Margot Asquith was perhaps the most daring and unconventional Prime Minister's wife in British history. Known for her wit, style and habit of speaking her mind, she transformed 10 Downing Street into a glittering social and intellectual salon.
Yet her last five years at Number 10 were a period of intense emotional and political turmoil in her private and public life. In 1912, when Anne de Courcy's book opens, rumblings of discontent and cries for social reform were encroaching on all sides - from suffragettes, striking workers and Irish nationalists. Against this background of a government beset with troubles, the Prime Minister fell desperately in love with his daughter's best friend, Venetia Stanley; to complicate matters, so did his Private Secretary.
Margot's relationship with her husband was already bedevilled by her stepdaughter's jealous, almost incestuous adoration of her father. The outbreak of the First World War only heightened these swirling tensions within Downing Street.
Drawing on unpublished material from personal papers and diaries, Anne de Courcy vividly recreates this extraordinary time when the Prime Minister's residence was run like an English country house, with socialising taking precedence over politics, love letters written in the cabinet room and gossip and state secrets exchanged over the bridge table.
By 1916, when Asquith was forced out of office, everything had changed. For the country as a whole, for those in power, for a whole stratum of society, but especially for the Asquiths and their circle, it was the end of an era. Life inside Downing Street would never be the same again.
©2014 Anne de Courcy (P)2015 Isis Publishing Ltd
I love history, crime and thrillers, biographies and almost anything by the BBC.
After listening to the biographies of Jennie Churchill and Bertie the Prince of Wales I decided to continue reading around the period with this wonderful book. It only covers a period of four years but it does refer back to the origins of Margot Asquith and other important actors of the period. Lending heavily from Margot's diaries and research the author paints a picture of the private lives of a group of people at the heart of power as one of the most momentous historical events was about to happen. You can really live the beginning of the First World War as if you were there with vivid pictures of the mobilisation, troop movements and the emergency measures being enforced. Between 1912 and the outbreak of the War there was constant social tension on the domestic Front with workers demanding better working conditions and pay and the Suffragette movement as well as the Home Rule for Ireland question which was threatening to bring about civil war. The War and its aftermath has tended to dwarf the pre-War period as if the Edwardian era was some kind of Indian summer but as this book reveals it was anything but. I felt the story of the Suffragettes and the story of industrial tension was somewhat on the superficial side but as the central focus is Margot and her opinions as to what was going on I can hardly fault the author on this. As to the personal story of Asquith's falling in love with his daughter's best friend (he was 60 and she was 25) I couldn't help feeling there is no fool like an old fool. For Margot it was deeply humiliating and I feel sad that for the people of these times that the lack of efficient contraception could end marital relations if the wife had had dangerous pregnancies and was advised to have no more children. I preferred the political drama to the personal drama but both are extremely well-written and the narration is excellent. This is the first female narrator who has managed to imitate male voices without making my skin crawl.
Intriguing account of a political marriage at a critical point in the history of the country. Beautifully narrated throughout. Excellent.
I knew absolutely nothing about the characters and little about the politics of the period. I was riveted.
What a lot of ghastly people. I didn't really warm to Margot who seemed to care mostly about what other people thought. Surely if you are rich, attractive and aristocratic, the main benefit is not having to care. I never worked out why she married Asquith. It all seemed rather sad.
Asquith himself was a dreadful man. Lecherous with inappropriate women and girls, living off his wife's money, virtually an alcoholic, obsessed with his daughter's best friend about thirty years younger than him, he would ignore his colleagues in Cabinet meetings to read and reply to her love letters, or neglect his job go for long twilight coach rides with her - this was during the worst of the First World War. He was a man who had suffered the death of one wife and of two or more children, yet he said not meeting his girlfriend on one occasion when the war detained him was the greatest disappointment he had ever had. Why did nobody ever confront him?
There may be books which are more academic than this, but for a total beginner this was fascinating.
I enjoyed the historical and factual aspect of the book although I found the narrator's accent and pronunciation of certain words poor, irritating and affected.
It might be a great story but as it only lets you burn one cd and then no more it doesn't work for me. I bought it for my 91 yr old visually impaired mother who can work a cd player - it is the only audio book that has done this. Now I have to return it! But thankfully I can with audible.
"A book for lovers of English history"
Another excellent book from Anne de Courcy which combines her usual comprehensive research, and facility with language. Although Margot is the focus, the book is as much a social history as a biography. It is full of fascinating detail on fashion, menus, etiquette, scandals, affairs, anti-Semitism, suffragettes, Home Rule, the role of newspapers and, of course, the scheming and shifting alliances of politics and the eventual removal of her husband from office. Everything is covered, from what to wear to the horrors of the Somme. Characters in Margot's family, social, and political circles are well drawn and their roles in political and personal intrigues make this book a page-turner for anyone interested in English history.Patricia Gallimore is a very competent narrator and she has the perfect voice for this biography.
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