Herbert Henry Asquith (1852-1928)

Image: the first Great Hall of Staple Inn was built in 1581; stained glass survives owing to being taken out and stored in the cellars during the second world war.

From Wikipedia:

“The Asquiths were originally a middle-class family from the West Riding of Yorkshire, England. They were members of the Congregational church, whose family name derived from the village of Askwith. The first prominent member of the family was H. H. Asquith, who was prime minister from 1908 to 1916. In 1925, Asquith was raised to the peerage as Earl of Oxford and Asquith. His great-grandson Raymond is the present Earl.

(In October 2014, the Earl of Oxford and Asquith was elected in the House of Lords by-election to replace the late Lord Methuen (who died in July 2014) and to sit as a Liberal Democrat, alongside his cousin Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury on the government benches (as the LibDems were then part of a coalition government) in the House of Lords.)

All of H. H. Asquith’s seven children achieved some prominence in national affairs. By his first wife Helen Kelsall Melland (d. 1891), he had four sons and one daughter…

(From Spartacus Educational: “Asquith entered Lincoln’s Inn to train as a barrister. He was called to the bar in June 1876. Asquith had fallen in love with Helen Melland when he had first met her at the age of fifteen in 1869. In September 1876, asked Dr. Frederick Melland for permission to marry his daughter. After a two month delay he replied: “I have the fullest conviction that your industry and ability will procure for you in due time that success in your profession which has attended you in your past career.”

H. H. Asquith married Helen on 23rd August 1877. He later told a friend: “Her mind was clear and strong, but it was not cut in facets and did not flash lights, and no one would call her clever or intellectual. What gave her rare quality was her character, which everyone who knew her agrees was the most selfless and unworldly that they have ever encountered. She was warm, impulsive, naturally quick-tempered, and generous almost to a fault.”

Over the next thirteen years Helen gave birth to five children: Raymond (1878), Herbert (1881), Arthur (1883), Violet (1887) and Cyril (1890). The couple were devoted to their children. Herbert Asquith pointed out that both his parents “allowed their children a full measure of liberty; they used the snaffle rather than the curb and their control was very elastic in nature.”

Asquith later wrote: “I was content with my early love, and never looked outside. So we settled down in a little suburban villa (27 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead) and our children were born, and every day I went by train to the Temple, and sat and worked and dreamed in my chambers, and listened with feverish expectation for a knock on the door, hoping it might be a client with a brief. But years passed and he hardly ever came.”.”)

…All of the sons volunteered for the Front early in the war. The eldest son, Raymond, a barrister and poet, was killed in action in 1916. The second son, Herbert, was a poet who married Lady Cynthia Charteris, a writer and anthologist. The third son, Arthur, became a Brigadier. The fourth son, Cyril (1890–1954), became a Law Lord. The daughter, Violet (1887–1969), became a Liberal politician and a Life Peeress in her own right in 1964.

In September 1891 Helen Asquith died of typhoid fever following a few days’ illness while the family were on holiday in Scotland. Asquith bought a house in Surrey, and hired nannies and other domestic staff. He sold the Hampstead property and took a flat in Mount Street, Mayfair, where he lived during the working week.

Asquith had known Margot Tennant slightly since before his wife’s death, and grew increasingly attached to her in his years as a widower. On 10 May 1894 they were married at St George’s, Hanover Square.

By his second wife, the former Margot Tennant, Asquith had two more children. His daughter Elizabeth (1897–1945) was a writer who married a Romanian prince, becoming Princess Antoine Bibesco. His youngest son Anthony (1902–1968) became a well-known film director.

The family rented Archerfield House in East Lothian from 1907-11 and then built Wharf House at Sutton Courtenay (Berks, now Oxon) to the designs of Walter Cave in 1912, which remained their home for the rest of their lives. Asquith leased Wanborough manor house in Surrey until he became prime minister in 1908.

Asquith drunk can make a better speech than any one of us, sober.

◦ Andrew Bonar Law (c. December 1911), quoted in John Vincent (ed.), The Crawford Papers: The Journals of David Lindsay, Twenty-seventh Earl of Crawford and Tenth Earl of Balcarres (1871-1940), During the Years 1892 to 1940 (Manchester University Press, 1984), p. 259

• [H]is interventions on critical occasions more than ever confirmed his reputation as the most formidable debater in the House. Campbell-Bannerman called him the “sledge-hammer,” and on critical occasions when Asquith happened not to be in the House, he used to say to the Whips, “send for the sledge-hammer.”

◦ John Alfred Spender and Cyril Asquith, Life of Herbert Henry Asquith, Lord Oxford and Asquith: Volume I (1932)”

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