Shuckburgh were involved in the post-war reorganisation of Western Europe which led up to the creation of the Common Market, as well as in making an agreement with Egypt over the withdrawal of British forces from the Suez Canal Zone. 

Subsequently, after a period at the Imperial Defence College, Shuckburgh served at the headquarters of NATO in Paris, in 1958, as Assistant Secretary-General. He was British Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Council from 1962 to 1966, and, finally, Ambassador to Italy from 1966 to 1969. After retiring, he became involved with both the National Trust and the Red Cross. He died in 1994. Further information is available from Wikipedia, as well as obituaries in The New York Times and The Independent.

Shuckburgh kept detailed diaries from 1951 until his retirement in 1969. According to Archives Hub, ‘The diaries give a vivid impression of the inner workings of the Foreign Office, and later, of NATO, including descriptions of international conferences, working with politicians, and of the life of a diplomat abroad, as a junior member of staff, and as Ambassador. [. . The] diaries offer valuable comment on Eden’s character and achievements, offering an eyewitness account of events leading up to the Suez crisis in 1956 and of British Middle Eastern policy in the decades after the Second World War.’ Extracts from the diaries - focused on the events that led up to the Suez crisis - were published in 1986 as Descent to Suez: Diaries, 1951-1956 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986). The full US edition can be freely borrowed online at Internet Archive.

In his introduction Shuckburgh says: ‘The diaries which form the substance of this book cover the period from the autumn of 1951, when I was appointed Principal Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, to December 1956, the morrow of the Suez debacle. For the first three years - to May 1954 - I was Anthony Eden’s closest diplomatic assistant and for two years after that Under-Secretary in charge of Middle East Affairs at the Foreign Office. I was released from the Foreign Office on 20 June 1956, to become Senior Civilian Instructor at the Imperial Defence College. By that time, as the reader will not fail to notice, I was badly in need of a rest. The diaries fall naturally into these two parts, though certain themes run through them both: the relationship with Eden, for example, and his relations with Churchill, the defence of Britain’s interests in the Middle East and the search for a Palestine settlement. Taken together, they offer a sidelight on the events which led to the Suez tragedy of 1956 and this justifies the title which I have given them here - Descent to Suez. They were not intended to be a continuous account of events. I had no clear idea why I was keeping a diary at all, unless it was to interest my wife (for many of the entries took the form of letters home) or just to let off steam. I do know that, in the later stages especially, the thought of being able to write about it all in private before I went to bed was a consolation for the daily stresses of the job.’

Here are the first two entries in the American edition.

26 October 1951
‘By 3 o’clock in the afternoon it was clear that the Conservatives would probably have a majority, though it would be a very small one, and we all assumed that the weekend might be spent in discussion as to whether Mr Churchill would form a Government at once or whether there might be some delay. The Secretary of State (Morrison) came back from his constituency to No. 11 at about 5 but showed no inclination to come to the Foreign Office. I went over to get a decision from him about expelling some Italian Communists from Libya but he (rightly) would not take responsibility for this in view of his knowledge that the Government were almost certainly defeated. He said that if there were any delay in the appointment of a new Foreign Secretary, he would take the decision on Monday.

Half an hour later we were informed by No. 10 that Mr Attlee had resigned and Mr Churchill had been invited to form a Government; also that the King would hold a Council the following morning at 10.30 to swear in new Ministers. It was therefore clear to me that there was a risk that a new Foreign Secretary might walk into the Foreign Office during the course of the next morning. Meanwhile Mr Morrison had gone to Miss Donald’s flat announcing that he would go straight home to bed and did not wish to be woken before lunchtime on Saturday.

Obviously, therefore, I had to get him back and had a painful half-hour at No. 11 in which I stripped him of his Foreign Office key, box, and pass and obtained authority to send over the seals to Buckingham Palace. He was plainly feeling very deflated and very tired. He asked whether it was constitutionally right of me to take away his keys, etc., before the new Foreign Secretary had been announced. I said, ‘no’; he remained Foreign Secretary until his seals had been handed over the following morning. But, as he wished to sleep the following morning, I had to perform the operation tonight. He accepted this and was very friendly about me. He is clearly disappointed at leaving the Foreign Office just when the job is beginning to intrigue him. I accompanied him downstairs and through the communicating door into No. 10 and out through the front door into his car. Just as I was shaking hands with him, he was recognized by the crowd, who booed him the whole way down Downing Street; they had come, of course, to see the new men, not the old. I felt very sorry about this but assumed politicians are used to this kind of thing. I, on the contrary, was disconsolate on the pavement.’

27 October 1951
‘We learned from No. 10 this morning that Mr Eden was the Prime Minister’s appointment for Foreign Secretary and, although the King’s approval had not yet been obtained, I got in touch with his secretary, Mrs Maltby, at 4 Chesterfield Street and offered my services. He at once invited me to join Sir William Strang and Jim Bowker at lunch with him. He also said that he would like to come into the Foreign Office after the Council (postponed till 3 p.m.) and hoped Mr Morrison would agree to this. We did not wake the latter up until 12.15 but he of course agreed, and it was arranged that he would come and see the new Secretary of State on Monday.

When Strang, Bowker and I arrived at 4 Chesterfield Street, we found Eden having a heated telephone conversation about whether or not he was to be described as Deputy Prime Minister in the forthcoming announcement of the new Government. We thought he was talking to Winston. He was protesting strongly that he had been promised this title, that Attlee had had it during the war and Morrison in the recent Government and he did not see why he should not have it, and that it would give him the authority he needed over his colleagues. He did not seem to be getting very far and eventually said he was thoroughly unsatisfied with the situation. There was a pause and Winston came to the ’phone. At once he agreed and there was a great deal of ‘thank you, dear’. Eden then told us that it had been Norman Brook (Secretary to the Cabinet) and the King’s Private 

Secretary (Lascelles) who had been arguing against the appointment. They had alleged that it was an infringement of the King’s prerogative that a man should be named Deputy Prime Minister; the King was free to choose whoever he liked to succeed a PM. William Strang told Eden he thought he was perfectly justified in insisting.’

We are in, easily

‘Went to Bromley with D for the count. We are in, easily. Majority about 2000 higher. Our Liberals were 5000 last time. 1000 have abstained; 2000 to me and 10000 to my opponent. This gives gives me over 12000 majority. Spent the afternoon listening to results on radio. . .’ This is the Conservative politician Harold Macmillan writing in his diary on the evening of the 1951 General Election, exactly 70 years ago today. The Tories had been out of power for several years, and with this success led by Churchill, Macmillan was about to begin a series of ministerial career moves that would lead eventually to him becoming Prime Minster. His diary, published posthumously, is said to be ‘one of the fullest and most entertaining’ of 20th century political journals.

Macmillan was born in London in 1894 to a publisher and his American artist wife (his paternal grandfather, Daniel MacMillan, had founded founded Macmillan Publishers). He was educated at home, then at Summer Fields School (Oxford), at Eton College, and, thanks to a scholarship, at Balliol College, Oxford. Volunteering as soon as war was declared, Macmillan was commissioned in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps but soon transferred to the Grenadier Guards. He served with distinction as a captain but was wounded on several occasions. He did, in fact, spend the final two years of war in hospital undergoing a series of operations, followed by a long convalescence which left him with a slight shuffle in his walk and a limp grip in his right hand. 

After the war, Macmillan joined the family publishing business. In 1920, he married Lady Dorothy Cavendish, the daughter of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, and the couple had four children together. However, from 1929, Lady Dorothy began an affair, and thereafter the couple lived separate lives. As a Conservative party candidate he was elected to the House of Commons for Stockton-on-Tees in 1924, though he then lost the seat in 1929. However, before long, he was re-selected to stand for the same seat, and in 1931 and was returned to the House.

Macmillan spent the 1930s on the backbenches but he was very active politically, publishing The State and Industry, The Next Step, The Next Five Years, and The Middle Way. During this time, he also became increasingly concerned at the appeasement of Nazi Germany. When Winston Churchill formed his World War II coalition government in May 1940, Macmillan was appointed parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Supply; and in 1942 he was sent to northwest Africa as British minister resident at Allied Forces Headquarters, Mediterranean Command. At the end of the war in Europe, he was briefly - for a few months in 1945 - secretary of state for air in Churchill’s ‘caretaker’ government. When the Conservatives regained power in 1951, he was appointed, successively, minister of housing and local government and minister of defence by Churchill; he then served as foreign secretary and chancellor of the exchequer under Anthony Eden.

When Eden resigned as Prime Minister in early 1957 after the debacle of the Suez crisis, Macmillan took his place. He restored the Conservative party fortunes winning an increased majority in the 1959 General Election. However, Macmillan’s second term of office was beset with crises: a failed application to join the European Economic Community, economic troubles, the so-called ‘night of the long knives’, and the Profumo affair. Macmillan resigned as leader in October 1963. He refused a peerage and then retired from the House of Commons in September 1964. His later years were devoted to writing several volumes of memoirs. He did, later, accept a peerage and was created an earl in 1984. He died in 1986. Further information is available online at Wikipedia, UK government website, Encyclopaedia Britannica, The Guardian obituary, Spartacus Educational, and the BBC.

As well as being a memoirist, Macmillan was also a diarist. A first volume of his edited diaries was published by St. Martin’s Press in 1984: War Diaries: Politics and War in the Mediterranean, January 1943 - May 1945. His later diaries were only published posthumously, by the family firm, in two volumes (2003 and 2011): The Macmillan Diaries: The Cabinet Years 1950-57 and The Macmillan Diaries: Prime Minister and After 1957-1966. According to the publisher, Macmillan ‘kept one of the fullest and most entertaining political diaries of the twentieth century’. The publisher further adds: ‘He was an acute observer of events and people not just in his own country or party, but on the wider international and political scene. His Diary provides wry portraits of many of the leading political figures of the period and records his personal take on the great issues and events of the day. In the process Macmillan’s wider activities and inner concerns are also revealed, casting light beyond the famously ‘unflappable’ exterior onto the character of one of the most enigmatic figures in modern British political history.’ See the History of Government blog for an interesting article which compares the diaries of Macmillan and William Gladstone.

The following extracts, taken from the first volume of post war diaries, begin with one written on the day of the 1951 General Election. (Trailing dots without brackets are part of the quoted passage; trailing dots inside square brackets, however, indicate where I have edited some text out.)

26 October 1951
‘Went to Bromley with D for the count. We are in, easily. Majority about 2000 higher. Our Liberals were 5000 last time. 1000 have abstained; 2000 to me and 10000 to my opponent. This gives gives me over 12000 majority. Spent the afternoon listening to results on radio. . . 

Altogether, 23 seats gained by Conservatives. No losses, except 1 in Belfast. Megan Lloyd George is out, which is a very good thing. Davies will not be so frightened if she is not there to bully him!’

27 October 1951
‘. . . Attlee went to the King as soon as we topped 313 members of the new House! This seems rather strange. How relieved he must be. So Churchill must have kissed hands at about 6pm last night to form his third administration . . .

The process of Cabinet making, always difficult, seems to have begun. According to the 6 o’clock news the following ministers have been appointed. P.M. First Lord and Minister of Defence - Churchill; Foreign Secretary and Leader of Commons - Eden; Ld President - (with control of Food and Agriculture) - Woolton; Ld Privy Seal and Leader of Lords - Salisbury; Home Secretary - Maxwell Fyfe; Minister of Labour - Sir W Monckton; Dominions Secretary - Ld Ismay; Chancellor of the Exchequer - O Lyttelton. These ministers were sworn in tonight.

This seems an extraordinarily maladroit move - I should say the combined effort of Bracken and Beaverbrook. It is just folly for Churchill to become Minister of Defence. It almost justifies the Daily Mirror! He should have been Prime Minister only, thus showing that he is as interested in economic and social affairs, as in military matters. This is a major blunder and may have most serious results. It might even endanger the ministry, because I think a difficult by-election after this gaffe cd easily be lost. It is also surprising that Eden shd demand to lead the House as well as take the Foreign Office. It is obvious that this cannot be an effective management. There was a hint by the ‘Parliamentary commentator’ that a deputy leader may be appointed. Lyttelton’s appointment is odd, and will (I fear) be a disappointment to him. He had worked hard to fit himself for economic and trade affairs. Fyfe’s appointment is a good one. He will be a better Home Secretary than Minister of Labour. His speeches and writings thoroughly frightened the unions, and in spite of Churchill’s denials during the campaign, made them alarmed and caused them to rally their forces. He will be a good Home Secretary. It seems he is also to be Minister for Wales. This means, I suppose, that Clem Davies has refused to come in. I have heard nothing, as I have stayed in Sussex all day resting. Monckton’s appointment is unexpected, but good. He has a more subtle and a more flexible mind than Fyfe. He shd do very well. Ld Ismay’s appointment as Minister of Defence was generally expected and was explicable. His appointment as Dominions Secretary is unexpected and inexplicable. [. . .]’

28 October 1951
‘. . . It is now possible to form a view of what has happened at this election. The nation is evenly divided - almost exactly even. For if allowance is made for unopposed returns, the votes cast on either side are just about the same. The Liberal party has practically disappeared in the House of Commons. But whereas last time they polled over 2 million votes in the country, this time (since they had only 100 odd candidates) the Liberals have had only the choice of abstention, voting Conservative, or voting Socialist in 500 odd constituencies. As far as one can see, north of the River Trent they have gone 2 to 1 - 2 Conservatives, to 1 Socialist. This is very marked in Scotland, and in places like Durham and North Yorkshire which have suffered under the Socialist tyranny. By this means both Middlesborough and Darlington were won by us. In the midlands, the Liberal vote has either abstained, or gone fifty-fifty or even worse. This explains Lincoln, Birmingham, Nottingham etc. The Liberals of this area have too much of the Civil War radical and roundhead tradition to join a cavalier vote. In suburban constituencies, like Bromley, the Liberals have split on a class basis. The bourgeois Liberal, pillars of chapel and League of Nations Union and all that, voted for me. (2 to 1 was about the figure, but 3/4 only voted - the rest abstained.)

So the result is, once again, a moral stalemate. This follows a long innings by a Govt wh has made a tremendous number of mistakes; has egregious failures in administration; and has been thrown about, like a rudderless hip in a storm, from crisis to crisis. At first sight, therefore, one can only form the most gloomy forebodings about the future. [. . .]

Message from Churchill to come out to Chartwell. I expected this. On arrival, at 3pm, found him in a most pleasant and rather tearful mood. He asked me to ‘build the houses for the people’. What an assignment! I know nothing whatever about these matters, having spent 6 years now either on defence or foreign affairs. I had, of course, hoped to be Minister of Defence and said this frankly to Churchill. But he is determined to keep it in his own hands. I gather the reason is the frightful muddle in which defence has been allowed to fall. In this ‘setup’ the service ministers become in effect under-secretaries (in spite of their grand titles) and will not be members of the Cabinet. I asked Churchill what was the present housing ‘set-up’. He said he hadn’t an idea. But the boys would know. So the boys (Sir Edward Bridges, Head of the Civil Service and Sir Norman Brook, Secretary to the Cabinet) were sent for - also some whisky. It seems that there is much confusion in all this business. Broadly speaking, the old ministry of Town and Country Planning retains these functions, but is now called Ministry of Local Government and Planning. All teh functions of supervising local govt in general remain with it. [. . .]

When I get home, I begin to realise what a terrible burden I have undertaken. Churchill is grateful and will back me; but 1 really haven't a clue how to set about the job. (Among other minor problems, James Stuart, who is motoring south, has disappeared! But he is wanted, to be Secretary of State for Scotland. Nobody can say the Tories stand about waiting for office. It is a job to get hold of them!)

Went in to talk all this over with Maurice. Carol came to dinner. (I have now a lot to arrange - first of all, with my brother and affairs at St Martin’s St). So to bed. What a day!’

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

A classic Wild West confrontation between cowboys and sheriffs, subsequently made famous by books and movies and dubbed ‘Gunfight at the O. K. Corral’, took place in Tombstone, a silver boom town near the Mexican border, exactly 140 years ago today. Extraordinarily for the time and place, one resident of Tombstone, George Whitwell Parsons, was also a keen diarist. Though not in town on the day of the gunfight itself, he returned to Tombstone the following day, and wrote about the gunfight, and how ‘bad blood’ had been brewing for some time.

The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place on 26 October 1881. Although it lasted less than a minute, three of the cowboys were killed, and three of the sheriffs’ group (two of the Earp brothers, but not Wyatt, and Doc Holliday) were wounded. It is generally regarded, Wikipedia says, as the most famous gunfight in the history of the Old West and has come to represent a time in American history when the frontier was open range for outlaws confronted only by sparse or non-existent law enforcement. The inter-personal conflicts and feuds, however, leading to the gunfight were complicated - see Wikipedia or History Net for more information.

The gunfight’s path to iconic status began in 1931 when author Stuart Lake published a fictionalised biography of Wyatt Earp. John Ford’s famous movie, My Darling Clementine, based on a Stuart Lake book, came out in 1946. And a decade later, John Sturges directed Gunfight at the O.K. Corral with Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday. Since then, the same story has been portrayed with varying degrees of accuracy in many other Western films and books.

The Earps and Doc Holliday were charged with murder but were eventually exonerated. However, in December the same year, Virgil Earp was maimed in an assassination attempt, and in March the following year, Morgan Earp was killed. This led to a series of further killings and retributions, Wikipedia notes, with federal and county lawmen supporting different sides of the conflict, which became known as the Earp Vendetta Ride.

Given the seeming familiarity of Wild West towns, especially the lawless ones like Tombstone which have been recreated so often in movies, as well as their inhabitants and their lifestyles, it comes as a something of a surprise to learn that one of Tombstone’s long-term residents was a diarist. George Whitwell Parsons was born in Washington, D.C., in 1850, and guided towards a career in law by his father.

However, Parsons must have wanted more excitement because he moved to Florida, where he helped with the salvaging of shipwrecks. He nearly drowned in a hurricane, and took off, in mid-1876, for Central America, before returning by ship to the US West Coast, where he took employment as a bank clerk in Los Angeles for several years. He then went to Tombstone, Arizona, to establish, with a friend, a new mining company, Parsons and Redfern. In time, he became a prominent citizen, a member of the Council of Ten, a vigilante committee, edited The Tombstone Epitaph, and founded the town’s library.

Parsons returned to Los Angeles in 1887, where he became a charter member of the Chamber of Commerce, and did much to promote the mining industry as well as oil and mineral exploration. He was involved in developing the Los Angeles harbour, and other civic projects. He died in 1933. There is a little more information about Parsons at Wikipedia, The Earp Gang website, and The Earp-Holliday Trial: An Account.

Parsons began keeping a diary in 1869, after his mother’s death, and continued for most of the rest of his life. A portion of these diaries was given to the Arizona Pioneers Historical Society, and these were transcribed and published by the Department of Library and Archives of the State of Arizona in 1939 as The Private Journal of George Whitwell Parsons. The full transcription is freely available online thanks to the HathiTrust, a partnership of major research institutions and libraries ‘working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future’.

Much more recently, in 1996, Westernlore Press published A Tenderfoot in Tombstone: the Private Journal of George Whitwell Parsons - The Turbulent Years, 1880-82 edited by Lynn R Bailey. Another version - The Tombstone Years 1879-1887: The Private Journal of George Whitwell Parsons - was transcribed and edited by Carl Chafin.

Chafin - who claims to have spent 30 years transcribing 51 years of the diaries and identifying the more than 6,000 people - says (on the Find a Grave website, as well as elsewhere): ‘This current publication of his journal covers the period from March 27, 1879 to March 31, 1887 (in two volumes of about 400 pages each), six weeks after he arrived in Los Angeles. I have transcribed the Los Angeles years 1887 to 1929 and they will be published in the near future. The period from June 28, 1882 to October 31, 1882 was serialized in The Tombstone Epitaph from December 1967 to April 1968, and the entire year of 1880 ran in The Tombstone Tumbleweed during 1996.’

Here, though, are several extracts from Parson’s diary (as found on the HathiTrust website) concerning the gunfight at the O. K. Corral, and its aftermath.

26 October 1881
‘Started out again this AM and first saw the ‘Phoenix’. Seems more promising than any other claim. Ledge about 18 inches and going down straight. ‘White Star’ next. Small ledge, rather flat, but fair rock. I left at Bells and went home. Rain this afternoon and very pleasant. Fired at mark this afternoon and I beat with rifle, 75 and 250 yards. Tailings sampled by Wendt this evening and liked. Chicken dinner. Skunk excitement tonight, but didn’t get him. Tomorrow for Tombstone.’

27 October 1881
‘Snow this morning. Windy and extremely cold and disagreeable. Wendt, Heyne and I started this AM for Tombstone and Ray went with us over the mountains to where a wagon was which H & W had, driving the burro before him loaded down with samples from different mines. Very disagreeable ride till we harnessed and drove out of the cold mountains into the sunshine on the Mesa beyond. I led Haynes horse and read of one of the Strallus’ long European letters given me this morning by Capt Hanson who arrived at last, much the worse for his 3 weeks absence. It seems almost as though the Capt was gone in. I hope he has not yet lost his grip.

At Charleston we dined by invitation of H and reached Tombstone about 5 o’clock. Much excitement in town and people apprehensive and scary. A bad time yesterday when Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp with Doc Holliday had a street fight with the two McLowerys and Bill Clanton and Ike, all but the latter being killed and W and M Earp wounded [in fact it was Virgil wounded not Wyatt]. Desperate men and desperate encounter.

Bad blood has been brewing some time and I was not suprised at the outbreak. It is only a wonder it has not happened before. A raid is feared upon the town by the Cowboys and measures have been taken to protect life and property. The ‘Stranglers’ were out in force and showed sand. My cowboy appearance and attire was not in keeping with the exited mind. Loud talking or talking in groups was tho’t out of place. Had to laugh at some of the nervousness. It has been a bad scare and the worst is not yet over some think.’

31 October 1881
‘Met Wyat Earp in hotel who took me in to see Virgil this evening, he’s getting along well. Morgan too. Looks bad for them all thus far.’

28 December 1881
‘Was much provoked at Capt H this AM and told I was sorry to have ever met him. I have stood more than any of his friends and have had enough. Was quite short with him. Hohstadt cannot seem to get him out of town. Every liquor saloon is a stumbling block. Bad times in office too. I wish whiskey was all poured in gutter.

Tonight about 11:30 Doc G had just left and I tho’t couldn’t have crossed the street - when four shots were fired in quick succession from very heavily charged guns, making a terrible noise and I tho’t were fired under my window under which I quickly dropped, keeping the dobe wall between me and the outside till fusilade was over. I immediately tho’t Doc had been shot and fired in return, remembering a late episode and knowing how pronounced he was on the Earp-Cow-boy question. He had crossed through and passed Virgil Earp who crossed to west side of 5th and was fired upon when in range of my window by men 2 or 3 concealed in the timbers of the new 2 story adobe going up for the Huachuca Water Co. He did not fall, but recrossed to the Oriental and was taken from there to the Cosmopolitan being hit with buck shot and badly wounded in left arm with flesh wound above left thigh.

Cries of ‘there they go’, ‘head them off’ were heard but the cowardly apathetic guardians of the peace were not inclined to risk themselves and the other brave men all more or less armed did nothing. Doc had a close shave. Van and I went to the hospital for Doc and got various things. Hotel well guarded, so much so that I had hard trouble to get to Earps room. He was easy. Told him I was sorry for him. ‘It’s hell, isn’t it!’ said he. His wife was troubled, ‘Never mind, I’ve got one arm left to hug you with,’ he said.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 26 October 2011.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Scandal in the Papal chapel

Giovanni Antonio Merlo, a 16th century papal singer, left behind one of the very earliest of diaries. Though largely full of financial details, it also covers some historical events and a few insights into choir politics. One entry, for example, from 450 years ago, details the internal squabbling over the recruitment of a new singer, and how the pope himself (Pius v, pictured) became involved. Other entries record some (amusing) remedies for common health complaints.

There is very little biographical information about Merlo available online (not even a Wikipedia entry), and what is known comes from his diary - a paper manuscript of thirty-six folios bound in parchment - housed in the Vatican archives. He joined the papal chapel in September 1551 after having served in the Cappella Giulia, and remained until his death on 28 December 1588. At various times he seems to have been in the employ of Cardinal Sermoneta (in 1559) and Cardinal Farnese (in 1569), and in later life (1575-1580) receiving a pension from the pope.

Merlo’s manuscripts were the subject of a paper read by Richard Sherr before the New England Chapter of the American Musicological Society in Boston 1977. The following year, the paper was published in Current Musicology (issue 25) - available online here. It has since been reproduced in other publications, most recently Sherr’s own Music and Musicians in Renaissance Rome and Other Courts (Routledge, 2019), which can be previewed at Googlebooks.

According to Sherr, the manuscript contains notes and jottings made between 1559 and 1588, in approximately chronological order. Included are drafts of correspondence and memoranda, lists of assets and debits, and mention of historical events (there is even a fragment of music), all combining to give an idea of the daily concerns of a typical papal singer in the second half of the 16th century. 

The majority of entries in the diary concerns Merlo’s finances. As a member of the papal chapel, he received a monthly salary, gratuities by celebrants of masses and by newly created cardinals, as well as special payments made in the period between the death of one pope and the election of his successor. Apart from the financial records, important feast days are mentioned (the celebrant, the number of singers attending, and the tip given each singer). Historical events are occasionally recorded - such as this one: ‘On 6 March 1561, Cardinal Caraffa was strangled in the Castello, and his brother the Duke had his head cut off along with the Count di Alife his brother-in-law and Don Leonardo de Chardini. Requiescant in pace.’

Merlo also describes, from his own experience, an ‘event of much importance’ involving Pope Pius V, as follows.

‘In 1571 in the time of Msgr. Sacrista and our maestro di cappella named Giuseppe, there occurred an event of much importance, which was this. It being the occasion for us to receive singers into our chapel, our maestro proposed three, one called M. Ippolito, another M. Tomasso, and the third M. Francesco. We voted, and the first had twelve votes, the second seven, and the third nine, and there were eighteen of us voting, so that none of them had the number of votes required by our statutes, and they were all rejected. But nonetheless, the said maestro with the help of our protector Cardinal Morone [obtained] by telling him certain things against us, managed to get them admitted even though it was against our statutes, and one Saturday morning gave them the cotta all without our consent. We immediately sent a memorandum to His Holiness telling him what had happened and that he had been deceived, and that we, having sworn fealty to him were only doing our duty in letting him know, although His Holiness was the master and could do anything he wished. And also we went to Msgr. Carniglia as superintendant of the papal household and asked him if he would please have a word with His Holiness, and the said Msgr. talked about it to the pope who, hearing that they (the singers) had not been admitted according to the correct manner, ordered that they be sent on their way. And the three singers served with cotta for a whole month including a papal Mass, and at the beginning of the next month they were fired all three by the said maestro, something which had not occurred in many years. I say this honestly so that you who will come after us will maintain our constitution and do as we did for the good of those who will come later, as our predecessors have done for us. Furthermore, after fifteen days, we reconsidered the contralto of the three named M. Ippolito because Msgr. the maestro di cappella said that this Ippolito had complained to His Holiness saying that he had had two-thirds of the vote, and since only one [more vote] was needed, asking that His Holiness have the goodness to admit him into the chapel, even more so because one of our singers named Don Paulo Biancho was sick and therefore could not attend on the day of the voting, but was there when the said singers were auditioned and, having heard him and being satisfied, gave him his vote in writing. And this was given to the maestro so it appeared that he should be admitted because of this, although there was much debate concerning this vote sent in writing; whether it was valid or not. But the thing was not decided for lack of precedent and rested impending in the time of Pius V, 1571, the month of February.’

The diary ends with a number of miscellaneous notes, Sherr says: a homily to patience, information concerning indulgences, fragments of poetry, and some home remedies, two of which he quotes ‘for the benefit of those who may find themselves stranded and afflicted in Italy some day.’

‘Prescription for constipation. Take six ounces of fine steel which is not rusty and heat it (red hot] and then plunge it in water. And then polish it finely and soak it in strong white vinegar and remove the foam that appears. And continue to change the vinegar four times a day for three days in a row. Then let [the steel] dry on a clean and dry wooden cutting block, and then put it in a flask of mature, very clear white wine, and leave it for the space of three days. And then begin to take six ounces of that wine in the morning when the sun rises and take five ounces in the evening three hours before dinner, and get used to doing this in the morning and the evening continuing to take the said amount of wine and replacing in the morning and evening the amount taken until you judge that there is enough left in the flask to last until the end of a month.’

‘For the liver. Take three gold ducats [weighing] three cogni and take a white clay saucer with running water [in it], and make the sign of the Cross over the water. Turn to the East and take one of the ducats and touch your body or clothes and say, “Bile return to the cow and gold return to water, bile return to the ox and water return to gold.” And each time throw the ducat in the water, and do this nine times. And this should be done on Thursdays and on Sundays before the sun rises and before it sets.’

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Pepys of Paris?

‘The diaries of Pierre de l’Estoile ‘do for the Paris of Henry IV what Pepys does for the London of Charles II, and a great deal more . . .’ This is the opinion of Nancy Lyman Roelker, an American history professor who first translated into English and edited l’Estoile’s diaries. L’Estoile - who died 410 years ago today - was a royal secretary and very well placed to observe the religions and political shenanigans of the age. Most recently, his diaries have been used extensively by Durham University’s Tom Hamilton for a first biography of the man in English.

Pierre de l’Estoile was born in Paris in 1546 into a middle class family. His father and grandfather had both held prestigious positions in the royal bureaucracy. His father, though, died when Pierre was only twelve, and he was placed under the care of Mathieu Béroalde, a Hebraic scholar with Protestant inclinations. In l’Estoile’s earliest foray into writing, a miscellany on the early Wars of Religion, he adopted a neutral tone, presenting the attitudes and opinions of both Catholics and Protestants, while supporting the Crown’s efforts at mediation.

L’Estoile studied law at Bourges, trained as a notary, and like his forefathers became a royal secretary, though not achieving particularly high office. He married Anne de Baillon, but she died in 1580, shortly after the birth of a daughter. Two years later he married the 18 year-old daughter of Colombe de Marteau. During the latter years of his life, he maintained a close interest in religious and papal controversies, all the while amassing a huge library. He died on 8 October 1611. There are only very sketchy biographical details available online, at Wikipedia.

L’Estoile’s main claim to historical fame stems from the diaries he left behind - these are also the main source of information about his life. A century or so after his death, one of his descendants, the abbot of  Abbey of Saint-Acheul, deposited the diaries in the abbey’s library, and when the abbey was dissolved they passed through the hands of a bookseller before being acquired by the Royal Library. Although the diaries were not intended for publication they have been used as a prime first hand source for histories of the reigns of Henry III and IV of France. 

Extracts from the diaries were first published in English by Harvard University Press in 1958 in The Paris of Henry of Navarre as seen by Pierre de l’Estoile - Selections from his Mémoires-Journaux, as translated and edited by Nancy Lyman Roelker. Here’s a paragraph from the introduction in which the editor likens l’Estoile to Samuel Pepys.

‘The Mémoires-Journaux of Pierre de l’Estoile do for the Paris of Henry IV what Pepys does for the London of Charles II, and a great deal more, because l’Estoile was a serious student of politics and morals, and combined his acute observation with keen judgment of men and events. In his diary, which covers thirty-seven years, 1574-1611, the reader finds an eyewitness account of the wars of religion, the court of the Valois, and a full account of the reign of Henry IV, complete with an enormous cast of characters who take part in these events, their idosyncrasies, their clothes, their food, their jokes, diseases, and love affairs - so that the reader knows many of them more intimately than the family across the street. In effect, that family has ceased to be across the street, for the reader is living in the quarter of St. André-des-Arts on the left bank of the Seine opposite the Palais de Justice, and the Palais, seat of the Parlement de Paris, the highest court in France, has become the hub of the universe, as it was to the diarist, who earned his living as audiencier, or lerk-in-chief of the Parliament. Seated with Pierre de l’Estoile in his cabinet the reader has a window on Paris; he sees too the events of the great world as they are seen at the Palais, where men are hotly disputing the merits of Mary Stuart’s execution, or laughing at the sign which been informally posted, “Lost! The Great Invincible Naval Army . . . [Armada] if anyone can give news of it . . . let him come to St Peter’s Palace where the Holy Father will give him wine.” ’

More recently, the diaries have been used extensively for a biographical work by Tom Hamilton (Oxford University Press, 2017): Pierre de L’Estoile and his Word in the Wars of Religion. Some pages can be freely read at Googlebooks. Hamilton says the diaries ‘provides a fascinating portrait of his private life, his social world, his role as a collector of curiosities, and his own personal experiences of living through the era of the French religious wars.’ And there is an informative review available online at H-Net (Michigan State University Department of History).

Here are several extracts of the diaries from Roelker’s 1958 work. (However, it is worth bearing in mind that Hamilton argues, in his book, that the early diaries, at least, were composed after Henry III’s death, “relying on previous drafts that are now lost.” He bases this on an analysis of l’Estoile’s handwriting style, which is identical to the style of other writings that appear after 1589.)

30 May 1574
‘Sunday, May 30,1574, the day of Pentecost, at three o’clock in the afternoon, Charles IX, King of France, worn out by a long and violent illness and loss of blood, which had caused his death to be predicted for more than three months, died in the Château of Vincennes near Paris, at the age of twenty-three years, eleven months and four or five days, after reigning about thirteen and a half years full of continual war and strife. He left one daughter, about nineteen months old, named Isabella of France, by his wife Madame Isabella of Austria, and the kingdom of France troubled by civil wars (on the pretext of religion and the public welfare) in most of its provinces, especially Languedoc, Provence, Dauphiné, Poitou, Saintonge, Angoumois, and Normandy, where discontented Huguenots and the Catholics associated with them have seized various towns and strongholds which they hold with great force.’

31 May 1574
‘Monday, the last day of May, the Court of Parlement assembled in the morning, in spite of the holiday, and deputed certain presidents and conseillers to go to the Château of Vincennes to request Madame Catherine de Medici, mother of the late King, to accept the regency and undertake the government of the kingdom until the arrival of her son King Henry, who was in Poland. To this effect, the same afternoon . . . [she] willingly accepted the task, according to the intention of the late King, her son, who had decreed it a few hours before his death.

That same afternoon the body of the late King, who had lain in his bed . . . with his face uncovered for everyone to see . . . was opened and embalmed by the physicians and surgeons and placed in a metal casket.’

2 June 1574
‘Wednesday, 2nd, the Queen Regent had all the entrances to the Château of the Louvre locked, except the main gate . . . which had a large troop of archers stationed inside and one of Swiss outside. . . Rumor has it that she did this in fear of enterprises and secret conspiracies discovered at Easter, which had already resulted in the execution of Tourtet . . .  La Mole . . . and Coconas . . . in the Place de Grève in late April, and in the imprisonment of the Marshals Montmorency and Cossé.’

4 June 1574
‘Friday, June 4, three well-known gentlemen were sent by the Queen, in her own name and that of M. le Duc d’Alençon and the King of Navarre . . . to Poland to announce to the King the death of his late brother, congratulate him on his accession to the crown of France, and to urge him to hasten his return to his kingdom, to establish himself and to obviate the great evils and inconveniences which might be brought about by any further delay. . .’

1 July 1574
‘On Sunday,  the first day of July, in the great church Notre Dame in Paris, a solemn vow was taken taken in the name of the whole city, to Notre Dame de Lorette that if the city were delivered from the siege, they would present a silver lamp, and other ornaments. . . There was such a crowd at this occasion that a poor pregnant woman was suffocated in the mob, with her child.’ 

5 July 1574
‘Thursday, July 5, La Chapelle-Marteau, Prévost des Marchands, assembled the city [officials], read to them letters which the Duke of Mayenne had written to the Parisians, in which he exhorted them to hold fast and to cheer up, promising aid at the end of the month at the latest, and if he should fail, he gave them his wife and children to do with what they would. These beautiful words served the people for bread . . . although Boucher . . . and others have assured them of deliverance in two weeks, they were content to settle for a month, so anxious are they to gain that wonderful paradise which the preachers assure them will be gained by dying of hunger.’

8 July 1574
‘Thursday, July 8, the heart of the late King Charles was carried to the Célestins in Paris by M. le Duc, his brother, and there interred with all the solemnities and ceremonies usual in such cases.’

Animate the marble

‘Oh! how I wished I had the power to petrify the living, and animate the marble.’ So wrote Gideon Mantell, a 19th century doctor and obsessive fossil hunter, one hundred and seventy years ago today, following a visit to the Great Exhibition.

Both Mantell and The Great Exhibition have been the subject of past articles in The Diary Review - see Gideon Mantell - geologist and A terrible ordeal - but I can’t resist one diary entry that combines them both. By 1851, Mantell was living in London where he enjoyed being a very active member of the city’s scientific societies and forums. He was also very enthusiastic about The Great Exhibition and visited often, recording many and various thoughts in his diary.

One visit was on 8 October 1851, and these are his thoughts, as found in The Journal of Gideon Mantell, Surgeon and Geologist, published by Oxford University Press in 1940: ‘Went again to the Exhibition; the crowd tremendous; at the time I entered 97,000 persons were in the building; in the course of the day nearly 110,000 - one hundred and ten thousand! Vulgar, ignorant, country people; many dirty women with their infants were sitting on the seats giving suck with their breasts uncovered, beneath the lovely female figures of the sculptor. Oh! how I wished I had the power to petrify the living, and animate the marble: perhaps a time will come when this fantasy will be realised, and the human breed be succeeded by finer forms and lovelier features, than the world now dreams of.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 8 October July 2011.