Margot at War: Love and Betrayal at Downing Street 1912-1916 by Anne de Courcy
Published by W&N
6th November 2014
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Drawing on unpublished material from personal papers and diaries, Anne de Courcy vividly recreates this extraordinary time when the Prime Minister's residence was run like an English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.
This is a fascinating insight to the running of British society at the start of the 1900s and during the period of the First World War. Margot Asquith was no ordinary politician's wife, in fact she was the second wife of the Prime Minister Henry Asquith, and she changed the face of society and politics with her wit and glamour.
However behind the facade lay the infatuation of her husband with his daughter's best friend Venetia Stanley, also coupled with his extremely strong bond with his eldest daughter Violet from his first marriage. She went everywhere with him, and his second marriage can surely be described as being at least that of a ménage à trois, if not with Violet then with Venetia.
This isn't just a political history, but the detail that Anne de Courcey provides as to the decisions and turmoil faced by Asquith at this time from all manner of society is fascinating. It is also a book about social history and of the changing face of government as perceived by those outside of the cabinet.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, there was so much that I didn't know about this period that I learnt and never once was the detail dry or boring. Henry Asquith and his family have certainly got to be one of, if not, the most scandalous family ever to live at number 10 Downing Street!