J. R. R. Tolkien & Birmingham, 1896-1916: The Formative Years, Part One (to 1908) – Middle English

The South African Prelude – Beginnings in Bloemfontein:

Arthur Reuel Tolkien and Mabel Suffield (pictured above in the family group), both from Birmingham, were married in Cape Town Cathedral on 16th April 1891, after which came an exhausting railway journey of nearly seven hundred miles to the capital of the Orange Free State. Less than a year after proposing to Mabel, Arthur had obtained a post with the Bank of Africa and had sailed to the Cape. Mabel had celebrated her twenty-first birthday at the end of January 1891, and only a few weeks later, she was on board Roslin Castle and sailing towards South Africa. Bloemfontein was of no great size, and it certainly did not present an impressive spectacle to the newlyweds as they got off the train at the newly-built station. In the centre of the town was the market square where the Dutch-speaking farmers from the veldt trundled in aboard great ox-wagons to unload and sell the bales of wool that were the backbone of the State’s economy. Around the square were clustered solid indications of civilisation: the collonaded Parliament House, the two-towered Dutch Reformed Church, the Anglican cathedral, the hospital, the public library, and the Presidency. There was a club for European residents (Dutch, English and German), a tennis club, a law court, and a sufficiency of shops. But the trees planted by the first settlers forty years before were still sparse, and the town’s park had only ten willows and a patch of water. Only a few hundred yards beyond the houses was the open veldt, where wolves, wild dogs and jackals roamed and menaced the flocks and where after dark, a postrider might be attacked by a marauding lion. Writing to her family, Mabel summed up the town as an ‘Owlin’ Wilderness! Horrid Waste!’

However, the life she found herself leading was by no means uncomfortable. The premises of the Bank of Africa, in Maitland Street just off the market square, included a solidly built residence with a large garden. There were servants in the house, some black or coloured, some white immigrants, and there was a broader company to be found among the English-speaking residents of the town. They organised regular rounds of dances and dinner parties. But Arthur could not afford to take life easy, for although there was only one other bank in Bloemfontein, this was the National Bank, native to the Orange Free State. Arthur was the local manager of the Bank of Africa and, as such, an uitlander, and his bank was only tolerated by a special parliamentary decree.

On 3rd January 1892, Mabel gave birth to a son, John Ronald Reuel, who was christened in Bloemfontein Cathedral on 31st January. In November, he had his photograph taken (above) in the garden of Bank House in his nurse’s arms while his father posed jauntily in his white tropical suit and boater. Behind stood two black servants, a maid and a house-boy named Isaak, both looking pleased and perhaps a little surprised to be included in the photograph. Mabel found the Boer’s attitudes to the natives objectionable. However, in Bank House, there was tolerance, most notably over the unusual behaviour of Isaak. One day. he ‘stole’ the little baby and took him to his kraal, where he showed off the novelty of a white baby. The incident upset everybody, but Isaak was not dismissed, and he later named his own son ‘Tolkien’. Many months later, when Ronald began to walk, he stumbled on a tarantula. It bit him, and he ran in terror across the garden until the nurse snatched him up and sucked out the poison. When he grew up, he could remember running in fear through the long, dead grass, but the memory of the tarantula itself faded, and he said that it left him with no particular dislike of spiders. Nevertheless, in his stories, he wrote more than once of monstrous, venomous spiders, including Shelob in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Soon after the baby’s first birthday, her sister and brother-in-law May and Walter Incledon arrived from England. Walter was a Birmingham merchant in his early thirties with business interests in the South African gold and diamond mines. He left May and their small daughter Marjorie at Bank House while travelling in the mining areas. It was winter in southern Africa and intensely cold, and the two sisters huddled around the dining-room stove while Mabel knitted baby garments and talked about Birmingham days. Although home leave could be taken within a year or so, Arthur was always finding reasons for postponing their visit as a family. In the end, the trip had to be delayed, as Mabel found herself pregnant again, and on 17th February 1894, she gave birth to another son, Hilary Arthur Reuel. Hilary was a healthy child, who flourished in the local climate, but his elder brother struggled with teething, which wore his mother out. Moreover, the weather was at its worst: an intense drought was followed by a plague of locusts which swarmed across the veldt and destroyed its fine harvest. Despite all this, Arthur wrote to his father the words that Mabel had dreaded to hear:

“I think I shall do well in this country and do not think I should settle down well in England again for a permanency.”

Yet whether they were to stay or not, it was clear that the heat harmed Ronald’s health and that something must be done to get him to cooler air. So in November 1894, Mabel took the boys to the coast near Cape Town. Ronald was nearly three and retained a faint memory of this trip. After the holiday, Mabel and the children returned to Bloemfontein and began preparing for the whole family’s trip to Birmingham. Arthur badly wanted to accompany them, but he could not afford to be away from his desk, for there were railway schemes underway in which the bank had a stake.

They stayed with Mabel’s parents, and the spring and summer passed with a marked improvement in Ronald’s health, but although Arthur wrote to say that he missed his wife and children very badly and longed to come and join them, there was always something to detain him. Then, in November, came the news that he had contracted rheumatic fever. He had partially recovered but could not face an English winter and would have to regain his health before making the journey. Mabel spent an anxious Christmas, though Ronald enjoyed himself and was fascinated by the sight of his first Christmas tree, which was very different from the wilting eucalyptus adorning Bank House the previous December. Finally, in January, Arthur was reported to be still in poor health, and Mabel decided that she must go back to Bloemfontein to care for him. Arrangements were made, and an excited Ronald dictated a letter for his father to the nurse in which he said:

“I hope the ship will bring us all back to you… I am got such a big man now because I have got a man’s coat and a man’s bodice… Mamie says you will not know Baby or me… we have got such big men… we have got such a lot of Christmas presents to show you… Auntie Gracie has been to see us… I walk every day and only ride my mailcart a little bit…

The letter was never sent, for a telegram arrived to say that Arthur had suffered a severe haemorrhage and Mabel must expect the worst. The next day, 15th February 1896, Arthur died. By the time a complete account of his last hours had reached his widow, his body had been buried in the Anglican graveyard at Bloemfontein, five thousand miles away from his family in Birmingham.

Birmingham at the end of the Victorian Age:

Birmingham’s diverse industrial base made it a serious rival to Manchester as England’s second city in the later nineteenth century. The Corporation gained a reputation for its municipal enterprise and public works, including one of the country’s most extensive urban tramway systems. On the map below of Birmingham in 1885, we can see how the tramways were initially drawn by horses, then gradually replaced by motorised trams by the end of the century. The grimy, haphazard industrial inner city was soon surrounded by a ring of public parks in the rapidly expanding suburbs. Despite its reputation as a factory city, Birmingham has always had more trees than people.

Re-settlement in Birmingham:

When the first wave of shock was over, the suddenly widowed Mabel Tolkien knew that she must make decisions. She and the two boys could not stay forever in her parents’ crowded home, a little suburban villa, yet she scarcely had the resources to establish an independent household. Arthur had only amassed a modest sum of capital chiefly invested in South African mines for all his hard work and conscientious saving. Though the dividend was high, it would not bring her an income of more than thirty shillings a week, scarcely enough to maintain herself and two children even at the lowest standard of living. There was also the question of the boys’ education. She could manage the early years herself, for she knew Latin, French and German and could also paint, draw and play the piano. When the boys were old enough, they would take the entrance examination for King Edward’s School, widely considered the best grammar school in the City of Birmingham, which their father had attended.

Meanwhile, she must find cheap accommodation to rent. There were plenty of lodgings in the city around its urban and suburban areas, but the boys needed fresh air and countryside. So she began to search through the classified advertisements in the local newspapers. Ronald was now in his fifth year and slowly adapting to life under his grandparents’ roof. He sometimes expected to see the verandah of Bank House jutting out from his grandparents’ home in Ashfield Road, King’s Heath. In the evening, his grandfather would return from a day tramping around the streets of Birmingham, cajoling orders for Jeyes Fluid from shopkeepers and factory managers. John Suffield was sixty-three, but his long beard made him look much older, and he vowed to live to be a hundred. He did not seem to object to earning his living as a commercial traveller, even though he had once managed his own drapery shop in the city centre.

Ronald came to feel far closer to the Suffield family than his father, though his Tolkien grandfather lived only a little way up the road from the Suffields, and he was sometimes taken to see him. But John Benjamin Tolkien was eighty-nine and had been badly shaken by Arthur’s death and was in his own grave six months later. There was still, however, Ronald’s aunt, his father’s younger sister, Aunt Grace, who told him stories of the Tolkien ancestors who had, she claimed, fought with the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria at the Siege Of Vienna in 1529. He had shown great daring in leading an unofficial raid against the Turks and capturing the Sultan’s standard. Aunt Grace claimed that this was why he was nicknamed Tolkühn, meaning ‘foolhardy’. There was also a story that a later ancestor had fled the Reign of Terror in 1794 under the old Saxon family name and set up in London as a harpsichordist and clock-repairer. Indeed, the Tolkiens were present at the beginning of the nineteenth century, recorded as clock and watch manufacturers and piano-makers. As a piano-maker and music-seller, John Benjamin Tolkien had come to Birmingham some years later.

Above: A painting of the scenic countryside that inspired Tolkien’s ‘Shire.’

Like many urbanised middle-class Midland families, The Tolkiens liked to tell stories that gave a romantic colouring to their origins. Still, whatever the truth of those stories, the family at the time of Ronald’s childhood was entirely English in character and culture, indistinguishable from thousands of other middle-class tradespeople and professionals who populated the Birmingham suburbs. In any case, Ronald was rather more interested in his mother’s family. He discovered that though the family was now found in Birmingham, its origins were in the quiet Worcestershire town of Evesham, where the Suffields had lived for many generations. Being a homeless child, he held on to the concept of Evesham in particular and the whole West Midland area as his true home. He once wrote about Evesham and Worcestershire in the following terms:

‘Though a Tolkien by name, I am a Suffield by tastes, talents and upbringing… Any corner of that county (however fair or squalid) is an indefinable way “home” to me, as no other part of the world is.’

264 Wake Green Road (5 Gracewell Cottages), located behind the tree on the left. (Please note that 264 Wake Green Road is a private residence.)

By the summer of 1896, Mabel had found them a home to rent cheaply enough for herself and the children to live independently. So they moved a short distance, a mile or so beyond the southern boundary of Birmingham to the hamlet of Sarehole. The impact of this move on Ronald was both immediate and permanent. Just at the age when his imagination was opening up, he found himself in a corner of the Worcestershire countryside. The house they came to was 5 Gracewell Cottages, a semi-detached brick cottage at the end of a row. Outside the gate, the road ran up a hill into Moseley village and thence towards Edgbaston and the city centre. In the other direction, it led towards Stratford-upon-Avon.

But traffic was so limited (to the occasional farm cart or tradesman’s waggon) that it was easy to forget how near the city was.

KEY TO MAIN MAP: (1) Tolkien’s first home, 264 Wake Green Road, (2) Sarehole Mill, (3) Moseley Bog, (4) Cole Valley, (5) The Oratory, (6) Perrot’s Folley/ Edgbaston waterworks tower, (7) Highfield Road/ Plough & Harrow Hotel, (8) King Edward’s School, (9) the University of Birmingham,
(10) Library of Birmingham/ repertory Theatre (Gamgee plaque).

Sarehole – The Mill on the River Cole:

Over the road, a meadow led to the River Cole, little more than a broad stream, and upon this stands Sarehole Mill, an old brick building with a tall chimney. There has been a mill on this site since 1542, but the current building dates from the mid-eighteenth century. Corn had been ground there for three centuries. Still, Matthew Boulton, the local industrialist, leased the mill between 1756 and 1761 and used it as a ‘flatting mill’, producing sheet metal used for button manufacturing, before opening his Soho works in the city.

The sign outside the entrance to the museum shows its geographical relationship to the Cole Valley.

In the 1850s, a steam engine was installed, and a chimney was built to provide power when the river was low. When the Tolkiens lived in Sarehole, the mill’s chief purpose was to grind bones to make manure.

The photograph on the left shows Gracewell Cottages (on the left) in 1905, three years after the Tolkiens left no. 5. The meadow over the road (on the right) gives a clear idea of the unbroken view the young Ronald would have had to Sarehole Mill.

Yet the water still tumbled over the sluice and rushed beneath the great wheel, while inside the building, everything was covered with fine white dust. Hilary Tolkien was only two and a half, but soon he was accompanying his elder brother on expeditions across the meadow to the mill, where they would stare through the fence at the water-wheel turning in its dark cavern or run round to the yard where the sacks were were swung down onto a waiting cart.

Ronald and Hilary spent many hours exploring the grounds of Sarehole Mill and being chased off by the miller’s son. Sometimes they would venture through the gate and gaze into an open doorway, where they could see the great leather belts, pulleys, and shafts with the men at work. There were two millers, father and son. The old man had a black beard, but it was the son who frightened the boys with his dusty white clothes and sharp-eyed face. Ronald named him ‘the White Ogre.’ When he yelled at them to clear off, they would scamper away from the yard and run round to a place behind the mill where there was a silent pool with swans swimming. At the foot of the pool, the dark waters would suddenly plunge over the sluice to the great wheel below: a dangerous and exciting place. Not far from Sarehole Mill, a little way up the hill towards Moseley was a deep tree-lined sandpit that became another favourite haunt for the boys. Indeed, explorations could be made in many directions, though there were hazards. An old farmer who once chased Ronald for picking mushrooms was given the nickname ‘the Black Ogre’ by the boys. Such ‘terrors’ were the essence of those days at Sarehole, here recalled by Hilary nearly eighty years later:

“We spent lovely summers just picking flowers and trespassing. The Black Ogre used to take people’s shoes and stocking from the bank where they’d left them to paddle, and run away with them, make them go and ask for them. And then he’d thrash them! The White Ogre wasn’t quite so bad. But in order to get to the place where we used to blackberry (called the Dell) we had to go through the white one’s land, and he didn’t like us very much because the path was narrow through his field, and we traipsed off after corn-cockles and other pretty things. My mother got us lunch to have in this lovely place, but when she arrived she made a deep voice, and we both ran!”

In the 1960s, Tolkien contributed to the public appeal to restore the mill as a museum. Today it is part of the Birmingham Museums Trust. As well as being a working water mill, the museum features The Signposts to Middle-earth exhibition, which tells the story of Tolkien’s connections with Sarehole and the surrounding area. Nearby Moseley Bog became his Old Forest of Middle-earth. The contemporary painting of Sarehole Mill (above) shows how it would have looked from their home across Wake Green Road.

Moseley, Hall Green & King’s Heath:

The Ivy Bush provided the basis for the Tavern in Chapter One of The Lord of the Rings, where Gaffer Gamgee ‘held forth.’

A little further towards the city centre in Edgbaston is Perrott’s Folly tower (below right), considered the model for at least one of The Two Towers.

Tolkien later lamented the encroachment of the suburbs upon his former home, but there is one place that ‘civilisation’ missed: Moseley Bog. The Bog was an ideal place for Tolkien’s childhood adventures. It was once a storage pool for Sarehole Mill and is also the site of two Bronze Age ‘burnt mounds’. The Bog is recalled in Tolkien’s description of the ‘Old Forest,’ the last of the primaeval wild woods where ‘Tom Bombadil’ lived. It is now a Local Nature Reserve managed by the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust.

There were few houses at Sarehole beside the row of cottages where the Tolkiens lived, but Hall Green village (pictured below, 4) was only a short distance away down a lane and across a ford. Gradually they made friends with the local children, which was not always easy, for their own middle-class accents, long hair and pinafores were mocked, and they, in turn, were not used to the Worcestershire dialect or the rough ways of the country boys. But they began to pick up something of the local vocabulary: ‘chawl’ for a cheek of pork, ‘miskin’ for dustbin, ‘pikelet’ for crumpet and ‘gamgee’ for cotton wool. The last owed its origins to Dr Sampson Gamgee, a Birmingham man who had invented ‘gamgee-tissue’, a surgical dressing made from cotton wool.

His name quickly became a household name in Birmingham and the West Midlands.

The Shire Country Park follows the attractive and varied valley of the River Cole as a green ribbon for some four miles from Small Heath to Yardley Wood. It was named in 2005 to reflect Tolkien’s links with the local area. The park contains wetland, grassland, woodland and heath. Herons, mallards and moorhens are common, and kingfishers can sometimes be seen hunting along the meandering river. The ford at Green Road (formerly Green Lane, pictured above) is one of the few remaining fords along the Cole Valley and was very familiar to young Ronald Tolkien.

Home Education:

Mabel Tolkien taught her two children at home. Ronald, as he was known in the family, was a keen pupil. She taught him a great deal of botany and awakened in him the enjoyment of the look and feel of plants. Young Tolkien liked to draw landscapes and trees, but his favourite lessons were those concerning languages. Her two sons could have had no better teacher, nor she an apter pupil than Ronald, who could read by the time he was four and had soon learnt to write proficiently. His mother’s own handwriting was delightfully unconventional (see her script on the Christmas postcard from Bloemfontein, top). Having acquired the skill of penmanship from her father, she chose an upright and elaborate style, ornamenting her capitals with delicate curls. Ronald soon began to practise a hand that was, though different from his mother’s, to become equally elegant and idiosyncratic. But his favourite lessons were those in languages. Early in his Sarehole days, his mother introduced him to the rudiments of Latin, which delighted him. He was just as interested in the shapes and sounds of words as in their meanings, and she realised that he had a particular aptitude for languages. She began to teach him French, but he liked this much less because the sounds did not please him as much as those of Latin or English.

She also tried to interest him in learning to play the piano, but without success. It seemed instead as if words took the place of music for him and that he enjoyed listening to them, reading and reciting them, almost regardless of their meaning. He was good at drawing, too, mainly when the subject was a landscape or a tree. His mother taught him a great deal of botany, which he soon became very knowledgeable about. But, again, he was more interested in the shape and feel of a plant than in its botanical details. This was especially true of trees, which, although he liked drawing them, he enjoyed being with them most of all. He would climb them, lean against them, and even talk to them. It saddened him to discover that not everyone shared his feelings toward them. One incident, in particular, remained in his memory:

“There was a willow hanging over the mill-pond and I learned to climb it. It belonged to a butcher on the Stratford Road, I think. One day they cut it down. They didn’t do anything with it: the log just lay there. I never forgot that.”

Outside the school-room hours, his mother gave him plenty of storybooks. He was amused by Alice in Wonderland, though he had no desire to have adventures like Alice. He did not enjoy Treasure Island, the stories of Hans Christian Andersen, nor The Pied Piper. But he liked ‘Red Indian’ stories and longed to shoot with a bow and arrow. He was even more pleased by the ‘Curdie’ books of George MacDonald, which were set in a remote kingdom where misshapen and malevolent goblins lurked beneath the mountains. The Arthurian legends also excited him. But most of all, he found delight in the Fairy Books of Andrew Lang, especially the Red Fairy Book, for tucked away in its closing pages was the best story he had ever read. This was the tale of Sigurd, who slew the dragon Fafnir: a strange and powerful tale set in the nameless North. Whenever Ronald read it, he found it absorbing:

“I desired dragons with profound desire, … Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in the neighbourhood. But the world that contained even the imagination of the Fafnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever cost of peril.”

The Viking Völsunga saga was the basis for this story, telling the story of Fafnir. Initially, the son of a dwarf king, Fafnir and his brother Regin killed their father to steal his gold. But greedy Fafnir took the gold from his brother and turned into a dragon to guard his hoard. The mortal hero Sigurd (Siegfried) avenged the deed by plunging his sword into the dragon’s heart. Fafnir and Siegfried are featured in Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, a four-part opera cycle based on Germanic and Norse mythology. But Ronald was not content merely to read about dragons. When he was about seven, he wrote his first story about a dragon. Yet all he could recall of it later in life was his mother’s typically ‘Victorian’ grammarian insistence on his correct use of the order of adjectives:

“I remember nothing about it except a philological fact. … My mother said nothing about the dragon, but pointed out that one could not say ‘a green great dragon’, but had to say ‘a great green dragon’. I wondered why, and still do. The fact that I remember this is possibly significant, as I do not think I ever tried to write a story again for many years, and was taken up with language.”

Even so, Tolkien’s later writing style was full of complex uses of adjectives, for which it was criticised. Anyone who has tried to read his books out loud to children will recognise this as an ‘issue’ if not an obstacle! Somehow Mabel managed to feed and clothe the boys on her meagre income, eked out with occasional help from the Suffields and Tolkien relatives. Yet through the daily worries of the family’s poverty-stricken existence, there shone the family’s love for each other and for the Sarehole countryside, a place for adventure and solace. Ronald revelled in his surroundings with a desperate enjoyment, perhaps sensing that this paradise would be lost one day. Occasionally a strange dream would come to trouble him, that of a great wave towering over the trees and the green fields and advancing to engulf him and all around him. It was a dream that recurred for many years.

A Divided Family – Anglicans, Nonconformists and Catholics:

Christianity had played an increasingly important part in Mabel Tolkien’s life since her husband’s death, and each Sunday, she had taken the boys on a long walk to a ‘high’ Anglican church. Then one Sunday, Ronald and Hilary found that they were going to a different place of worship: St Anne’s, Alcester Street, in the ‘slums’ near the city centre, a Roman Catholic Church. She had been thinking for some time about becoming a Catholic. Nor did she take this step alone. Her sister May had returned from South Africa, now with two children, leaving her husband Walter to follow when he had completed his business there. Unknown to him, she, too, had decided to become a Catholic. During the spring of 1900, May and Mabel received instruction at St Anne’s, and in June of the same year, they were welcomed into the Roman Church. Immediately the wrath of their family fell upon them. This was at a time when Birmingham was riven by sectarianism. Joseph Chamberlain, the former Mayor of Birmingham, was a Liberal Unionist MP for the city. Despite being a government minister, as a strong nonconformist, he was committed to the campaign against state funding for church schools, which was characterised as Rome on the rates. Nonconformity had reached its zenith in Birmingham. John Suffield, the father of Mabel and May, had gone to a Methodist School and was now, like Chamberlain, a Unitarian. To him, his daughters should turn ‘Papist’ was an outrage beyond belief. May’s husband, Walter Incledon, considered himself a pillar of his local Anglican church, and for his wife to associate herself with the Roman Catholics was simply out of the question. Returning to Birmingham, he forbade her to enter a Catholic church again, and she had to obey him, but she subsequently turned to spiritualism instead.

Walter Incledon had provided a small amount of financial support for Mabel since Arthur’s death, but now there would be no more money from that source. Instead, she faced hostility not just from Walter and other members of the Suffield family but also from the Tolkiens, many of whom were Baptists and therefore strongly opposed to Catholicism. The strain of this, coupled with the additional financial hardship, did no good for her health. Still, nothing would shake her loyalty to her new faith, and against the opposition of both families, she began to instruct Ronald and Hilary in that faith. Meanwhile, it was time for Ronald to be sent to school. In the autumn of 1899, aged seven, he took the entrance examination for King Edward’s but failed to obtain a place. A year later, he retook the examination and passed, entering ‘KEGS’ in September 1900. A Tolkien uncle better-disposed towards Mabel paid the fees, then twelve pounds per annum. The school was in the centre of the city, four miles from Sarehole but close to New Street Station, but for the first few weeks, Ronald had to walk much of the way, for his mother could not afford the train fare, and the trams did not run as far as his home, or even close to it.

Starting School – King Edward’s, Moseley & King’s Heath:

His four-mile morning walks could not continue, and Mabel regretfully decided that their days in the ‘shire’ would have to end. Instead, she found a house to rent on Alcester Road in Moseley, nearer the centre and already on the tram route to New Street Station and King Edward’s. So, late in 1900, she and the boys packed their belongings and left the cottage where they had been so happy for the past four years. ‘Four years,’ Ronald Tolkien wrote, looking back from old age, ‘but the longest-seeming and most formative part of my life.’ His home life was very different from what he had known at Sarehole. His mother had rented a small house on the main road in Moseley, which, though originally a village like Hall Green, had become a city suburb by then. The view from the windows was a sad contrast to the shire countryside of Sarehole, which Ronald was desperately forlorn at being severed from. The trams struggled up the hill, and in the distance were the smoking chimneys factory chimneys of Sparkbrook and Small Heath. But no sooner had they settled than they had to move again since the house was to be demolished to make way for a fire station. Mable found a villa less than a mile away in a terrace row behind King’s Heath Station. The family soon moved again to Westfield Road in Kings Heath, where they were now not far from her parental home, but what had really dictated her choice was the presence in the road of the new Roman Catholic church at St Dunstan, corrugated outside and pitch-pine within.

Ronald found some comfort in this new home. The King’s Heath house backed onto a railway line, and life was punctuated by the roar of trains and the shunting of trucks in the nearby coal yard. Yet the railway cutting had grass slopes, and he discovered flowers and plants here. And something else attracted his attention: the curious Welsh placenames on the coal trucks in the sidings below, which he could not pronounce. So it came about that he began to learn the Welsh language by pondering over the signs for Nantyglo, Senghenydd, Blaenrhondda, Penrhiwceiber, and Tredegar. Then, later in his childhood, he went on a railway journey to Wales, and as the station names flashed by him, he knew that there were words more appealing to him than any he had yet encountered, an ancient language but one which was still alive. He asked for information about it, but the only Welsh books that could be found for him were incomprehensible. Yet he had found another linguistic world to fire his creative talents, one to which he later returned.

King Edward’s School could scarcely be missed by the traveller arriving in Birmingham on the London and North Western Railway, for it rose majestically above New Street Station’s subterranean smoke and steam. It resembled an Oxford college, a heavy and soot-blackened Victorian gothic construction that was designed by Sir Charles Barry and AWN Pugin, the architects of the rebuilt Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament). Sadly, Barry’s building was demolished after the school had moved to new premises in Edgbaston, just outside the city centre, in 1935. However, a whole corridor was saved and rebuilt in Edgbaston as the new school chapel. Founded by Edward VI, the school was generously endowed, and the governors had been able to open branch schools in many of the poorer parts of the city, which formed the King Edward’s Foundation Schools. But the standards at the original ‘High School’ were still unrivalled in Birmingham, and many of the hundreds of boys went on to win awards at major universities. By the time Tolkien joined them, ‘KEGS’ had almost outgrown its buildings and was cramped, crowded and noisy. It presented a daunting prospect for a boy who had been brought up in a quiet country village, and, unsurprisingly, Ronald spent much of his first term absent from school due to ill health. But he soon grew accustomed to the school’s rough-and-tumble routine.

The Oratory & Ladywood:

Although he did not initially show any outstanding aptitude in classwork, Tolkien proved to be a good all-rounder. Besides diligently pursuing his academic studies, he was an enthusiastic sportsman, actor, librarian and secretary of the school debating and literary societies. Meanwhile, his mother was becoming restless. She did not like the King’s Heath house and discovered that she did not like St Dunstan’s Church. So she began to search around, once again taking the boys on long Sunday walks in search of a place of worship that appealed to her. She soon discovered the Birmingham Oratory, a large church in the Ladywood suburb of Birmingham that was looked after by a community of priests. The Birmingham Oratory had been established in 1849 by John Henry Newman, then a recent convert to the Catholic faith. He had spent the last four decades of his life within its walls, dying there in 1890. Surely, she thought, she would find a friend, sympathetic counsellor, and confessor among them. Newman’s spirit still presided over the high-ceilinged rooms of the Oratory House on The Hagley Road, and in 1902, the community still included many priests who had been his friends and had served under him.

When Tolkien’s mother converted to Catholicism in 1900, the family worshipped at St Anne’s Church in Alcester Street, Digbeth. After moving to Edgbaston in 1902, Mabel and the boys attended Cardinal Newman’s Oratory on the Hagley Road. The family lived in nearby Oliver Road, and, for a time, Ronald was enrolled at St Philip’s School on the same street.

One of these was Father Francis Xavier Morgan, then aged forty-three, who shortly after the Tolkiens moved into the Ladywood district took over the duties of a parish priest and came to call. In him, Mabel soon found not only a sympathetic priest but a valuable friend. Half-Welsh and half-Spanish, Morgan was not a man of great intellect, but he had an immense fund of kindness, humour and flamboyance often attributed to his Spanish connections. He soon became an indispensable part of the Tolkien household. Without his friendship, life for Mabel and her sons would have shown scant improvement over the previous two years. They moved to Ladywood near the Catholic Oratory church, to a house only one degree better than a slum, while all around them were mean side streets. However, next to the house was the Oratory, attached to which and under the direction of its clergy was the St Philip’s Grammar School, where the fees were lower than King Edward’s and her sons could receive a Catholic education.

Early in 1902, Ronald and Hilary were enrolled at St Philip’s School. But although it was only a step from their front door, its bare-brick classrooms were no substitute for the splendours of King Edward’s, and the school’s academic standards were correspondingly lower. Ronald quickly surpassed his classmates, and Mabel, almost as soon, realised that St Philip’s could not provide the education Ronald needed. So she removed both boys and began again to give them home tuition, with much success in Ronald’s case, as he won a Foundation Scholarship to King Edward’s and returned there a few months later. Hilary, however, failed his entry test and continued to be educated at home.

In charge of the Sixth Class at the school was George Brewerton, one of the few assistant masters who specialised in teaching English literature. At that time, this subject was scarcely featured in the curriculum. Brewerton was a medievalist and, always a fierce teacher, he demanded that his pupils should use the plain old words of the English language, for instance, not manure but muck. He encouraged them to read Chaucer and recited The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English:

From Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.

To Ronald Tolkien’s ears, this was a revelation, and he resolved to learn more about the history of the language. At Christmas 1903, Mabel Tolkien wrote to her mother-in-law about his progress:

He is going along at a great rate at school – he knows far more Greek than I do Latin – he says he is going to do German with me these holidays – though at present I feel more like Bed.

One of the clergy, a young, merry one, is teaching Ronald to play chess – he says he has read too much, everything fit for a boy under fifteen, and he doesn’t know any single classical thing to recommend him. Ronald is making his First Communion this Christmas – so it is a very great feast to us this year. I don’t say this to vex you – only you say you like to know everything about them.

A Worcestershire Convalescence; Grief & Faith:

The New Year did not begin well. Ronald and Hilary were confined to bed with measles followed by whooping cough and, in Hilary’s case, pneumonia. The additional strain of nursing them proved too much for their mother, and by April 1904, she was in the hospital, diagnosed with diabetes. Hilary was sent to his Suffield grandparents and Ronald to Hove to his Aunt Jane. Insulin treatment was not yet available for diabetes patients, and there was much anxiety about Mabel’s condition. Still, she had recovered sufficiently by the summer to be discharged from the hospital. Clearly, she must undergo a long and careful convalescence. A plan was proposed by Father Morgan. At Rednal, a Worcestershire village a few miles beyond the city boundary, Cardinal Newman had built a modest country house which served as a retreat for the Oratory clergy. On the edge of its grounds stood a cottage occupied by the local postman, whose wife could let the family have a bedroom and sitting-room, so in June 1904, the three joined together once more for a summer in the countryside. It was as if they had returned to Sarehole. The boys had the freedom of the estate and could also roam further away in the Lickey Hills. Father Morgan paid them many visits there, sitting upon the verandah of the House smoking a large cherrywood pipe, to which Tolkien traced his later addiction to the Pipe. It was an idyllic existence.

In September, Ronald – now fit and well – returned to King Edward’s. But his mother could not yet bring herself to return to the smoke and dirt of Birmingham. So, for the time being, Ronald had to get himself to school and back via train, and Hilary met him on his return with a lamp. However, Mabel’s condition began to deteriorate, and at the beginning of November, she collapsed suddenly and (for the boys) terrifyingly and sank into a diabetic coma. Six days later, on 14th November, with Father Francis and her sister May at her bedside in the cottage, she died. Nine years after her death, Ronald wrote:

My own dear mother was a martyr indeed, and it is not to everybody that God grants so easy a way to his great gifts as he did to Hilary and myself, giving us a mother who killed herself with labour and trouble to ensure us keeping the faith.

It gives some indication of the way he associated her with his membership in the Catholic Church. Indeed, it might be said that after she died, his religion took its place in the affections that she had previously occupied. The consolidation that it provided was both emotional and spiritual. Perhaps her death also had a cementing effect on his study of languages. It was she, after all, who had been his first teacher and had encouraged him to take an interest in words. Now that she was gone, he would pursue that path relentlessly. Indeed, the loss of his mother profoundly affected his personality. It made him into a pessimist, or rather it split his personality. By nature, he was a cheerful, almost irrepressible person with a great zest for life. He loved good conversation and physical activity. He had a deep sense of humour and an excellent capacity for making friends. But from this point on, there was to be another side to his personality, more private but predominant in his diaries and letters. This side of his mind was capable of bouts of profound despair. More precisely, when he was in this mood, he had a deep sense of impending loss, rather like his Sarehole dreams of a great wave. Nothing felt safe, nothing would last, and no battle would be won forever.

Mabel Tolkien was buried in the Catholic churchyard at Bromsgrove. Over her grave, Father Morgan placed a stone cross of the same design used for each of the Oratory clergy in their Rednal cemetery. Mabel had appointed him to be the guardian of the two boys in her will, which proved a wise choice, for he displayed unfailing generosity and fatherly affection to them. His generosity took a practical form, for he had a private income from his Anglo-Spanish family’s sherry business. Since, as an Oratorian, he was not obliged to surrender his property to the community, he could use this money for his own purposes. Mabel had left only eight hundred pounds of invested capital to support the boys. Still, Father Francis quietly augmented this from his pocket and ensured that Ronald and Hilary did not go short of anything essential to their well-being.

An Edgbaston Interlude, 1904-08:

Immediately after their mother’s death, the priest had to find somewhere new for them to live together: a tricky problem, for while ideally they should be placed with their own closest relatives, there was a danger that the Suffield or Tolkien aunts and uncles would try to move them away from the control of the Catholic Church. There had already been some talk about contesting Mabel’s will and sending the boys to a Protestant boarding school. However, one relative, an aunt by marriage, had no particularly strong religious views and had rooms to let. She lived in Edgbaston near the Oratory, and Father Francis decided that her house would be as good a home as any for the moment, at least. So a few weeks after their mother’s death, Ronald and Hilary (now thirteen and eleven) moved into their aunt’s top-floor bedroom. Her name was Beatrice Suffield, and she lived in a dark house in Stirling Road, a long side street in the district of Edgbaston.

The boys had a large room to themselves, and Hilary was happy leaning out the window. But Ronald was still numb from grief at his mother’s death and hated the view of the unbroken rooftops and factory chimneys beyond. The countryside was just visible in the distance, but it now belonged, in Ronald’s imagination, to a remote past that could no longer be regained. He felt trapped in the city, severed from the open air, the Lickey Hills, and the Rednal cottage where they had been so happy with their mother. Because her death had taken him away from all these beloved things, he came to associate them with her. His feelings towards the rural landscape, already sharpened by the earlier severance from Sarehole, now became charged with personal bereavement. These recollections of the countryside of his childhood and youth later became a central part of his writing, intimately bound up with his love for the memory of his mother.

Whilst living in Edgbaston, Ronald Tolkien would have been familiar with two distinctive landmarks. The extraordinary 96ft. Perrott’s Folly is named after John Perrott, who had it built in 1758. The crenellated Gothic tower was originally part of a hunting lodge. In the 19th century, it became one of the first weather recording stations in the country. Along the road at Edgbaston Waterworks stands a later Victorian chimney tower. The tower was part of a complex of buildings designed by J H Chamberlain and William Martin around 1870. The pair of towers, visible from Aunt Beatrice’s home in Stirling Road, is said to have suggested ‘Minas Morgul’ and ‘Minas Tirith’, the Two Towers of Gondor, after which the second part of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy is named.

The brothers lived in Stirling Road between 1904 and 1908. Aunt Beatrice gave Ronald and Hilary board and lodging but not much more. She had been recently widowed and was childless and poorly off. Sadly, she was also deficient in affection and showed little understanding of the boys’ mental and emotional states. One day, Ronald came into the kitchen, saw a pile of ashes in the grate, and discovered that she had burnt all his mother’s personal papers and letters. She had never considered that he might wish to keep them. Fortunately, the Oratory was near, and it soon became the boys’ real home. Early in the morning, they would serve mass for Father Morgan at his favourite side-altar. They would then eat breakfast in the refectory before setting off for school. Hilary had passed his entrance examination and was now at King Edward’s, and the two boys would walk together down New Street if there was time or take a horse-drawn tram if the clock at Five Ways showed that they were running late.

Studies in Old English & Middle English:

Ronald made many friends at school, and one boy in particular soon became an inseparable companion. A year younger than John Ronald, as he was known to these friends, Christopher Wiseman was the son of a Wesleyan minister living in Edgbaston. The two boys met in the Fifth Class in the autumn of 1905, Tolkien achieving first place in the class and Wiseman coming second. Their rivalry soon became a friendship based on a shared interest in Latin and Greek, a great delight in Rugby Football and an enthusiasm for discussing anything and everything. Wiseman was a staunch Methodist, but the two boys found that they could also discuss religion without bitterness. Together they moved up the school. The study of Latin and Greek was the backbone of the curriculum, and Tolkien demonstrated a natural aptitude for these. They were taught particularly well in the First (or Senior) Class, which Ronald reached shortly before his sixteenth birthday. By then, he was also developing an interest in the general principles of language. It was one thing to understand Latin, Greek, French and German, but quite another to know why they were what they were. Tolkien had begun to look for the elements that were common to them all: he had begun, in fact, to study philology, the science of words. He was encouraged to do even more when he became acquainted with Old English and Middle English.

Under George Brewerton’s tuition, Ronald Tolkien had shown an interest in Chaucerian literature. Brewerton was pleased by this and offered to lend Ronald an Anglo-Saxon primer, an offer which was eagerly accepted. Opening its covers, Tolkien found himself face to face with the language spoken by the English before the first Normans set foot in their land. Anglo-Saxon, also called Old English, was familiar and recognisable to him as an antecedent of his own language and, at the same time, was remote and obscure. In fact, Old English was the language of the Anglo-Saxon period, up to about 1150, after the Norman Conquest. Our knowledge of it is based on a few manuscripts that survive from the time, from which the grammar and vocabulary have been reconstructed by scholars, from the sixteenth century onwards, but mainly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The English were not a politically unified nation until late OE times, and they came from different parts of western Europe and spoke various dialects of West Germanic.

They settled in different parts of what became England and Scotland. Still, they were able to communicate with each other since dialects are varieties of language which differ in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar but are not different enough to prevent understanding. The country settled by the English from the sixth to the eighth centuries is sometimes referred to as the heptarchy since it had seven kingdoms, the most powerful of which were, in turn, Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex. However, the fact that there were seven kingdoms did not mean that there were seven dialects. The evidence of the manuscripts suggests that there were three or four: Northumbrian and Mercian (developing from West Germanic ‘Anglian’), Kentish and West Saxon (originating from ‘Jutish’ and ‘Saxon’). It is usual to use the late West Saxon dialect to describe ‘Old English’ because, by the tenth century, it was a standard written form, and most surviving manuscripts were written in West Saxon.

The primer Brewerton lent to Tolkien explained the language in words that he could easily understand, and he was soon making light work of translating the prose examples at the back of the book. He found that Old English appealed to him, though it did not have the same aesthetic charm as Old Welsh. This was somewhat a historical appeal, the attraction of studying the ancestors of his own language. He began to find real excitement when he progressed beyond the simple passages in the primer and turned to the great Old English poem of Beowulf. Reading this first in a translation and then in the original language, he found it to be one of the most extraordinary poems he had ever read: the tale of the warrior Beowulf, his fight with two monsters, and his death after a battle with a dragon. The facsimile below is of the beginning of the manuscript poem:

The extract below is from a translation by Sam Newton (2003) in which a ship-burial, thought to be like the one uncovered at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, is described in the poem:

After discovering Beowulf, Tolkien returned to Middle English and found Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This was another poem to fire his imagination: the medieval tale of an Arthurian knight and his search for the mysterious giant who is to deal him a terrible axe blow. Tolkien was delighted by the poem, especially its language, for he realised that its dialect was approximately that which had been spoken by his mother’s West Midland ancestors. In the Anglo-Saxon incursions and settlements of Britain, the Angles occupied the Midlands, the North and what is now southern Scotland. The general term Anglian is used to describe their dialect of Old English (OE). Still, its northern and southern varieties were different enough for two dialects to be recognised: Northumbrian (north of the Humber) and Mercian (south of the Humber). During the Middle English (ME) period, the Mercian (Midlands) dialects developed differently. The East Midlands was part of the Danelaw, the area settled by Scandinavians or Norsemen and under Danish law throughout much of the ninth century, but the West Midlands was not. So the dialect of the East Midlands came under the influence of the Danish Old Norse (ON) speakers, while Old English Mercian became two ME dialects: East Midlands and West Midlands. The following two texts from the fourteenth-century poem Piers Plowman illustrate the West Midlands dialect. However, scholars have placed the dialect as being from the area covered today by Cheshire or south Lancashire rather than Warwickshire or Worcestershire.

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight is a romance in alliterative verse which tells the story of the legendary court of King Arthur. The one surviving manuscript was probably written towards the end of the fourteenth century. The author’s name is not known. The poem is written in 101 stanzas with varying unrhymed alliterative lines followed by five short rhymed lines. Like in all OE and ME poetry, it was written to be read aloud to an audience. Although it was contemporary with Chaucer’s writing, it is more difficult for the modern reader than a comparable stanza of Chaucer’s writing, partly because some vocabulary is from a stock of words which came down into modern English spoken dialects but not into written Standard English. The story of the poem is that during the New Year celebrations at King Arthur’s court, a Green Knight rides in, carrying a battle-axe and challenges any knight to strike him a blow with the axe, provided that he can strike a return blow a year and a day later. Gawain takes up the challenge:

The following stanza of the poem tells what happened when Gawain took up the Green Knight’s challenge to strike a blow with the axe.

Piers Plowman is one of the most famous poems in Middle English. It must have been a very popular work because over fifty manuscripts have survived. The poem is an allegory of the Christian life and the corruption of the contemporary church and society, written in the form of a series of dreams or ‘visions’. The following text is from the ‘Prologue,’ in which the writer dreams of a fair field full of folk, the world of contemporary society.

Piers Plowman is a humble poor West Midland labourer who stands for the ideal life of honest work and obedience to the church. The author was William Langland, but nothing is known about him apart from what can be inferred from the text of the poem. However, the reader must remember that the ‘dreamer’ of the visions is a character in the story and may not always be identified with the author. There are three versions of the poem, the A, B and C texts, which show that Langland constantly revised and extended the verse from the 1360s until the 1380s when the C-text was completed. Of course, the printed text is edited based on one of the C-text manuscripts but uses other manuscript readings or makes changes where the manuscript does not make good sense. Some modern punctuation has also been added, so we are not reading the exact form of the original manuscript. Nevertheless, it is a fine fourteenth-century example of the tradition of alliterative verse in English. The dialect is (south) West Midland ‘but rather mixed’, the dialect that Tolkien took to be that of his ancestors. But the fifty manuscripts and successive text versions also have many variant spellings. As a result, the editors of modern versions have to choose from the available alternatives. In addition, the manuscripts used by the editor are copies, not the original.

Text 45 (below) is a facsimile of an extract from one of the C-text manuscripts. In the first line, which can be described as What is parfit patience: quod Actiua uita, a question is put to Patience by Activa Vita (Active Life). They are allegorical characters in the poem. Piers Plowman is seeking how to live a good life, and the next Passus (section) describes the life of ‘Dowel’ – that is, how to do well.

Typical grammatical markers of ME West Midlands dialects, variants from OE, include:

Tolkien began to explore further in Middle English and read the Pearl, an allegorical poem about a dead child, believed to have been written by the author of Sir Gawain. Then he turned to Old Norse, reading line by line in the original words the story of Sigurd and the dragon Fafnir that had fascinated him in Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book when he was a small child. By this time, he had acquired a range of linguistic knowledge and awareness that was remarkable for a schoolboy. He continued his search for the ‘bones’ of all these languages, rummaging in the ‘Philology’ sections of the school library and the nearby bookshop. It was not an arid interest in the scientific principles of language; it was a deep love for the look and sound of words, springing from the days of his mother’s first Latin lessons.

From Middle England to Middle-earth:
A blue plaque on the Birmingham Repertory Theatre commemorates Dr J Sampson Gamgee, founder of the Birmingham Hospital Saturday fund. ‘Gamgee tissue’ was the local name for cotton wool, and the surgeon’s widow lived opposite Aunt Beatrice’s house in Stirling Road, so Ronald Tolkien would have been very familiar with the name, though unconscious of its origins when he used it for Frodo’s faithful companion in his book.

To be continued (for sources, see part two)…


Orbán versus Soros: Whose Values? -The Continuing Confrontation.

Extract from a Speech by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the 31st Bálványos Summer Free University and Student Camp, 23 July 2022, Tusnádfürdő [Băile Tuşnad]:

We have managed to separate our big debate on the whole gender issue from the debate on EU money, and the two are now moving forward on separate tracks. Here too, our position is simple. We are asking for another offer of tolerance: we do not want to tell them how they should live; we are just asking them to accept that in our country a father is a man and a mother is a woman, and that they leave our children alone.

And we ask them to see to it that George Soros’s army also accepts this. It is important for people in the West to understand that in Hungary and in this part of the world this is not an ideological question, but quite simply the most important question in life. In this corner of the world there will never be a majority in favour of the Western lunacy – my apologies to everyone – that is being played out over there.

Since November 2017, Diana Senechal has taught English, American and British Civilization at Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and guide the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In her recent ‘blog-post,’ she clarified and summarised Orbán’s rather tangled statements while at the same time challenging the more extreme views put forward in his speech:

Moreover, the West itself, through ethnic mixing and other changes applauded and abetted by the international Left (including the “troops of Soros”), has turned into something that could be called the Post-West. In fact, the “true West” now exists in Central Europe alone; the rest has become the Post-West. 

As for the family, it is already changing in Hungary, with no help from “Soros troops.” Many young people in Hungary—by which I mean people in their late teens through early thirties—yearn for a more open and flexible way of living. Not all women want to be housewives. Not all men want to be served by their wives. They (women and men) want partnerships, cameraderie, friendship, shared interests, joint projects. Some might not want to marry. And many (though not all) young people, whether heterosexual or otherwise, believe that gay people should be accepted and treated with dignity. Young people have a wide range of beliefs, attitudes, feelings on these issues, but they see that this range exists. Orbán denies this range by asserting the existence of a single Hungarian view. A generation or two ago, that might have been more true. But not now. Hungary is far more diverse (ideologically, personally, even ethnically) than Orbán recognizes.

But he resolves this by writing off the Hungarians who don’t fit his model. Apparently, in his view such people are international leftists, “Soros troops”, etc., not true Hungarians. They are not even true Westerners! The true spiritual West, according to Orbán, lives only in those who will defend the Hungarian peoples from the encroachments of the surrounding world. As proof that he represents the true Hungarian view, he would likely cite the fact that the Hungarian people keep voting for Fidesz. But this conceals a more complex situation: Fidesz itself is not monolithic, and not everyone who votes for Fidesz does so enthusiastically, in full agreement with its official ideology. (Never mind gerrymandering, media bias, etc.)

A Postcard from Multi-Cultural Birmingham:

I had just started a fortnight’s holiday when I read about this speech, even more twisted than his previous pontifications from Transylvania. As usual, he shows his ignorance of ‘Western’ history and culture. Back in the UK for the first time in three years, watching the Commonwealth Games, it’s great to see how my home city of Birmingham is welcoming the world. I’ve never been prouder of its multi-cultural heritage and traditions and refuse to be branded as one of ‘Soros’s troops.’ I had my own motivations in coming to live and work in Hungary in 1990. At that time, I was only vaguely aware of who George Soros was, mainly in connection with his speculation against the pound in the early 1990s.

Opening up Central-Eastern Europe in the Eighties:

By the 1980s, both the liberal and nationalist oppositions to communist rule in Hungary had established links with the leaders of Hungarian minorities abroad and drew encouragement and support from Hungarian emigrés in the West. The New York-based Open Society Foundation was launched by the American businessman George Soros in 1982 and opened a legal office in Budapest in 1987. Since 2010, he has become “public enemy number one” in Hungary, so I became interested in a collection of essays about him published by the Harvard Business Review a few months ago. In his introduction to these, Peter Osnos explains how, over the years, Soros became a primary nemesis to the global extreme Right, which deployed a mix of conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic tropes to discredit his activities on behalf of progressive causes and civil society. Osnos points out that:

The bizarre notion that he is mastermind of everything the right-wingers around the world reject is nonsense.

Bizarre or not, these theories led to a bomb being placed in the mailbox outside his home in Bedford, New York. Yet Soros has displayed extraordinary equanimity in almost every way. What did bother him was that in his homeland, the autocratic leader Viktor Orbán, who, in 1989, had studied at Oxford as a Soros-funded fellowship scholar, made him the nemesis of his nativist political strategy. Orbán’s values have always been those of the village pump! Soros’ values came from his unique heritage: the influence of his father, Tivadar, in the war years was a basis for his own daring and risk-taking in finance and in life generally.

Orbán, the ‘player.’
The ‘Young liberal-communist.’

By early 1989, however, the tectonic plates in Europe had begun to shift. The Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, had unleashed perestroika and glasnost but was soon losing control of the Soviet state apparatus and of public opinion in his empire. In Hungary, the régime was losing its capacity to create fear and buy off discontent. A steady stream of samizdat publications, concerts, dance performances, and seminars started a ferment the Communist Party central committee proved incapable of controlling. In the summer of 1989, the young dissident Viktor Orbán made a dramatic public speech at the public reinterment of Imre Nagy, calling for the withdrawal of Soviet troops. Shortly afterwards, Soros funded a scholarship for Orbán to spend a semester at Oxford. Meanwhile, the talk was beginning to circulate, both in the Hungarian Foundation and in the Inter-University seminar which had met at Dubrovnik in March, about the setting up of a new university.

Still, Soros remained sceptical and cautious, believing, to use a phrase of Popper’s, that “piecemeal social engineering was the most effective way to make the change.” Young dissidents like the historian István Rév warned him that the Academy of Sciences only to maintain its privileged position, but Soros stuck with the collaboration, believing that he should work with existing institutions. Historian László Kontler, then a young instructor who attended the 1989 Dubrovnik meetings, remembers that while the creation of a university was on the agenda, no one realised how quickly events were moving in the region. The talk was not, he recalled, about the transition from communism but how to support a university curriculum that would “undermine the credibility of Soviet ideology.”

A Kick up the Nineties – Another Prague Spring:

A few months later, the fall of the Berlin Wall accelerated the plans and discussions. The question ceased to be whether there should be a new international university but when it should start and where. On the latter question, there was only one answer as far as the Hungarian intellectuals were concerned: Budapest. But there were also meetings in the university, where Soros secured a promise from the new Czechoslovak PM, a former dissident, that the university could have a lease on a trade union building in Prague. That seemed to settle the question of location, but Soros still hesitated, and he continued to do so throughout 1990. He vacillated, sometimes thinking he should invest in existing universities, sometimes believing he needed partners to help him finance a new university. But, slowly, he realised that if he wanted to start a new university, he would have to do so with his money alone. In December 1990, at a meeting in Oxford, he finally told the assembled Czech, Polish, British and Hungarian academics that he would fund the foundation of a new university that would open in Prague in the Spring of 1991. Michael Ignatieff, a recent rector, has written of how Soros’ mind suddenly shifted into a higher gear:

Once he made up his mind, his instincts were radical. Once established in Prague, the university should also have campuses in Warsaw and Budapest. For him, it was evident that Central Europe had a common culture and history and should have a university to reflect that identity. … as time went on, the fragmentation of Central Europe became ever more evident, but in this bright and hopeful moment of transition, it still seemed possible to have a university in three capitals in the region.

Ignatieff in Osnos (ed.), p. 167.

In thinking about what kind of university the region needed, Soros reasoned that in a time of change, it needed experts in transition: lawyers to write constitutions, more lawyers to privatize state companies, economists to figure out how to unleash the disciplines of a price system on a socialist command economy, political scientists to assist in the creation of free political parties. As Ignatieff has further commented,

Founding a university to change the course of history meant training a new élite to take the place of the discredited and bankrupt communist cadres in government offices, factories research institutes and social institutions. The focus of the education offered should be practical, vocational, and policy-orientated. Soros was enamoured of intellectuals, but he was even more enamoured of ‘doers’. … What the region needed, in other words, was a ‘trade school for transition,’ a place that would train a new élite to manage the shift away from communism…

But that’s not how things turned out … Instead of a training school, the institution George Soros got for his money was… a highly academic graduate school in the social sciences and humanities. … Little by little history and the humanities made their way into the curriculum of Central European University. For someone who thought he was making history happen, for someone whose success with money taught him his instincts were nearly always right, the largest surprise about the university’s founding is that Soros listened and learned.

Ignatieff in Osnos, pp. 168-69.

János Kis credits Soros with listening but also ascribes this willingness to listen to his deep motivations:

“It is true that George imagined CEU as a trade school for the transition to democracy. But this is not a complete account of what he had in mind. He also wanted CEU to be the lighthouse of the liberal thought in the region. … So George’s commitment to liberal values, including the value of open society, was a driving force moving CEU away from his other ideal, a trade school for practitians, and in the direction of a graduate school in social sciences and the humanities.”

Quoted by Ignattieff in Osnos (ed.), p. 169.

Once Soros gave the go-ahead in December 1990, founding the university in the space of just nine months was an almost inconceivable undertaking. At any other time, it would have been absurd to try, but in the euphoria and state of high energy released by the collapse of the Soviet empire, anything seemed possible. By September 1991, Central European University opened for classes in the trade union building in Prague. The Budapest programmes started with legal studies, history, and environmental sciences and developed with political science and international relations. Soros committed $5 million a year to the CEU. The new governments in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland were reluctant to subsidise what they characterised as an American billionaire’s vanity project. An appeal to wealthy private sponsors in the UK and Europe met with a similar reaction. It began to dawn on Soros that if the university was to survive, it would be with his money alone.

The Re-emergence of Anti-Semitism:

The University grew rapidly throughout the 1990s. Students were flooding in from all parts of Central and Eastern Europe and from Central Asia. At the same time, the dissident political movement of 1989 was replaced by the darker, resurgent forces of nationalism and authoritarianism. This was accompanied, here and there, by a deep current of right-wing anti-Semitism. A disgruntled right-wing Hungarian dissident, István Csurka, wrote an anti-Semitic attack on Soros and the CEU in 1993, describing him and other Western liberals as ‘termites’ undermining the foundations of the Hungarian nation. At the time, it was easy to dismiss Csurka as a radical outlier, but since then, such vitriolic views have been shared by more ‘mainstream’ Magyar politicians. By the end of the century, the politics of the Central European countries had become resolutely nationalist, and the overall regional identity was relatively weak. The university still called itself Central European, but by the late 1990s, it had become a Hungarian institution with US accreditation. Soros secured a magnificent former palace in the heart of downtown Pest that became the university’s home.

But while he was increasingly excited by the institution taking shape, Soros was also immune to the euphoric illusion that the liberal democratic transition was irreversible. On the contrary, he was fiercely critical of the failure of the Americans and Western Europeans to grasp how epoch-making the collapse of the USSR had been and how fragile the prospects for democracy really were, even in America.

Soros became disillusioned by how few governments and foundations followed his lead. As he watched the West missing its chance to link the former Soviet empire to itself and its democratic ideals, as Former Yugoslavia descended into a downward spiral of violence, his public commentary on the region became even darker. In testimony before the US House of Representatives in 1994, he said:

“When I embarked on my project, I was planning on a short-term campaign to seize the revolutionary moment and to provide an example that would be followed by the more slowly moving, more cumbersome institutions of our open societies. But I was sadly mistaken. Now I must think in biblical terms – forty years in the wilderness.”

George Soros, quoted by Ignatieff in Osnos (ed.), pp. 175-76.

From an enrollment of seventy-six in 1991, CEU was taking in 674 students by 1998. At first, CEU was an attractive option for students in the region, especially since Soros was paying full scholarships. Many of these students then completed doctorates at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and Stanford. Instead of training an élite who would stay in the region and lead it forward, CEU became a means of exiting it altogether. At the same time, demographic growth in the Central European region was faltering, and the number of young people eligible for graduate education began to decline. A university founded to create a transition élite in the region was slowly losing its core student population from the region. In its place, CEU began recruiting worldwide. Whereas in 1991, it recruited students exclusively from the twenty-seven countries of the former Soviet bloc, by 2000, it was recruiting from the USA, the UK, and Western Europe, and after 2010 from Africa, Asia and Latin America. By 2020, it was recruiting students from 120 countries. The CEU story, therefore, is about unintended consequences, which did not surprise its founder. It is no coincidence that the following quotation is displayed in the CEU building in Budapest:

“Reality has the power to surprise thinking and thinking has the power to create reality. But we must remember the unintended consequences – the outcome always differs from expectations.”

Quoted by Ignatieff in Osnos (ed.), p. 177.
Joining the European Union – The Era of Euro-Atlantic Integration:

By the time Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Croatia and the Czech Republic joined the European Union in 2004, Soros could have been forgiven for believing that his investment in transition had paid off. All these countries had been stabilised by the powerful incentives of the Euro-Atlantic integration process. The expectation was that, once inside the Union, the European Council, the European Parliament, and the European Commission, together with the European Court of Justice, would exert a transnational regulatory role, ensuring that these countries remained on the democratic path. Guided by this expectation, the Open Society Foundations began scaling back its investments in the Balkans and Central Europe. Its attention shifted to other regions of the world, particularly to the foundation’s work in the United States and South Africa.

In the USA, over time, Soros was able to change the terms of the debate over social reform and helped enact policy and elect new leadership that made a real difference for millions caught up in the overcriminalization of America. While Soros has fostered these deeper trends, making investments in structures and collaborations that have outlasted campaign cycles in a political world famously addicted to short-termism, he has also played an outsized role in the political careers of young leaders of colour like Barack Obama and Stacey Abrams. They have changed the face of American politics. Soros has played a leading role in the transformation of progressive politics and in the transitions to democracy of numerous countries on virtually every continent.

While the CEU continued to grow, the political climate in Hungary continued to darken. After Hungary joined the European Union in 2004, thousands of Hungarians had taken out mortgages with Western banks denominated in euros. When the financial crisis hit in 2007-08, they suddenly found themselves underwater, and the government struggled to offer any help. Public finances collapsed. In 2010 the socialist government was swept from power, and the Fidesz Party, led by Viktor Orbán, came into office. Orbán had already served one term as PM between 1998 and 2002, preparing the country for EU entry. But after he was turned out of office, he was stung by his defeat and vowed, in a famous speech, that never again would ‘the Hungarian nation’ be in opposition. The faculty at the CEU had never heard the rhetoric of this kind before, especially the idea that Orbán and his party were the incarnation of the nation. During his time out of office, Orbán built a broad ‘civil society’ movement of the right, largely based in the Hungarian churches, and developed an ideology with deep roots in the small towns and rural areas: hostile to ‘Western’ condescension, assertive of Hungarian pride and language. Once in power, the new Fidesz government rewrote the constitution, slapped down the liberal media, and set about exerting party control over the Supreme Court and other vital institutions. From the beginning, the CEU’s professors joined with the liberal media in analyzing and denouncing these trends. The hope at the time was that the university could ride out the radical shift in the political climate.

Into the New Millennium – A ‘Conservative’ Counter-Revolution:

Slowly it became apparent that the Fidesz victory represented a sea change in the direction of the transition itself. Creating a new liberal transition élite had been Soros’s explicit strategy. Still, the problem was that this new élite, drawn from the former dissidents, had been too small to lead a successful transition, let alone the kind of social transformation that Orbán and Fidesz had been planning in opposition. To succeed, the liberal dissidents would have to have made common cause with members of the former ‘reform’ communist élite, who had rebranded themselves as ‘socialists’. For the transition to succeed, this alliance between the socialists and liberal democratic parties entailed many compromises which were especially distasteful to the latter, involving agreements not to prosecute former police informers and security-apparatus members. These compromises doomed both the socialists and liberals alike. The new élite of the transition was also tarnished by the radical economic disruption of the transition itself, which created a political opening to the right throughout Central-Eastern Europe.

By the early 2000s, politicians like Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland, Vladimir Meciar in Slovakia and Václav Klaus in the Czech Republic were lining up together to accuse the liberal transition élite of weakening national culture and protecting the former communist élite. Dissidents who had been in prison or under surveillance before 1989 were now attacked for being insufficiently anti-communist. Still, the attacks worked, partly because the ‘conservatives’ were more successful than the liberals in building up their support in ‘civil society’: in the churches, small-town professionals and village dwellers who had known stability under the communist régime. These ‘conservative’ social groups now looked at the depopulation of villages with alarm. They vehemently opposed the sale of public lands and properties to a wave of private and foreign speculators. The liberal élite had laid the foundations for a new Central-Eastern Europe: they had written the constitutions, privatised the state companies, created the new commercial law for the capitalist economy and prepared the post-communist states for entry into the EU. But in the process, these changes had cost them the support of voters, who gravitated towards right-wing parties better positioned to exploit their anxieties about identity, community, and religious faith.

Viktor Orbán had himself been a beneficiary of George Soros’s support. Still, the sudden attack that Orbán mounted against Soros, beginning in late 2016, was not part of a personal vendetta, according to Ignatieff. Ignatieff believes that it was purely political in motivation; targeting Soros as the embodiment of everything Fidesz stood against – Europe, multiculturalism, immigration, secular tolerance, the open society – was a brilliant way to reach out to a small-town base disoriented by change. Making an alien US-based speculator public enemy number one also appealed to “the national bourgeoisie,” the urban middle class whose own fortunes depended very much on allegiance to a single party with control of state assets and state budgets. Orbán also understood CEU’s vulnerability as a foreign-accredited university paying high salaries and preaching values of multicultural tolerance and openness. It enjoyed solid support in Budapest itself but not among the small towns and villages of rural Hungary, the political power bases of most Hungarian parties.

The Migration Crisis of 2015 & its Political Aftermath:

Above: Refugees are helped by volunteers as they arrive in the EU on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Angela Merkel, German Chancellor at the time of the Crisis.

Then, late in August and early September 2015, the migration crisis broke upon Europe and shattered the uneasy truce between Orbán and the European Union. A million Syrian refugees left their camps in Turkey and flooded across the Aegean into Greece, then turned northwards through the Balkans and into Hungary from Serbia, eager to take advantage of Angela Merkel’s call to give them a home in Germany. Orbán tried at first to hold the line and then opened the border. Migrants engulfed trains at Budapest’s main railway stations, heading towards Austria and Germany.

Orbán’s poll numbers had been languishing that summer, but he quickly seized the political opportunity that had been handed to him, and he became Merkel’s most vituperative opponent and an even more strident critic of Muslim immigration and the supposed threat it posed to ‘European civilization.’ Soros was among Orbán’s most determined critics. As a Holocaust survivor, an immigrant, and an American citizen, he believed that Europe should respond with generosity to the plight of the Syrian refugees fleeing civil war in their home country. In editorials, he urged Europe to give the refugees a home. From the CEU, students and faculty went to help the refugees camped at the railway stations. Students brought plugs to charge refugee phones, food, water, and maps to guide them to safety in Germany.

A solid two-thirds of Hungarians polled during this period felt that the government was doing the right thing in criticising the idea of quotas of refugees issued from Brussels or Berlin. Soros disagreed, however, and was said to have spent considerable sums during 2015 on pressure groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) making a case for open borders and free movement of migrants into and around Europe. As well as a website called ‘Welcome2EU’, the Open Society Foundation published leaflets informing migrants of what to do. These told them of their human rights in Europe and what the authorities could and could not do, especially at the borders, as the Orbán régime’s controls tightened. In October 2015, Orbán criticised Soros’ university’s circle of activists who support anything that threatened nation-states. In an email to Bloomberg, Soros said that his university was seeking to uphold European values while Orbán’s government sought to undermine those values. He went on to say of Orbán’s policy:

His plan treats the the protection of national borders as the objective and the refugees as an obstacle. Our plan treats the protection of refugees as the objective and national borders as the obstacle.

‘Orbán accuses Soros of stoking refugee wave to weaken Europe,’ Bloomberg, 30 October 2015.

The dialogue between the two men ceased almost before it had properly begun. After the traumatic days of the migration crisis, however, CEU sought to establish businesslike relations with the Fidesz régime, and the university’s leaders believed it had succeeded. But that did not mean the CEU’s professors stopped criticising the government. The university’s constitutional experts analysed the gerrymandering of the electoral system, the neutering of the Supreme Court, and the new media laws. At the same time, other scholars denounced the corruption of what one university affiliate, Bálint Magyar, called Orbán’s ‘mafia state.’ When Michael Ignatieff became rector later that fall, however, George Soros flew in for his inauguration and the opening of the new building. The ceremony, attended by key figures close to the government, emphasised the university’s Hungarian associations and pointed to a renewal of good working relationships between the institution and the government. Nevertheless, this was the last time to date that George Soros would set foot in his native land. Then, in November 2016, Donald Trump won the US presidential election, and almost immediately, relations between the Orbán government and the CEU began to deteriorate. The Obama administration had put the US-Hungarian relationship into a ‘deep freeze’ to express its disapproval of the régime’s corruption and its violations of the rule of law. Now the Trump administration began to signal a change of policy, and Orbán felt confident enough to make a direct attack on Soros.

The 2018 Election Campaign & the Demise of the CEU in Budapest:

‘Only Fidesz!’ Viktor Orbán makes a speech at an election rally in 2018.

The first sign of this attack came just before Christmas when Orbán delivered a speech rallying Fidesz members of parliament and supporters to prepare for the 2018 national elections. Orbán declared that his objective in the election campaign would be to drive George Soros and all his works from Hungary. This strategy had been proposed by a US Republican campaign adviser, who urged Orbán to ‘scapegoat’ Soros as the man threatening Hungary with mass migration. This, as Ignatieff comments, is how a populist “politics of enemies” works. Orbán needed an enemy of stature, and the Hungarian opposition was too weak and divided to give him a worthwhile target. It was far more effective to make a man not even a resident in the country responsible for all its woes and to make his ‘open society’ the symbol of everything Orbán was running against. Campaign posters soon filled every available space on the subway, the trams and the outdoor billboards: a picture of a smiling George Soros as a puppet-master pulling the opposition leaders’ strings with the slogan, “Don’t let Georges Soros have the last laugh!” When critics pointed out that the figure of “the laughing Jew” had been a trope of the Nazi newspaper in the 1930s, the régime reacted with indignation:

How dare you accuse us of anti-Semitism!

This ‘new’ kind of anti-Semitism, directed at Soros personally, made its first appearance in post-war Europe. It made shameless use of Nazi-era tropes while indignantly denying that it was doing so. But the campaign of personal defamation was followed by a direct attack on his institution. In March 2017, CEU heard from friends inside the civil service that the régime was planning to revise the higher education law. It was instantly clear that while the law was nominally directed at all thirty foreign higher education institutions working in Hungary, it targeted only one. It required every foreign institution to negotiate a bilateral agreement between its country of origin and the Hungarian government and to maintain a campus on its native soil. CEU is one of many US institutions abroad which does not maintain a domestic campus in the USA. With support from Soros and the board of trustees, the CEU administration publicly opposed the legislation as a discriminatory attack on academic freedom and set about mobilising support in Hungary, Europe, and the USA. In late May 2017, a crowd of eighty thousand Budapest citizens gathered on the Buda bank of the Danube, crossed the Chain Bridge and marched past the CEU building to Parliament Square, chanting for “Free Universities” in a “Free Society.” It was the largest demonstration seen since the heady days of 1989.

Above: The Hungarian Opposition demonstrates on one of the main Danube bridges.

Orbán agreed in early June to enter into negotiations with the State of New York to see whether an agreement could secure a way for CEU to stay in Budapest. Over the summer of 2017, the chief legal counsel of the governor of New York met with Orbán’s designated representative, and in late August, an apparent breakthrough occurred. CEU would establish a campus at Bard College and conduct educational programmes there, satisfying the Hungarian requirement for a US campus. The Hungarian government would allow CEU to remain in Budapest. The university signed the agreement and waited for the government to do the same. The signature never came. Soros had never believed that a deal with Orbán was possible. Unfortunately, he turned out to be correct in his assessment. The university’s leadership had been ‘played’ by Orbán. For the remainder of the year, right through to the election of April 2018, the anti-Soros barrage was unrelenting. Not only were subways, buses, and streets plastered with anti-Soros posters, but there were also incessant television attacks claiming that an open society meant submerging Hungary in a deluge of refugees. This strategy had the desired result, and in the election, Fidesz once again secured the two-thirds majority of seats within Parliament necessary to make constitutional changes. Within weeks, Soros ordered the closing of the Open Society Foundation’s offices in Budapest, and by the autumn of 2018, the CEU had succeeded in securing a new home in Vienna. However, the CEU retained its research establishments and administrative functions in Budapest.

Other wealthy philanthropists have chosen to bail out of Central Europe in the face of the unremitting hostility of the national governments and the general darkening of the prospects for an open society in Central-Eastern Europe, and the growing democratic deficit worldwide. The speculator George Soros once was might have done so, but the CEU experience had changed him. He had initially thought of his venture into higher education in Central-Eastern Europe as temporary, risky speculation that might pay off. Over time, he had discovered just how difficult it was to change the political culture of a whole region. His foundations had been expelled from Russia, and his philanthropy had been unable to stop the consolidation of single-party authoritarian rule in Belarus and Hungary. He had sought to mobilise Western European governments to bring down the divides with Eastern Europe and genuinely integrate the two halves of the continent. He had been rebuffed, and instead of his philanthropy drawing support and encouragement from private donors, he had to go it alone. Nothing had turned out quite as he had hoped, but he was not surprised by this. Unintended consequences are the stuff of history, and history is never over. The future of Hungary will have many chapters after the one(s) written by Viktor Orbán.

Meeting the Moment -1989 and All That:

It could be argued that, by the early 1990s, Soros’ ambitions had met the historical moment. And yet, in his tenth decade, the world remains by most measures a divided and disturbing place. While preserving the forms of democracy, too many countries – the USA included – have been drawn to authoritarian rulers and right-wing populist movements that persecute minority racial, ethnic and religious groups and seek to dismantle the collaborative institutions to which Soros has devoted much of his life. In his native Hungary, despite his considerable role in helping the country move past Soviet-era repression, Viktor Orbán’s relentless, anti-Semitic attacks on Soros drove his Central European University out of the country, and it is unsafe for Soros to visit his beloved birthplace of Budapest. Most fundamentally, the core tenets of the open society are challenged as never before. Political and ideological differences are bitterly fought out, as parties and philosophies have their time in and out of power. Soros wants a system that functions but is sceptical when one side has too much power. The cycles of ‘normal politics’ depend upon a shared belief in underlying democratic systems and norms and on a shared understanding of the facts – a transpartisan view that the truth matters. Soros claims that without agreement on that principle, the political contest deteriorates into a shameless manipulation of the truth. As Laura Quinn of Catalyst noted,

“Soros is an emblem of a society which values institutions and norms – the exact embodiment of the enlightenment values they are trying to kill.”

In a further article, Ivan Krastov points out how, after the 1989 Revolutions in Central-Eastern Europe, it was those most impatient to see their countries change who were the first to leave. For many liberal-minded Eastern Europeans, a mistrust of nationalist loyalties and the prospect of joining the modern world made emigration a logical and legitimate choice. As a result, he writes, the revolutions of 1989 had the perverse effect of accelerating population decline in the newly liberated countries of Central-Eastern Europe. From 1989 to 2017, Latvia lost twenty-seven per cent of its population, Lithuania twenty-three per cent, and Bulgaria almost twenty-one per cent. Hungary lost nearly three per cent of its population in the 2010s after the EU’s freedom of movement arrangements encouraged migration, especially to the United Kingdom. In 2016, around one million Poles were living in the UK. This emigration of the young and talented was occurring in countries already with ageing populations and low birth rates. Together, these trends set the stage for demographic panic. Thus, the combination of emigration and the fear of immigration best explains the rise of populism in Central-Eastern Europe, which feeds off a sense that a country’s identity is under threat. Moving to the West was equivalent to rising social status, and as a result, those who stayed behind in their own countries started feeling like poor relations. Success back home was devalued in countries where most young people dreamed of leaving.

Hello, Viktor!
Conclusion – The “Soros Affair” & its Lasting Legacy:

In 1989, as in the revolutions of 1848, liberals and nationalists were political allies, a coalition that broke the back of communism in the former Soviet-controlled countries. Viktor Orbán, a nationalist in liberal clothing at first, in the 1990s, was the best illustration of this conjoining of forces. But by the beginning of the current century, as in the last days of the Habsburg Empire at the beginning of the previous century, liberals and nationalists have become the worst of enemies and have remained so into the 2020s. George Soros, who advocates for international governance, universal human rights and a progressive migration policy, is now deemed a significant, sinister threat to the nation-state. What Krastev labels the “Soros Affair” – the obsession of the nationalists with labelling any supporter of the ideas of the open society as a traitor – plays a lamentably similar role to the “Dreyfus Affair” in late-nineteenth-century France. Soros has so far proved correct in his belief that the twenty-first century will be defined by the clash between the ideals of an open society and those of a closed society as an incarnation of old notions of tribalism. Many Central-Eastern European nationalists have embraced the current right-wing Israeli government in order to challenge their most senior and most bitter enemy, Jewish cosmopolitanism, as embodied by George Soros.

Goodbye, Mutti!

A Hungarian Jew who became an American financial speculator is now the fiercest defender of the European Union, and he is defending the Union on two fronts: against political élites in Central-Eastern Europe who benefit significantly from the generosity of the Union’s subsidies and against Brussels bureaucrats who resist the need to reinvent the EU. What makes Soros so infuriating to Eastern Europe’s illiberal leaders is that he exposes their biggest lie: that open society liberalism is an alien import into the region. And to make their fellow citizens believe the lie, the illiberal nationalists have had to turn Soros into a foreigner, a person not from the region. As Krastov concludes, it is clear that if George Soros did not exist, the Eastern European nationalists would have had to invent him. As Soros turned ninety-one, his commitments to the CEU indicated that he had come to an important insight that might not have occurred to him in the 1980s, when he began his efforts to change the history of his native region. He had grasped that régimes come and go, single-party rulers come and go, single-party rulers come and go, but institutions, universities especially, endure. Some of what Soros had tried to create had been swept away, but his institutions may yet endure as his lasting legacy long after Viktor Orbán’s rhetoric has lost any power it once possessed.

A Recent photo of Orbán with fellow Nationalist autocrat and ally, Vladimir Putin.



Peter L. W. Osnos (ed.) (2022), George Soros: A Life in Full. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Publishing.

László Kontler (2009), A History of Hungary. Budapest: Atlantisz Publishing House.

Douglas Murray (2018), The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.


Britain, Europe and The World in 1937: A Moment in History Repeating itself? Part One

Updated, with added material on Britain.

Andrew James

Democracy and Dictatorship – 2022 & 1922-1937:

The fall of the three great European empires at the end of the First World War – Austria, Germany and Russia – the chief centres of autocratic rule, seemed a happy augury for the future of democratic government. After the war, this was established in the new states, whose rulers recognised the wisdom of adopting constitutions modelled by Western Powers. In every European country, except Russia, where a new form of government, a Communist dictatorship, was maintained, the principle of representative government was accepted. Source: Richards et al., 1937.

Beginning his keynote address on Russia’s War on Ukraine on 28th June 2022, the newly-commissioned Head of the British Army, General Sir Patrick Sanders, spoke of the similarity of the events of 1937 in Europe to the continuing and impending events of 2022 in the central-eastern part of the continent:

“This is our 1937…

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A Gentle Gulliver – Warwickshire Adventures & Sojourns

Andrew James

Seymour and Vera Gulliver,
in Leamington Spa in the 1970s. Photo by Arthur J Chandler

Mooching with Seymour Henry:

Forty years ago this summer (2022), my grandfather, Seymour Henry Gulliver, died aged eighty-two. He was born at the beginning of the twentieth century at Ufton-on-the-Hill, Warwickshire, the seventh child and one of the younger sons of a large family of thirteen children, eleven of whom survived into adulthood. Seymour was extremely proud of his father, George, an agricultural labourer, and his beautiful, brilliant mother, Bertha (neé Tidmarsh), who lived to the age of ninety-seven. As an infant, Seymour became famous in Ufton because, before he could walk, he shuffled off down the steep hill and along the main road on his first adventurous expedition and had to be returned on the carrier’s cart. This propensity remained with him throughout his life since he loved what he called “mooching” and…

View original post 5,340 more words


A Gentle Gulliver – Warwickshire Adventures & Sojourns

Seymour and Vera Gulliver,
in Leamington Spa in the 1970s. Photo by Arthur J Chandler
Mooching with Seymour Henry:

Forty years ago this summer (2022), my grandfather, Seymour Henry Gulliver, died aged eighty-two. He was born at the beginning of the twentieth century at Ufton-on-the-Hill, Warwickshire, the seventh child and one of the younger sons of a large family of thirteen children, eleven of whom survived into adulthood. Seymour was extremely proud of his father, George, an agricultural labourer, and his beautiful, brilliant mother, Bertha (neé Tidmarsh), who lived to the age of ninety-seven. As an infant, Seymour became famous in Ufton because, before he could walk, he shuffled off down the steep hill and along the main road on his first adventurous expedition and had to be returned on the carrier’s cart. This propensity remained with him throughout his life since he loved what he called “mooching” and continued to do this right up to the end of his life. He enjoyed three holidays in his last year, including his particular choice of one in Dorset, where he could undertake a pilgrimage in the steps of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. His Gulliver forebears were originally a prosperous Banbury family of innkeepers. There are still tombs in the levelled churchyard of the Parish Church near where the original Banbury Cross once stood. There is also a ‘memorial’ stone to the Gullivers, whose name was used by Jonathan Swift for his three-volume work of satire, which later became the children’s book Gulliver’s Travels in later centuries. According to some local historians, Swift most likely spent a lot of time at the White Lion (Inn) at Ufton in the company of the real Lemuel Gulliver and persuaded the innkeeper to allow him to use his name as a nomme de plume to avoid the Crown’s censorship or other punishments. The sketch in the frontispiece of the original work (shown below) could be a portrait of the genuine Gulliver.

The Memorial Stone to the Gullivers of Banbury in the graveyard of the Parish Church.
The 1912 First Edition of the ‘Children’s Edition’ of ‘Gulliver’s Travels.’

The frontispiece of the 1726 Edition, Vol I.

Banburyshire Beginnings:

By the 1830s, the Gullivers and the Tidmarshes, Seymour’s maternal ancestors, were healthy farming folk from ‘Banburyshire’ (now Oxfords/ Northants/ Warwicks). Throughout his life, Seymour delighted in telling many tales about his maternal grandfather, Henry Tidmarsh (b. Great Rollright, c. 1840), who had lost his arm in a threshing machine. He was also legendary as the man who would go out in all weather with a shire horse and chain to assist the coaches on a challenging hill on the Leamington to Banbury road. In one case, he saved the life of an heir to a titled family whose mother perished in a snow storm. On a visit to the area late in life, Seymour was able to point out his grandmother’s cottage in the village of Rollright and the graves of other well-known Tidmarshes.

Henry Tidmarsh and family
Joseph Arch of Tysoe

The Gullivers had been involved in the struggle of the Warwickshire agricultural labourers from the 1860s, led by the Methodist lay-preacher and later founder of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union, Joseph Arch of nearby Tysoe (pictured above). A public house in Barford, near Stratford, is named after him. Vinson Gulliver, born in Oxfordshire in 1833, had married Hannah Green, George’s mother, from Wormleigton in Warwickshire in 1855. According to recorded family folklore, he was an itinerant preacher who marched with Joseph Arch of Tysoe through the Warwickshire villages of Wellesbourne and Barford, later becoming the first secretary of the Warwickshire Agricultural Labourers’ Union in the 1860s.

Bertha Gulliver (née Tidmarsh), aged 33, had six children in 1899 in Ufton. Seymour was the seventh, born the following year, 1900. She had thirteen children in all (one died as a baby).

Bertha Tidmarsh met her husband when working as a maid at the Chamberlains’ House at Ufton-on-the-Hill near Leamington. The Chamberlains owned the Harbury cement works. George Gulliver, born in Ufton in 1862 (pictured below), was a coachman with the Chamberlains. He used to drive them around in a coach with two horses.

George Gulliver
The Family at Ufton-on-the-hill:

Seymour, the seventh child, was just an ordinary boy, nearly two years older than Jessie, who therefore knew him well as they grew up together, playing outside. She was born the year Queen Victoria died, 1901. Her earliest memory was from when she was about two and a half, and the Gulliver family was living at Ufton. She sat on the school wall, and the teachers came out and told her to get off because the children couldn’t concentrate with her sitting on the wall. She went home to her mother and asked what concentrate meant, but she couldn’t speak it very well. So her mother told her she could sit on the wall at play-time and dinner-time or during holidays, but she mustn’t sit on the wall when the children were in school because they couldn’t concentrate when she was playing on the wall. She thought that was a bit hard for one two and a half years old. So she used to go around Ufton with her elder brothers, Seymour and Arnold, and they’d play around Harbury Cement Works. Her brothers once got an old door, put two pieces of wood under it, and used two other pieces for paddles, taking Jessie out on a small brook near the works. Their mother and father were very angry with the boys because they could easily have fallen into the brook and drowned. But, said Jessie, looking back, you know what they say, God looks after children and drunkards! Nevertheless, their mother often told

St. Michael’s Church, Ufton, Warwickshire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jessie also remembered leaving Ufton and going to Wroxall as a child of three. Her father left his job as a coachman at the Chamberlain’s house to work for them instead at Harbury Cement Works. So first, they lived in a rented cottage in Bishops’ Itchington, not far from Ufton. They paid half a crown a week for it in rent. However, the cement works didn’t suit her father because the cement dust got on his chest, and he had to go back onto the London work, riding the coaches between Leamington and London. Jessie could remember how hard up they were at this time. One Sunday, when she was about three or four, she came home from Sunday School, where they’d been reading about Joseph with the coat of many colours. Her mother had bought her brother Arnold a little navy blue coat, and he’d left it on Harbury Cement Works, and she was ever so upset and crying when Jessie went home, and, of course, all Jessie could say to the rest of the family was… 

he’s lost the coat of many colours! Butit was a job for my mother to get clothes for us in those days, and she liked us to be dressed nicely. I don’t know how she managed to do it, but she did.”

So it was that, with a large and expanding family to feed, in 1904, George accepted an invitation to work on Lord Dugdale’s estate near Wroxall, along the old coaching road running west from Warwick and Leamington. He was under-manager on one of the four estate farms. Seymour’s older brothers were old enough to begin working alongside their father at Wroxall Farm. Vinson, the eldest son, had already left school at twelve to work on a farm near Ufton, looking after cattle, horses and pigs. The Dugdales were very generous to all their labourers, who were given comfortable houses with gardens, and at Christmas, each family would receive a ton of coal and a piece of beef, plus some money for the children’s shoes. In addition, the Dugdales sent a hamper of things for each birth, including coverings with golden embroidery. So now the family felt a lot better off. The only problem was that the children had to walk a mile and a half to school, run by the nearby abbey, for which they received a shoe allowance. Otherwise, they were comfortable enough, even with two more additions to their family. Soon after they moved to Wroxall, Jessie discovered her love of poetry by attending The Band of Hope. This was a temperance society for children, which she began attending when she was between four and five. Even so young, the children had to promise never to drink. To help her understand what this was all about, she had to learn to recite by heart a piece called, The Convict’s Little Jim, which she could still recite, word perfect, nearly ninety years later. However, looking back from 1992, she commented that she had always thought it was a terrible thing to teach a child, with scenes of domestic violence, murder and execution!

Vinson Gulliver, the firstborn, outlived all but one of his thirteen siblings to become Britain’s oldest man at 108 in 1995.
Wroxall and World War:

They were still quite poor but relatively happy until George had trouble with the manager over ‘harvest money’ Vinson and Alfred had to work longer hours alongside their father, but only George received the overtime pay when they were paid out. George went to see Lord Dugdale about this, who confirmed the sums and ordered his manager to pay them in full. The manager did this but subsequently did his best to make George’s position as under-manager untenable. Vinson craved the city’s bright lights and found work in the engine sheds at Trafford Park, Manchester, in 1907. His starting wage was just eleven shillings per week, of which eight went on his rent, so he could not send much money home. That left Alfred, aged fourteen, as the only sibling able to bring in a wage, so, when Seymour was about nine, in 1909, the family moved from Wroxall to Walsgrave-on-Sowe, then still in Warwickshire, on the eastern side of Coventry. Although still young, Seymour was old enough to learn lessons about injustice and victimisation, which he applied throughout his working life. Alfred worked on the farm at Wroxall until he was fifteen in 1908, when he went into the Navy, inspired by his uncle, Alfred Tidmarsh, who was also a CPO, having joined in the age of sailing ships. In uniform, Uncle Alfred had visited his sister at Wroxall on leave.


CPO Alfred Tidmarsh
Alfred Gulliver served on HMS Thunderer, the third Alfred in the family to serve in the Navy. He became a Chief Petty Officer and went all through the First World War. Then, due to his perfect eyesight, he became a range-finder instructor, serving in the Second World War, aged fifty-five, but stayed in dock training the gunners.

A few months before his death, Seymour revisited all the villages where he had lived and worked as a boy. In addition, he went back to the City of York, and Catterick, where he was stationed during the war. He tried to join the Army in 1917, although he would not be eighteen until the following spring. He was at Catterick Barracks when the influenza epidemic struck, wiping out almost all of the company he had joined. When he wrote to his mother about this, she arrived at the camp gates in Yorkshire, produced his birth certificate and demanded her son back. She took him back to Coventry on the train, so he survived both the war and the epidemic.

Caludon Lodge & Walsgrave-on-Sowe – Between the Wars:

By then, the family had moved to live and work at Caludon Farm near Walsgrave (in 1909), now the site of one of Coventry’s comprehensive schools. They had gone to live at Caludon Lodge, a larger house built in brick, with railings all around it, little holly bushes all around the garden, and a porch in the middle. The kitchen and the front room were at right angles to each other, and there were two passages, one from the front room and one from the kitchen. There was a big yard at the back with a long bench where their mother could put about four bowls for washing. There was a big ‘copper’ (kettle) and a little one. Bertha always had the little one on, and the children used to go and get sticks (for the wood-fired range), so there was always warm water in the big kitchen to wash with. There was a most beautiful garden, with pear trees, plum trees and apple trees with mistletoe growing up one of them:

It was ever so long; it went right down past two houses, and Mr Green eventually took a piece off it and built two houses on it for more farm labourers.

Seymour joined his father and brothers on the farm in Walsgrave with his father and brothers when he left Binley Park elementary school just before the First World War. He later told his daughter, my mother, how he rode on top of the hay-loaded waggons into Coventry, coming into the narrow medieval Spon Street on top of the hay, touching the overhanging eaves of the half-timbered houses on either side. So they had quite a happy time at Walsgrave. They could go to Binley, Wyken or Stoke schools. But Caludon was outside the Parish of Walsgrave (which was still in Warwickshire, outside the Corporation area), so they couldn’t go to the Church of England village school. So, they were sent to Binley Elementary School, which was run by Whitley Abbey, and they found themselves having another two-mile walk to school across the fields, starting early with two sandwiches each to eat on the way. Then they had a school dinner and a meal when they got home at about half past four. Soon after they arrived, Binley Pit was sunk, and a new school had to be built, so Seymour’s last year at school was spent there. On leaving school aged thirteen just before the war, Seymour had gone to work in the offices of nearby Binley Colliery when he was still so young that he needed a stool to reach the telephone.

Returning to Binley Colliery after his ‘adventure’, he went underground as a collier, not just because, as a reserved occupation, it kept him from being conscripted, but also because there was more money to be earned working at the coalface, which he needed to begin married life with Vera Brown, a ribbon-weaver from a long-established village family. They were both very young when they met in 1917. Their wedding took place in Walsgrave Baptist Church in 1918, conducted by Rev. Penry Edwards of Treorchy in the Rhondda, who had recently become the first full-time minister at the chapel and had baptised Vera shortly before. After their marriage, Seymour and Vera set up a home in one of the gardeners’ cottages belonging to the Wakefield Estate. However, Seymour’s decision to work underground was costly, eventually ruining his health.

At the pit, he became involved in the trade union, The Miners’ Federation. In May 1926, Seymour went out on strike and was locked out of the colliery for six months in support of the miners, especially those in South Wales, who worked in difficult places and had their wages cut. He urged his fellow miners to continue their strike in support of the starving Welsh miners, even though this meant privation and an eventual return to work for less pay. There were many miners in Walsgrave at that time, so the Lock-out hit the village hard. Vera had to return to work as a skilled weaver at Cash’s factory, and Seymour took over the housekeeping and looked after their two children. He and the other colliers could only earn money from tree-cutting up at the Coombe, a wooded area on Lord Craven’s estate around the historic Coombe Abbey, the Cravens’ House since the late seventeenth century. The miners earned a little money from the timber they cut, caught rabbits, pinched the odd pheasant and were given scraps from the Abbey kitchens, bowls of dripping and left-overs from banquets held there, which Seymour would bring home. He later helped to settle unemployed miners from South Wales in the village and at the colliery.

School House Lane, Coal & the Blitz on Coventry:

Nevertheless, by 1928, the couple had saved enough to afford a mortgage. That year, the young family moved into their newly-built house in Walsgrave, which that same year had been adopted by the City Corporation, where my mother was born in 1931, by then the youngest of four children, three girls and a boy, who had seven children in all, three girls and three boys. The Gullivers had also become well-known characters in the village, especially in the Baptist Chapel, where Vera was a deacon, as well as in the Co-operative Society and the nascent local Labour Party. Almost as soon as they moved in, their front room became the Headquarters for the Labour Party during the elections, and the bay window was full of posters at these times. Of course, it was in a strategic position, next to the polling station, the Village School, so no one could doubt Vera and Seymour’s allegiances. They helped get the first majority Labour government elected under Ramsay MacDonald in 1928. In 1937 the party swept to power in the City for the first time, beginning its programme of municipal socialism.

As prosperity returned with a boom in Coventry, coal-miners’ wages also improved. However, many chose to desert the pits for cleaner, high-wage jobs in engineering in the city, especially in the car factories and later, during rearmament, the Shadow factories. However, Seymour stuck to his job at the colliery because he liked the economic security that came with it and the sense of camaraderie. Although not a hard drinker, like many colliers, he naturally liked to call into the pub for a much-needed pint on his way home after a hard shift at the coalface. The Baptists frowned upon and shunned the pubs in the village because there were many well-known heavy drinkers, but they understood that it was natural for the miners to enjoy a drink together on the way home. The only problems in some families came on weekly paydays when they received their wages in cash. On these days, all the wives would send their children, and Daphne was one of these, to wait for their fathers and get their pay packets from them in case any of them might be tempted to donate too much into the pub’s coffers! Every mother would direct their kids to stand outside The Craven Arms and The Red Lion to collect the wages. This, of course, was more of a show of traditional solidarity by the wives than an act of necessity, especially as the local publicans were strict about not serving those who had, in their opinion, had one too many.

As Daphne grew up in Walsgrave in the thirties, she remembered The Walsgrave Show, a vast agricultural and horticultural event. She could remember her father winning prizes for vegetables and children making bouquets out of wildflowers. It was a show run by local farmers like Harold Green, whom the Gullivers had worked for before the first war, but it attracted farmers, showjumpers and other participants from far and wide. It eventually combined with the Kenilworth Show and became the forerunner of The National Agricultural Show at Stoneleigh.

Walsgrave and the Second World War:

When the second war broke out in 1939, the excellent community spirit in Walsgrave continued. The most noticeable difference, at first, was in the availability of food and rationing. There were queues for tomatoes, but the Co-op Shop was fair to everyone, and the vegetable cart continued to do its village rounds. One day, Daphne went out with her mother to buy oranges, rationed to one per person per week. So, they could have five. A group of internees were making their way up the Lane to the farm at the top as the cart passed. Vera asked the vendor Albert for a knife and cut all five into slices. Then, she went over to the boys and gave each one a slice of orange. Daphne, quite naturally for an eight-year-old, protested, but Vera told her, “oh well, these lads are very young, and they’ve been living off potatoes up at the farm, so they need that orange much more than you do”.

People were encouraged to produce their own food on their allotments. So, as well as growing vegetables, Seymour kept pigs and poultry on his allotment along Woodway Lane. You could keep pigs during the war, but you had to have a permit to kill them. You could sell them to the authorities, but they didn’t pay much. So Seymour decided to take his sow into hiding in their house when her time came. Daphne remembered these war-time pigs and piglets well:

…we had a litter of pigs; we decided we were going to have a litter, and then we had some sleeping quarters for these piglets, and when the time came, the wretched sow had all those little piglets on the hearth, and we were giving them drops of brandy, trying to revive them and keep them going. I think we saved about five.

But they got to be little suckling pigs and one of them wasn’t quite right. So they decided they were going to ‘knock this one off’. So Bill Gately worked up the abattoir and we persuaded Bill to come and knock this little pig off. They’d just gone up the garden, ’cause he was working all day so it was dark now, and the air-raid siren went. So, no one dared shine a flashlight or anything and well, you can imagine these little pigs running and squealing all over the sty, and them trying to get hold of this particular one, and Bill was muttering and stuttering, you know. Well, eventually, we caught this pig and killed it quietly at the kitchen sink.

We had no permit, and then someone came around afterwards, knowing that we’d done this, and he asked, “what did you do with the Tom Hodge?” So Seymour says, “what’s that?” and they said, “well, you know, its innards!”Dad says, “oh! We buried them up the garden”. “Oh, oh dear!”he says, “the best part of the pig!’”Anyway, he comes back after a few minutes and says, “well, if I know Seymour, it won’t be buried deep!” So he goes up the garden with his fork and forks all this up. Eventually, he took all these chitterlings and well, of course, to anyone who likes chitterlings… but it put me off pork for the rest of my life!  

Daphne also remembered the first significant air raids and the first use of the communal shelter at the school. The Anderson shelters that people had put up in their gardens by the summer of 1940 had become flooded, so they had to go to the shelter at the school, which had been put there for the school children. However, as there were no day-time raids, it had not been used and was still locked. Nevertheless, the schoolmaster, ‘Gaffer’ Mann, refused to open it when the first night-time raids on Coventry began in early autumn. So Seymour fetched his collier’s pick axe to break the lock, and all the residents of School House Lane went in.

Though Walsgrave was of no military importance, Capability Brown’s huge landscaped pool at Coombe Abbey, a mile or so away from the village, was on the German ‘Baedeker’ map books and was used as a landmark by the German bomber crews. The Rolls Royce Engine Factory at Ansty was manufacturing aircraft engines less than a mile from this. There was also an aerodrome there, built before the war. The then Rootes assembly plant at Ryton-on-Dunsmore was only a few miles away on the same side of the city, with its shadow factory producing aircraft and military vehicles. Planned under Chamberlain’s Government in 1936, these factories did not appear on the Luftwaffe’s maps nor on Baedeker’s; hence the importance of incendiary bombs dropped around the city’s outlying areas and the largely wooden medieval city centre in the 1940 Blitz. On the evening of the 13th November through the ‘full moon’ night to breakfast time on 14th November, Coventry was subjected to an eleven-hour sustained Blitz, giving both the English and German dictionaries the word Coventration as a synonym for blanket-bombing rather than lightning raids, which had been the previous strategy in attacking London and other regional ports and cities, including Coventry. ‘Operation Moonlight Sonata’ as the Germans named was, like Beethoven’s famous piece, designed in three ‘movements’ in order to set fire to the city and light up the sky so the bombers could locate the factories at a three-mile radius or more. The Rootes Shadow Factory had only just begun production in 1940. The German blanket-bombers searched for the shadow factories on the ground, using the Coombe Pool as a focal point on which to reflect their beams. Huge craters were left on the landscape around the village for many decades afterwards. I remember Seymour showing me these when I joined him on one of his mooches. He described his arrest as an ARP Warden of a German pilot who had bailed out over Coombe Park, landing in the farm lane and breaking his legs. Seymour had to use his bicycle to get the airman the mile or so to the village police station. Daphne recalled the night of 13th-14th November and the effect of the bombing of the city centre, three miles away, as they ran for the shelter:

We put up the cushions from the furniture, put them on our heads, and ran up the shelter. It was a bright moonlit night; tracer bullets were flying around like tracer bullets everywhere, and the whole city was on fire. Everything was lit up like it was daylight; it was a most awesome sight and of course, for days afterwards, the burnt paper was coming down.

The School Log for 15th November echoes this description of destruction:

School reassembled – about only 130 were present – this is due to the results of a terrific 11-hour raid on Coventry and the immediate neighbourhood. The Church Hut used for 70 to 80 infants had to be used as a home for the people who were bombed out of the city.

Seymour was on air-raid duty that night and recalled one bomb that fell in what was known as The Hollow, just past The Mount Pleasant. He said that the old, cruck-beamed cottage was severely damaged as the patrol went towards it, and he was sure there would be at least one person dead inside. But when they went inside, they found that the main beam had fallen across the fireplace, and all the family were protected by it, around the fireplace. He said that it was a miracle no one was hurt. During the raids, an evacuated family slept in every room of the Gullivers’ house, even under the table.

School records for 1940 show that a total of six hours and ten minutes was spent in the school shelter, with one visit lasting over two hours. But, of course, nearly all the raids took place during nighttime. Even the attack of the 14th/15th of November was not detected until after 3 p.m., the end of the school day, and the bombing had ended in time for the school to open ‘as normal’ the following morning. Though the sirens went off earlier that evening, most people recall being at home having had tea or supper when the bombing started. The schools nearer the centre were far more badly affected, and many of those rescued in these areas were still under the rubble until about 7 a.m., having been trapped for more than twelve hours in some cases. Walsgrave escaped lightly compared with the mass destruction of the city centre and the older factory areas in the suburbs, though it might have been a different story had the Luftwaffe been able to locate the Ansty and Ryton factories. Many in the village realised this vulnerability and though not forced to, sent their children away to safer rural areas if they could. Daphne was evacuated to relatives near Bridgwater in Somerset for a while. In addition to his ARP duties, being in a reserved occupation as a collier at the pit, Seymour took on responsibility for the Bevin Boys, the well-educated young graduates and undergraduates sent to work in the pits.

A Sense of Justice:

Seymour had a strong sense of social justice and was a keen member of the Binley lodge of the Miners’ Federation. On one occasion, he stuck up for a fellow collier who was bullied by a foreman, whom he struck, and was dismissed from Binley Colliery on the spot. He had to go to Newdigate Colliery to get work there. The conditions there were far worse than at Binley, and when he undressed to bath in front of the living room fire, his clothes would stand up by themselves from the combination of mud, coal dust and sweat which had caked them in the pit and then dried on them during his long walk home at the end of each shift. His body was covered with boils, and he had to have special treatment at the Coventry and Warwick Hospital, where they made an experimental serum to cure his condition. Eventually, his wife Vera told him,

“… you’ll just have to put your pride in your pocket; you can’t go back down Newdigate; you’d better go back to Binley and ask for your job back.

So he returned to Binley Colliery, apologised, and got his job back, later becoming a pit overseer and a safety officer for the National Coal Board. In 1978, I began researching the Welsh colliers who had come to the Midlands between the two world wars, many to work in the car industry. Many also found their way into Warwickshire’s pits, especially Binley Colliery, and worked alongside my grandfather at the coalface. He remembered one family in particular, arriving in the village with the children and all their worldly possessions on a cart. Before his death from pneumoconiosis, the Dust, in 1982, I got to know Seymour more fully as an ‘autodidact’ who read avidly and rapidly. He gave detailed reviews of the books I brought home from university in Cardiff on the Welsh miners, referencing his experiences working in the Warwickshire coalfield. I had frequent, lengthy conversations with him about these experiences.

Walsgrave-on-Sowe village centre
Conclusion – Joy, Opportunity & Dignity:

By nature, Seymour was the quiet member of his sixty-year partnership with Vera, who died in 1978, a gentle, calm man who liked to spend every available moment out of doors, especially in his garden. He was the backbone of his family and a provider who seldom lost a working day and was always ready with wise advice. His charity extended beyond his own home, and there was always a bed and a meal for all comers. When his hard-earned allowance of coal was tipped up at the gate, there was always a barrow-load for some needy neighbour, and his silent acts of kindness were many. He was never aggressive on his own behalf but always hated any form of injustice and, on occasion, suffered much hardship as a result, and even lost his job by sticking up for others.

His four children and seven grandchildren were the joy of his life, and the growth of the welfare state, enabling his grandchildren to attend good schools and colleges, and to qualify for varied professions, always seemed a miracle to him as something happening during his own lifetime, more than making up for his own lack of opportunity. For the summer when he died, he had planned several expeditions, just as it had been his choice to visit Torquay in the Spring of 1982. However, his many health problems suddenly overcame him. He succumbed and died of a chest infection, which led to pneumonia within the short time since his last daily walk from one end of the village to the other three weeks earlier. He had always known that the effect of the coal dust would end his life. He died peacefully, with courage and great dignity.

Based on an obituary by his daughter, Daphne Irene Chandler (neé Gulliver), 1982, letters & family histories recorded by Vinson Gulliver and Jessie Gardner (née Gulliver); transcriptions & articles by Andrew J Chandler, 1992-2012, Daphne’s son. Daphne married the minister of Walsgrave Baptist Church, Rev. Arthur J Chandler, in 1953 and died in 1993. Jessie lived to 101, dying in 2002.





Britain, Europe and The World in 1937: A Moment in History Repeating itself? Part Two

‘Special Operations’, 2022 & April 1937- March 1938:

Just as the so-called Russian ‘Special Operation’ which began on 24th February 2022, did not represent the beginning of War in Ukraine, the invasion of its sovereign territory having commenced in 2014, so too, no single event in 1937 or 1938 represented the beginning of war in Europe or, indeed, the world. However, the year from the spring of 1937 to March 1938 can be taken as a bridging period into the series of ‘Bloodless Conquests’ made by Germany in 1938-39. In 1937, having ‘liberated’ the Saarland and the Rhineland, Hitler turned to the question of creating a Pan-German state by absorbing the German populations of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Like all Pan-Germans, Hitler longed to unite the German peoples of Western and Central Europe into a single state, or Reich. Pro-Nazi organisations existed in Austria and Czechoslovakia among German populations anxious to share in the Nazi revolution. Hitler felt that, by 1937, the international circumstances and Germany’s growing military strength were favourable enough to enable him to force the pace in his foreign policy. In November, he warned his military leadership that a settlement of the Austrian and Czechoslovak questions was next on his agenda when the right moment came:

The aim of German policy was to make secure and to preserve the racial community and to enlarge it.

Adolf Hitler, 5 November 1937.

Meanwhile, while pretending to uphold a policy of non-intervention, Hitler sent his ‘volunteers’ to Spain to help Franco. The Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936 and was at once recognised as the showdown between Left and Right in Europe. November saw active German intervention when Hitler sent the Condor Legion, a unit composed of over twelve thousand ‘volunteers’ and Luftwaffe warplanes, to support his fellow Fascist General Francisco Franco. In Spain, the Legion perfected the carpet-bombing technique, which dropped nearly 2.7 million pounds of bombs and fired more than four million machine-gun bullets. Meanwhile, Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy sent forces that eventually numbered seventy-five thousand men. Stalin countered the dictators’ moves by sending men and arms to aid the Republicans, while Britain and France remained ‘neutral’, agreeing not to sell arms to either side. In reality, this policy assisted Franco, receiving more war materiel from Germany and Italy than the Republicans got from Russia.

But the Civil War was, initially, less dangerous to European peace than Mussolini’s conquest of Abyssinia. It was a war about Spain’s fate, fought out by Spaniards to the bitter end. Despite the Spanish government’s legitimacy, the British government fell into the pious posture of ‘Non-Intervention’ once more, as it had done over Abyssinia. Britain and France held a conference in London where they persuaded twenty-six other governments to officially back this principle, though many subsequently breached the embargoes. The conference set up a committee to police the principle in practice. Both Germany and Italy took seats on it, which they kept until June 1937, by which time, as Roberts puts it, the farce could not be played out any longer. But in both cases, Ethiopia and Spain, the cynical policy pursued by the dictators increased their confidence and further embittered their relationships with the democracies. November 1936 also saw Germany and Japan sign the Anti-Comintern Pact, aimed at opposing the USSR’s Third Communist International but also creating what became known as The Axis. For the moment, however, Hitler cranked up his sabre-rattling policy towards his neighbours, particularly those with large German populations contiguous with the borders of the Reich.

When Italian troops moved into Spain on Franco’s side, the Left redoubled its efforts to rally support for the Republicans. Writers, photographers and painters from all over Europe set to work as propagandists. By the spring of 1937, there were thirty thousand Germans and eighty thousand Italians in Spain. The Germans marched and, worse, had fleets of aeroplanes. The Republicans had practically no planes. The deliberate bombing of civilians was still regarded as unimaginable barbarity. So when the Kondor Legion bombed Guernica, the Basque capital, on 27th April, practically wiping it out, the whole world was outraged, and Picasso’s famous picture went on tour all over Europe. The Nazi propaganda machine under Dr Goebbels swung into action to convince everyone that the Basques had blown up their own city to discredit Franco. At a dinner party at Philip Sassoon’s, the diplomat and diarist Harold Nicolson, who had just become an MP for ‘National Labour’, murmured to Anthony Eden that he wanted “the Reds to win.” The destruction of Guernica reinforced his feelings as he wrote to his wife, Vita, that…

only that ass Teenie (Victor Cazalet) goes on sticking up for Franco. I could have boxed his silly ears … I do so loathe this war. I really feel that barbarism is creeping over earth again and that mankind is going backward.

Non-Intervention to Appeasement, 1935-37:

In public, however, Nicolson firmly supported the government’s policy of Non-Intervention, praising Eden, its glamorous advocate on the world stage. Britain, Harold instructed the House, could no longer indulge in its ‘missionary foreign policy’ of the nineteenth century to impose our views, our judgements, our standard of life and conduct upon other countries. Without even a trace of irony, he fell back on commonplaces, advising the House that the best way forward was to maintain traditional British interests, the ‘preservation of peace’ and the ‘arrangement of the balance of power’. However, he failed to spell out how this was to be accomplished in the then-current climate of European affairs. When the Foreign Affairs Committee met in July to discuss the Spanish situation, Harold, now its vice-chair, was agitated to find ‘an enormous majority’ passionately anti-government and pro-Franco, a setting that allowed much of the younger Tories to ‘blow off steam.’ He told Eden that he opposed granting ‘belligerency rights’ to either side, as this would only serve Franco’s cause. Eden agreed and, in turn, admitted that non-intervention had ‘largely failed.’ This fact could not be disguised with the Italians, Germans, and Russians roaming the Spanish battlefields. But neither was the concomitant, that there was no alternative if an all-out European conflagration was to be avoided.

A. J. P. Taylor wrote in 1969 that it puzzled post-war observers that Churchill was disregarded when dangers and difficulties accumulated for Britain in the mid-thirties. Baldwin and MacDonald were blamed for the sloth and blindness they demonstrated towards the continental threat, and so too was British public opinion. But Taylor also blamed Churchill for losing hold of public opinion through his obsession with empire and intemperate opposition over India. The British people would no longer respond to the romantic call of Imperial glory. He had nothing to say, at least before 1937, about the great economic questions, like unemployment. He remained notably silent during the interminable debates on these in the Commons. R. R. James (1970) wrote of how by 1933, Churchill was widely regarded as…

a failed politician, in whom no real trust could reasonably be placed; by June 1935 these opinions had been fortified further. His habit of exaggerating problems, and in clothing relatively minor questions in brightly coloured language, had the effect that when a really major issue did arise there was no easy way of differentiating it…

Churchill’s campaign for rearmament lacked the essential qualities of a crusade. It was limited; it was personal; it was far from national; and it was closely linked to the political fortunes of its leader. Great speeches in Parliament and stirring public appeals do not constitute a crusade. …

These comments do not contravert Churchill’s record on Defence matters in the years 1932-36. … the central fact that he sensed danger long before most of his contemporaries discerned it. His central theme was unanswerably right. But the failure of his campaign was not entirely the result of the folly of others. A dispassionate assessment of why his reputation remained so low at the end of 1936, after a period in which his warnings had proved to be abundantly justified, must return to the quotation… ‘Every man is the maker of his own fate.’

R. R. James, Churchill: A Study in Failure, 1900-39. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1970.
pp. 121-2, 358-9.

Soon after he became a National Labour MP in 1935, Harold Nicolson admitted to Churchill that he felt ‘terribly hampered’ in deciding ‘about foreign policies’ because he had no conception whatsoever as to our real defensive capabilities. Churchill fed him an (inflated) assessment of Germany’s air strength, which, if augmented by the Italian air force, was a very excellent striking machine. This led Harold to the inescapable conclusion that we are not in a position to go to war without active Russian assistance. Malcolm MacDonald, Secretary of State for dominions (and later for colonies) whose judgement he valued, reiterated that Britain was too weak to gamble on war:

It would mean the the massacre of women and children in the streets of London. No Government could possibly risk a war when our anti-aircraft defences are in so farcical a condition.

The Spanish civil war continued until 1939, but most surviving British International Brigaders returned home in 1937. One in five of them had been killed, and three in four of the survivors were injured. But it had been less like the great confrontation between Good and Evil, won by the latter, and more like the dress rehearsal for something far worse. The Fascists had been more greatly encouraged by their Spanish adventures, leading Hitler and Mussolini to form their Rome-Berlin Axis, beginning a massive build-up of their armed forces. Hitler interpreted Non-Intervention as a green light, but he still needed more time in 1937 to prepare for his campaign of conquest. The growing danger in Europe encouraged the democracies to believe that a policy of ‘appeasement’ was the only way to ensure peace. The great upholder was the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, who took office in May 1937, following Stanley Baldwin’s ‘retirement’. For many months, Baldwin had been to retire from political life, but events before and after King Edward’s abdication had kept him in office. As soon as King George VI had been crowned, Baldwin decided to hand over the Premiership to Neville Chamberlain, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and on 28th May, the Chamberlains moved into No. 10 Downing Street. Baldwin went into the House of Lords as Earl Baldwin of Bewdley. René Cutforth wrote of him…

that certainly, his chief influence had been anaesthetic… unless circumstances forced him into action, he had preferred to drowse. It may be that to his deep-rooted aversion to confrontation, his genius for keeping antagonisms safely in solution and never allowing them to crystallise out, we may owe the fact that, when finally we had to go to war, we went as one people, an undivided nation.

René Cutforth, pp 115-6.
From Baldwin to Chamberlain & All souls, 1937:

The picture above shows Earl Baldwin at his first public appearance since taking the title, receiving a presentation gift from Neville Chamberlain, his successor as PM. The long ‘Baldwin-MacDonald era’ came to an end, but Chamberlain was to hold the top post for only three years. After that, the Cabinet was reshuffled, but only from the existing pack, with Eden remaining as Foreign Secretary. Many among both contemporaries and historians have characterised Chamberlain as:

a vain man who thought that a personal approach by him to the dictators would succeed where other methods had failed. He believed that friendly relations could be established with Hitler by meeting his demands halfway and thus forcing him to negotiate and not use force. It was a disastrous policy.

Donald Lindsay (1979), Europe and the World, 1870 to the Present Day. Oxford: Oxford University Press (‘O’ Level text).

Apart from being another Conservative Midlands industrialist, the new Prime Minister had little in common with the old one. Neville Chamberlain was an upright provincial, nonconformist businessman with an old-fashioned moustache who had once been Lord Mayor of Birmingham and whose qualities of vision and imagination seemed to suit him admirably for such a position. He has been frequently described as autocratic, and the extent to which he relied on his ‘inner cabinet’ of congenial ministers has been often criticised. There is, however, no orthodoxy in these matters, and Chamberlain is neither the first nor the last PM to have been criticised for their strength of will and determination. As Keith Robbins has suggested, whether that quality is admired or condemned depends upon the course of events. A political observer at the time he became PM wrote of him:

This seeming lack of breadth of mind and culture… arouses some misgivings about Mr Chamberlain. Clarity of mind – and he has it in an unusual degree – is not enough if the mind, so to say, sees the field with searching clearness, but not the field as part of the landscape, and that kind of limited vision is not necessarily compensated by courage such as Mr Chamberlain has. The two together could be a positive danger.

Stanley Baldwin had not been fond of first-class minds: Chamberlain’s Cabinet also excluded most of the ablest men so that by 1938, Churchill, Eden, Duff Cooper, Harold Macmillan and Leopold Amery formed a minor Conservative opposition inside the party. The old gang, Lord Halifax, Sir John Simon, and Sir Samuel Hoare, were given the jobs. One Minister, Sir Thomas Inskip, was a man of such natural endowments that when his appointment as Minister of Defence was announced, the House of Commons sat there laughing for several minutes. In that company, Sir Anthony Eden, still at the Foreign Office, though not for long, resembled at age forty-something of a whizz-kid. Baldwin had preferred to leave his Ministers to their own devices, but Chamberlain was an interfering Prime Minister: he liked, he said, to give each of his ministers a policy, and it was in Foreign Policy that the PM interfered most because, though having little experience in that field, he had a policy and it was not the same as Eden’s. That policy was the line that came to be known as ‘appeasement’. There was nothing new in it: it was believed by almost every ‘liberal’ mind in Britain (including Churchill’s) that the Versailles Treaty had been unjustly harsh to the Germans and that some kind of ‘give and take’ policy might have modified the explosive situation in Europe.

By 1937 there was a bitter ideological debate on appeasement, reflected in G. M. Trevelyan’s letter to The Times in which he wrote that dictatorship and democracy must live side by side in peace, or civilisation is doomed. To this, he added that Englishmen would do well to remember that the Nazi form of government is, in large measure, the outcome of Allied and British injustice at Versailles… During the winter and early spring of 1937-38, Harold was invited to participate in a kind of ‘brains trust’ on foreign affairs at All Souls College, Oxford. Its purpose was to set out guidelines that would neutralise the menace of the totalitarian states. It was organised by Sir Arthur Salter, an Oxford ‘don’ and was dubbed ‘Salter’s Soviet’ by Lionel Curtis, one of its more energetic members. It was an assortment of idealogues, with the historian A. L. Rowse, a fierce critic of the government policy rubbing shoulders with some of its most ardent supporters, Lord Allen of Liverpool and Arnold Toynbee. Rowse later (1961) summarised the debate and discussion:

So Baldwin passed from the scene, and Neville Chamberlain reigned in his stead. He may not have had Baldwin’s weakness for fellows of All Souls, but he was even more dependent on two of them. He wanted Simon to to succeed him as Chancellor of the Exchequer; while on his breach with Eden- virtually a dismissal – Halifax came to his rescue and became Foreign Secretary.

Chamberlain’s course was hopeless from the start. It was at one time the fashion to exonerate him and place most of the blame on Baldwin. But where Baldwin’s were sins of omission, Chamberlain’s were sins of deliberate commission. He really meant to come to terms with Hitler, to make concession after concession to the man to the man to buy an agreement. Apart from the immorality of coming to terms with a criminal, it was always sheer nonsense; for no agreement was possible except through submission to Nazi Germany’s domination of Europe and, with her allies and their joint conquests, of the world…

It is no use making concessions to a blackmailer or an aggressor; he will only ask for more. … In fact, we were left without any effective means, with no power whatsoever, in a hopeless minority, with no organs of opinion at our command, to try and do something of what the government should have been doing. We were all too ineffective, condemned to making bricks without straw. …

Chamberlain knew no history … had no conception of the elementary necessity of keeping the balance of power on our side; no conception of the Grand Alliance, or of its being the only way to contain Hitler and keep Europe safe…

The total upshot of (‘the appeasers’) efforts was to aid Nazi Germany to achieve a position of brutal ascendancy, a threat to everybody else’s security or even existence, which only a war could end. … These men had no real conception of Germany’s character or malign record in modern history.

A. L. Rowse, All Souls and Appeasement, Macmillan, 1961, pp. 37-9, 63, 117.

Among others, Harold Macmillan, Basil Liddell Hart, and H. A. L. Fisher were included, while Geoffrey Dawson and Leopold Amery remained on the fringes. Between December 1937 and May 1938, it convened nine times, usually at weekends at All Souls but also at members’ flats in central London. Finally, Lionel Curtis put forward a programme, arguing that twenty years of peace were worth any price:

We offer Germany: (i) Anschluss (union with Austria); (ii) arrangements granting cantonal status to Sudetenland by Czech government; (iii) recognition of Germany’s colonial rights; (iv) admit Germany’s prior economic interests in eastern Europe.

We demand from Germany: (i) assurance that extension of German interests in eastern Europe would not entail any attack upon the autonomy of other countries; (ii) that Germany agree to the limitation of arms under which she would be the strongest power in central Europe but unable to dominate the collective force of other powers, i.e. preponderence but not supremacy; (iii) and that Germany not support Italian aims in the Mediterranean and Africa.

This was too much for Harold Nicolson, who shocked Curtis with his ‘anti-German stance’. He put on record his belief in Germany’s ‘aggressive ambitions’, underscoring the ‘heroic motive’ that inspired German youth and that conditioned them to sacrifice themselves in the pursuit of power. Nor would he hear of granting economic privileges in eastern Europe to Germany. This was skirting the main issues, however. Would firmness, taking a stand against the dictators, deter them or provoke them into embarking on ever more reckless adventures? No consensus was reached on this crucial point, the primary purpose of convening the ‘Soviet’ in the first place. As Harold termed it, the split between ‘the realists and the moralists’ was complete and irreconcilable.

Exit Eden; Enter Halifax, 1937-38:

Eden was contemptuous of Italy and was persuing a solid line on non-intervention, insisting that the Germans and the Italians should take their promises not to interfere in the Spanish Civil War more seriously. A Non-Intervention Agreement was supposedly in operation, though that did not serve as a significant obstacle to German, Italian and Soviet activities. However, at the end of August 1937, a torpedo, believed to have been fired from an Italian submarine, was inaccurately fired at a British destroyer. The British and French governments summoned a conference of interested states, but neither Germany nor Italy attended. Britain and France agreed that in future, their warships would attack unidentified submarines in the western Mediterranean. The Italians then decided to join in patrolling, thereby improving the diplomatic atmosphere. Meanwhile, Chamberlain deprecated any tendency among his colleagues to lump Germany and Italy together as ‘fascist powers’. For him, Germany was the problem, and by the end of the year, he had begun to address it directly.

Source: These Tremendous Years, 1919-38, March/April 1938.

Chamberlain thought Eden was being inconsiderate to Italy and set about conciliating Mussolini. This involved accepting Il Duce‘s conquest of Abyssinia. Finally, in a conversation between Grandi, the Italian Ambassador, and Eden and Chamberlain together, the Prime Minister actually argued Grandi’s case for him against Eden. Neville Chamberlain then went forward with his proposed Anglo-Italian agreement, without terms, to ease the bad feeling between Italy and Britain that had started over Abyssinia. Eden remained a firm believer in the League of Nations policy and was convinced that Mussolini should first be required to withdraw Italian troops fighting under Franco’s command in Spain. The Cabinet threatened to split on the issue, but on 20th February, Eden (shown above with his wife Beatrice) resigned. This was, ostensibly at least, because he could not agree to recognise the Italian conquest of Ethiopia, but, as we have already noted, it was also the case that Eden had been growing increasingly angry at the extent to which, after he succeeded to the premiership in May 1937, Neville Chamberlain took a specific interest in the conduct of foreign policy. It was frustration at this state of affairs that Eden could no longer manage. Lord Halifax, who had no objection to letting Chamberlain run the Foreign Office, was made Foreign Secretary in his stead. After his resignation, however, Eden by no means made life difficult for his former colleagues. Professor Keith Robbins wrote (in 1988) that:

He occasionally expressed a mild and judicious dissent but it was certainly not a root-and-branch opposition to all appeasement of the type that the Prime Minister was still engaged. And there was no one simple anti-appeasement front. It was only on the eve of war in 1939 that closer ties existed between Churchill, Eden and their respective followers and something approaching an ‘anti-appeasement’ front was formed.

Keith Robbins, Appeasement, Historical Association Studies (Second edn.) Oxford: Blackwell.

Eden’s successor, Lord Halifax, belonged to the generation ‘above’ him. Both men came from (somewhat different) landed families in the North of England. Already an MP at the outbreak of the Great War, Halifax spent three years of the war in Flanders and was one of a large number of Tory MPs in 1919 who pressed Lloyd George for harsher peace terms to be imposed on Germany. Such actions do not suggest an excessive tendency towards appeasement. However, as Viceroy of India (as Lord Irwin) from 1926, he came into direct conflict with Churchill. The latter – an influential figure in Baldwin’s two governments in the 1920s – continued to assert that Britain had no intention of relinquishing its ‘mission’ in India. It was perhaps somewhat inevitable that the analogies between India and the deteriorating situation in Europe, however absurd they may seem in post-imperial Britain, should suggest themselves to the mind of Halifax, as they had done to those of Simon and Hoare. In India, in his dealings with Gandhi and the Indian political leaders, Irwin had been able to make a ‘pact’ which had ended the Civil Disobedience Campaign (see the photo from 1930 below). He had achieved this, he firmly believed, by a series of face-to-face meetings in which ‘some face’ had to be lost by the British to reach a general settlement. As Lord Privy Seal from 1935, Halifax had taken an increasing interest in foreign affairs, pondering the possible applications of his Indian experiences to the peace of Europe. In reply to a suggestion in July 1936 that there was a certain similarity between the characters of the chief actors in Germany and India – a potent inferiority complex, an idealism, a belief in a divine mission and a difficulty in dealing with unruly lieutenants – Halifax replied:

There is much in common between Germany and India, and part of the trouble during recent years has been that the French have been so anxious to maintain things that evoke Germany’s inferiority complex.’

Andrew Roberts (1991), The Holy Fox: A Biography of Lord Halifax. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

The ability of the English gentlemen at the Foreign Office to discern an ‘inferiority complex’ in others was very well developed. Very different though they were, both Gandhi and Hitler delivered prophetic messages which somehow had to be dealt with. Halifax, it seems, from an early stage in government, was very interested “in getting together with Hitler and squaring him.” However, had Halifax, the Beaverbrook press and the ‘boffins’ at the Foreign Office been as familiar with Gandhiji’s Autobiography (1925) and his History of Satyagraha in South Africa as they were, presumably, with Mein Kampf, they might also have been able to make the comparison and ‘spot the difference’ between an idealism based in shared moral values (with most of India’s British Raj) and nonviolent doctrines, on the one hand, and on the other, one based on concepts of racial superiority and aggressive expansionism. Moreover, most Indian statesmen, including Gandhi himself, had been educated in England and therefore literally spoke the same language to a very advanced level. He was not the first to make this fatal error, nor would he be the last. After an extensive period in the India Office, the young R. A. B. Butler came to the Foreign Office as Under-Foreign Secretary to Halifax in 1938. He felt the problem before him was the same in both cases: dealing with the ‘status’ of a great people, this time Germany – then India.

In any case, Halifax got his face-to-face chance with Herr Hitler in November (17th -21st) 1937. His visit to Berlin and Berchtesgaden came just a month after rioting had begun in the Sudetenland. Eden was not altogether happy about this visit by a Cabinet colleague with no responsibility for foreign affairs; still, Halifax’s experience of dealing with ‘awkward men’ as Viceroy of India ameliorated Eden’s objections, though the Foreign Secretary still gave Halifax firm advice that he should keep the Germans guessing about Britain’s intentions.

The conversation ranged widely, and Hitler appeared to be very upset that Germany no longer had colonies. As a result, it subsequently appeared in London that there might be the possibility of reverting to this question again. However, it was difficult to tell how serious Hitler’s interest really was, as he did not return to it in subsequent negotiations. The two men then got down to specific questions concerning Danzig, Austria and Czechoslovakia. Halifax reiterated that while the status quo was not sacrosanct, the British government felt strongly that any changes could only occur through ‘peaceful evolution.’ Halifax also let Hitler know that German internal policy was distasteful to the British.

Lord Halifax touring Berlin with Göring.

To be fair to Halifax, his own diary entry makes it clear that it was obvious to him during or soon after the meeting that he could no longer pretend (if he ever really had) that Hitler shared the same values or ‘spoke the same language’ that he had been able to use in his face-to-face talks with Gandhi.

That soon became ‘blindingly’ obvious when the Führer suggested to Halifax that Gandhi might usefully be shot. Even so, Halifax (not yet Foreign Secretary) wanted to go on talking in the belief that, sooner or later, some form of understanding might, Micawber-like, ‘turn up.’ Germany’s ‘state of revolution’ would eventually cease, there would be a broader return to order, and peace would prevail. This was now a form of appeasement from weakness rather than from strength. Certainly, Halifax picked up on many contemporary assumptions about Britain’s army and navy, which made him cautious. Still, there was also a pervasive, paradoxical sense that the appeasers played a purposeful and still-determining role in the adjustments of world power that seemed to be taking place.

However, it was hardly the case that the Führer was ‘squared’ on this occasion. We had a different set of values and were speaking a different language, Halifax subsequently confided in his diary. Yet he did not concede that further conversation was pointless and that Britain should prepare for war. Instead, he reported to the Cabinet that, in his view, the Germans had no policy of immediate adventure. Their country was still in a state of revolution.

Nevertheless, they would press their claims in Central Europe, though not in a form to give others a cause or occasion to intervene. From this report of Halifax’s ‘interview’ with Hitler, Chamberlain took the view that an atmosphere had been created in which the ‘practical questions’ involved in a pan-European settlement could be discussed. He began to clear the ground with the French. His ‘realistic’ view of the European future was of its management by the four Great Powers – Britain, France, Germany and Italy – and it was up to Britain and Germany to lay the foundations of this. There was an inherent tension in Chamberlain’s position at this point. Britain was still to play a supporting European role, but the PM remained opposed to the idea of a substantial continental army. Britain could not countenance the continent slipping under German, especially Nazi, domination. Yet it was obvious that German influence over central Europe would be extended, and that should surely be a matter of continuing concern. The covert message was that borders should be adjusted, if not fully revised, albeit by agreement.

One possible source of encouragement in the face of the deteriorating European situation might have been provided by the United States. In October 1937, President Roosevelt made his Chicago ‘Quarantine’ speech which seemed to indicate that the administration was not totally uninterested in the trend of world affairs. The difficulty, however, was to find out precisely what the speech was meant to imply. The suggestion that aggressors might be ‘quarantined’ seemed to be meaningless. The neutrality legislation rendered any dramatic intervention impossible, although various spokesmen and emissaries seemed to be sending confusing messages across the Atlantic. Chamberlain was not impressed, as he did not want his foreign policy initiatives to be frustrated by US intervention, particularly since he did not believe that this would amount to anything but words. On the other hand, Eden believed that the Americans should be ‘educated’ in the hope of securing their support in the future. The Prime Minister took the initiative in sending a cold communiqué in mid-January 1938 to a general letter from Roosevelt suggesting an international conference. Eden took offence, as perhaps the PM had hoped he might. Differences mounted between the two men, particularly, as already noted, on how to handle Italy.

Eventually, in February, Eden resigned. He was no longer prepared to play a subordinate role in executing policy, which Chamberlain supposed he had accepted. His resignation cannot, however, be interpreted as a dramatic dissociation from the appeasement policy. His differences with Chamberlain at this point can still be described as technical, perhaps personal, rather than substantive. Also, it was, and still is, difficult to tell how decisions were being made in Berlin and whether the German Foreign Office really had much say in policy-making. In a sense, Chamberlain was joining a fashion by using special emissaries who were not under the control of the Foreign Office to take soundings and convey messages on his behalf. After Eden’s resignation, Halifax became Foreign Secretary. Nevertheless, the framework of his ideas had not changed in the interval:

… you have got to live with devils whether whether you like them or not …

Roberts, loc. cit. p. 85

He was reflecting on Eden’s ‘natural revulsion’ for dictators. He suggested that the best way to deal with them was to keep them guessing about what you might do in central Europe – a position which also had the advantage of preventing the French from making assumptions about British intentions in this area. It was, however, also the case that the government did not, in fact, know what it would do, as was demonstrated in both the Austrian and Czechoslovak crises later in the year of his appointment. It was only then, in September 1938, when Chamberlain brought back the terms offered by Hitler in Bad Godesberg, that Halifax changed his mind. There is testimony that by this time, Halifax had come to loathe Nazism and had lost all his delusions about Hitler.

Lord Halifax (left) with Hitler and von Ribbentrop.

Halifax was a very tall man (six feet five inches) and referred to Hitler as ‘a nasty little man’, whereas Goebbels was ‘a little man’ whom he liked. Lord Halifax was a personification of Britain, which had to stoop from its imperial ‘heights’ to be conquered. In this, he also personified the policy of appeasement, together with Chamberlain, another tall statesman. Halifax’s career, then, is a reminder that the term ‘appeaser’ is not rigid. Halifax may have ‘stiffened’ in 1938; in some readings, he may have ceased to be an appeaser. However, the War Cabinet debates of late May 1940 are a reminder that Halifax still brought what he saw as a rational calculation of Britain’s interests to the table at that dire juncture. His approach contrasted sharply with the instinctive tone adopted by Churchill. In this sense, Halifax remained an appeaser, if a modified one. His contemporary biographer explained Halifax’s practical motivation in favour of appeasement:

There is no more sincere believer in the League of Nations and all that it stands for, as his early speeches show. But he was quite frankly impatient with the idealism which was ready to sacrifice all hope of real peace in the vain effort to enforce upon the world an ideal which had become impracticable.

He is English in his good-natured hatred of cruelty, and his instinctive revolt against injustice in any form; in the cool, rather stolid courage with which he faces danger, and in the dogged patience and perseverance with which he pursues his aims through apparently insuperable difficulties … and in his cautious reluctance to accept a course of conduct simply because it is logical.

Stuart Hodgson, Lord Halifax (1941), pp. 241, 244.

Playing for Time – British Foreign Policy, 1937-38:

The rise of the aggressive fascist dictatorships in Italy and France, together with the growing success of Franco’s forces in Spain, meant that the rise of Fascism dominated British Foreign Policy in the late 1930s. The British government pursued its policy of Non-Intervention in Spain, alongside the appeasement of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, in the hope of avoiding a general European war. However, Germany and Italy had left the Non-Intervention Committee on 23rd June, and soon after, by July 1937, a second war was already in progress, this time in the Far East between Japan and China.

In an aerial attack on Shanghai on 28th August, sixteen Japanese planes bombed the area around Shanghai South Station, killing two hundred people. The baby in the picture, crying amid the ruins, was filmed by a Chinese cameraman, and it was estimated that a hundred and thirty-six million people worldwide saw the scene in newspapers and newsreels.

In July, Japan marched into China and took Peking without a formal declaration of war. Japan invaded after the Chinese had fired on Japanese soldiers engaged in manoeuvres near the Manchukuo frontier. Britain, although having critical commercial interests in China and Singapore, was not strong enough to take on Japan, but China’s resistance was greater than that expected by the Japanese. Chiang Kai-Shek had become China’s nationalist dictator and built a disciplined, well-equipped army. His wife, Mei-Ling (see the inset photo above), was an American-educated Methodist member of China’s ruling House of Soong. She took over the propaganda organisation, acting as a news censor. She also negotiated, through her influential family, foreign loans.

No clear military or political agreement had been forged between Germany, Italy and Japan. Still, they had become identified by the mid-1930s as revisionist powers who hoped to alter the existing distribution of territory and global influence in their favour. The direct result was to create a widening rift between these dictatorships and Britain and France, which initially, Hitler had not anticipated and did not welcome. Having proclaimed the Rome-Berlin Axis at the end of 1936, Mussolini subsequently joined Germany and Japan in the Anti-Comintern Pact in November 1937. In the spring of 1938, however, a political crisis in Austria provided the opportunity Hitler awaited to force a union between the two German states. As his formal ally, Mussolini no longer stood in the way of Hitler’s long-held plan as he had done in previous years.

Women and children sheltering from Axis bombing in Spain.

From its outset, the Spanish Civil War had absorbed the international community’s attention. It now served as a litmus test for whether democracy would survive or Fascism triumph. The extreme polarisation of political forces inside Spain, together with the active involvement of Italy and Germany on behalf of the insurgents and the Soviet Union supposedly championing the cause of the Left, turned the civil war into the ideological cause célébre of the late 1930s. Writing in 1938, the Duchess of Athol pointed to the risks of continuing the Non-Intervention policy thus far pursued by Britain and France:

Unless, indeed, the Fascist Powers wish a European War here and now, a rapid flow of arms to the Republicans plus the possibility of a Franco-British blockade, might induce the aggressors to withdraw at least part of their armed forces. If the Spaniards were at last left to fight it out, a loyalist victory would be assured, and a heavy blow would have been dealt to aggressive dictators. A new hope of peace would dawn for Europe.

… If Spain be allowed to pass under Fascist control, the dictators will have won the first round of the game, and the succeeding ones will be infinitely harder, and more costly, to, to wrench from their hands.

It is not clear, then, that whatever our next move may be, the first, if we are not to be parties to an appalling tragedy and to a terrible blunder, must be to abandon the so-called Non-Intervention policy and restore to the Spanish Government its right under International Law to buy arms?

The Duchess of Atholl, Searchlight on Spain (1938), pp. 329-30.

Government troops surrender to Nationalist forces on a front in Northern Spain. For foreigners who fought in the Spanish War, the main impact was not so much the battle experience as the bitterness of this family quarrel and the enormous numbers of people executed on both sides.

A further famous incident in the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 was ‘The Panay Incident’, which took place on 12th December, when Japanese planes again swooped down, this time to bomb (‘accidentally’) the US gunboat Panay that was steaming along the Yangtze River with refugees from Nanking, China’s capital. For twenty minutes, Panay seamen fired away with old Lewis guns shown in the picture (below left), but the planes kept in the line of the sun, so blinding the gunners. Within two hours, the Panay sank (pictured above), and fifty-four survivors who had got to the river bank hid in the rushes till the planes, which had machine-gunned them as they abandoned ship, flew off. The picture below (right) shows Quartermaster John Lang receiving emergency care for severe chin and arm wounds. Hirosi Saito, Japan’s ambassador to the United States, offered immediate apologies when he heard the news. He claimed the bombing was “completely accidental… a terrible blunder.” Soon after, the Tokyo government made offers of full compensation and a promise to punish offenders.

Source: These Tremendous Years.

In this ‘global’ context, therefore, it should come as no surprise to us, with the benefit of hindsight, that in late 1937 and early 1938, it looked as though Britain would be able to play no military role in Europe whatsoever. There was certainly nothing which could conceivably have been done by Britain and France, acting without Italy, to prevent the Anschluss of Austria to Germany in March 1938. A year later, the Chiefs of Staff also expressed the opinion that there was nothing that Britain, France and their potential Central European allies could do by sea, on land or in the air to prevent the military defeat of Czechoslovakia. The only thing that could be done at this stage was to declare war on Germany and defeat it in what would undoubtedly be a prolonged struggle. In all likelihood, Italy and Japan would exploit a Central European war for their own ends, making it a pan-European and then a world war. The weight of advice received by the Cabinet was such that it would have been a fearless and perhaps foolhardy PM who ignored it. These practical realities may not explain the development of Chamberlain’s appeasement policy in 1938-40, but it does explain why there was no ‘rush to war’ in the spring of 1938. According to some historians, before 1936, the British intelligence community underrated the military potential of Germany; between 1936 and 1938, it overcompensated for its earlier misjudgement and exaggerated the capacity of the German armed forces.

It was, however, and still is, the Prime Minister from May 1937, Neville Chamberlain, who is primarily regarded as the prince of the appeasers. It is his name rather than any other which is inseparably attached to the policy of appeasement in its most ardent phase, though he did not invent the term. The fact that the policy is so firmly linked to one individual is a further reminder, already confirmed in considering foreign secretaries, that appeasement was not a simple formula, put into operation without variation regardless of who happened to be in government at any given time. Each prominent appeaser had his own agenda and brought to the task of shaping policy individual preconceptions, analogies and experiences. So it was with Neville Chamberlain. It was not a sufficient explanation of his failings as PM that, as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1931 to 1937, he had been so preoccupied with domestic economic matters that he was ignorant of world trends and developments. Almost by definition, especially in the circumstances of the mid-1930s, a Chancellor had to have a broad knowledge of international affairs, and Neville was nothing if not conscientious and thorough in his preparation. The confidence with which he expressed views on international issues of the day may have been exaggerated, but it was not without foundation. Even though he was sixty-eight when he became prime minister, he was fit and vigorous, brisk and efficient.

In short, few recent writers think that Chamberlain became an appeaser because he was stupid or ignorant, though other ministers and previous prime ministers may deserve this verdict. Some have suggested that there was something to be said for the policy; others, as already noted above, see it as a disastrous policy, stemming ultimately from the vanity, touchiness and obstinacy of the PM’s personality. While it is desirable that leading politicians believe in themselves, Chamberlain did so to excess. He came to ‘own’ the policy in a very personal, perhaps undesirable manner. These character defects brought about the tragedy of complete failure in foreign policy and earned him posthumous derision. So when we consider the course of action followed by the National Government throughout 1937 and early ’38 and its persistence in seeking an accommodation with Hitler, even a humiliating one, must lie with Chamberlain himself. In an ‘alternative’ 1937, another Prime Minister or a more flexible Chamberlain could only have represented an improvement in the foreign policy that was actually followed. In his defence, it has long been conceded that Chamberlain’s very real, personal sense of horror at the possibility of a second world war within twenty years of the last did not mean that he pursued ‘peace at any price.’ Duff Cooper, writing in 1953, drew a more sympathetic portrait than most of Chamberlain’s personal motivations:

I had sympathy with Chamberlain’s attitude. He had become Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1931 when the country, we were told, was on the verge of bankruptcy. He had brought about a great financial recovery. He was about to welcome the return of prosperity and he hoped to use the money in beneficial measures of social reform. Suddenly he saw his dreams dissolving. The plenty he had laboured so hard to collect was going to be thrown away on re-armament, the least remunerative form of expenditure. But all was not yet lost. There was no certainty of war. …

… He had never moved in the great world of politics or finance, and the continent of Europe was a closed book. He had been a successful Lord Mayor of Birmingham, and for him the Dictators of Germany and Italy were like the Lord Mayors of Liverpool and Manchester, who might belong to different political powers and have different interests, but who must desire the welfare of humanity, and be fundamentally reasonable, decent men like himself. This profound misconception lay at the root of his policy and explains his mistakes.

Duff Cooper, Old Men Forget (1953) p. 200.

But whatever the flaws in his approach to the dictators, Chamberlain did rearm the country and did not leave Britain defenceless in 1940. He was not, in his own mind, merely clearing the path for its abject surrender, but neither is it clear that he was simply ‘playing for time.’ He seemed sincere in his publicly stated belief that he was having some success in promoting ‘peaceful change’ or at least that he was only acquiescing in the minimum use of force to allow contentious matters to be resolved in Germany’s favour, so long as the safety or independence of the United Kingdom was not directly threatened. He stuck obstinately to these objectives of 1937 through the occupation of Austria in March 1938 to the occupation of Prague in March 1939. Even then, he refused to accept that the premiss on which he had based so much of his thinking since becoming PM, and even before, now seemed fatally flawed. As Keith Robbins has concluded:

The power of a Prime Minister is formidable and a great deal does indeed hang, for good or ill, on his leadership. But is it persuasive to pin so much on one individual appeaser? There were, naturally, serious military and economic issues which had always to be addressed… underlying structural considerations… but, in so far as the final decisions are always political, we need to return to ‘public opinion’ and the appeasers. A retrospective justification attempted by some appeasers was that the Cabinet did not in fact have much room for manoeuvre. They could only work, in a democracy, within the parameters of what they believed the public would accept. Could Chamberlain have acted differently supposing, for a moment, that he wanted to?

Robbins, loc. cit., p. 46.

One of the more recent historians to reflect on this point, R. A. C. Parker (1993), considered that in 1938 Chamberlain could have secured sufficient support either for the policies he pursued or for an anti-German alliance. It has been implied that ‘public opinion’ was in flux and was simply at the PM’s disposal to channel as he chose. But it is not clear that, early in 1938, this was the case. In the Cabinet and in the Foreign Office, however, the desks were cleared for action. But the self-confidence displayed by the Prime Minister seemed puzzling, even to some of his ‘inner cabinet.’ The initiative in Europe was held by Germany, in association with Italy, and by contrast, France seemed inert and bewildered. How could Britain, which still lacked an army capable of fighting on the continent, stem the tide? The PM seems to have hoped that Hitler’s ambitions were limited. They might only extend to the inclusion in one German state of all the German speakers of central Europe. The readjustment of the frontiers involved might be uncomfortable, but it was difficult to resist in principle. National self-determination, a by-word at Versailles, had become an almost sacred doctrine after the dissolution of the old empires. It might just be possible, therefore, to bring about changes by negotiation and bring about a European settlement underwritten by Britain, France, Germany and Italy. Events were shortly to put the assumption that war could be avoided in this way to the test.

It was only in September 1938, after Munich, that it seemed that the appeasement policy had majority popular support in Britain, albeit accompanied by a profound sense of shame over the surrender of the Sudetenland. After Munich, the same historian wrote, Chamberlain could have ‘given up’ appeasement and based a policy of resistance to Hitler on a restored national consensus. No doubt he could have attempted such a change of course, but, given the efforts which he had personally invested in the appeasement policy as the means of achieving a ‘lasting peace,’ it would have been very difficult for him to have publicly indicated his scepticism in what he had achieved without in turn giving Hitler a propaganda coup. If a decisive shift in public opinion was possible before March 1939, Chamberlain chose not to make it, and neither did he make it even after the occupation of Prague.

There were occasions, however, when Chamberlain did feel that his views were being circumvented by a Foreign Office which did not share them. This led him to seek advice beyond the Foreign Office and rely even more on his own assessments of European political developments. He was willing to be briefed by ambassadors like Sir Neville Henderson, the Ambassador in Berlin, whose interpretations and suggestions corresponded with what the PM wanted to hear. As a result, he became increasingly implicated in what Professor Watt described as Chamberlain’s ‘constitutionally dubious’ practices. In a circle which became vicious, some officials in the Foreign Office were not averse to leaking information to politicians whose views were not shared by the Cabinet. Could such ‘subversion’ of the government be justified? Some historians have gone so far as to believe that Chamberlain deviously exercised a ‘tight control’ over the press during the late thirties, eliminating the Foreign Office News Department as a source of anti-appeasement advice in Whitehall. Downing Street then became the sole distributor of news from Whitehall. The editor of The Times, Geoffrey Dawson, was in close contact with the government and was singled out as the most prominent appeaser in the press. It is therefore argued that no alternative to appeasement was ever consistently argued in the British press or relevant facts and figures ever given in its support. Ironically, Chamberlain himself ultimately suffered from his success in lining up newspaper proprietors. He deluded himself into supposing that what could be read in the press was ‘real’ public opinion. Whether an alternative ‘real’ public opinion ever existed, however, and whether, if so, we can know what he was, raises vast and possibly unanswerable questions.

‘The appeasers’ should not, however, be dismissed as a small coterie of individuals living in a world of their own. They responded to the feelings and concerns evident, to varying degrees, in British society at large in this period, even if they too readily assumed that their response was the correct one. Even so, while the views of individual appeasers are important, they must also be placed in a more general policy context. Only by bringing the personal and the structural together can we understand appeasement in action. On 12th March 1938, German troops marched across the Austrian border, and within days the county’s independence was at an end. For weeks before this development, Austro-German tension had been high, and some such outcome was not altogether unexpected. It may have been only at the last moment that Hitler judged it safe to annex his homeland.

Martin Gilbert wrote (in 1966) that the policy of appeasement, as practised between 1919 and 1929, was wholly in Britain’s interests and was not intended as an altruistic policy. British policy makers reasoned that the basis of European peace was a flourishing economic situation, unhampered by political conflict. Therefore, multi-lateral appeasement would promote mutual understanding by ensuring general European prosperity. Only through the success of this policy could Britain avoid becoming involved again in a war arising out of national ambitions and frustrations: a war which might prove even more destructive than the Great War of 1914-18 had been. As Gilbert concluded, …

… appeasement was never a coward’s creed. It never signified retreat or surrender from formal pledges. … Appeasement was not only an approach to foreign policy, it was a way of life, a method of human contact and progress.

M. Gilbert, The Roots of Appeasement. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1966, pp. 96-97, 177.

In the context of 1937, free from hindsight, Gilbert argued that appeasement was a policy of constant concessions based on common sense and strength. However, by the mid-1970s, a flood of evidence became available after the Public Record Act of 1967, and it was this evidence that confirmed Gilbert in his revisionist view of these issues and events:

I had not realised the extent to which Neville Chamberlain’s Cabinet were prepared to deceive Parliament. I had not realised the extent to which they chose to ignore the evidence of Hitler’s intention put before them. … And finally, no one had realised the extent to which, after Munich, far from using the so-called ‘year gained’ to re-arm. Chamberlain had adopted a quite different policy and a quite different attitude, that now the time had come to for a real agreement with Hitler which would make massive rearmament unnecessary, and disarmament a possibility.

Source: Norman Rose (see below).

So ends a full and historic year, Harold Nicolson wrote in his diary on New Year’s Eve, 1937. It had been a happy year, a useful year for him personally, though the gulf in the appeasement debate between the ‘realists’ and the ‘moralists’ was wider than ever. Besides, there was one continuing, frustrating snag for those who clung to an optimistic view: it was clouded by menace on the continent. Between March 1938 and March 1939, Hitler absorbed into his new Reich not only Austria and the Sudetenland, both of which could be claimed to be historically German but, under its new name of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, the remainder of the Czech lands as well as the Lithuanian Baltic port of Memel with its surrounding lands. In addition, Hungary obtained parts of southern Slovakia and Ruthenia, which had substantial Hungarian minorities and had belonged to the Crown lands of St Stephen before 1918. Yet, in the spring of 1938, the unknown publishers of These Tremendous Years had this as their last page, which reminds us of the benefits and pitfalls of hindsight in historical judgement:

Source: These Tremendous Years, 1919-38.
Source: Overy.

In the thirty years following ‘Munich’, ‘appeasement’ became very clearly linked to the three meetings between Chamberlain and Hitler, which took place in October 1938. The place and the concept were seen as the twin symbols of British folly. Yet Gilbert argued that they were separable items of vocabulary, not collocations. He saw them as separate policies and argued that ‘Munich’ was a policy in its own right, dictated by fear and weakness, which Chamberlain devised, not as a means of postponing war but, as he personally believed, of making Anglo-German war unnecessary in the future. In the end, this was not a’ realistic’ view, as the map below of German conquests and administration by November 1942 demonstrates.

Left: Hitler with Heinrich Himmler, SS Commandant. Source: Overy

Conclusions – ‘Later Than They Thought’:

There was much in Gilbert’s research to suggest that a distinction needs to be drawn between the Baldwin-Eden appeasement policy followed until May 1938, which had many of the common characteristics of ‘revisionist’ policies pursued since 1922, and that which developed under Chamberlain and Halifax in response to the international crises of 1938, which became closely associated with the ‘Munich Agreement’. Fifty years on from Munich, Keith Robbins (1988) drew several conclusions in respect of the general debate on ‘Appeasement’ at that time. I have selected some of these that agree with my findings, especially on ‘economic appeasement.’

Therefore, there were perfectly plausible reasons for arguing both that Britain could not afford defence expenditure in the later 1930s and that it could not afford not to increase such spending:

“The economic difficulties of Britain in the 1930s do not in themselves explain appeasement, but no explanation can ignore those deep-seated problems.” (p. 87)

“The task of seeking to reconcile Britain’s imperial role with its European position can be seen to have worried all British Foreign Secretaries and their advisers in the first half of the twentieth century.”(p. 87)

“… there is a danger in assuming … that the pattern of British decline was predetermined. At the heart of the argument about appeasement is a debate about inevitability. We can point to the rise of other centres of power and the extreme difficulty of adequately defending so ramshackle a structure as the British Empire, but does that mean that there was so very little scope for manoeuvre in the 1930s?” (88)

“… Churchill saw signs of defeatism in government policies and believed that a display of resolution and self-confidence would bring its own reward. It is possible that a greater willingness to threaten intervention might have deterred Hitler, at least in the short term. In the longer term, however, it seems entirely likely that Hitler would have gone to war in circumstances which might have been as favourable as those of 1939.” (88)

“That is not to suggest that Chamberlain’s psychological understanding and tactical methods were flawless. He did not grasp the dynamics of Hitler’s régime and did not display a deep understanding of the aims, beliefs and practices of National Socialism.” (88)

“Even so, it is difficult to assess what difference Chamberlain’s shortcomings in this respect actually made to the conduct of policy. Lloyd George was blessed with much more imagination, but his analysis of Hitler’s mind and intentions was no better than Chamberlain’s. Another set of men in power would no doubt have made some, but not a vast, difference to the policies that were followed. Chamberlain, his colleagues and most of British opinion supposed it quite reasonable to believe in a world in which there was an underlying harmony between nations. It was surely inconceivable that governments would set out deliberately to use force. As evidence to the contrary mounted, Chamberlain and many of his countrymen looked around the world and were appalled by the ‘horrible barbarities’ they observed. Had ‘such a spectacle of human madness and folly’ ever been seen before?” (Holsti, 1991, pp.234-42). (88-89)

“The policies pursued in various areas – the economy, defence planning, industrial and technological development – may have produced the combination of conditions which enabled Britain to survive in 1940. But those same policies … substantially contributed to the ‘loss’ of Europe … Does this mean that appeasement was a success or failure? Of course, it would be consoling to believe that there could have been a policy in which there was no distinction between British interests and those of non-Nazi Europe as a whole. The inability of British and French governments ever to co-operate effectively is a sufficient commentary on this aspiration.” (89-90)

“A substantial section of British opinion had no wish to accept the priorities which would have been required to achieve the necessary image of strength. The problem of how a peace-loving democracy can be persuaded to prepare for war is an enduring one to which there is no easy answer. … British policy at Munich … was sometimes condemned for its apparent display of weakness by those who liked to regard themselves as exponents of power politics and a show of force. It was equally condemned, however, by many who had been adamantly against any vigorous policy of British rearmament. It was possible for people simultaneously to suffer anguish at the prospect of another major war and to feel intense remorse at what they believed to be Britain’s callous indifference to the plight of Czechoslovakia.” (90)

“… we can never be certain what the consequences of alternative policies might have been. Between 1939 and 1941 world politics evolved in a way that few observers could have predicted with confidence even in 1938.” (90)

These quotations seem most relevant to the current debate about the parallels with the current crisis in central-eastern Europe, though, as the events and evidence presented above clearly demonstrate, in any distinct era the devil is always in the detail. In many ways, we are already well past the Anschluss, if not already in the midst of a Sudeten crisis, in which case this is our 1938 Moment, with warnings abounding about the readiness of NATO countries to commit troops and military materials to a widening ‘hot war’ in eastern Europe. We may well find ourselves looking back on the 2020s in a similar way to the way Réne Cutforth looked back on the 1930s and drawing the conclusion that it was later than we thought.


Keith Robbins (1988), Appeasement. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Richard Brown & Christopher Daniels (1982), Documents & Debates: Twentieth-Century Britain. Basingstoke: Macmillan Education.

Richard Overy (1996), Historical Atlas of the Third Reich. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Andrew Roberts (2010), The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War. London: Penguin Books.

Asa Briggs, et al., (2001), The Penguin Atlas of British & Irish History. London: Penguin Books.

Norman Rose (2005), Harold Nicolson. London: Pimlico (Random House).

René Cutforth (1976), Later Than We Thought: A Portrait of the Thirties. Newton Abbot: David & Charles.

Michael Clark & Peter Teed (eds.) (1972), Portraits & Documents: The Twentieth Century, 1906-1960. London: Hutchinson Educational.

Irene Richards, J. B. Goodson & J. A. Morris (1938), A Sketch-Map History of the Great War & After, 1914-35. London: George Harrap & Co.

Unknown author/ publisher (1938), These Tremendous Years. Printed in London & Northampton, 1938.


Britain, Europe and The World in 1937: A Moment in History Repeating itself? Part One

Democracy and Dictatorship – 2022 & 1922-1937:
The fall of the three great European empires at the end of the First World War – Austria, Germany and Russia – the chief centres of autocratic rule, seemed a happy augury for the future of democratic government. After the war, this was established in the new states, whose rulers recognised the wisdom of adopting constitutions modelled by Western Powers. In every European country, except Russia, where a new form of government, a Communist dictatorship, was maintained, the principle of representative government was accepted. Source: Richards et al., 1937.

Beginning his keynote address on Russia’s War on Ukraine on 28th June 2022, the newly-commissioned Head of the British Army, General Sir Patrick Sanders, spoke of the similarity of the events of 1937 in Europe to the continuing and impending events of 2022 in the central-eastern part of the continent:

“This is our 1937 moment. We’re not at war, but we must act rapidly so that we are not drawn into one by our failure to contain territorial expansion … so we never find ourselves asking that futile question, ‘could we have done more?’

Sky News Report, 28. 06. 2022.

How did that ‘moment’ arise, and how significant was it in the subsequent events of interwar Europe? What are the parallels with recent events in Europe and elsewhere? The Paris Peace Settlement had left every post-war state in central Europe with internal problems and potential border disputes. It proved easier to break up the multi-ethnic empires than to replace them with ethnically homogeneous states. Restored Poland and Czechoslovakia both had significant German minorities after 1919 and disgruntled Slav minorities. The two new states established in Paris, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, also had substantial Hungarian minorities, as did Ukraine (in its western sub-Carpathian region) and Romania (in Transylvania). Hungarian resentment at the loss of over two-thirds of its pre-war land and at the exclusion of more than one-third of the Hungarian-speaking population was to simmer throughout the interwar period. Some 9.5 million ethnic Germans, or thirteen per cent of the German-speaking peoples, found themselves ‘marooned’ in the often uncongenial atmosphere of Czechoslovakia or Poland. The Germans of Austria were explicitly forbidden under the terms of Versailles from seeking Anschluss (union) with Germany, which contributed to undermining the newly founded Austrian Republic.

Time Chart of International Events & Relations, 1919-1929. Source: Donald Lindsay (1979), Europe & The World, 1870-1979.

As the economic situation in Germany grew worse during 1929-33, the Nazi Party (NSPD) increased its support in the Reichstag, and in 1933 the President, Hindenberg and the Nationalist Party, supporters of the old imperial régime, were forced to share power with Hitler, who became Chancellor.

There was often an acute sense of grievance among both winners and losers. The strictures of the Versailles Treaty managed to alienate many Germans from the new democratic Weimar Republic without seriously diminishing German might in perpetuity. A nation forged on Europe’s battlefields in the mid-nineteenth century bitterly resented attempts to exclusively blame its ruling élite for the outbreak of the Great War and the restrictions on its future military capabilities. In fact, her armed forces were merely streamlined into the professional nucleus of future mass armies. In this climate, it was not entirely surprising that swathes of desperate people, including the young, should have invested their hopes in the multiple temptations offered by Hitler’s National Socialists, with their identification of culprits, espousal of egalitarian mediocrity, and their messianic visions of future national greatness. By 1933, the most dangerous dictator had come to power after other authoritarian solutions had been essayed and failed. A peculiarly ‘democratic’ figure, the Führer was worshipped like a god by his followers, in itself testimony to the power of charismatic celebrity in the modern age.

Time Chart of International Events & Relations, 1930-39. Source: Donald Lindsay, Europe & The World, 1870-1979.

For the first five years of his rule, the Nazi dictator confined himself to chipping away at the restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. He refused, for example, to resume the reparation payments set at Versailles, while in 1933, he took Germany out of the League of Nations. Moreover, by promising that Germany only wanted to live at peace with her neighbours so long as all people of the German ‘race’ were within ‘the Fatherland’, he lulled the democratic statesmen into a false sense of security. Only after 1937, when German military strength had been built up, Hitler’s demands became limitless, and the democracies slowly came to understand the danger he represented. In 1933, British public opinion was very mixed regarding what to do about Hitler. Victor Gollancz, the left-wing author and publisher, wrote this retrospective in 1953, reflecting on his conflicted feelings in 1933:

… I felt passionate about checkmating Hitler. But pacifism, genuine pacifism, previously asleep, was simultaneously beginning to stir. I began to wonder whether military resistance – killing your enemy, hacking your enemy’s guts out, driving your enemy mad – could ever be right. If it could ever be right, then it must be right when you used it, as in this case, to prevent the enslavement, the utter degredation of mankind: but could it? If the worst happened, if war came, shouldn’t I find myself a pacifist? Shouldn’t I say, don’t retaliate, don’t despitefully use them, don’t wound, don’t kill? And yet surely to prevent a war that immediately threatened was demanded, above everything, by my very hatred of wounding and killing? By, I almost began to say – my very pacifism? … The fact is that I never really faced the issue: or rather, I avoided facing it with a sort of unconscious deliberation.

Victor Gollancz (1953), More for Timothy, pp. 354-5.
German & Japanese Expansion, 1933-39:
Source: The Times History of Europe (2002).

Pervasive pacifism, an understandable reaction to mass carnage within living memory, shaped how the powers responded to the advent of predatory dictators and militarists. Ordinary people had already, by 1933, invested many expectations in the new League of Nations as a forum for resolving international conflicts without violence. There was a widespread fear of militarism and suspicion of the armaments industry, ensuring that the League had no effective means of stopping any future transgressors should moral persuasion or sanctions fail to work.

Source: Lindsay, 1979
Source: Lindsay, 1979.

Japanese aggression in northern China (above), followed a few years later by Italian imperialism in the Horn of Africa, was the League’s first crisis, and it failed in both cases. Statesmen who had lost relatives in the Great War, like Neville Chamberlain, or who had fought in it, like Lord Halifax, were loath to risk a future conflict over such issues as the fate of three million Sudeten Germans who claimed their human rights were being abused. The French PM, Daladier, had also fought in the war, and the French government adopted a defensive mentality, symbolised by the construction of the Maginot Line. It never occurred for a moment to anybody that the French behind their Maginot Line, an impregnably fortified strip stretching all across northern France to the Belgian border with hundreds of miles of underground workings, might turn out not to be a tower of military strength and virtue and the West’s main guarantor on land.

Source: archive.guardian.co.uk
Rehearsal, Rearmament & Remilitarisation, 1935-37.

‘The Rehearsal’, as the contemporary journalist René Cutforth titled these preceding events in his 1976 retrospective Portrait of the Thirties, commenced in the early months of 1935, with Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Hitherto it had not been thought necessary to consider Italy a hostile power. That position now changed, but though the Mediterranean fleet of the Royal Navy was superior to the Italian navy, Italian air attacks in the Mediterranean could be decidedly uncomfortable.

The British – their empire at its maximum extent – pondered how to balance multiple global military commitments against domestic demands for lower taxes and improved health and housing. Britain had been rearming, though by no means feverishly, since 1935, but there were still 1.6 million unemployed. By 1937, a large influx of refugees from Central Europe, primarily Jewish, into Britain, so large as to be noticed among the crowds on London streets. The number of intellectuals among the refugees was disproportionately large, but the ordinary refugees were unpopular, but not, except among Mosley’s blackshirts, violently so. The London intellectual attitude seemed much like that of Duff Cooper when he wrote, although I loathe anti-Semitism, I … dislike Jews. This was also the view of a large section of the British aristocracy at the time.

There were also strains of these attitudes in the Labour members of the National Government like the anti-Zionist Lord Passmore (Sidney Webb), whose laws restricted Jewish emigration to British-controlled Palestine. In addition, there were also echoes of petty anti-Semitism among ordinary Londoners like a well-known bus conductor on the Swiss Cottage run who expressed his feelings by bawling out ‘Swiss Cottage – Kleine Schweizer-Haus.’ Until Kristallnacht in the autumn of 1938, however, these expressions of anti-Semitism were mixed up with anti-German sentiments, which survived among older generations who had directly experienced the 1914-18 war. The children of the Kindertransports of 1938-39, pictured below, generally received a warm British welcome from their foster parents and broader society.

The main strands of German foreign policy in the first three years of Hitler’s chancellorship were remarkably different from the foreign policy constellation created in 1937. The first signs of a new era came in October 1933, when Hitler took Germany out of the League of Nations and the Disarmament Conference at Geneva because it was still treated as a second-class citizen in the other capitals of Europe. Hitler agreed to plans for expanding the military already laid before 1933 and authorised the secret development of an air force. Forms of military training were introduced in the guise of youth movements and the numerous ‘gliding clubs’ which provided the first volunteers to fly Germany’s forbidden aircraft. But Hitler approached foreign policy issues prudently so as not to provoke Allied intervention. Like every state affected by the international economic slump, the Nazi régime wanted to stabilise and revive economic life before pursuing a more active policy abroad. In Mein Kampf and his second book, written in 1928, Hitler argued that German interests would best be served by an alliance with Britain, which would give Germany a free hand in Continental Europe, particularly in the conquest of ‘living-space’ (Lebensraum) in the east. After 1933 he looked for an improvement in Anglo-German relations with economic and trade agreements, which meant that Britain was the only major state to keep credit lines open to Germany throughout the 1930s.

Source: Overy.

By the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the Saar Basin, rich in iron ore, was to be governed by the League of Nations for fifteen years. In January 1935, the time had come for the Saarlanders to vote on whether they wished to be reunited with Germany, become part of France, or remain under the League. Most Saarlanders were German and therefore likely to vote in favour of a reunion with Germany, despite the rumours already spreading about Nazi methods. Nevertheless, the Nazis organised an ‘excellent’ propaganda campaign, and the result was overwhelming. More seriously, later that March, Hitler reintroduced conscription and an airforce, both forbidden in 1919.

Source: Overy (see source list below).

Source: Overy

Hitler declared that he intended to raise an army of 550,000, involving a complete reorganisation of Germany’s small but well-trained army, which alarmed his generals. In reality, for the next two years, Hitler was in no position to fight if opposed. Britain came to his aid by reaching an agreement over naval armaments in June 1935. It was thought quite sensible to sign this Anglo-German Naval Agreement because it restricted the German fleet to thirty-five per cent of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet and forty-five per cent of its submarines. Supposing that this agreement would be honoured, it made it more feasible to think of sending a fleet to Singapore to act as a deterrence to Japanese expansion in the Far East. Britain also did little in response to Hitler’s rearmament declaration. All the time, there was a balance to be struck between the claims of the Far Eastern empire and those of Europe.

Source: Richards et al., see source list below.

A rally to celebrate the Saar plebiscite.

The 1935 Referendum in the Saarland, rearmament and the remilitarisation of the Rhineland rapidly persuaded Hitler to widen his ambitions. At this point, his relations with Italy and Japan were not as favourable as they were to become. The German Foreign Office preferred to continue to develop its extensive trading links with China. Italy looked at a resurgent Germany to the north with some anxiety, especially when fears were raised about an Anschluss which might threaten Italy’s Alpine territories. Only the rift between Italy and the western powers over the Ethiopian war of 1935/6 drove Hitler into opportunistic support for his fellow Fascist leader, Mussolini. In the east, Germany had concluded a Non-Aggression Pact with Poland in 1934, but the Nazis’ hatred of Marxism meant that it had only distant or hostile relations with the USSR until the dramatic ‘vault fáce’ of 1939. The distractions caused by the Spanish Civil War, the chaos unleashed in the Soviet Union by Stalin’s purges, and the reluctance of Britain and France to take the threat of German expansion seriously all combined to make his task substantially easier.

Rhineland remilitarisation, 1936. The areas marked in hatch were included in the demilitarised zone; those in dark green were areas occupied by the allies, 1923-30. The arrows mark the German advance.

The European nations had spent much of these months in 1935-36 distracted by events in Abyssinia, arguing over whether the League should impose sanctions on Italy, and what these should be. In February 1936, however, Eden had recommended to a committee of senior Cabinet members that Paris and London should enter into negotiations for the surrender of their rights in the ‘zones’ of the Rhineland under their control, while such surrender still has… a bargaining value.

Unfortunately for Anthony Eden, it was in that very month that Hitler determined upon an action that would remove that card from the British Foreign Secretary’s hand. Hitler seized his opportunity to unilaterally remilitarise the Rhineland on 7th March by sending forty thousand troops into the frontier territory.

Source: Irene Richards, 1937: “The map suggests that the settlement made at Versailles has failed completely to satisfy the needs of Europe. Not only has the defeated state of Germany openly repudiated the restrictive clauses of the Treaty, but the victor states, recognising that the collective security of the League Covenant is uncertain, have reverted to pre-War methods of forming alliances and piling up armaments. Two countries, Italy and Japan, have already undertaken military conquests in defiance of solemn treaty promises. … The principal developments in addition to Hitler’s repudiation of the Treaty of Versailles have been:
(a) the rapprochement of France and Soviet Russia… (b) The Re-armament of the Great Powers… (c) Anglo-German Rivalry.”

At the same moment, Hitler repudiated the Locarno Pact agreed over a decade earlier, using the excuse of the threat posed by a more recent agreement between France and Soviet Russia. The other Locarno powers were duped into believing that he would make a new agreement with them and perhaps even return to the League. Both Britain and France had been expecting that Hitler would raise the issue as a matter of negotiation. The British, Eden in particular, were annoyed not so much by the action itself as by the fact that Hitler would not now have to make any concession in return. A demilitarized Rhineland had been very important for French security, but the French government was initially hesitant in its reaction. A general election was soon to take place and France had no troops nor even plans for a counter-attack. Britain had no intention of fighting to uphold the Locarno treaties. In his post-war book, The Gathering Storm, Winston Churchill described the reaction of the leading British politicians to this first blatant breach of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles:

On Monday, March 9th, Mr Eden went to Paris accompanied by Lord Halifax and Ralph Wigram. The first plan had been to convene a meeting of the League in Paris, but presently Wigram… was sent to tell Flandin (French foreign minister) to come to London. … Flandin … arrived … and at about 8:30 on Thursday morning he came to my flat in Morpeth Mansions. He told me that he proposed to demand from the British Government simultaneous mobilisation of the land, sea and air forces of both countries, and that he had received assurances of support from all the nations of the ‘Little Entente’ and from other states. … There was no doubt that superior strength still lay with the Allies of the former war. They had only to act to win. Although we did not know what was passing between Hitler and his generals, it was evident that overwhelming force lay on our side. …

Mr Chamberlain was at this time, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, the most effective Member of the Government. His able biographer, … gives the following extract from his diary:

‘March 12, talked to Flandin, emphasising that public opinion would not support us in sanctions of any kind. His view is that if a firm front is maintained, Germany will yield without war. We cannot accept that as a reliable estimate of a mad Dictator’s reaction.’

W. S. Churchill, The Gathering Storm (1948), p. 168.

Hitler’s bluff had succeeded brilliantly and the leaders had surrendered their last chance of checking him without serious risk of war. As at least one historian has pointed out (Bell, 1986, p. 211), France had the opportunity to stop Hitler, but only by going to war. Had it taken this option, it might well have been successful; but the encounter would have been no pushover. However, German army sources have recently been discovered, suggesting that a withdrawal plan had been prepared for this eventuality, confirming Flandin’s view of the situation. In his New History of the Second World War, Andrew Roberts (2009) has shown that had the German army been opposed by the French and British forces stationed nearby, it had orders to retire back to base. Such a reverse would almost certainly have cost Hitler the Chancellorship. The fact remains, however, that there was not the will in France to undertake such an expedition. Equally certainly, there was no desire in Britain to support the French in such an operation. A former senior Liberal minister in the National Government, the Marquis of Lothian, reacted by saying, they are only going into their own back garden. The Western powers, riven with guilt about having imposed a ‘Carthaginian Peace’ on Germany in 1919, had allowed the Germans to enter the demilitarized zone designated under Article 180 of the Versailles Treaty, without any opposition. When Hitler sought to assure the Western Powers that Germany wished only for peace, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, Arthur Greenwood, told the House of Commons:

Herr Hitler has made a statement … holding out the olive branch … which ought to be taken at face value … It is idle to say that these statements are insecure.

The Re-occupation of the Rhineland. German troops march through the city of Karlsruhe.

Writing to his wife on 12th March, Harold Nicolson described the impact of the British reaction to the Rhineland Reoccupation on the Anglo-French alliance:

House of Commons: The French are not letting us off one jot or tittle of the bond. ‘The Covenant of the League has been violated. Locarno has been violated. We merely ask you to fulfill your obligations under those two treaties.’ We are thus faced with repudiation of our pledged word or the risk of war. The worst of it is that in a way the French are right … if we send an ultimatum to Germany, she ought in all reason to climb down. But then she will not climb down and we shall have war. Naturally we shall win and enter Berlin. But what is the good of that? It would only mean communism in Germany and France, and that is why the Russians are so keen on it. Moreover, the people of this country absolutely refuse to have a war. We should be faced with a general strike if we even suggested such a thing. We shall therefore have to climb down ignominiously and Hitler will have scored. We must swallow this humiliation as best we may, and be prepared to become the laughing stock of Europe. …

Harold Nicolson, Diaries and Letters, 1930-1939 (1967). pp. 249-50.

Retrospectively, the Rhineland crisis has been seen as the first conspicuous failure of appeasement. In one sense, it was, but it has also been stressed that the contemporary reaction was characterised by annoyance rather than failure. The concept of a demilitarised zone was an anachronism. It perpetuated the German sense of inferiority which precluded a deeper and more lasting settlement. On the other hand, it would probably have to be faced that once the militarization of the Rhineland had been completed, the scope of the French army would be that much further reduced. There was also the possibility that Belgium would return to neutrality, though the speed with which this subsequently occurred came as a surprise to London. Both of these developments forced British ministers to begin to reflect on the significance of France and the Low Countries for the security of Britain. However, no very positive action resulted. Hitler’s gamble had been justified and his generals, who had opposed it, had been proved wrong.

The re-orientation of German foreign policy coincided with the decision, taken in 1936, to launch large-scale German rearmament and the construction of a siege economy based on the policy of autarky, or self-sufficiency. Therefore, also in August, he drafted a document on German strategy (later known as the Four Year Plan Memorandum) which formed the basis of the reorientation of policy. Hitler wanted Germany to develop a ‘blockade-free’ economy in which materials for war would be produced at home instead of being imported. This policy of self-sufficiency, or autarky, was introduced with the formal establishment of the Four Year Plan organisation in October 1936. Over the following two years, the organisation initiated expensive programmes in basic chemicals, synthetic fuel and rubber, aluminium and iron-ore extraction, all designed to reduce German dependence on outside sources. The Plan also introduced a programme of improvement in German agriculture to ensure that Germany would not be starved into submission in a future war.

1936 marked a significant break in economic and military strategy for Germany. With the economic strategy, Hitler ordered a significant increase in military expenditure based on the expansion plans the forces’ chiefs had already drawn up in 1936. Germany adopted compulsory two-year military service and Hitler ordered the building of the Siegfried Line, a formidable series of defences along the Rhine and the Saar. With the economy back to the levels of the 1920s and the political stability of the régime more assured, Hitler was in a position to start rearming seriously and create an economy geared more closely to the conduct of large-scale warfare. Hitler’s programme imposed a faster pace and a larger scale, however.

Hermann Göring (right) was the ‘plenipotentiary’ of the Four Year Plan, announced amid much noisy propaganda at the Party Rally in Nuremberg in September. Its unpublished purpose was to prepare the economy and armed forces for war by the year 1940. It was about this time that Hitler began to drop clear hints to those of his entourage who were privy to the thoughts of the Führer about the prospect of a great war in the 1940s which would redraw the map of Europe in Germany’s favour. There was never a clearly articulated plan tied to this date, but, for example, coordinating a programme of labour retraining would ensure that the depth of skilled labour needed for a war economy would be in place by that time. Hitler was prepared to be flexible and to await opportunities. On a number of occasions, he indicated that the years 1943-45 were the point at which war was likely, even desirable. This was the date he gave at a meeting on 5th November 1937, called by Hitler in order to give his ‘executive’ a clear idea about his future strategy.

It was held in the Reich Chancellory. The details, set down in the so-called ‘Hossbach Memorandum’ (a record of the meeting later compiled by Hitler’s army adjutant, Colonel Friedrich Hossbach), indicated the immediate aims of incorporating Austria and destroying Czechoslovakia.

These ‘minutes’ also prove conclusively that the ‘Four Year Plan’ was part of Hitler’s wider ‘master plan’ incorporating economic, military and foreign policy strategies, albeit one which could be moved forward as opportunities presented themselves. The meeting lasted for nearly four hours and was intended to leave the senior executive officers of the Reich under no illusions as to where his plans were leading. The participants included General Werner von Blomberg (pictured above), who had been made the first field marshal of the Reich in 1936; General Werner von Fritsch, commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht; Admiral Erich Raeder of the Navy and Göring, commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe; and the Foreign Minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath. The Führer began by stating that the purpose of the meeting could not be discussed before the Reich Cabinet just because of the importance of the matter. He then explained how the histories of the Roman and British Empires ‘had proved that expansion could be carried out only by breaking down resistance and taking risks.’ These risks, by which he meant short wars with Britain and France, would have to be taken before the period 1943-45, which he regarded as ‘the turning point of the régime‘ because, after that time…

“… the world would be expecting our attack and would be strengthening its counter-measures from year to year. It would be while the world was preparing its defences that we would be obliged to take the offensive.”

Domarus, Essential Hitler, p. 604.

Before then, in order to protect Germany’s flanks, Hitler intended to overthrow Czechoslovakia and Austria simultaneously and ‘with lightning speed’ in an Angriffskrieg (‘offensive war’). He believed that the British and French had already tactically written off the Czechs and that without British support, offensive action by France against Germany was not to be expected. Only after the speedy destruction of both Austria and Czechoslovakia and then Britain and France could he concentrate on the creation of a vast colonial empire in Europe.

Greater Germany & The Consolidation of Power:
&A German poster of 1939 charting the development of Grossdeutschland – Greater Germany. A Pan-German state had been the aim of many German nationalists since the period of unification in the mid-nineteenth century. Bismarck, a Prussian, created a small Germany in 1871: Hitler, an Austrian, created a large Germany by 1939. Bismarck’s Germany lasted for forty-seven years, Hitler’s only for six.

The apparent immediacy of these plans alarmed Blomberg and Fritsch, the latter even proposing to postpone his holiday, due to begin in a few days’ time. Both men ‘repeatedly emphasised that Britain and France must not become our enemies.’ Together, the pair might have prevented Hitler from carrying out the second part of the Hossbach plans, but Blomberg was forced to resign in January 1938 when it emerged that his new, young bride had been involved in pornography and prostitution in Berlin eight years earlier. The scandal briefly extended to Hitler and Göring, both of whom had stood witness for the couple at their wedding in the war ministry. A week later, Fritsch was also forced to resign when he was framed in another sex scandal, most likely by Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, and General William Keitel, a devotee of Hitler. Hitler was swift in exploiting this potentially embarrassing situation by appointing no formal successor to Blomberg, taking over the role of war minister himself with Keitel as his Wehrmacht advisor, a man appointed for his sycophancy and total lack of personality and intellect. At the Nuremberg Trials, Keitel testified that:

“No one issued orders independently of Hitler. Of course I signed them … but they originated with Hitler. It was the wish and desire of Hitler to have all the power and command reside in him. It was something he could not do with Blomberg.”

Goldensohn, Nuremberg Interviews, p.158.

In replacing Blomberg with himself and Keitel, Hitler sealed his personal control over the German armed forces as early as the end of January 1938. Within days he carried out a massive reorganisation of the upper echelons of the military machine: twelve further generals were dismissed and the occupants of no fewer than fifty-one other posts were reshuffled. The way was now clear for Hitler to establish complete domination of Germany’s armed forces. Over the coming years, he would become more and more closely involved in every aspect of strategic decision-making through Keitel and his other equally obsequious deputy, Colonel Alfred Jodl. The German High Command was thus usurped by a man whom many of them admired as a politician and statesman but whose talent as a military strategy was a completely unknown quantity and quality.

“The new régime, particularly Göring, are masters in the art of party-giving.” Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, ‘Diaries’.

Between 1936 and 1939, almost two-thirds of all industrial investment in Germany was devoted to the implementation of autarkic plans. The shift to large-scale armaments and a strategy of opportunistic expansion fundamentally altered Germany’s position in Europe, as the 1935 map below shows. So large were the plans for rearmament and economic development that neither the armed forces nor the economic administration thought them remotely feasible. The level of state debt increased sharply and the growth of living standards came virtually to a halt. The militarization of the economy forced a much higher level of state management and eroded the independence of private business. The price of extensive military commitment was a command economy and a distortion of Germany’s pattern of consumption and international trade.

Besides Göring, the other driving force behind the ‘change of gears’ was the Party’s self-proclaimed foreign policy expert, Joachim von Ribbentrop. He had helped to secure the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935 and was sent as Hitler’s special representative in London to try to secure a wider British alliance. His aims, first as special commissioner, then from August 1936 as German ambassador, were frustrated not only by his own diplomatic ineptitude but also (and more seriously) by the unwillingness of the British government to make any substantial concession to the German position. There were eminent economists at hand to suggest to the British government that there was a good chance of the German economy crashing under the pressure of the four-year plan. Ribbentrop became a strident anglophobe during his years in London and he ultimately succeeded in turning Hitler against a British alliance. Ribbentrop was also keen to support Japan rather than China and was instrumental in setting up the Anticomintern Pact directed against International communism, signed on 25th November 1936. Italy joined a year later, despite Mussolini’s abiding distrust of German motives and manoeuvres. He was ‘wooed’ by both Ribbentrop and Göring, his isolation from the western democracies over Abyssinia and intervention in the Spanish Civil War already pushing him in Germany’s direction.

The Political Prelude in Britain – 1936-37 – Kings & Fascists:
The new king, George VI, his Queen, Elizabeth and his children Elizabeth, aged nine and Margaret, appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the Coronation in May 1937. Source: These Tremendous Years, 1919-38.

In the course of 1936 in Britain, three Kings had reigned and the unemployment figures were improving, but the political skies over the British Isles, Europe and the Far East were growing darker.

In 1937, George VI was crowned king, Ramsay MacDonald died, Baldwin retired, the British government announced that it had plans to evacuate the capital in a time of war and that air-raid shelters were to be built, and Wallis Simpson became Duchess of Windsor. Baldwin’s handling of the abdication meant that his image as a safe pair of hands was assured. It has been argued that Baldwin and Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had meant to get rid of Edward VIII all along. They had failed, through Godfrey Evans at the Palace and Thomas Jones, the Cabinet secretary, to stop his visit to the South Wales coalfield the previous October and his misreported remark in Dowlais, ‘terrible, terrible, something will be done about this,’ had further antagonised the government and ‘establishment’. The intelligence services continued to watch the former monarch and Mrs Simpson in exile on the continent, where the latter was already known to have Nazi friends via the German embassy in London.

Source: These Tremendous Years, 1919-38.

On 4th May 1937, a week before his brother’s coronation, Edward, now the Duke of Windsor, married Mrs Simpson near Tours in France. In October, the exiled couple met Hitler at his mountain villa in Berchtesgaden, near the Austrian frontier. While the Duchess chatted with the Nazi leaders, the Duke had a twenty-minute private conversation with Germany’s dictator. Criticism followed this action in making Germany the first country of a series visited in a tour he had planned to investigate social conditions. It was obvious to the Foreign Office that Hitler and Mussolini were drawing closer together, and it rightly believed that Hitler had his eye on annexing Austria, though this was not to become a reality until March 1938. But early in November, the first public speech since leaving England, the Duke told newspaper men in Paris that he was mystified by the ulterior motives attributed to his activities. He observed that:

“Though one may be in the lion’s den, it is possible to eat with the lions if on good terms with them.”

But the political connotations of this ill-advised trip were clear, even if discounted by the Duke himself. Before the abdication, Baldwin had already threatened that the Cabinet would resign if King Edward went against his advice in pursuing these personal links. Now his subsequent visit left diplomats and politicians like Harold Nicolson considerably on edge. He himself had refused to travel through Germany ‘because of Nazi rule’, telling ‘Chips’ Channon that:

We stand for tolerance, truth, liberty and good humour. They stand for violence, oppression, untruthfulness and bitterness…’

These were distinguishing traits which he obviously felt had eluded the notice of the Windsors. It must have confirmed for Harold what many others suspected: that the Windsors had fallen heavily for the champagne-like influence of von Ribbentrop. The Duke’s views were well-known and were to come to the fore following the Fall of France in May-June 1940. Like some in Whitehall, he favoured a negotiated peace with Nazi Germany, and the Germans were almost certainly aware of this. With Ribbentrop at the helm, they plotted to keep the Duke in occupied Europe and reinstate him as King once they had conquered Britain. However far-fetched a prospect this might be, after May 1940, Churchill refused to allow Duke back into England. Instead, he dispatched him to the Bahamas to be governor there, where he remained until 1945. Rumour had it that Ribbentrop “had used Mrs Simpson.” More seriously, Chips Channon had admitted that the new King, George VI, was also, before the outbreak of war, going the dictator way, and is pro-German, against Russia and against too much slip-shod democracy. More recently, it has been suggested that Edward differed in many aspects from the government’s foreign policy and foolishly allowed his tongue to wag in an ‘unconstitutional’ fashion. In Germany, his indiscretions created an impression of warm sympathy for the Nazi state’s people and an exaggerated idea of the Duke of Winsor’s power and influence. But there is no evidence to suggest that the former King’s views, however pro-German, influenced British government policy before or after 1940. After due consideration, Harold Nicolson concluded that Edward believed more than he should have in German integrity and in his ability to influence the course of events.

Fascism in Britain, for all the passions it aroused in 1936-37, had limited influence on either domestic politics or foreign policy. Certainly, in Bethnal Green, Stepney and Limehouse in the East End of London more generally, it gained some temporary working-class support in the form of Oswald Mosley’s uniformed BUF (British Union of Fascists), partly in response to the increase in the number of Jewish refugees from central Europe. But, following the well-remembered ‘Battle of Cable Street’ in 1936, the National Government banned para-military style marches and much of the appeal of Mosley’s black shirts among London’s poor evaporated. Fascism returned to being primarily an aristocratic preoccupation with continental events.

Wherever fascism was strong, as it was in East London, the opposition was also very strong and could be violent. While Limehouse had a significant fascist vote, it was still the safe seat of Labour Party leader, Clement Attlee. Source: Briggs (see below).
The End of the Baldwin-MacDonald Era & ‘effective deterrence’:

By 1937, Baldwin’s physical and mental state was worn down by these events at home and abroad. It was time for him to retire. Not enough has been made of his utter weariness in attempting to hold together a foreign policy threatened by/from Japan, India, Palestine, Germany, Russia, Italy, and Spain. Added to that the domestic difficulties over the economy and the political in-fighting at Westminster, it is hardly surprising that the veteran leader was exhausted. Many far younger leaders would no doubt have felt similarly. Baldwin looked around and decided that he had done almost everything that could have been done to prepare the country for war. In February, he delivered the Defence White Paper. MacDonald’s unilateral disarmament policy was considered to be a failed policy, and Baldwin had laid down guidelines for a new policy of deterrence because, as he told the House of Commons, ineffective ‘deterrence is worse than useless’. For the first time, money would have to be borrowed to pay for national defence. In April, the National Defence Contribution Tax was introduced. It was supposed to be revenue taken exclusively from arms manufacturers, but it proved unworkable and had to be replaced with a five per cent profits tax. The money to pay for Britain’s defences was supposed to be either in place or in the pipeline of the Treasury.

On 28 May 1937, Balwin resigned and was succeeded by Neville Chamberlain, the son of the great radical of the turn of the century, Joseph Chamberlain and half-brother of Austen, one of the Nobel-prize-winning architects of the Locarno Pact, who died later in 1937. Neville was now in his late sixties and had been a reforming Minister of Health and Local Government in the 1920s and, from 1931, Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was therefore well aware of local economic and social conditions throughout Britain as well as the overall state of the economy and the industrial influences upon it. But he was a very ordinary national politician at a time when the country needed an extraordinary leader. He had no great grasp of foreign affairs, though he understood Germany better than many gave him credit for. His reputation is that of an ‘appeaser’ but it could be that he was simply aware that Britain was not yet ready for war. Nevertheless, RAF aircraft delivery rates were increasing, and those shipyards that could were working exclusively on military tonnage. This was to be the biggest naval programme since the Great War.

Chamberlain’s Cabinet was still a National Government. Anthony Eden was the Foreign Secretary and the only member of the government to be trusted by the Foreign Office. Chamberlain probably understood what was going on abroad even if he knew less of what Britain should do about it. The internecine warfare in Whitehall did not help in this respect. Sir Robert Vantissart, the senior civil servant at the Foreign Office, practised the most arrogant form of Whitehall. His position was clear: German ambitions must be resisted and loudly. So he dropped hints to well-known ‘rousers’ including Churchill and the editors in Fleet Street, who stirred up the debate on what Britain should do about Hitler. Whatever the spinning and leaking, only Chamberlain and his inner Cabinet carried the responsibility for going to war, and for the time being, they had other matters to deal with, especially with Ireland and Palestine.

Economic Appeasement and Rearmament in Britain, 1936-40.
Source: Briggs (see below).

While the interwar years saw thriving new industries in car production, electronics and chemicals, old industries such as shipbuilding, coal, steel and textiles were badly hit by the world economic slump. Unemployment and wage cuts led to protests in the form of hunger marches. It was only in late 1937 that Rearmament began to provide significant numbers of jobs in depressed areas. The only major enterprise to be located in the South Wales Special Area before that date was that of Richard Thomas & Co. Ltd., who agreed to establish blast furnaces, a steel plant and a continuous strip mill at Ebbw Vale in 1935. This employed several thousand workers at the site of the old steel works, which had closed in 1929, leading to mass migration out of the valley area, with some two thousand steel workers thrown onto the dole. The Treforest Trading Estate Company was formed in 1936, and by the end of 1938, seventy-two firms were assisted in settling in different parts of the Special Area, fifty-one of them at Treforest. Shortly before the outbreak of war, the estate was providing employment for 2,500 workers at twenty factories under the direction of refugee industrialists from Austria and Czechoslovakia. Some industrialists were sceptical that workers…

… accustomed only to heavy work would find it too difficult to adapt themselves to the more delicate work demanded in the call for high precision.

This problem was countered in two ways: Firstly, one skilled refugee worker was employed for every twenty-five local workers, and secondly, the majority of local workers were women. By the end of June 1939, there were only 914 men out of a workforce of 2,196 at Treforest. Thus, it was not until 1939 that the economy was slowly transformed and put on a war footing. In South Wales, this was aided by government rearmament through the siting of Royal Ordnance Factories at Bridgend and elsewhere. However, this initially grudging policy shift did not occur until the end of a decade of mass unemployment and migration. Appointed in 1937, the Barlow Commission On the Distribution of the Industrial Population did not complete its work until August 1939 and its report was not published until the end of the year. By then, the need for regional planning had been finally accepted in response to the threat of aerial warfare from the continent, making London and the South East region especially vulnerable to bombing:

It is not in the national interest, economically, socially, or strategically, that a quarter, or even a large proportion of Great Britain should be concentrated within twenty to thirty miles or so of Central London.

Barlow Report, pp. 152-3.

Although by 1937, a national political consensus had finally accepted that the transference of workers from the depressed areas to the new industry areas should no longer be the main response of the government to the problem of mass unemployment, this still did not bring about an immediate end to the policy or the continued exodus of workers from the ‘Special Areas’. The rearmament boom was swallowing up more and more labour. Protests were still heard, especially from Welsh Nationalists, who compared the continuing operation of the policy to Hitler’s actions against the Czechs as just another Fascist way of murdering a small defenceless nation without going to war about it. The theme was repeated in y Blaid’s 1943 pamphlet Transference Must Stop. War-time transference was, however, conducted under emergency labour controls, and by the time of the occupation of Prague in 1939, the Transference policy had ceased to occupy centre stage.

The Era of Rearmament & The Gathering Storm, 1937-38:

In seeking to balance the emphasis of traditional historiography on politics and diplomacy, more recent historians of interwar Britain have come to focus more on the nature of the British economy in the 1930s and its implications for foreign policy. However, there is a danger that every political decision can be thought to have a primary economic cause. Keith Robbins has suggested that looking for underlying prevailing attitudes in the political, financial and economic spheres makes more sense. In 1932, the National Government had formally abandoned the ‘Ten Year Rule’ of 1919, whereby the armed forces were told to prepare their estimates on the assumption that there would not be a great war involving the British Empire for ten years. But there was no immediate action to increase defence expenditure due largely to a widespread though ill-defined ‘pacifism.’ These political difficulties were compounded by economic ones. In a general atmosphere of continuing economic uncertainty, ‘confidence’ would best be boosted by very modest defence expenditure. The figure for 1932 had been the lowest since 1919.

Since the British wished to avoid war, they would obviously not themselves seek to precipitate it. The Treasury, with Neville Chamberlain as Chancellor of the Exchequer, had their sights primarily set on assisting the economic recovery, which had only begun in 1933. It would jeopardise that revival to shift resources on a massive scale into ‘rearmament.’ At the time, there was a genuine fear that that would lead to a further economic crisis like that of 1931. Sir Warren Fisher, the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, was acutely conscious of the need to be able to deal with ‘foreign gangsters’, but he also feared an economic ‘smash.’ In reaction to this dilemma, it was often thought that it was best to keep potential enemies guessing about Britain’s intentions, which was Eden’s position. The alternative course was to seek to create a war economy in peacetime, as Germany was doing by 1936, regardless of the broader economic and social consequences. In a democracy like Britain, although Defence expenditure was an absolute commitment, this could only be justified on the basis of economic performance or wartime requirements.

That was the dilemma, and in these circumstances, it was thought that the best solution was to keep potential enemies guessing about Britain’s intentions. The British Defence Requirements Committee advocated increased expenditure and talked of being ready for a war in early 1939. But it also drew attention to what was believed to be a massive expansion of the Luftwaffe. The Germans, they reported, might be able to inflict such damage within a matter of weeks that a collapse of civilian morale would occur on a scale which would make it impossible for Britain to continue to resist. Such observations, and many others like them over the next two years, all seemed to point to one central conclusion: appeasement must continue. Nevertheless, the first turning point in economic policy also arrived in 1936-37.

Gradually, the consensus in the House of Commons necessary to maintain the rearmament programme was being reached. The Labour Party found it difficult to vote for increased defence spending but agreed to abstain rather than vote against, but enough Labour MPs refused to abstain for newspapers to claim that the party itself opposed rearmament. Chamberlain’s personal dilemma was that although he saw the logic of rearmament, he saw that there were too many expensive domestic issues that remained unresolved. However, this was no more than a clue to Chamberlain’s approach to Hitler during 1937-38. He saw as simple logic the fact that Germany would, if left alone, become the controlling power in eastern Europe, given the practical politics of Europe and the undeniable power of Nazism. In truth, Chamberlain’s greatest flaw was that he appeared incapable of thinking beyond day-to-day politics and therefore came up with mundane solutions to problems. He had no vision beyond these.

The Local Industrial Economy & Rearmament – The Case Of Coventry:

Whereas immigration into the car and service industries in Oxford spiked in the late twenties and early thirties, then remained fairly even throughout the thirties, in Coventry, these peaks were highest in the late thirties, from mid-1936/37 to 1938/39, when twelve to thirteen thousand immigrants were being added every year. Between 1931 and 1938, the city’s total population increased by twenty per cent compared with an increase of three per cent for Great Britain as a whole. Much of this growth occurred between 1935 and 1939, when the total population rose from 190,000 to nearly 235,000. High wages in the ‘shadow’ factories continued to attract voluntary migration at least until the Blitz on London and other English cities in the autumn of 1940.

As early as 1936, it became obvious that if Britain were to be involved in another European war, then Coventry’s economic strengths were precisely those that would be essential to the pursuit of modern warfare. In that year, a group of the city’s industrialists, including John Black (of the Standard company), William Rootes and Alfred Herbert, became involved in planning Shadow Factories with Whitehall officials. The city was to be heavily involved in aircraft engine construction, namely the Mercury and later the Pegasus for the lightweight Blenheim bomber, and consequently, four Shadow Factories were built in and around the City boundaries between 1936 and 1937. Over the space of two years, some four thousand aircraft engines were made. Clearly insufficient to meet the RAF’s needs, especially with the introduction of the Hurricane and Spitfire fighters and the Whitley, Stirling and Lancaster bombers, increased factory space to produce new and more powerful engines was imperative and so once again Daimler, Rootes, and Standard became involved in the war effort in a major way.

Coventry’s dramatic population growth continued in the second half of the thirties due to government contracting in the aircraft industry through the abandonment of its ‘Business as Usual’ Rearmament Policy in 1938. This enabled the building of ‘shadow’ factories under the Ministry of Defence contracts next to the new car factories on the outskirts of Coventry. To begin with, the new labour requirements of these factories were substantially met by men who were ‘stood off’ from the motor industry, which was suffering from the general recession in the engineering industries of 1937-38. However, this supply was soon exhausted and a crisis meeting of the directors of Coventry firms was called in May 1939…

… to consider the question of the shortage of skilled labour in Coventry, earnings of workpeople and the housing position, in view of the proposal to extend the shadow factories in Coventry, involving the employment of five to six thousand further workpeople…

Coventry Engineering Employers’ Association (EEA) Minutes, 22 May.

At their meeting the following October, the EEA heard reports of members struggling to control the ‘poaching’ of key workers. They agreed to urge the National Government to obtain additional employees from other areas. From the mid-thirties, average earnings for engineering workers in Coventry were easily the highest in the Midlands, so much so that firms in Birmingham were complaining. In 1937, this disparity was still very much in evidence and the subject of continuing complaints against the Association from employers elsewhere, but the EEA agreed that there was very little to be done locally to rectify the situation as labour was in such short supply. In September of the following year, it was claimed that the basic rate of the labourer and earnings of the skilled worker in the district was the highest in the country. The combination of high earnings, greater job secretary and better conditions prompted increasing numbers of migrant workers to choose Coventry as their destination by the late thirties. Many younger men were lured to Coventry as a city of high earnings and away from other centres following the general recovery of 1933-34. Added to this was the seasonal nature of work in many car factories, even where the basic weekly wage was good. Nonetheless, the improvement in earnings during the 1930s is strikingly evident in the following extract from John Yates’ pamphlet:

1933, dole and means test; 1934 employment… as skilled machinist, found without much difficulty; 1935, “if you know a few good men, Jack, get ’em to come and work for me, I’ll see you alright for it “; 1936, “I see they’re advertising in the News Chronicle – up to seven pounds a week guaranteed”… In 1936 it was “up to nine pounds a week!”

J. A. Yates, Pioneers to Power: Story of the Ordinary People of Coventry.

However, it is important to recognise that the housing shortage and the high cost of living in the new industry towns could be a major deterrent to successful settlement there. More fundamentally, in Oxford, the delay in the conversion of the Cowley factories to war production meant that whilst Coventry was gaining workers rapidly, Oxford was losing them, many probably its fellow manufacturing ‘magnet.’ Housing was an important aspect of this; the Nuffield Survey’s war-time report on Coventry and East Warwickshire of September 1941 found that, even after the November 1940 Blitz of the city, the City’s sixty thousand houses and shops were a goodly number for the population … the great majority of houses provided accommodation superior to the average for the whole country.

By 1944, when all the Shadow Factories were fully operational, their combined output was in the region of eight hundred engines a month, quadrupling the output target originally set in 1936. Siddeley’s or Hawker Siddeley as the firm became known, had a workforce of over ten thousand strong in 1944. and had by that time turned out 550 Lancaster and 150 Stirling bombers. Other city firms contributed all kinds of war materials. Coventry Climax, for instance, built twenty-five thousand trailer pumps as well as a large number of generators. Daimler produced a series of Scout cars, Dunlop made tyres, wheels and barrage balloons, anti-gas clothing and underwater swimming suits. At the nexus of much of this was the city’s machine tool firms, all of whom increased output, modified existing and produced new tools to meet the ever-pressing demands made upon them. Between 1939 and 1944, Herbert’s produced over sixty-eight thousand machine tools.

In 1937, the Defence Chiefs had calculated that if Britain were to find itself simultaneously at war with Germany, Italy and Japan, it would lose. The military leaders, therefore, looked to foreign policy to avoid such a contest. In the meantime, a ‘steady as she goes’ rearmament programme might have seemed safer, but it might also make it more difficult to accelerate ‘when the time comes.’ With the benefit of hindsight, we may observe that the time came sooner than the politicians, diplomats and military leaders thought, and in 1939-40 it was left to industrialists and engineering workers, among others, to accelerate rearmament in order to make up for the lost time.

(to be continued… )


Andrew J Chandler (1988), The Re-making of a Working Class: Migration from the South Wales Coalfield to the New Industry Areas of the Midlands, 1920-40. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Wales (Cardiff).

Keith Robbins (1988), Appeasement. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Richard Brown & Christopher Daniels (1982), Documents & Debates: Twentieth-Century Britain. Basingstoke: Macmillan Education.

Richard Overy (1996), Historical Atlas of the Third Reich. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Andrew Roberts (2010), The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War. London: Penguin Books.

Asa Briggs, et. al., (2001), The Penguin Atlas of British & Irish History. London: Penguin Books.

Norman Rose (2005), Harold Nicolson. London: Pimlico (Random House).

René Cutforth (1976), Later Than We Thought: A Portrait of the Thirties. Newton Abbot: David & Charles.

Michael Clark & Peter Teed (eds.) (1972), Portraits & Documents: The Twentieth Century, 1906-1960. London: Hutchinson Educational.

Christopher Lee (1999/2000), This Sceptered Isle: Twentieth Century. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books (BBC Worldwide).

Bill Lancaster & Tony Mason (eds.) (1987), Life and Labour in a Twentieth-Century City: The Experience of Coventry. Coventry: University of Warwick Cryfield Press.

Irene Richards, J. B. Goodson & J. A. Morris (1938), A Sketch-Map History of the Great War & After, 1914-35. London: George Harrap & Co.

Unknown author/ publisher (1938), These Tremendous Years. Printed in London & Northampton, 1938.

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Tolkien’s Shire: From Middle England to Middle-earth – People, Places & Past Times.

Sarehole as Hobbiton:

J.R.R. Tolkien lived near Sarehole Mill as a child in what was then a Worcestershire village and is now part of the Hall Green district of Birmingham. Together with the neighbouring Moseley Bog, the Sarehole area inspired the Tolkien stories of Middle-earth.

Above: A painting of the scenic countryside that inspired Tolkien’s ‘Shire’ for a leaflet accompanying a guided walk. The tour begins at the traditional Eighteenth-Century water mill. They can also explore the woodland and Moseley Bog, passing Tolkien’s childhood home.

Above: There has been a mill on this site since 1542, but the current building dates from the mid-18th century. The mill has connections with Matthew Boulton, who leased Sarehole Mill between 1756 and 1761 and used it as a ‘flatting mill’, producing sheet metal used for button manufacturing. In the 1850s, a steam engine was installed, and a chimney was built.

The Tolkien Trail – Late Victorian & Edwardian Birmingham.

Birmingham’s diverse industrial base made it a serious rival to Manchester as England’s second city in the later nineteenth century. The Corporation gained a reputation for its municipal enterprise and public works, including one of the country’s most extensive urban tramway systems. On the map above of Birmingham in 1885, you can see how the tramways were at first drawn by horses, then gradually replaced by motorised trams by the end of the century. The grimy, haphazard industrial inner city was soon surrounded by a ring of public parks in the rapidly expanding suburbs. Despite its reputation as a factory city, Birmingham has always had more trees than people.

Ronald’s parents, Arthur and Mabel Tolkien were originally from Birmingham but had emigrated to South Africa to further Arthur’s career in banking. Their two sons were born there. Following Arthur’s sudden death in 1895, the family settled in the hamlet of Sarehole, where they lived for four years. In 1900 they moved to a house on the Alcester Road in Moseley, from where Ronald took a tram to King Edward’s School in New Street in the city centre. The family soon moved again to Westfield Road in Kings Heath and then to Ladywood near the Catholic Oratory church. Mabel, a recent convert to Catholicism, was diagnosed as diabetic. Though she drew strength from her new faith, she died in 1904.

KEY TO MAIN MAP: (1) Tolkien’s first home, 264 Wake Green Road, (2) Sarehole Mill, (3) Moseley Bog, (4) Cole Valley, (5) The Oratory, (6) Perrot’s Folley/ Edgbaston waterworks tower, (7) Highfield Road/ Plough & Harrow Hotel, (8) King Edward’s School, (9) the University of Birmingham,
(10) Library of Birmingham/ repertory Theatre (Gamgee plaque).

For four happy years, Ronald Tolkien grew up, together with his younger brother Hilary, in what was still, then, rural Worcestershire, just to the south of the expanding suburbs of Birmingham, including Hall Green. Following his father’s death in South Africa, his mother returned to Birmingham to rent a cottage in Sarehole, a small hamlet with an old mill, on which Tolkien later based the village of Hobbiton. He later said that the hamlet was where he spent the happiest years of his youth. Memories of his country childhood coloured much of his later writing. The brothers spent many hours exploring around the mill and being chased off by the miller’s son. Nearby Moseley Bog became his Old Forest of Middle-earth. The contemporary painting of Sarehole Mill (below) shows how it would have looked from their home across Wake Green Road, and the Ivy Bush provided the basis for the Tavern in Chapter One of The Lord of the Rings, where Gaffer Gamgee ‘held forth’. A little towards the city centre in Edgbaston is Perrott’s Folly tower (left), considered the model for at least one of The Two Towers.

Further out into Worcestershire, Ronald and Hilary enjoyed exploring the ClentLickey and Malvern Hills, which would later inspire scenes in his books, along with nearby towns and villages such as BromsgroveAlcester, and Alvechurch, and places such as his aunt Jane’s farm Bag End, used in his fiction.

Mabel Tolkien taught her two children at home. Ronald, as he was known in the family, was a keen pupil. She taught him a great deal of botany and awakened in him the enjoyment of the look and feel of plants. Young Tolkien liked to draw landscapes and trees, but his favourite lessons were those concerning languages, and his mother taught him the rudiments of Latin very early.

Reality, Re-imagination and Fantasy:

National Geographic’s documentary film Beyond the Movie – Lord of the Rings (2001) features footage from Peter Jackson’s first film of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, and some insightful interviews with the son of Tolkien’s publisher, Rayner Unwin, and with some of the cast, crew and film-makers. The documentary provides more detail about these locations and poses thought-provoking questions about the historical, geographical and folklore background for those who want to go beyond the fanciful film. The filmmakers faced a significant challenge in reimagining and locating Hobbiton in the very different landscapes of New Zealand. They were, perhaps, more successful in recreating the book’s representation of the epic struggle between good and evil and, in it, Tolkien’s reflections on the events of the early twentieth century, though not, as his friend C. S. Lewis testified, as in any sense allegorical of them. The documentary deals with Tolkien’s real-life roots and scenic memories from childhood on the rural outskirts of Birmingham. The true greatness of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is to be found in its exploration of the changing realities of a world being made modern rather than simply venturing into the realm of fairy tales, ancient myths and languages, however fascinating. It is therefore difficult to categorise the trilogy simply as ‘fantasy literature.’ Like much of the best late Victorian and early Edwardian literature, Tolkien’s works draw on the realities of contemporary rural life at a time of immense social change. Doing so reflects a re-imagination of those realities forged with folk traditions. 

The DVD cover. There are two further sections which are well worth viewing: The Anglo-Saxons (inc. Beowulf) and Karelia & Elvish.

Following their mother’s death, Ronald and Hilary remained in the Ladywood/Edgbaston area in the overall care of a priest, Father Francis Morgan. Tolkien spent the whole of his adolescence in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham. In 1903, when his mother was still alive, he won a scholarship to King Edward’s School, Birmingham, and later briefly attended the Catholic St Philip’s School near Cardinal John Henry Newman’s Oratory. Initially, the brothers went to live with their aunt in Stirling Road until 1908, when they moved into lodgings. Tolkien later used the name ‘Sam Gamgee’ for Frodo’s faithful companion in The Lord of the Rings. ‘Gamgee tissue’ was the local name for cotton wool, invented by Dr Gamgee, who is commemorated by a blue plaque in the city centre. The surgeon’s widow lived opposite Tolkien’s aunt, so Ronald would have been familiar with the name.

Tolkien as a student at Oxford, 1911.

At the age of sixteen, Ronald fell in love with another orphan, Edith Bratt, when he and his brother Hilary moved into the boarding house where she lived in Edgbaston. She was three years his senior and having agreed with his guardian to wait until Tolkien was twenty-one to marry, Edith and Ronald were formally betrothed at Birmingham in January 1913. Two years earlier, in 1911, Ronald had left to study at Exeter College, Oxford, where, following his army service, he spent the rest of his academic life. Although Tolkien never lived in the city again, he referred to Birmingham as his hometown and himself as a ‘Birmingham man’. Later in life, he explained that he drew inspiration for his writing from the people and landscapes of the city and the surrounding countryside. Edith and Ronald were finally married in Warwick in 1916. In 1944, Tolkien wrote to his soldier son Michael that she was courageous to marry a man with no money and no prospects except that of being killed in the Great War. Besides being his lifelong companion, Edith became Ronald’s muse for one of his fictional characters.

The Fellowships of ‘the Pals’:

The recent (2019) biopic starring Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins is not simply a love story. It also explores Tolkien’s formative years as he finds friendship, courage and motivation among a group of fellow outcasts at King Edward’s School. Their bond strengthens as they mature until the outbreak of World War One, known then as ‘the Great War,’ which threatens to tear their fellowship apart. These war-time experiences also inspired him to write his Middle-earth novels.

Field Marshal Kitchener whose face & finger were featured on recruiting posters when he became War Secretary in 1914.

If there was any doubt as to whether the trade unions and the working classes would support the war, that doubt was soon swept away within a week of the declaration of war in a wave of patriotic fervour and a spirit of youthful adventure. The resolutions of class solidarity, the vows of internationalism, and the pledges of strikes to stop the war were all whispers in the wilderness when it came.

The photograph, Sergeant and recruits, shows how hundreds of thousands of workers enlisted. The posters behind evoke the ‘jingoism’ of the times.

Tolkien’s ideas for his trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, became forged in the heat of the Great War of 1916-1918. Britain entered the war as the only belligerent relying on a volunteer army. Such was the response to the call to join the colours that the first Military Service Act, introducing conscription, was not passed until January 1916. Following Lord Kitchener’s call for recruits to his New Army, men were promised if they joined up with colleagues or friends, they would be able to serve in the same unit. The first battalions of pals to join up were in Liverpool, and soon the rest of the country followed. The battalions included the Birmingham Pals and the Cambridge Pals. The Fellowship of the Ring seems to be based on the sense of adventure, comradeship and the reality of the loss and suffering of friends in the war. At first, Tolkien did not directly experience this volunteer army. Tolkien’s relatives were shocked when he elected not to volunteer immediately for the British Army. In a 1941 letter to his son Michael, Tolkien recalled:

“In those days chaps joined up, or were scorned publicly. It was a nasty cleft to be in for a young man with too much imagination and little physical courage.” 

A platoon of the Worcester Regiment marching to the Western Front in August 1914

Instead, Tolkien entered a programme by which he delayed enlistment until completing his degree. He later recalled that by the time he passed his finals in July 1915, the hints were “becoming outspoken from relatives”. He was commissioned as a temporary second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers on 15 July 1915. He trained with the 13th (Reserve) Battalion on Cannock Chase, based at a camp near Rugeley, Staffordshire, for 11 months. In a letter to Edith, Tolkien declared his distaste for army life, complaining:

“Gentlemen are rare among the superiors, and even human beings rare indeed.”

On 2 June 1916, Tolkien received a telegram summoning him to Folkestone for posting to France. The newlyweds spent the night before his departure in a room at the Plough & Harrow Hotel in Edgbaston. He later wrote:

“Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then… it was like a death.”

Men of the 1st Battalion in Tolkien’s Regiment, The Lancashire Fusiliers, in a communication trench near Beaumont Hamel,
during the 1916 Battle of the Somme.

Tolkien began his fantasy Middle-earth writings at that time. The Fall of Gondolin was the first prose work he created, and it contains detailed descriptions of battle and street fighting. He continued the dark tone in much of his legendarium, as seen in The Silmarillion. The Lord of the Rings, too, was later described by some literary critics as a war book. However, Tolkien was reluctant to explain the influences on his writing while explicitly denying that The Lord of the Rings was an allegory of the Second World War, but admitting to certain connections with the Great War. His friend and fellow Inkling, C. S. Lewis, also described the work as having the quality of Great War literature in many of its descriptions. In France, he had found himself commanding enlisted men drawn mainly from the mining, milling, and weaving towns of Lancashire. Their influence on him is evident, particularly in the Fellowship of the Ring and the character of Sam Gamgee. According to fellow-author John Garth, Kitchener’s army at once marked existing social boundaries and counteracted the class system by throwing everyone into a desperate situation together. Tolkien was grateful, writing that it had taught him…

“… a deep sympathy and feeling for the Tommy; especially the plain soldier from the agricultural counties”.

John Garth echoed this when he commented that Tolkein “felt an affinity for these working-class men”, but military protocol prohibited friendships with “other ranks”. Instead, Tolkien was required to …

“take charge of them, discipline them, train them, and probably censor their letters … If possible, he was supposed to inspire their love and loyalty.”

Tolkien later lamented,

“The most improper job of any man … is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”

Many of Tolkien’s dearest school friends were killed in the war. Among their number was Rob Gilson of the Tea Club and Burrovian Society, their school club, who was killed on the first day of the Somme while leading his men in the assault on Beaumont Hamel. Fellow T.C.B.S. member Geoffrey Smith was also killed during the battle when a German artillery shell landed on a first-aid post. Subsequently, after his invaliding out to England with ‘shell-shock’, Tolkien’s battalion was almost completely wiped out. Quite naturally, this was to have a profound effect on his future writings.

The Origins of Tolkien’s Mythology & ‘High Fantasy’:

After the war, Tolkien became a professor of English language and literature at Oxford, writing his series of elaborate fantasy tales in his spare time, mainly for his own children. The longest and most important of these was The Hobbit, which he began in 1930 as a coming-of-age fantasy. The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Silmarillion (edited, completed, and published by his son, Christopher, in 1977) formed a connected body of tales, fictional histories, invented languages, and literary essays about an imagined world of ‘Middle Earth’. Tolkien gave the word ‘legendarium’ to his collection of works on this fictional realm. In 1937, The Hobbit was published with Tolkien’s illustrations and was so popular that the publisher asked for a sequel. In 1954, his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, was published in three parts, carrying over the essential elements from the Hobbit, particularly the ‘One Ring’ that must be destroyed before it can be used by the Dark Lord Sauron. The Lord of the Rings was also an extension of the tales of the Silmarillion.

Besides being a professor of English language and philology, Tolkien read in thirty-five languages, everything from Old Norse to Lithuanian. He invented his first created language when he was just a teenager. His tales were designed around these carefully constructed languages, including fifteen Elvish dialects and languages for the Hobbits, Ents, Orcs, and Dwarves. Tolkien also wrote several shorter works during his lifetime. This included poetry related to his legendarium; Tree and Leaf, a mock-medieval story, Farmer Giles of Ham, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book. Tolkien’s success with the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings led to the accolade of him as ‘the father of modern fantasy literature,’ otherwise known as ‘High Fantasy.’

The Geography of Hobbiton & The Shire and ‘The Common Speech’:

Tolkien provided a series of maps to accompany his tales, including the following maps of the Shire. These help us to envisage the scale of the dramatic landscapes he describes and the journeys he narrates.

The Shire was divided into four quarters, the Farthings, North, South, East and West, and these again into many folklands, which still bore the names of some leading families. Each Farthing had three Shiriffs.  Outside these were the Marches, East and West, and Buckland. Meriadoc (Merry) and Peregrin (Pippin) both belonged to great families, the Brandybucks and the Tooks, giving their names to Buckland and Tookland. Apart from Bilbo and Frodo, the Bagginses were spread throughout the Shire. Ham Gamgee, …

commonly known as the Gaffer, held forth at The Ivy Bush, a small inn on the Bywater road; and he spoke with some authority as he had tended the garden at Bag End for forty years,

His son, Samwise Gamgee, took over, thereby becoming Frodo’s ‘faithful companion’.

In his Prologue to the First Book of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote of the Hobbits’ language that…

of old they spoke the languages of Men, after their own fashion… A love of learning… was far from general among them, but there remained still a few in the older families who studied their own books and even gathered reports of old times and distant lands from Elves, Dwarves and Men.

Appendix F provides more detail on The Languages and Peoples of The Third Age. The language represented in the books by English was the Westron or Common Speech of the West-lands of Middle-earth in the Third Age. The Westron was also used as a second language of intercourse by all those who retained a language of their own, even by the Elves, not only in Arnor and Gondor but eastward to Mirkwood. It was a Mannish speech, enriched and softened under Elvish influence.

This map gives a close-up view of Hobbiton, the Old Forest, the Barrow-Downs and the ‘border’ town of Bree on the East-West Road, which provide key early chapter locations in The Lord of the Rings.

The Common Speech, the Westron, was current throughout all the lands of the kings from Arnor to Gondor and about all the coasts from Belfalas to Lune. The Hobbits of the Shire and of Bree had used the Common Speech for a thousand years before the time of Bilbo and Frodo. Tolkien informs us that …

they had used it in their own manner freely and carelessly; though the more learned among them had still at their command a more formal language when occasion required.

There is no record of any distinct Hobbit language; Tolkien tells us:

In Ancient days, they seem always to have used the languages of Men near whom, or among whom, they lived. Thus they quickly adopted the Common Speech after they entered Eriador, and by the time of their settlement at Bree, they had already begun to forget their former tongue. This was evidently a Mannish language… akin to that of the Rohirrim…

Of these things there were still some traces left in local words and names, many of which closely resembled those found in Dale or Rohan… While more were preserved in the placenames of Bree and the Shire. The personal names of the Hobbits were also peculiar and many had come down from ancient days

“Mind Your Ps & Qs” – At the Sign of the Prancing Pony:

In Chapter Nine of the first book, the Hobbits arrive at the inn in Bree to sojourn overnight on their journey out of the Shire. The landlord, Mr Butterbur, invites them to join the company in the bar with their news, a song or a story. Merry decides not to, cautioning his fellow travellers to be mindful of their mission and to speak politely:

So refreshed and encouraged did they feel at the end of their supper… That Frodo, Pippin, and Sam decided to join the company. Merry said it would be too stuffy;

“I shall sit here quietly by the fire for a bit, and perhaps go out later for a sniff of the air. Mind your Ps and Qs, and don’t forget that you are supposed to be escaping in secret, and are still on the high road and not very far from the Shire!”

“Mind your Ps and Qs”, meaning ‘be careful to say “please” and “thank you”, is redolent of late Victorian, middle-class English, the kind of phrase Tolkien’s mother might have used with her young son when sending him to his aunt’s house in ‘respectable’ Edgbaston. In using this contemporary colloquial phrase, Tolkien deliberately emphasises the Hobbit’s use of the Common Speech of the Shire and Bree. In the light of subsequent events, Merry’s warning was apt, revealing how Tolkien used the colloquialisms of his youth to represent the Common Speech of Middle-earth, which, on this occasion, the travelling Hobbits were using far too freely. This, of course, was the cue for the appearance of the Ranger figure, Strider, who later transforms into the manly hero of the book, Aragorn. From this point, the pace becomes relentlessly rapid until the friends reach Rivendell and the beginning of the fellowship and their quest. More of all that later…

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Who were the Huguenots? Currents of Cultural & Linguistic Change in France & Early Modern Europe.

Pictured above are French Protestants at Lyons Temple service, which was converted from an ordinary house. The hatted preacher is timed by an hourglass, and the two sexes are seated mainly in separate parts of the temple.

Introduction – A Retrospective on Genocide & Deculturation:

The word ‘genocide’ is essentially a term relating to events in the twentieth century, mainly to the period of the Second World War and more recent events in Rwanda and Bosnia. A dictionary definition refers to killing a whole people, especially an entire race. However, in more recent decades in the current century, it has been used of ethnic conflicts in China, Burma and Syria and of the current war in Ukraine to describe the attempt by Russia to eradicate the independent statehood and cultural identity of the Ukrainian people. In this attempt, the Russian invasion has much in common with previous attempts of Tsarist and Soviet Russia to absorb Ukraine into a ‘greater,’ imperial state against its will by mass atrocities against its civilian population as well as by the destruction and misappropriation of its cultural artefacts and demotion of its unique language. Although these actions may not be exactly equated with ‘genocide’, they represent a deliberate campaign of ‘deculturation’ similar to those that have taken place in European history, dating back to the later Middle Ages and Early Modern times. In Western Europe, examples of this can be found in the Spanish ‘reconquest’ of previously predominantly Moorish territories and in France by the wars against the Huguenots in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These were both examples of ‘religious crusades’, but within absolutist nations, they also involved the ‘deculturation’ of entire ethnic minority societies through every available means.

France & Europe in the Later Middle Ages & Early Modern Times:

The late fifteenth century saw a consolidation of many European states and a coalescence of Europe into the contours that shaped it for almost four centuries until the crisis of nationalism in the nineteenth century. In the southwest, the Spanish state emerged with the final conquest of Grenada from the Muslims in 1492 and the union of the crowns of Aragon and Castille. The French kings continued to expand the royal domain until by 1483, only the Duchy of Brittany remained more or less independent, and even this was absorbed early in the fifteenth century, as shown on the map above. England, too, although it had lost its lands in France, except for Calais, by the Treaty of Arras of 1453 and was racked by civil wars from 1453 to 1471, began to emerge under the Tudor dynasty from 1485 onwards as a maritime power, whose interests in terms of territorial expansion lay outside Europe. Throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, national boundaries had been hardened. The concept of ‘statehood’ was beginning to emerge, becoming politically more significant than the “nation” itself in its original meaning of a people of common descent. This development is most marked in the consolidation of England, Scotland and France.

The Swiss had no central authority but still defended their lands tenaciously against threats from the Burgundians and the Habsburgs. They extended the scope of their Confederation steadily in the second half of the fifteenth century, as the map above shows. By the 1460s, Lake Constance had been reached, and the Rhine crossed. In 1466 Berne made a defensive alliance with the Alsation city of Mülhausen, a significant extension in the territorial scope of Swiss commitments. The defeat of Charles the Bold of Burgundy led to greater attention being paid by France and the German Empire to Swiss ambitions, and the Confederation made further gains. In 1481, Fribourg and Solothurn were accepted as additional members by the Agreement of Stans. Finally, in 1499, the Swiss forced Emperor Maximilian to acknowledge their independence from his Holy Roman Empire. Their determination and fighting qualities had reaped their reward.

Remarkable changes occurred in Europe in the second half of the fifteenth century and sixteenth century; so far-reaching were they that historians considered to mark the transition to the modern period. But it’s important to remember that this distinction between medieval and modern times is simply a device to help historians define and develop their study’s scope. In reality, there was no break in the continuity of civilisation in the fifteenth century, either in its middle or later years. Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, men and women, primarily inspired by their religious beliefs, had been building European civilisation, one brick at a time. We also need to be careful not to apply too much historical hindsight to a perceived transition period or to see a pattern of inevitability in the random events of the arbitrary period between 1480 and 1530. The triumph of the nation-state, whose beginnings are now conventionally traced to the start of the sixteenth century, would have seemed improbable to someone born in its first decade. Moreover, the most prosperous states appeared to be multi-national ones, like the Swiss Confederation or the ‘universal monarchy’ built up by Charles V, which encompassed Spain, the Netherlands and the Austrian dominions of the Habsburgs. By contrast, the territorial kingdoms to the west, such as France and Spain, had seen their economic position badly affected by prolonged warfare and civil strife.

Charles’ Imperial title, the secular counterpart of the Papacy, still carried immense prestige, giving its holder pre-eminence over other, lesser monarchs. Charles won it only in the face of a bitter challenge from Francis I of France, who saw the danger of Charles V, as Emperor, ruling a ring of territories around France, in Spain, Italy and Germany. The French king regarded himself as the legitimate heir of the first emperor, Charlemagne, and tried unsuccessfully to play on this sentimental claim. Having been elected Emperor in 1519 at the age of twenty, Charles faced an uphill struggle in keeping his domains united. In the first half of the sixteenth century, the rise of Protestantism placed an additional strain on the empire. He failed to suppress it by force, despite temporary success in 1547-52 but held firm to Catholicism even though, in Germany at least, it might have been more expedient for him to convert to Lutheranism, as many of the German princes had done. Consequently, he relied increasingly on Spain and its overseas empire to provide money and manpower for his wars against France and to meet the Ottoman challenge on his eastern frontier and in the Mediterranean.

Roots of Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Mediterranean France:

Recognised as a pioneering work of “total” history when first published in France in 1966, Le Roy Ladurie’s The Peasants of Languedoc combines human geography, historical demography, economic history, and folk culture elements. It provides a broad depiction of a tremendous agrarian cycle, lasting from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. It describes the conflicts and contradictions of a traditional peasant society in which the rise in population was not matched by increases in wealth and food production. At the end of the fifteenth century, the rural society of Languedoc in the South of France raised itself from the ruins and set off on the high road of early modern development. The problems raised by the expansion of a pre-industrial society required an inter-disciplinary approach, an appeal to documents and statistics of the most diverse sought and the discovery of the actual movements behind the abstract data of local records. Ladurie used the earlier demographic research of geographer Raymond Dugrand to isolate certain anthropological constants. The constants resulted from regular migrations of past peoples with their flocks and herds of animals and cultivated plants. Behind the abstract data, at the end of a lengthy inquiry, the once-living individuals, the peasants of Languedoc, re-emerged in their social context.

By the conclusion of his research process, Ladurie could observe the people’s activities, struggles, and thoughts. Quantitative methods, no matter how rigorously applied, can only furnish a rough though indispensible framework to fill. But he also realised, as a matter of common sense, that the Malthusian obstacles to expansion were not all of material nature. In the primary qualitative evidence, he found formidable obstacles in mental attitudes and discerned invisible frontiers of the human spirit. He identified these spiritual stumbling blocks in the chronicle of hopeless popular revolts and peasant religions’ bloody history. Ladurie showed how the unequal economic development of the Languedoc region created social and cultural change:

It brought in its wake new states of consciousness, social struggles and conflicts over land; it engendered wars and revolutions. It was attended by a deep and sometimes lasting permutations in peasant mentality.

Ladurie, The Peasants of Languedoc: p. 149

It was against this backcloth of economic, social and cultural change that the Calvinistic Reformation grew and spread in southern France east along the Rhóne, the French-speaking Swiss cantons and up the Rhine from Strasbourg.

A Brief History of Calvinism in Western Europe:

The Protestant Reformation broke out in Switzerland simultaneously with Germany but independently. In 1536 John Calvin (1509-64) was unwillingly pressed into leading the Protestant cause in French-speaking Switzerland. A Frenchman, he had been born at Noyon in Picardy and became a conscientious student at Orléans, Bourges and Paris. There he took up the methods of humanism, which he later used “to combat humanism.” He also came into contact with the teachings of Luther and, in 1533, experienced a sudden conversion:

God subdued and brought my heart to docility. It was more hardened against such matters than was to be expected in such a young man.

He next broke with Roman Catholicism, left France and lived as an exile in Basle. There, he began to formulate his theology, publishing (in 1536) his first edition of The Institution of the Christian Religion (better known as The Institutes). It was a clear, brief defence of Reformation beliefs. Guillaume Farel, the Reformer of Geneva, persuaded Calvin to help consolidate the Reformation there. In 1537 all the townspeople were called upon to swear loyalty to a Protestant statement of belief. But the Genevans opposed Calvin strongly, and disputes in the town, together with a quarrel with the city of Berne, resulted in the expulsion of both Calvin and Farel. Calvin went to Strasbourg, where he came under the influence of Bucer, who encouraged him greatly.

Martin Bucer (1491-1551) was the Reformer at Strasbourg. He had been a Dominican friar but left the order and in 1522 married a former nun. He went to Strasbourg in 1523 and took over leadership of the Reformation there. He became one of the chief statesmen among the reformers and was present at most of the important conferences of the Reformers. Bucer tried to mediate between the divided Zwingli and Luther in an effort to unite the German and Swiss Reformed churches. His discussions with Melanchthon (who continued Luther’s work in Germany) led to peace in the debate over the sacraments at the Concord of Wittenberg.

Philip Melanchthon taught in this room in Wittenberg.

Meanwhile, Calvin’s theological writings, especially the Institutes and numerous commentaries on the Bible, did much to shape the Reformed churches and their confessions of faith:

Wherever we find the Word of God surely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there, it is not to be doubted, is a Church of God.

John Calvin, in The Institutes.

He developed the Presbyterian form of church government, in which all ministers served at the same level, and the people were represented by lay elders. Calvin is often remembered for his severe doctrine of election, mainly that some people are predestined to destruction:

We declare that by God’s providence, not only heaven and earth and inanimate creatures, but also the counsels and wills of men are governed so as to move precisely to that end destined by him.

John Calvin

But Calvin also set out the way of repentance, faith and sanctification, intending that his theology should interpret Scripture faithfully, rather than simply developing his own theological ideas. In 1539, he published a commentary on the book of Romans, and many other commentaries followed. He also led the growing congregation of French refugees in Strasbourg, an experience which matured him for his task on returning to Geneva, which he did in September 1541. The city council accepted his revision of the city laws, but many bitter disputes followed. Calvin tried to bring every citizen under the moral discipline of the church, but many quite naturally resisted such restrictions, especially when imposed by a foreigner. Therefore, he set about establishing a mature church by preaching daily to the people and devoting much energy to settling the disputes within Protestantism. In particular, he brought the French-speaking and German-speaking churches closer together.

Calvin was a great systematiser, taking up and reapplying the ideas of the first generation of Reformers. His work was characterised by discipline and practical application. For him, like Luther, all knowledge of God was to be found in the Bible as the Word of God. Pardon and salvation are only possible through the free working of the Grace of God. Calvin believed that the church was supreme and should not be restricted by the state. He gave greater importance to its external organisation than Luther but regarded only baptism and communion as sacraments. Baptism was the individual’s initiation into the new community of Christ, and communion was more than merely a symbol, as Zwingli had argued. However, he too warned against any belief in a ‘magical’ presence of Christ in the sacrament. During his final illness, he wrote the following testimony:

… I was hunted out of this town and went to Strasbourg … I was recalled, but I had no less trouble than before in trying to do my official duty … Whilst I am nothing, yet I know that I have prevented many disturbances that would otherwise have occurred in Geneva … God has given me the power to write … I have written nothing in hatred … but always I have faithfully attempted what I believed to be for the glory of God.

John Calvin, in 1564.

One of his students caricatured John Calvin during an idle moment in a lecture.

In a way, Calvin had been trying to build a more visible Corpus Christianum or ‘City of God’ in Europe, with Geneva as its model. In his later years, his authority was less disputed by Genevans. He founded the Geneva Academy, to which students of theology came from all parts of western and central Europe, mainly from France. Zwingli in Zurich and Calvin in Geneva were succeeded respectively by Johann Heinrich Bullinger (1504-75) and Theodore Béza (1519-1605), who both kept alive the Reformed tradition.

Theodore Béza replaced Calvin as the leader of Reformed Protestantism in Geneva. Although trained as a lawyer, a book of love poetry gave him a reputation as a Latin poet. In 1548, following a severe illness, Béza went to Geneva and announced that he had become a Protestant. He was made Professor of Greek at Lausanne University and, in 1559, became the first rector of the Genevan Academy. He remained in Geneva, intimately involved in its affairs, becoming Calvin’s successor and one of the leading advisors to the Huguenots in France. He participated in their conferences (Poissy, 1561, New Rochelle, 1571) and defended the purity of the Reformed faith. He produced new versions of the Greek and Latin New Testament, which became essential sources for the Genevan and King James Bibles. He also wrote a biography of Calvin, De jure magistratum, an important Protestant political work, and other polemical and theological tracts. Following the Genevan model, these writings and activities aimed to establish the Reformed faith throughout Europe.

Under Béza’s leadership, Geneva became fully established as the centre of Reformed Protestantism. Between them, Bullinger and Béza exercised significant influence in France, Holland, Germany, Scotland and England through their teaching and hospitality to the many exiles from persecution in their native lands, especially the Huguenots from France. In France itself, the pattern of reform was very different from that in Germany and Switzerland, where there was solid support for the Reformation from all classes in society, from princes to paupers. In France, it had essential converts among the nobles, like Coligny, and among the gentry. It also won converts among the ‘heretical’ lower clergy and among friars. It attracted the educated urban classes of lawyers and bureaucrats, teachers and doctors, merchants and manufacturers. However, it lacked support in many rural areas, where the peasantry remained firmly ‘wedded’ to the Roman Catholic church. The Calvinist church grew throughout the 1540s and 50s, despite fierce persecution under Francis I and Henry II; its pyramidical structure of neighbourhood consistories, local colloquies, provincial synods and national synod. However, the French people, and the court and the church, in particular, were far less supportive, if not outright hostile. As a result, the first Protestants faced death or exile. Reform took on the nature of a political movement in this hostile environment.

Nevertheless, once the Reformed faith had been established in French-speaking Switzerland, Calvinists formed a congregation in Paris in 1555. Over seventy churches were represented at a first national synod in Paris in 1559, and its semi-democratic sources of authority were based on elections at every level. Its independence from existing governmental and ecclesiastic institutions was perceived as a threat to the French state. It was also invigorated by regular contact with missionaries sent by Calvin and Béza from Geneva. The Protestant faith spread rapidly in the provincial provinces of Normandy, Brittany, Guyenne, Languedoc, Province and Dauphiné, as well as in the cities of Orléans and Lyons, where royal authority was at its most tenuous. Thanks to Béza, it accepted the military protection of the Bourbon connection: an alliance which also donated to Bourbons a moral cohesion and force never before enjoyed by an ‘over-mighty subject’ in the form of Henry Navarre.

Meanwhile, in southern Europe, and especially in some crucial regions of the South of France, a reformation and re-invigoration proceeded within the Catholic church. The conflict between Calvinism and the ‘Counter-Reformation’ resulted in religious wars, fought out most bitterly in France and, by Spain, in the Netherlands. Even more than the rise of nationalism, the sixteenth-century Reformations split Western Europe’s unity and made inter-dynastic diplomacy difficult in the extreme.

The Wars of Religion in France & Western Europe, 1562-1697:
Western Europe on the Eve of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572.

In France, the series of civil wars that followed, involving both religious and political issues, raged on between 1562 and 1598. The personal weaknesses of the monarchs became evident when the unexpected death of Henry II in 1559 left power in the hands of his foreign widow, Catherine de Medici and her four inadequate sons. The wars began as conflicts between Catholics and Huguenots. They ended in a rivalry between the three Henrys for the throne – Henry III, the last of the Valois and son of Catherine de Medici, the French Regent; Henry of Guise, leader of the Catholic party who secured the help of Philip of Spain; Henry of Navarre, the leader of the Huguenots. Navarre also won the support of the anti-Spanish Catholics (the Politiques). The Huguenots were also aided from time to time by England, Holland and the German Protestant princes. The Catholic League supported the Catholic Party, sponsored by Spain, Savoy and Rome.

On the eve of St Bartholemew’s Day, 23 August 1572, the conflict came to a head when Catherine de Medici, despairing of attempts to find a modus vivendi with her Protestant subjects, ordered a policy of savage repression instead. She decided to solve all her problems, as she thought, by abandoning her position above the factions and having Coligny assassinated, but the scheme was bungled when the Guises shot him but failed to kill him (22 August). As religious tension rose in Paris, Catherine decided on a panic measure of eliminating the entire Huguenot leadership, who were conveniently assembled for their national Synod in Paris. She eventually persuaded her son, now king, that the Huguenots were poised to strike first, to agree to the murder of a handful of them, beginning with Coligny, who was stabbed at 2 a.m. and then thrown out of the window. The Parisian Catholics took this as a cue to massacre about three thousand Huguenots. The rage spread through the following autumn to the provincial cities, where about ten thousand more were said to have been similarly murdered in cold blood.

The St Bartholemew’s Day Massacre shattered but did not destroy the Reformation in France. However, it plunged France into a further generation of religious warfare. It also provided a potent symbol for the whole of Europe of the hardening hostility between Catholics and Protestants, resulting directly from the determination of Catholic rulers, inspired by the Counter-Reformation, to establish and enforce religious uniformity within their lands. The spread of Calvinism through crucial sections of the French nobility and to important coastal towns such as La Rochelle alarmed Catherine. For the Huguenots, the Massacre was a watershed, for they were now too weak to aim at turning France into a Protestant country and lowered their sights to the achievement of security and toleration within a Roman Catholic state. It also changed their political theory. Influenced by Béza’s book Du Droit des Magistrats surs les Sujets (1574), they made the breakthrough into the unashamed philosophy of the right of resistance to tyranny by force. Putting theory into practice, they organised an effective Huguenot state in the South, stretching from Dauphiné in the east across Provence, Languedoc, Béarn, Guyenne and Poiteau as far as La Rochelle in the west.

Meanwhile, Philip II of Spain faced a similarly grave Protestant challenge in the Netherlands. The rebels were inspired not only by religion but also by hatred of Philip’s attempts to impose an absolutist system of government on the Seventeen Provinces he had inherited. Philip II had been totally distracted from this task by the need to fend off the Turkish incursions in the Mediterranean. Philip II’s viceroy in the Netherlands, the Duke of Alva, enjoyed considerable success in pacifying the Dutch rebels, even defeating an invasion organised by William of Orange in 1568. Still, the taxes required to pay Alva’s troops soon caused more unrest. In 1572 Orange persuaded the French Calvinists to join him in a fresh invasion: while he led an army from Germany in the east, his navy launched an assault on Holland in the north, and Huguenot forces captured Mons in the South. However, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre cut off further aid from France and allowed Alva to drive Orange back into Holland. Then a long and expensive war began, with siege and counter-siege, in which the rebels could not be dislodged. Spain nevertheless refused to concede toleration to the Dutch and persisted in fighting a war it could not win. The Massacre in France and the revolt in the Netherlands also had severe ramifications for the English attempts to develop an Anglo-French alliance against Spain.

As early as 1570, negotiations had been taking place concerning the marriage of Elizabeth to a French prince. Elizabeth, anxious to delay the conflict implicit in her rapidly worsening relations with Spain, was prepared to negotiate with protestants in Scotland, the Netherlands, and Catholic France. In 1572 England and France were allied by the Treaty of Blois, signed just before the Massacre of the Huguenots on the eve of St Bartholomew’s Day. France might be catholic, but it did not, at that point, seem as uncompromisingly catholic as Spain, which did not even have a significant protestant minority. France was anti-Spanish to the extent of supporting the protestant rebels in the Netherlands. Ironically, it had been Philip II’s efforts to impose a standard system of absolutist rule on the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands in the face of their mutual rivalries that forced them together. It was to take altogether more gifted generals, above all Parma, much effort over many years to split the French-speaking Catholic provinces from the Protestant Dutch-speaking areas. By identifying rebellion with religion, Parma and his successors were able to win back the bulk of the southern provinces, which had formed the Union of Arras in 1579. The decision of the Protestants in the northern Union of Utrecht to attack the South caused the southerners to appeal to Spain for troops to protect them and gave Philip II the excuse to carry through their re-Catholicisation. Open hostilities between England and Spain began in 1585, and this state of affairs between the former allies continued until 1604. Two years before the Armada sailed, the Treaty of Berwick (1586) bound England and Scotland in a defensive alliance that even the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, could not disturb. One historian has described Elizabeth’s foreign policy as follows:

… as long as France seemed capable of independent action and the Netherlands of prolonged resistance, Philip felt compelled to avoid a war with England and to yield somewhat to English pressure. … As things fell out, the growing divisions in the United Netherlands from 1578 onwards opened the way for Parma to reconquer the southern and eastern provinces. By the summer of 1585, with William the Silent assassinated (1584), and Antwerp fallen, the Spanish army looked within striking distance of final victory over the rebels. Just then Philip was also able to eliminate all danger of French intervention. Anjou’s death and the childlessness of Henry III left the Huguenot Henry of Navarre presumptive to the French throne. This drove the Catholic Guises to take arms and place their cause under the protection of Spain. Their victory would France the client of Spain. It would unite Catholic Europe under Spanish leadership.

R. B. Wernham (1961), ‘Elizabethan War Aims and Strategy’, in Elizabethan Government and Society: Essays presented to Sir J. E. Neale, ed. S. T. Bindoff et. al. pp 340-6, 368.

Henry of Navarre, who became King Henry IV, ended the Wars of Religion.

… Elizabeth could not allow Spain to destroy England’s old enemy France. Yet, equally, she could not afford to destroy her new enemy, Spain. For England could live … in a world of two Leviathans; she could not live where there was but one … A restored France, that was not matched by a strong France. For the same reasons, England must defend Dutch liberties, but would not fight for their independence. An independent Netherlands would be too weak to withstand a restored France and, if they became French too dangerous a preponderance. … but there seems no real doubt that her principal war aim , the principal cause of the conflict with Spain, was her determination to restore all the Netherlands provinces to their ancient liberties and privileges … and to secure the Netherlands Protestants ‘their liberty and exercise of the Christian religion.’ But nominally Spanish they must remain.

R. B. Wernham (1961), ‘Elizabethan War Aims and Strategy’, in Elizabethan Government and Society: Essays presented to Sir J. E. Neale, ed. S. T. Bindoff et. al. pp 340-6, 368.

Philip’s general, Parma, invaded France in 1589, but nine further years of war ended in 1598 without a clear victory. Increasingly, Elizabeth I sent troops and money to support the Dutch.

A Tudor diplomat of the mid-Sixteenth Century: Detail from Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors’, reproduced by courtesy of the Trustees of the National Gallery.

The events that followed 1588-89 sealed the Anglo-French accord, which lasted as long as the Anglo-Spanish war. In France, too, hopes ran high as the accession of the Huguenot Henry of Navarre, following the assassination of Henry III, succeeded to the French throne and became Henry IV in 1589. By the Battle of Ivry in 1590, he became master of all of France in 1593, the first Bourbon monarch, but did not gain entrance to Paris and the Crown until he agreed to convert to Catholicism in 1594. By then, a third force had emerged when the politiques (‘politically inspired’) announced that it was immaterial which religion dominated the kingdom and that all that mattered was the wellbeing of the people. But the French Catholic party had meanwhile made an alliance with King Philip of Spain and threatened to plunge the country in blood if Henry remained a Protestant. Henry yielded for the sake of peace and to preserve his throne and gave up his Protestantism. By the Treaty of Vervins (1598), Philip II realised that his hopes of dominating France had been ended and acknowledged Henry IV. Also, in 1598, Henry had the Reformed faith legally recognised and granted freedom to the Huguenots to practice Reformed Christianity under the terms of the Edict of Nantes.

By the Edict, Protestants could worship privately in the houses of the nobility and publicly in the towns designated by the earlier Treaty of Poitiers, with one or two additions in each judicial district. In addition, they could hold synods from time to time and could enjoy equality within public education. In political terms, the country was effectively partitioned. The Huguenots were given political control over certain parts of the country, and the right to garrison a hundred fortresses garrisoned at royal expense, including the port of La Rochelle. They controlled the university there and at Nímes and Montauban; special mixed courts were set up in the Parlements of Paris, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Grenoble to try cases in which Protestants were involved. All offices in the state were to be open to Huguenots. At the same time, Roman Catholicism remained the official religion of the realm and retained by far the most considerable geographical portion of the nation. In the South, its main effect was to confirm the frontier along the Rhóne between Provence and Languedoc, but this time as a religious rather than a political one. The Edict was issued in April, leading to a truce with the Huguenots, and by the Treaty of Vervins (May 1598), Spain gave up its French conquests except for Cambrai. The status quo of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis was restored, confirming the settlement between the two countries.

This compromise gave France religious and dynastic peace for nearly a century, at least on the surface. Still, in reality, it only lasted through to the mid-seventeenth century, resting on an increasingly precarious foundation. In 1604, Spain made peace with England, too. No land changed hands. However, the war in the Netherlands dragged on until 1609, when the Spanish regained the great port of Antwerp and Flanders. Mutual exhaustion then persuaded Philip III to accept a twelve-year truce with the rebels. The United Provinces became de facto independent of Spain. In France, Louis XIII’s chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu (1624-42), the Catholic Counter-Reformation reached its zenith. The Cardinal played havoc with Protestant liberties while flamboyant Baroque churches were built at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Martigues and in Italian-ruled Nice; sculptor and architect Pierre Puget created his masterpiece La Veille Charité in Marseilles.

Richelieu’s France.

From the mid-1630s, the Franco-Spanish conflict had been the central focus of the Thirty Years’ Wars (1618-48). The war had begun as a battle for supremacy within the Empire between Catholics and Protestants in which outside powers had taken sides according to their dominant faith. But Catholic France’s ‘sympathies’ with the Protestant territories like the United Provinces changed the composition of the struggle. The pragmatic Richelieu identified the breaking of the Habsburg ring of territories surrounding France’s land borders as key to the rise of French power, overruling the arguments of the pro-Catholic ‘dévot’ faction in France. Richelieu attempted to weaken the Habsburgs by subsidising the Protestant princes, but after the catastrophic defeat of Sweden in 1634, France entered the war directly against Spain.

Cardinal Mazarin, French diplomat and statesman; portrait attributed to Mathieu Le Nain

Despite its setback, Sweden emerged a victor from the war, mainly as France’s chief ally. However, it soon became apparent that Richelieu’s successor, Mazarin, had overrated both the weaknesses and the capacity of the French population to support the expensive burden of the war. As a result, Mazarin’s expectations of rapid victories against Spain were to be thwarted as the war dragged on for more than a decade.

The Thirty Years’ War ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 after the most savage and destructive warfare yet seen in Europe. Peace was signed in the Westphalian towns of Osnabrüch and Munster, where the Emperor negotiated separately with his Protestant and Catholic enemies. Yet whatever the convulsions of the long years of more or less general warfare, in the event, strikingly few changes were made to the political map of Europe. The treaties also signalled a final recognition that Catholic princes inspired by the Counter-Reformation would not be able to roll back entirely the gains that Protestantism had made in Europe since the early sixteenth century.

After 1648, the most significant change in the balance of power in western Europe was the emergence of France as the predominant state. Following the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, Spain lost all vestiges of its previously-held power and pre-eminent position. After the death of Mazarin in 1661, Louis XIV (1643-1715) pursued a policy of diplomatic aggression. But it was only in 1667 that he first went to war. Claiming parts of the Spanish Netherlands by virtue of his Habsburg wife’s rights as the elder sister of the new Spanish King, Carlos II, Louis’ troops quickly occupied the territory. Peace in 1668 gave France twelve fortresses along its borders with the Spanish Netherlands to add to Dunkirk, bought from England in 1662. Then, in 1672, the French king turned on his former Dutch allies. They were saved from defeat only by opening up the dykes as they had done a century earlier in their war of independence with the Spanish. Although the Dutch survived until peace in 1678 and even recovered Maastricht by the Treaty of Nijmegen (1678-9), it was their weak Spanish allies who paid the price, as the map below shows:

France’s Eastern Border, 1648 – 1684.

France took more border fortresses plus the France-Comté and remained in occupation of the Duchy of Lorraine. They also kept Freiburg on the Rhine (see the map on the right). Louis now adopted a complicated and essentially fraudulent legal procedure to claim sovereignty over many pockets of Imperial territory along his eastern frontier, whose status had been left ambiguous by the Peace of Westphalia. Using his ever-growing army to back up the decisions of the so-called chambres des réunions, Luxembourg was repeatedly besieged and threatened as Louis nibbled at one part and then another of the duchy before finally seizing the fortress itself in 1684. France was nearing the peak of its power and aggressively sought to acquire territories along its frontiers. Using the clerical jurisdiction of the three bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdun, granted to France definitively at Westphalia, Louis claimed political sovereignty over other places in their sees.

Similarly, in Alsace, French judges annulled the traditional rights of the German-speaking towns, seizing the great trading city of Strasbourg in 1681. The power of the French State was based on its vast population, which at twenty million far outstripped that of her neighbours. Numbers meant powers: they provided significant tax revenues and a rich source of recruits. Louis XIV’s able ministers built on the legacy of Richelieu and Mazarin to create a large standing army, able to intervene swiftly against less well-prepared and well-funded enemies over its borders or at home. Louis XIV’s France was seen as the arch-absolutist state throughout Europe. Secure within its frontiers, confident of his position at home, and encouraged by his fervently Catholic mistress Madame de Maintenon, Louis decided to revoke the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The French Huguenots suffered bitter persecution. Interestingly, given their own experiences of persecution by this time, the Jesuits were partly responsible for the Revocation. Louis’ action was the signal for hundreds of Protestants to reconvert to Catholicism and thousands of others to flee.

“Louis XIV Crushes the Fronde” by Gilles Guérin 1654

Louis’ personal, absolutist rule has been heavily criticised by historians, especially regarding its intolerance in matters of religion. Some believe that the Fronde, a series of civil wars between 1648 and 1653 occurring amid the Franco-Spanish War, caused Louis to be obsessed with hierarchy and unity; One God, One King, One Law. Therefore, he regarded religious nonconformity as not only blasphemous but also treasonable. Le Clerc provides us with an insight into the attitudes of contemporary Catholics toward the Huguenots:

If this hydra that your hand has strangled

Does not provide to your ‘vertu’ the worthiest of trophies

Then think of the cruel misfortunes that this sect has caused,

See how it has divided your subjects,

Consider in your heart its fatal practices.

How much blood poured forth, how many tragic stories of

The sacriliges of profaned altars,

Priests scorned and degraded, temples destroyed,

Blasphemies carried up to the sanctuary,

By all this see what it had been able to do.

To purge the state of an internal pestilence,

Louis saw that it was time to cut its roots.

He broke the edicts by which our recent kings

Allowed this serpent to speak

From which never ceased to come false maxims

Infecting minds and fomenting crimes.

Le Clerc, Le Triomphe de la Foy, 1686, trans. by J. B. Wolf, (1968) Louis XIV: Gollancz, p 395.

Another historian, Stoye, claimed that Revocation was a gesture which satisfied Louis’ highly developed sense of the ‘dramatic’ in kingship. Others blame the policy on his ministers for the state’s blundering into religious matters with such sweeping ‘gestures’. The consequences of this intolerance are also equally disputed. Was the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, though welcomed at the time by most of the French courtiers, nobility and gentry, a significant blunder that destroyed the French economy and united his enemies against himself, or have its effects been greatly exaggerated? Writing in 1911, the historian Saint-Simon made the following list of what he saw as the results the Revocation produced:

The revocation of the Edict of Nantes, decided upon without the least excuse or any need, and the many proscriptions and declarations that followed it, was the outcome of a terrible plot which depopulated a quarter of the kingdom; ruined its commerce; weakened all parties; caused widespread pillage and condoned the dragonnades; authorised the tortures and torments in which thousands of innocent people of both sexes died; tore apart families, kinsmen against kinsmen, in order to seize their property and let them die of hunger; caused our manufacturors to emigrate so that foreign states flourished at the expense of ours; and gave to them the spectacle of such a remarkable people being proscribed, stripped of their possessions, exiled and forced to seek refuge far from their native land, without being guilty of any crime. … And to crown all these horrors it filled every province of the realm with perjurors and sacrileges … who dragged themselves to adore what they did not believe in.

Saint-Simon (1911), La Cour de Louis XIV: Paris, p 416.
When the Huguenots escaped religious persecution in France in the seventeenth century, many chose to set up home in Canterbury. They met for worship in the Cathedral’s crypt in a chapel where French language services continue to the present day.

Pierre Jurieu, a Huguenot exile in London, wrote a pamphlet in English, done out of the French in which he brought similar ‘charges’ against the French king in support of his belief that Louis’ absolutism had degenerated into despotism:

… Formerly the State entered everywhere, nought else was discussed of save the interests of the State, of the needs of the State, of the preservation of the State, of the service of the State; to speak so nowadays, would literally be accounted a crime of high treason. The King has taken place of the State … At the French Court there is now no other interest known than the King’s personal interest, that is to say, his grandeur and his glory: this is the idol to which are sacrificed princes, grandees, the little, families, provinces, cities and generally all. … This money (taxation) is only employed in fostering and serving the greatest self-love and the vastest pride thatever was. It is so vast an abyss that it has swallowed up not only the wealth of the whole kingdom, but that of all other States, if it could have seized it, as it endeavoured to …

He fosters in his Court and about him a crowd of flatterers, that enhance upon one another … he fills all Paris, all his palaces and the whole kingdom with his name and deeds … and all for having snapped from a weak and minor prince three or four provinces … for having desolated half his own kingdom by the persecution of Calvinism. Thus you see what the greatness of Louis the Great amounts to… and it is that enormous passion which devours so many riches and to which so many sacrifices are made.

The Sighs of France in slavery breathing after liberty, London, 1688-90, pamphlet 2.

Along with Pierre Jurieu, many thousands of Huguenots left France in the years following 1685 and made their way to London, Canterbury, Coventry, Edinburgh, Geneva, Germany, the Netherlands, Dublin and Pennsylvania. Others remained and either suffered persecution or fled to the mountains of central France to avoid it. Most of the Protestants who left France were professional people or skilled craftsmen in this period. As some historians have claimed, their exodus may not have crippled the French economy, but it was undoubtedly socially and economically significant. France lost many of its most intelligent and hardworking citizens due to this religious bigotry, a qualitative loss that is difficult to assess purely quantitatively. The beneficiaries of this exodus were the western Protestant nations and territories that received the entrepreneurial refugees, including England, Scotland and parts of Ireland. In 1690 the total population of the American colonies, roughly a quarter of a million, was almost exclusively British, but Protestants from the European continent had already begun to arrive including Huguenots and Mennonites, Dutch Calvinists and German Lutherans fleeing persecution in the Palatinate. By the middle of the eighteenth century, there were seventy thousand Germans in Pennsylvania alone and almost 200,000 in North America as a whole. Among them were not only Calvinists and Lutherans but Moravians, Dunkers and Schwenkfelders.

Economic activity increased in the seventeenth century overall, but not at its rate in the previous century. Nine-tenths of the population still worked on the land, hidebound by tradition, seldom looked beyond the village where they were born. Unable to improve productivity, most of them suffered from ill-health, frequent plagues and low life expectancy. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that human nature made life solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Few people had a surplus income to spend on manufactured products. There was no identifiable middle-class throughout most of Europe, merely small élites in town and city communities, each with its own professional corporations. However, many historians argue that it would be wrong to think of the seventeenth century as a period of economic stagnation in Europe. Indeed, Marxist historians such as the late Eric Hobsbawm have argued that changes between 1600 and 1700 amounted to a fundamental solution to the difficulties which had previously stood in the way of the triumph of capitalism, with the English Civil War marking a turning point. Others have rejected this, but have pointed out significant changes. First, the century showed the final stages of the long process by which the centre of trade moved from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic seaboard, especially to Britain, France and the Dutch Republic, which experienced its golden age. A second of these significant economic shifts was the development of mercantilism. Political unification was a desirable part of these sea changes because of the burdens placed on royal exchequers by warfare, colonial expansion and bureaucracy.

Most European governments were chronically in debt – indeed, the century has been subtitled as the golden age for private enterprise in government finance. Spain provides a clear example of this with its repeated bankruptcies; by 1670, as a result of its impaired credit, it was paying over forty per cent interest on some of its loans. Not surprisingly, sovereigns became concerned about exploiting natural resources to acquire power. Whereas French ministers like Richelieu and Sully held the traditional view that trade was created by God to spread peace, unity and the Catholic religion, Colbert remarked that trade is the source of finance, and finance is the vital nerve of war. In this vein, the later seventeenth century witnessed a new phenomenon – wars motivated solely by commercial interests. Some historians see the century not so much as an age of consolidation or crisis but as an era of increasing religious toleration. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-48) is alleged to have revealed the uselessness of force to reconvert Europe to Catholicism and brought an end to the era of ‘religious wars’. One contemporary Englishman summed this up when he wrote:

Men of different opinions worship God in their own way. We are to respect them in their different manner of worship.

This ‘calming-down’ of religious fervour represented a significant change. No longer did the church, Catholic or Protestant, pursue extravagant witch-hunts or attack so fiercely new scientific viewpoints based on evidence and ‘Reason’. As Pascal remarked:

Religion draws into a unity the the scattered elements in our lives. It answers the questions which reason only can raise, and… it cannot be in opposition to reason or science because it includes yet transcends both.

However, sovereigns continued to dislike all signs of religious nonconformity within the state, clearly seen in Louis XIV’s actions against the Huguenots. The church was too vital an organisation to be left alone by them because it alone embraced the whole realm, also penetrating every district and village. Tolerance was only present where economic or political circumstances made it useful – and even then some historians argue it tended to be toleration of protestant by protestant rather than between catholic and protestant. Louis XIV’s relentless nibbling away at the Spanish Netherlands and at the Imperial fringe territories turned his neighbours against him. In 1686, Catholic and Protestant German princes formed the League of Augsburg to resist further French penetration into the Holy Roman Empire. Louis XIV’s Revocation of the rights of French Protestants in 1685 also pushed traditionally pro-French, but firmly Protestant Sweden into the League along with Catholic Austria, Bavaria and Spain. France was already feeling the strain of enormous military expenditure even before the outbreak of the Nine Years’ War in 1688 when Louis XIV sent his troops into the Rhineland to secure his authority there. The war cost the country dear. Famine and peasant discontent compounded the failure of the French armies to achieve victory. Instead, the improved forces of the German princes, backed by Anglo-Dutch troops and financial power, wore France down.

With the French committed to their assault on the Rhineland, the Dutch could spare troops to assist William of Orange to gain the British Crown, and the anti-French coalition was thereby greatly strengthened. On the other hand, as the French threat declined, rivalries between the allied countries grew. Although the Nine Years’ War soon reached a stalemate, it took many years before Louis XIV was prepared to make sufficient concessions to buy peace from his enemies. Finally, in 1696, he gave up some areas in southern France around Nice to Savoy, in effect admitting that the duchy of Savoy could not be made into a French satellite state. By the Treaty of Rijswijk (1697), France returned Lorraine to her duke, but France retained effective military control with the duchy surrounded by French territory. However, both Flanders and Luxembourg were returned to Spain (as was occupied Catalonia), probably because Louis was already manoeuvring for Madrid’s favour over who would succeed to the Spanish throne when Carlos II died. Other parts of Imperial territory, including a section of the Palatinate, were also given up, though France kept Alsace and Strasbourg. A vital cause of the war after 1688 was Louis XIV’s determination to dominate the critical clerical electorates in the triangle between Trier, Cologne and Mainz. This would have made France dominant along the vital trade arteries along the Rhine and Main.

Linguistic Change & the Rise of Protestantism in Southern France:

In the sixteenth century, two revolutions in mental attitudes, two currents of cultural change, arose in Mediterranean France. The first was the linguistic revolution, represented by the earliest diffusion of the French language (1450-1590). It took possession of the cities, towns and large villages, the privileged orders and the urban bourgeoisie, but it only infiltrated the highest levels of rural society. Nevertheless, this phenomenon is of more than simply a philological interest because it serves to delimit, by the first half of the sixteenth century, two contrasting geographical and cultural areas. To the region’s east were places of rapid linguistic penetration and precocious bilingualism. As early as 1450, the langue d’oil of the notables contrasted sharply with Romance dialects still spoken by ordinary people. This zone corresponds precisely with the Rhóne Valley and, more generally, with the triangle formed by the Rhóne, the Cévennes and the Mediterranean – by Valence, Montpellier and Arles. The breach in the old linguistic frontier southward along the Rhóne was contained by maritime Provence and especially by western Languedoc and eastern Aquitaine, all of which resisted the incursions of the French language for one or two generations more (up to about 1530-50). These regions were all cultural ‘backwaters’ and were destined to remain so for a long time following. As late as 1570, according to statistics from original signatures, or 1680-86, according to Maggiolo’s charts, the ‘level of culture’ declined progressively, region by region, as the traveller advanced from the Bas-Rhóne to the Haute-Garonne.

A study of the frequency of signatures, from east to west, indicates that in 1575 only 25% of the artisans at Montpellier were illiterate compared to 33% at Narbonne. Moreover, the cultural ‘level’ was far superior at Montpellier, where most ‘literate’ artisans could write their full names. At the same time, half the people in this category at Narbonne signed with just their initials. The same was true of the peasants. About 1575, a more considerable minority could sign their own names at Montpellier than Narbonne. At Montpellier, French was generally used by 1490; at Narbonne, not until later. Even more significant was the linguistic lag between the Rhóne Valley and Bas-Languedoc on the one hand and the Massif Central on the other. On the siliceous highlands of the latter region were to be found the veritable sanctuaries of the langue d’oc, which remained practically inviolate up to the beginning of the seventeenth century. This was true of the Rouergue, for example, and also of the mountains of Saint-Pons. These were the last enclaves of the langue d’oc dialect and, at the same time, the last refuge of total illiteracy, being often totally without schools and schoolmasters. The figures on the frequency of signatures in 1595, 1643 and 1737 demonstrate the fact conclusively. There followed the indomitable occitanisme of the ancient mountain areas due to this illiteracy. There can be little doubt that mass literacy impeded the spread of the French language, which was transmitted through its written forms.

The Wars of Religion in the Region of Languedoc and Provence:

On the ground, the dominant issue became that of religious difference. Protestantism had achieved a firm foothold in Languedoc, especially among the lower orders in the provincial towns. Even before Luther, the Waldensian or Vaudois sect – branded as heretical within Catholicism – had put down roots in the Luberon, where feudal landlords had encouraged them to repopulate the countryside after the Black Death. The Waldensian movement was brutally put down in April 1545, when Vaudois villages were pillaged and burned and down, and their populations massacred. However, this was only the opening salvo of the religious violence that really kicked in when French Calvinism, or the Huguenot movement, spread throughout Languedoc and the rest of France in the 1550s. There were Protestant enclaves in Orange, Haute Provence and the Luberon, but the primary seedbed of the new faith lay west of the Rhóne in Nímes, where three-quarters of the population became Huguenot. The 1560s saw atrocities on both sides of the religious divide. Most of the Huguenots of Orange were massacred in 1563: in reprisal, the Baron des Adrets who had converted from Catholicism only a year before, went on the rampage; he specialised in throwing Catholic prisoners from the top of the nearest castle. However, two years later, he reconverted and retired to his family estate.

In the sharply contrasted cultural area of the Midi, the second intellectual revolution of the century, the Reformation, took root. It was more profound than the linguistic revolution, penetrating the level of peasant consciousness. Yet, it offered no significant geographic originality concerning the latter. The distribution of places of origin of the Protestant émigrés to Geneva in 1550, the inquest into the crime of heresy launched in the name of the Parlement of Toulouse in 1560, and finally, the distribution of Huguenots at the time of the civil wars strongly underline permanent features of intellectual geography. The chosen zone of early Protestantism 1550-60 was the same as the same Rhóne – Cévennes – Bas-Languedoc triangle. The ‘ground’ there had been prepared by the privileged penetration of the French language in the century beforehand and delimited through the development of diverse cultural exchanges in the centuries following. The nerve centres were Romans, Uzés, Alés, Nímes, and Montpellier. On the left bank of the Rhóne was the valley of Durance, where the Waldensians began, in 1535, to distribute their Bibles and catechisms, shields of faith, anatomies of dogma and similar books, and above small psalters… rhymed, bound, gilded and ruled. Throughout the Middle Ages the demand for religious reform had persisted; the ideal of primitive Christianity that lay behind that demand, if it varied in detail from time to time and place to place, remained essentially the same. Over four centuries, from the twelfth to the sixteenth, from the Waldensians through to the Franciscans and the Anabaptists, groups of men wandered through the land, living a life of poverty and simplicity in imitation of the apostles and preaching to those among the laity who felt a spiritual vacuum.

When, in the thirteenth century, the Franciscan and Dominican orders were created, they had been quite consciously modelled on the apostolic life. Without the attempts to realise the ideal of primitive Christianity within the framework of the institutionalised church, the movement of dissent would undoubtedly have been far more significant than it was. Yet these attempts were never wholly successful. Again and again, the preaching monks and friars withdrew behind their monastery walls or else abandoned the pursuit of holiness for that of political influence. Again and again, the reforming orders devoted initially to apostolic poverty ended by acquiring great wealth. And whenever that happened, some dissenting or heretical preachers came forward to fill that vacuum.

On the right bank of the Rhóne, it was primarily the valleys of the Cévennes and a zone of itinerant ministers, artisans’ workshops and one-room schools in the Haute-Hérault, Vidourle, and the two Gardons (Gardon d’Alés and Gardon d’Anduzé). The lists of foreigners (estrangiés) in Geneva and their provenance testify, beginning in 1549, to the presence of clusters of rural Protestantism in the broken foothills of the Cévennes. In this region, by 1556, the ministers were preaching openly, baptising and celebrating Holy Communion. In this region, too, in 1560, peasants and craftsmen stormed convents, cut the monks’ copes into doublets and banners, laying ambush for papal commissioners, or equeters, while their wives flung sacks of ashes into the eyes of the priors and parish priests. It was here, finally, in the large villages that the Protestant nuclei, composed of intellectuals (notaries, judges and doctors) and artisans (chaussatiers who cut the uniforms for Condé’s army, surgeons, blacksmiths, and cobblers), embraced Calvinistic Protestantism and propagated it in the surrounding rural parishes.

In 1560, armed Huguenots of Gignac, of both sexes and belonging to the lower orders of society already mentioned, formed a psalm-singing procession in ranks of three to escort the minister to preach a sermon in the nearby village of Saint-André. The petit-bourgeois Calvinists strove to win over the peasantry, whether by peaceful conversion or force of arms. Beyond the Hérault, however, the picture was different in the whole of western Languedoc. In addition, the more backward mountains of the Sidobre, the Espinouse, the Montagne Noire and the Rouergue were significantly different from the industrious Cévennes to the east. The cultural lethargy evidenced in these regions as far back as 1500 was conducive to religious conservatism. In the mountains, the nuclei of Calvinist artisans had little influence on the mass of the peasantry, who rejected the Bible and preferred sorcerers to ministers.

In the lowlands, the small Huguenot communities of Béziers were isolated, and by 1568 they had been literally swallowed up by the papist majority. Finally, in the extreme western part of Languedoc, the large city of Toulouse was represented by fewer refugees at Geneva in c. 1550 than the tiny Norman town of Coutances, which was also much further away. The Huguenot party of Toulouse was, for its part, easily crushed in the Spring of 1562 by far superior Catholic forces led by Parlement, nobility and regular troops, who upended the booksellers’ stalls and threw their wares into the street. Therefore, an analysis by region throws us back to the privileged area of the sixteenth-century ‘enlightenment’ regarding linguistic knowledge and religious innovations. It leads us back, in short, to the great Rhóne-Cévennes-Languedoc triangle. There, we can assess the hold of early Calvinism on the peasant masses in the context of the cultural and social cross-currents of the day. The Reformation and the civil and religious wars made manifest contrasts intensified by the social and economic pressures of the century. To understand this in detail, we need to consider the evidence from individual cities, towns and villages and their very different degrees of receptivity to the new ideas of the Protestant Reformation.

In brief, the three different milieus or sociocultural classes were the dominant class; landowners, merchants and office-holders; secondly, the artisan class, particularly the cloth workers; and finally, the peasants and farmers. They correspond, in other terms, to the service and direction of society (the tertiary sector), activities of transformation (the secondary sector) and to the crude production of the soil (the primary industry). We need to examine how the different milieus, especially the peasant milieu, reacted to each other and responded to the cultural shock produced by the Calvinist revolution.

Huguenot Carders and Papist Peasants:

Ladurie found his primary source of evidence regarding the growth of Calvinism in a document called the Roll of those present at the Calvinist assemblies. Compiled by the Catholic authorities at Montpellier in November 1550, it supplies the names of 817 individuals and indicates the professions of 561. It was not simply a sample but constituted a census of the Protestant population. At the top of the list of pioneering Huguenots were members of the artisan classes, by far the largest contingent, represented by 132 textile workers. Of these, forty-two were wool carders who were the active ‘leaven’ of the Reformation. A Catholic chronicler characterised the ‘sticky-handed’ carders with penetrating hatred:

The first Calvinist rubbish succeeded little by little in infecting with that doctrine certain tradesmen, chiefly wool carders and tenterers (‘drapeurs-drapans’) encountered in the wineshops, who drunkenly memorised the words and music of Béze and Marot and popularised that new air, ‘Lighten thine heart and open thine ears, …’

Quoted in Ladurie, p. 158.

After the forty-two carders, among the Huguenots in the textile trades, came forty-one tailors or hosiers, twenty-five weavers, five ropemakers, five milliners, nine cloth-shearers and four dyers as well as cotton-spinners, dressmakers, tapestry-makers, canabassiers (hemp weavers), hatters and so on. Next in order came the leather trades (which played the role of catalyst among the Huguenot peasantry of the Cévennes). These accounted for fifty-eight names on the Calvinist list of 1560, thirty-three of whom were cobblers and the rest harness makers, curriers, blanquiers (tawers), glovers, furriers and saddlers. Finally, the metal trades – blacksmiths and cutters – contributed forty-five Huguenots to the list. If the other trades are included, 387 craftsmen or shopkeepers among the 561 Huguenots counted in 1560. It was a classic structure; the perennial sans-culotte dissent of the old urban centres was sometimes heretical, at other times revolutionary, but always recruited at the market stalls and workshops. Thus, the artisan contingent were the foot soldiers of the movement. The Huguenot leadership in 1560 came from the bourgeois intelligentsia and the petit-bourgeoisie, broadly represented at the assemblies of that year. Huguenots were distributed among the advocates, notaries, apothecaries, registrars, solicitors, bailiffs, and clerks from the medical and legal professions. These learned professions contributed eighty-seven individuals to those listed in 1560, or fifteen per cent of all the Huguenots whose occupations are known, a higher proportion, without a doubt, more than in the whole population. The twenty-four merchants listed, and the nobles and the bourgeois of the Saint-Firmin quarter also sent a few dozen delegates to the Calvinist assemblies. More than one Morano notable was present among these rich Huguenots, his complex soul prone to multiple abjurations. Then, in about 1560, old Catelan came out simultaneously, oblivious to the contradictions, in favour of Jewish circumcision, the Catholic cult of the Virgin, and adherence to Calvinist assemblies!

The religious behaviour of peasants and farm labourers from Montpellier, who constituted a fifth of the population, who were even more numerous on the outskirts of the town and in the poorer quarters, set them apart from the urban classes, especially from the artisans. In around 1560, the latter were sympathetic to the Protestant Reformation almost to a man, whereas the peasant masses, on the contrary, remained refractory and often hostile to it. Examining the 1560 list of Protestants and their occupations, the number of peasants and farm labourers was insignificant. If they had been won over to the Reformation in the same proportion as the other social groups, there would have been well over a hundred of them, perhaps as many as a hundred and twenty, among the 561 Huguenots of known occupation. However, Ladurie counted only twenty-seven ‘cultivators’ – i.e. peasants or day labourers – listed, less than five per cent of the total. These included tenants of the big farms on the plain – wealthy, enlightened entrepreneurs who came the closest, in the rural milieu, to sharing the townsman’s way of thinking. But such avant-garde peasants were still the exception, a drop in the ocean of rural conservatism. The rural proletariat, for its part, remained practically impervious to the Protestant Reformation. Only two travailleurs de terre were listed among the 817 Huguenots of 1560. In these ways, the ideological choices were radically divergent. In the same town, within the same community, there was a complete divorce between the agricultural element on the one hand and the artisan, intellectual, and bourgeois elements on the other. At Béziers, too, these different structures were fully operative. From a social point of view, the Reformation remained circumscribed to the urban and artisan classes from which it sprang. It did not migrate and did not spill over into the peasant masses, who remained steadfast in their Catholic beliefs.

The statistics were confirmed by popular demonstrations. In 1561 the peasants of Montpellier proclaimed these beliefs as a body in opposition to the Calvinist citizenry of a working-class or bourgeois stamp. On the 4th and 11th of May, “the cultivators of the land” and their wives formed processions from the city’s poorer quarters, placing their daughters, whose loosened hair fell to their shoulders (le poil descouvert et pendant), in the front ranks. The rustics were ostensibly distributing the holy bread, but under their cloaks were hidden daggers and sacks of stones reserved for the Huguenots. A Calvinist historian also reported drunks and prostitutes among the crowd, all demanding the mass and the dance and were crying, “we shall dance despite the Huguenots.” They wanted to celebrate the popular May rites, the ancient Maias of medieval Languedoc folklore, featuring the “Feast of the Ass,” burlesque singing, ribald jokes, dances, flowers and masquerades. The Huguenots, in their puritanical zeal, had forbidden these festivities and outlawed public dancing. For the peasants of Montpellier, the sense of their revolt was clear. It irritated Calvin in his Genevan letters. Two worlds and two cultures literally came face to face. On one side was an agrarian society, lodged in the city like some foreign body, holding to the old Catholic devotions, and demanding in its life of poverty and squalor, the right to allow the instincts free reign in dancing and joi de vivre on the traditional feast days. On the other was the urban artisan class, Huguenot in faith and already extolling a worldly asceticism, that ethic of self-denial which, thanks to Calvin and the later Puritans and Jansenists, would little by little come to be accepted as a norm by the petit bourgeoisie of modern times, suppressing and sublimating their more primitive instincts.

Between town and country, and especially between peasants and artisans, religious differences from the beginning reveal a cultural and moral opposition which is immediately evident in the literacy statistics. As to method: in the records of the sixteenth-century notaries, it is possible to distinguish between three major categories of signatures. First, there are the authentic signatures, fully spelt out. Sometimes they are fluent, cursive, with a modern flourish. Sometimes they are halting, composed of lowercase letters detached from one another. In extreme cases, they are disjointed capitals, awkwardly juxtaposed; for example, I. VESI (Jean Voisin). There is no question that these variants are all genuine signatures furnishing men’s names in their complete form. In the second, more primitive category, the signature consists of a person’s initials, either in uppercase capital letters, typically separated, joined, combined in a ‘mark’ or reduced to a single initial. The third category was a simple mark in the form of a sign, evidence of complete illiteracy. It might be geometric in shape or a ‘trade mark’; for example, an artisan might make his mark with a hammer, while a peasant might make a conical ploughshare (reille) or a rake. The mark was often a cross or, at the lowest level, a meaningless scrawl or blot of ink. Three degrees, then – simple signs, initials and proper signatures – marked the transition from complete illiteracy to an elementary level of culture. At Montpellier, between 1570-75, the notaries began to register personal signatures, which were then affixed to their deeds in meaningful constellations.

Stonemasons often belonged to the untutored category; the carders, for the most part, belonged to the group of literate artisans who signed their full names. They were particularly receptive to heresy, one of the fruits of education. The peasants, by contrast, seemed as allergic to culture as they were to the Reformation and the rudiments of lay learning as they were to the revival of sacred knowledge. These trends were fully confirmed by ecclesiastical estate records. From 1570, all the parties to the canons’ contracts signed their names or affixed their marks. These documents are full of agricultural proletarians, who were much more numerous than they were among the clientele of the notaries. In the town of Narbonne, nine out of ten rural proletarians were still spiritual strangers to the civilisations of the written word, strangers to the prestige and profits it wrought, and strangers, too, to the new ideas generated in the sixteenth century by the return to the religion of the scriptures. Between 1550 and 1600, the countryside fiercely rejected the written word.

Among the artisan guilds, the most enlightened were those of the butchers and apothecaries, which were very close to the bourgeoisie. But the innkeepers, the tailors, the carders, and the textile tradesmen also included men with schooling. In the geographical distribution of signatures in the building trades, the opposition between town and country is repeated. The same was true of the metal trades: the illiterate village blacksmith made a sign of a hammer as opposed to a whole intellectual élite of urban coppersmiths, martinayres (‘hammermen’), espaziers (‘swordmakers’), pewterers and halberd-makers who signed their full names with a flourish. A receptivity to culture and a desire to acquire it set the active artisans of the urban societies far above the backward peasantry. It linked them to the bourgeoisie and the merchants, the best-educated group of all, who was ninety-eight per cent literate. This distinguished the towns from the countryside in the hearts of the ancient cities themselves. On the other hand, schoolmasters were relatively rare in rural areas, and classes had to be paid for. Only a tiny minority of cultivators and even fewer farmworkers regularly sent their children to school. The others abstained, either for lack of money or lack of ambition. Cultural poverty was therefore connected to material poverty. The urban environment, on the other hand, with its accumulation of wealth, provided profit opportunities, a desire for gain and a craving for culture. The growing towns and cities of prosperous artisans and merchants provided Calvinism and its offshoots with their natural social base.

Town v Country in the Cévennes:

The opposition between town and country often constituted a decisive and lasting obstacle to the spread of the Reformation. This was true at Béziers and Montpellier in 1560 and again in 1590-1600. Still, the barrier was not necessarily insurmountable. It represented only a first ‘moment’ or stage in spreading ideas. In certain regions, it was transcended when the Huguenots of the small towns, the Calvinist artisans, finally broke through the peasant milieu and succeeded in swinging the rural masses into the Protestant camp. This is what happened in the Cévennes, such an unlikely case that the ‘deputy’ leader of Calvinism in Geneva, Théodore Béza himself, marvelled at it in relating the evangelisation of the region during the reign of Henry II:

It was at this time that the natives of the mountains of Cévennes (a harsh, inhospitable country if ever there was one in France, and that would seem the least capable of receiving the Gospel on account of the rudeness of spirit of the inhabitants), nevertheless received the Truth with marvellous ardour…

“Almost all the common people”, he wrote, eventually embraced Calvinism. In fact, the common people of the Cévennes, artisans and peasants as one, manifested such great zeal in felling crosses and burning idols that in 1561 Calvin himself had to censure these mountain Huguenots, who were too revolutionary for his taste. Itinerant ministers had become a familiar sight in the valleys of the Gardons by 1560, but not because of an ancient heretical tradition, a sort of leaven for the new heresies. Neither the Catharist nor the Waldensian movements played an essential role in the mountain valleys of the Cévennes in the Middle Ages. However, the Waldensians of the Durance did play a significant role, in about 1530, as a ‘relay’ in the direction of the Cévennes. The conversion of the area itself in the 1560s was primarily the conversion of the artisans, who were more influential and more numerous there than elsewhere. The social structure worked in favour of a process of osmosis with the peasant world. The craftsmen, especially the leather workers, planted the seeds of the Huguenot Reformation in the very heart of the countryside.

Turning to the lists of refugees at Geneva in 1549-60, Ladurie found that many of these were craftsmen, with shoemakers being in the lead. Among the exiles from Nímes, Annonay, and Aubenas, situated at the mouths of the valleys of the Cévennes, the cobblers were already the largest of the Huguenot trades. But it was at the heads of these valleys that hosted the heart of the Calvinist cause, in the regions of Alés and Vigan, which would later become Camisard redoubts. Here, the leather trades, especially the cobblers, were the most numerous; in 1549-60, they represented most of the local exiles at Geneva. Out of forty-seven refugees from the Cévennes whose occupations are known – alongside weavers, hosiers, peasants, doctors, booksellers and bakers – twenty-four were members of the leather trades (of whom twenty-two were cobblers), equal to just over half the total.

This phenomenon was peculiar to that triangle of Calvinist highlands formed by Mene, Alés and Ganges and is encountered nowhere else. Artisans and cobblers, the irreplaceable auxiliaries of the Calvinist ministers, helped sow the seeds of Reformation in the remote villages of the Cévennes, conferring particular importance on the rural and semi-rural artisan class. If the Huguenot artisans and cobblers were especially numerous in the first emigration from the Cévennes, 1549-60, it was simply because they formed an active, compact group amid a mountain population with roots deep in the soil. Ladurie examined the occupational structure of Ganges, a large village of the Cévennes already secretly Calvinist. It was a centre of industry where nearly half of the notaries’ clientele were artisans engaged in the principal trades of transformation – leather, textiles, wood and iron. The leather traders – tanners and cobblers – were at the head of this group with twenty-four per cent, followed by textiles – carders, drapers, weavers and tailors – constituting nearly twenty per cent. Ironworkers and woodworkers accounted for just five per cent. This compact artisan group was clearly dominated by an aristocracy of tanners, Calvinist businessmen with fine Old Testament names who little by little gained control of the hide and leather market from the mountains to the coast. Their seventeenth-century successors, rich carriers with fortunes, would send their sons to Paris to study, the supreme mark of social distinction. By the generation of 1560, the influence of the craftsmen of the Ganges over the farm labourers of the outskirts and the peasants of the large tenant farms appears to have been decisive in their conversion to Calvinism. In 1580, only four Catholic families were left in a community numbering five hundred hearths. Therefore, it is not surprising that the social structure of the Genevan exiles mirrors in exaggerated form the social structure of the Cévennes towns and villages. In many of these towns and villages in the mid-sixteenth century, a revolutionary artisan class held almost undisputed ideological sway over the surrounding peasant masses.

In this way, Ladurie maintains that a ‘social circuit’ was put into effect by Calvinist ideas spreading rapidly from Geneva to Lyons to Languedoc, carried by the ministers, students, Bible peddlers and mule drivers of the Rhóne. They penetrated the workshops of weavers and wool carders:

In the Cévennes, where the cobblers read their Bibles at their benches, they germinated amid the filth of the work stalls and the stench of the tanneries and in the shops, too, whence once there issued cries of “There goes Jean Blanc” when a priest passed by bearing the Host.

Ladurie, p 167.

In the towns subjacent to the Cévennes, in 1561, the mass of the citizen peasantry was also ‘contaminated’, though those to the west, in Provence, remained decidedly hostile to Calvinism. A further stage remained: the integral permeation of the peasantry as a whole. At the end of its course, the Huguenot Reformation had reached the gates of the big farmsteads of the Cévennes. In the sixteenth century, when the demographic expansion was just underway and had not yet led to its dismemberment, a farmstead still consisted of a single unit, an isolated farmstead, inhabited by an extended family or ‘clan’ – fréreche – bearing the same name. By 1560, many of these family farmsteads adhered, en bloc, “to the true Religion, reformed according to the Word of God and the Holy Gospel.” They refused to pay tithes to priors when they came to collect, telling them that they would pay the tithe to the people of the Holy Gospel and not to priors from whom one has never received… an edifying doctrine. By these ways and means, the Reformation, propagated at the start by the democratic artisan class of the towns, infiltrated itself in its final phase into the authoritarian and patriarchal structures of the outer Cévennes and the valleys below.

Something of the sort also occurred on the great estates in the mountains. By 1555 Calvinist farm managers were putting pressure on their dependents to adopt the reformed faith. In default of decent wages, the paterfamilias attended, without illusions, to his people’s salvation. Bible in hand, he exhorted them “to fear God, to practice virtue, to avoid vice.” By force of homilies and hard bread, he inculcated the bourgeois thrift and worldly asceticism that led to social advancement. Olivier de Serres, himself a Huguenot estate manager, painted a cruel portrait of the Calvinist gentlemen farmer in the Vivarais region of the Cévennes during the period 1560-1600 in a chapter of his Théatre d’agriculture. Published between 1600 and 1675, the nineteen editions acquainted the rest of France with the astonishing ‘model’ of a farmer-entrepreneur initiated, thanks to the Huguenot ethic, to the earliest spirit of capitalism. In the Calvinist Cévennes, both among the artisan classes of the towns, and the farming, wine-growing democracies of the outskirts, the peasant or capitalistic oligarchies of the isolated farmsteads, and the rural proletariat, the conquest of souls by physical pressure or persuasion was already completed by about 1570-90. By the close of the century, there remained no more than one or two Catholic families in many parishes. Peasant characteristics were themselves affected by these mass conversions. In communities like the village of Ganges (1570-1600), ministers and elders organised the policing of morals in a pitiless manner (in imitation of Calvin’s Geneva), with informers, fines, admonitions, and humiliating public confessions and reparations. The ‘consistories’ posted spies on the ramparts and poked into gardens, barnyards and even private chambers. In the deliberations of these consistories, the same monotonous denunciations were endlessly repeated:

A certain man had “debauched, fornicated, slept in the bed” of a certain woman. … The “village whores” were set upon. The mass, dancing, laughter, bowling and card playing, too long or too intimate betrothals, the debaucheries of serving-girls, abortion, … prenuptual pregnancies, and gypsy witchcraft all were proscribed without distinction, warily in the case of nobles, savagely in the case of the rural populace. Only usury and human exploitation – both flourishing in the Cévennes at the close of the century – were spared the thunderbolts of the consistory. Not once in fifteen years did the consistory of Ganges censure a userer, a tanner entrepreneur, or a farm manager for being too greedy with his debtors or workers.

Ladurie, pp. 170-71.

Of course, the social theories of Calvinism across early modern Europe have been the subject of much debate among historians, but its practice in the South of France around 1590 leaves little room for doubt. It was the formal restriction of pleasure and the tacit tolerance of usury; it was asceticism by proclamation, the creation of a new kind of proto-capitalist man with a remodelled ‘puritan’ personality:

A new man had emerged from the Huguenot crucible; his religion was purged of magical rites, his libido was repressed, and he was a believer in bourgeois thrift and Christian liberty.

Ladurie, p. 171.
Fanatics of the Cévennes & Effects of the Revocation in the South:

By the end of the seventeenth century, the destiny of Mediterranean France had become bound up with that of the country as a whole. Economically, it was an essential source of fruit, olive oil, wine, textiles and taxes, and a builder of ships for royal wars. The ‘Midi’ was drained of funds and, at the same time, kept firmly in line by the increasingly centralised State and absolutist rule of Louis XIV. When restless Marseilles dared to set up a rebel council in 1658, the ‘Sun King’ turned the town’s cannons on itself and built an additional fort primarily to keep an eye on its unruly citizens. The port of Toulon was expanded and turned into the main base of the Mediterranean fleet, busy waging war against the Spanish. Louis’ military architect Vauban added his characteristic star-shaped coastal defences to Toulon and Antibes.

After 1680, with the economy collapsing and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes drawing near, the revolts changes sides and significance. Henceforth, the regions with Catholic majorities remained calm for the most part. Brittany was quiescent after 1675, Bordeaux after 1676, and the area of Boulogne after 1663. This prudent behaviour was to continue, despite difficult times, up to the end of Louis XIV’s reign. In Languedoc, the leading role passed from one mountain range to the next – from the papist Vivarais to the Huguenot Cévennes. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 threw France into further religious and civil strife. In the South, it led to renewed massacres of Protestants in Nímes and Arles; Protestant churches were demolished, and schools closed. The main effect was to deprive Nímes and Uzés of their industrious Huguenot manufacturers, who joined the streams of refugees and emigrated in their thousands. A few converted and stayed on to make silk and the blue linen ‘de Nímes’ that the transatlantic merchants and traders called ‘denim’. With fifty thousand inhabitants, Nímes had become one of the great manufacturing towns of France by the end of the seventeenth century. The Catholic petty-bourgeois of Nímes knew that the suppression of Protestantism contributed to their own ruin and that of their native city on account of the exodus of the moneyed Huguenots and the flight of capital. But they were, above all else, faithful believers. For that reason, they were captivated by the act of the ‘divine right’ king and the mass ‘recantation’ of the Huguenot communities (which they knew, however, was insincere). One of them, a notary named Borrély, remarked in his private journal that:

Whatever people say, there is something of divine miracle in this. … The distress is great, but our great king has so many affairs to handle it is proper to make a sacrifice.”

Ladurie, p. 270.

He wrote this at a time when a Protestant coalition was threatening in 1689 when he had to hand over his share of the six million in taxes for the region. He became an exemplary taxpayer whose mind was on anything but revolt. French Catholicism had been restive, but everything suggests that the Catholics returned to the ranks in 1685, dazzled by the Revocation. The natural counterpart to growing Catholic moderation was the Huguenot uprisings. The Protestants had remained calm throughout the century, but they became bellicose again at its close for obvious reasons. The Protestant peasants, like everybody else, suffered from the economic depression, the depression of trade, so deadly in the Cévennes, and the epidemics. In 1685, the year of the Revocation, the Hautes-Cévannes were short of chestnuts and wheat, and people were forced to subsist on acorns and grass. For the Huguenots, these misfortunes were aggravated by religious oppression. This particular oppression was, from the beginning, far more than just an affair of state. It also incarnated the spirit of revenge of a Languedocian church, enriched, up to the time of Colbert, by the increase of tithe income.

The persecution of the Huguenots had been encouraged and orchestrated from Versailles, but it was directed on the spot by the powerful bishops’ ‘lobby’ that turned the provincial assembly into a war machine against the Calvinists. The Estates of Languedoc, between 1661 and 1680, multiplied anti-Protestant pressures and measures; Protestant ‘consuls’ were hounded from the fiscal assemblies of the civil dioceses and they demanded ‘that one smash the head and tear out the heart’ of the Huguenot monster by expelling the last of the Protestants from the city of Privas; they commanded that the city consuls and professional syndics be wholly Catholic; they petitioned the king, successfully, to absorb the ‘chamber of the Edict’, the last judicial saviour of the Calvinists into the comprehensively Catholic Parlement of Toulouse; they demanded the suppression of the Protestant academy, already transferred to Pulyaurens; they succeeded in having several temples razed to the ground; they harassed the ministers; finally, with the Revocation and the destruction of heresy, they voted, as a mark of their gratitude to the king, the erection of an equestrian statue weighing 450 hundredweight.

The Huguenots, then, were face-to-face with a concerted campaign of unlimited oppression engineered by the central authorities and the local clergy, by the intendant and the Estates, and by the royal administration and the hierarchical society of the three orders embodied in the provincial assembly. Impoverished to the same extent as the papists by the crisis and the taxes and tormented by the tithe they were forced to pay, whereas the Catholic peasants had by now resigned themselves to this particular charge, heavy though it was. They were, in addition, the target of a unique campaign aimed at eradicating Calvinism. In the Huguenot Cévennes, the reformed religion represented the total culture of the region, so the policy of eradicating it was comparable to an act of genocide. As was done in 1685, to destroy the religion was to compromise the culture since it meant seriously disturbing the population’s psychic and emotional equilibrium and daily life. The all-embracing character of Calvinism in the Cévennes was so complete that it succeeded in entirely uprooting the ancient folklore, something unique in France. In that region, it was no longer possible to hear the old songs, some of which were older than the advent of the Huguenot religion. They disappeared in favour of the psalms that the older people sang to babies in their cradles. The psalter of Marot and Théodore Béza was the local source of a second culture, popular and musical in nature. By 1659, in towns with many Calvinists, the resounding strains of Marot’s psalms were heard in the mouths of artisans and, in the country districts, in the mouths of the peasants, whereas the Catholics remained mute or sang only ribald drinking songs.

The French langue d’oil culture itself penetrated the langue d’oc region of the Cévennes in the seventeenth century from the peasant’s earliest childhood, almost exclusively through the agency of the Bible and the Protestant texts, The ABC of Christians, Catechisms of Calvin and Béza, and Mirror of Youth, which children had to learn by heart. It was a strange land where French, in contrast to the maternal langue d’oc was regarded almost as the holy tongue and, in extreme cases, as proof of divine inspiration. The religious mystics of the Cévennes, when they spoke en langues – that is, in a foreign language under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – expressed themselves fluently in French, to the amazement of the dialect-speaking populace. In a milieu such as this, the Revocation and the subsequent attempt to uproot Protestantism entirely – its teachings, preachings, psalms and Bibles – amounted to an enforced “deculturation.” The traumatisation of a people deprived of its ministers, pastors and elders, tormented by a sense of guilt (for having accepted the Revocation and temporarily repudiated its faith), and oppressed, into the bargain, by hard times and taxes was so severe that it engendered authentic, documented cases of anxiety, neurosis and even hysteria, which eventually turned into bloody fanaticism. All of these effects stupefied the authorities.

The Huguenot riposte began in 1688-89 and culminated with the Camisards. This was more than a purely religious struggle from the start, for it was also accompanied by certain political and social overtones. The programme of Miremont, the rebel marquis who anticipated the insurrection of the Cévennes as early as 1689, aimed to exploit not only the Protestants’ despair but also the universal discontent of subjects of both faiths, the classic antitax reflex. He demanded the abolition of stamped paper and intolerable taxes and the destruction of customs bureaus and tax offices. In this, he summed up all the recriminations, at the same time liberal and retrograde, formulated the same year in a pro-Huguenot pamphlet:

The splendour of the nobility has been tarnished, the authority of Parlements cast down, the Three Estates abolished…

Sighs of an Enslaved France.

It was a popular programme with the Protestants, despite its reactionary features, because it vindicated the ancient right of revolt against tyranny. In the Calvinist songs of the Gévaudan, by 1686, the pope was a rogue, but Louis XIV was a tyrant. Still, it was not Miremont but Jurieu whose vigorous thought would animate the rebellions of Languedoc. He too dwelt on political themes. In his Pastoral Letters, he accepted a social contract, a right of peoples over kings, and a legitimate recourse to insurrection. But Jurieu was in no sense a modern thinker, but rather the repository of a very ancient message, in continuity with the millenarians of the Middle Ages and the Radical Reformation like Thomas Muntzer. The revolt of the Camisards (1702) revealed how profoundly the rebels, almost all of whom were peasants and village artisans, were imbued with this millenarian mentality. In the fall of 1702, the Abbot de La Pize, the Prior to Saint-Martin-de-Bobaux, received the visit of a band of Camisards who reproached him for “remaining in a Church which is Babylon and the prostitute described by Saint John in the Apocalypse.” They felled him with three musket shots in the stomach and finished him off with their swords. While their brother fanatics of English-speaking Protestantism, most notably the Quakers, were generally pacifistic and nonviolent, the Camisard convulsionaries of the Cévannes saw themselves as heralds of war, not peace. But while the Huguenot villagers listened to their prophets, they were also stirred up by the widespread opposition to the new and detestable poll tax, which oppressed a countryside already impoverished by an economic depression. In October 1702 and again in June 1703, the bishop of Alés, spiritual head of the Cévannes diocese, wrote to the minister of war to express his view that:

The capitation is as much involved as religion in their seditious enterprises … It is certain that the people have been extremely agitated for several days… to the point that in several localities of the Vivaries they have refused to pay the capitation.”

Ladurie, p. 285.

These antitax strikes unquestionably had had important consequences. In 1703, seventy per cent of the poll tax was still unpaid, and some enormous sums of accumulated back taxes were owed until the end of the Huguenot uprising in 1705. The insurrection in the Cévennes, the last of the Ancién Régime before 1789, marks the end of the era of religious and civil wars in France. The Camisard uprising revealed itself as the outcome of a peculiar yet potent mixture of prophetic neurosis and antitax ferment. It was an insurrection engendered by an impoverished society and traumatised by the Revocation and the systematic and brutal deculturation. However, following the Huguenot uprising, the remaining Protestants, above all those in the Cévennes, were still subject to petty persecution, but less and less to outright persecution at the hands of the authorities. They were cured of their fanaticism and could devote themselves wholeheartedly to business in conformity with their ancient and profitable vocation of secular asceticism.

Conclusion –
The Decline of Huguenot Culture & End of the Great Agrarian Cycle:

In the domain of religious oppression, the natives of the Cévennes, during the Camisard insurrection, departed from the original, singular rationale of the revolt. They did not confine themselves to advocating freedom of conscience or even to simple Protestant proselytising but adopted, as a line of conduct, the hysterical trance inspired by the convulsions of the visionaries and the imminence of the Second Coming. Such behaviour was highly appreciated and, wherever possible, imitated by the Camisards’ Protestant contemporaries but was considered aberrant and neurotic among devout Catholic nationalists. These forms of behaviour encountered during popular revolts and the emotions which underlay them disclosed the existence of exceptionally well characterised anxieties, impulses, and fantasies, expressed in what Ladurie called a symbolic language of frightening obviousness. He refers to the role in peasant societies of the symptoms of hysterical ‘conversion’, a deep-seated ethnological neurosis of traditional institutions. Thanks to these symptoms, he argued, Huguenot ethics produced profound psychological motivations conformed to the social structure and the basic demographic facts of that age. Materially impoverished and sexually repressed, traditional society at the end of the seventeenth century, at least as far as the popular classes were concerned, seems to have been characterised by a series of frustrations and deficiencies which mutually reinforced and conditioned one another. The material aspects of the great agrarian cycle were inseparable from its cultural aspects. One sustained and fortified the other. With the unique Huguenot contribution much diminished by the end of Louis XIV’s reign, society, population, and the economy lacked the progressive technology of proper growth. They also lacked the conscience, culture, morals, politics, education, the reformist spirit, and the unfettered longing for success which would have stimulated technological initiative and the spirit of enterprise, permitting an economic ‘revolution’.


Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (1974, ’76), The Peasants of Languedoc. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Denys Cook (1980), Documents and Debates: Sixteenth-Century England. Basingstoke: MacMillan Education.

Gary Martin Best (1982), Documents and Debates: Seventeenth-Century Europe. Basingstoke: MacMillan Education.

George A. Taylor & J. A. Morris (c. 1936), A Sketch-Map History of Britain and Europe. London: Harrap & Co.

E. N. Williams (1980): Dictionary of English & European History, 1485-1789. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

András Bereznay, et al. (2002), The Times History of Europe: Three Thousand Years of History in Maps. London: Harper Collins.

A History of Provence & Languedoc from Roman Times to the 1550s:

By BCE 118, The Roman Empire controlled the whole Mediterranean coast westwards to the Pyrenees and a large swathe of its hinterland. The Romans subdued the region by colonisation: vast numbers of settlers were attracted to it by the promise of free land. The Celtic town at Vaison-la-Romaine (‘Romans’ on the map below) became a semi-autonomous federated city. Narbonne, further west, became the capital of Gallia Narbonensis, also known, more simply, as ‘Provincia’. After 115 BCE, the Celtic tribe of the Cimbri and the Germanic Teutons mounted a series of raids on Provence, culminating in a humiliating defeat for the Romans at Orange in BCE 105. Under the Pax Romana, Gallia Narbonensis became a model province. Provence became a significant supplier of grain, olive oil and ships for the ever-hungry empire. Therefore, it was treated more like an extension of the motherland than a colonial outpost. The aqueducts, baths, amphitheatres and temples that serviced fine cities such as Aix, Arles, Nímes, Orange and Glanum (St Rémy) often surpassed those of similar-sized Italian towns. Further east they constructed the major part of Fréjus (probable birthplace of the Roman historian Tacitus), Cemenelum (Nice) and a ring of fortified settlements in what is now the eastern Var. Even after Julius Caesar had subdued the rest of Gaul in the Gallic Wars (58-51 BCE), this remained the most treasure of the empire’s transalpine possessions.

Marseilles was eclipsed after engaging with Pompey against Caesar in the Civil Wars. Besieged in 49BC, its possessions were transferred to Arles, Fréjus and Narbonne, though it continued to be a centre of scholarship. Gallia Narbonensis is now thought by some Biblical scholars to be the ‘Galatia’ referred to by Paul in his letter to the churches of Galatia, the second letter to Timothy and in the Acts of the Apostles. In his recent (2018) biography of Paul, Tom Wright suggests that it was a possible sojourn for the apostle himself on his way to northern Spain and ‘the furthest reaches of the west’ towards the end of his mission and his life in circa 58-60 AD. Emperor Antonius Pius (AD 138-161) reinforced the imperial connection with Provence and with Provence, whose family were from Nímes. In the fourth century, Arles became a favoured residence of Emperor Constantine. In the following century, the Christian community came into the open with the foundation of the monasteries of St-Honorat on the Iles des Lérins and St-Victor in Marseilles. The latter was the centre of a monastic diaspora that gave the South a generous sprinkling of abbeys from Le Barben to Castellane, ensuring the land was worked even during times of crisis. However, the monks could be as tyrannical in exploiting the peasantry as any feudal landlord.

In Nímes, on the Rhóne Delta. Encircled by two tiers of sixty stone arcades, this Roman arena of perfect classical proportions, smaller than the one at Arles but better preserved. There are little carvings of Romulus and Remus on the exterior, wresting gladiators and two bulls’ heads over the main entrance. After the departure of the Romans, the amphitheatre was made into a fortress, and by the Middle Ages, it was a vast tenement block.

When the Roman Empire finally fell apart in 476, the bishoprics maintained some semblance of order in the face of invasions by the Goths. However, the Franks finally gained the upper hand but also looked north rather than South, and the Meditteranean trade that had sustained Arles and Marseilles gradually dried up. The three-way partition of the Carolingian Empire between the sons of Louis I in the Treaty of Verdun in 843 made the Rhóne a frontier and provided the basis for the later division between Provence and Languedoc. In 931, the Kingdom of Provence, one of the many fragments of Charlemagne’s empire, was allied with Burgundy. Over the next two centuries, imperial rule gave way to out-and-out feudalism, with its local landlords using brute force and taxes to subdue the territory around their castle strongholds. Arles also became a kingdom under its Count, confirming its power as part of the Holy Roman Empire. From the end of the eleventh century, more efficient agriculture, the revival of trade and the rise of guilds provided the money for the construction of new religious foundations, such as the magnificent abbey of St-Gilles in the Camargue, with its richly-carved facade and the restoration and embellishment of St-Trophime in Arles. A more sober, pared-back style of Romanesque also evolved in the twelfth century at the tremendous Cistercian foundations of Silvacane, Senanque and Thoronet. In 1113, the title of Count of Provence passed to the House of Barcelona when the local line died out. However, the larger cities asserted their independence, setting up local governments known as Consulates.

Barcelona’s sway over Mediterranean France was helped along by language. Provencal, the eastern dialect of Occitan or langue d’Oc, was a close cousin of Catalan. Out of the apparent anarchy and the frequent shifts in the balance of power among the warring seigneuries, a distinctive local culture emerged, reaching its fullest expression in the poetry and ballads of the troubadours, the itinerant love poets. In 1246, through marriage, Provence came under Angevin rule, and the Anjou princes ruled for two and a half centuries, bringing a new degree of stability and making Aix their administrative capital. Louis II of Anjou, however, founded the university there in 1409 and in 1442, ‘good’ King René of Anjou established his court at Aix and built a lavishly furnished cháteau at Tarascon (pictured below). The reign of the poet-king was longer and more stable than most, and he encouraged an artistic revival in his court. The last local warlords, the Baux family, retreated to Orange, beginning a dynastic chain that led to the House of Orange becoming the rulers of Protestant Holland in the sixteenth century. Charles du Maine, René’s nephew, survived his uncle by only a year, dying without an heir in 1481. He bequeathed Anjou, Maine and Provence (excluding Savoy, Monaco and the Comtat Venaissin) to King Louis XI of France. Not only Provence but also Roussillon, Burgundy, Lorraine and parts of northern Italy came under the sway of the French monarchy.

Tarascon is dominated by its great white-walled fifteenth century Cháteau, the favourite of ‘Good’ (as in good-living) King René, with its ornately carved grand courtyard. The castle was lavishly decorated with spiral staircases, painted ceilings, and tapestries. to satisfy the king’s love of material comforts

After trying strong-arm tactics for the first three years, the French monarchy decided to allow Provence at least, for the time being, a semblance of autonomy, with the Act of Union (1486) granting a considerable measure of it within the French state. A Parlement was established at Aix in 1501, but there were still several autonomous ‘pockets’, most notably Marseilles, which stoutly defended its republican traditions. Francis I subdued the city and used the Marseilles shipyards in his Italian wars against his arch-enemy, the Holy Roman Emperor. Charles V replied by besieging the city in 1523. He added fortifications on the Ile de Porquerolles and at St-Paul-de-Vence, where they survive intact to this day.


Bluebirds Soar High – 1921–22 Cardiff City F.C. season

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1921–22 season
ChairmanJohn Pritchard
(until November 1921)
Walter Emspall
ManagerFred Stewart
Division One4th
FA CupFourth round
Welsh CupWinners
Top goalscorerLeague: Jimmy Gill (20)
All: Len Davies (30)
Highest home attendance50,000 vs. Tottenham Hotspur (27 August 1921)
Lowest home attendance15,000 vs. Sheffield United (26 April 1922)
Average home league attendance27,500

The 1921–22 season was the 21st season[nb 1] of competitive football played by Cardiff City F.C. and the team’s first in the First Division of The Football League. Cardiff had won promotion the previous season by finishing as runners-up in the Second Division, becoming the first Welsh team to reach the top tier of English football.

Cardiff had a difficult start to the season, losing the first six matches of the campaign. They eventually saw results improve and finished in fourth place. The club entered the FA Cup in the first round and progressed to the fourth, before being defeated by Tottenham Hotspur after a replay. Cardiff went on to win the Welsh Cup for the third time in the club’s history after defeating Ton Pentre 2–0 in the final, having scored seventeen goals and conceded only one during their cup run.

During the season, 31 players made at least one appearance for the club. Billy Grimshaw played in more games than any other player, featuring in 47 matches in all competitions. Len Davies finished the season as the side’s highest goalscorer with 30 in all competitions, a new club record. His tally of seventeen in the First Division was three short of Jimmy Gill but fourteen in cup matches, including eight in four appearances in the Welsh Cup, saw him outscore his teammate. The highest attendance recorded at Ninian Park was 51,000 for the FA Cup fourth-round tie against Tottenham. The league fixture against Tottenham recorded an attendance of 50,000 although an extra 6,000–10,000 were estimated to have broken into the ground after turnstiles were closed. The average league attendance during the season was 27,500.

Background and pre-season:

A postcard published by the Western Mail of the Cardiff team that reached the FA Cup semi-final the previous season

During the 1920–21 season, Cardiff City FC was elected into the Second Division of The Football League having spent the previous decade playing in the Southern Football League. In the side’s first season in the Second Division, they finished as runners-up behind Birmingham on goal average, a tiebreak formula whereby a team’s goals scored is divided by the number of goals conceded after the two teams accumulated the same number of points.[2] As a result, Cardiff won promotion to the First Division, becoming the first Welsh side to play in the top tier of English football.[3] They also reached the semi-final of the FA Cup.[4]

Manager Fred Stewart remained in charge of the first team for the tenth year. He made several additions to the squad, signing full-back Tommy Brown from New Brighton and forward Willie Page, the brother of Cardiff defender Jack Page,[5] from Port Vale.[6] Cardiff City was investigated by The Football Association (FA) and the Football Association of Wales (FAW) over an illegal approach for Wolverhampton Wanderers defender Dickie Baugh Jr. The club was found guilty with Baugh having signed an agreement with an agent acting on behalf of Cardiff despite still being contracted to Wolves. Cardiff City FC was fined £50 and Baugh £20. The agent involved was subsequently banned from all football grounds under the jurisdictions of either the FA or FAW.[7] John Pritchard was elected chairman of the club ahead of the new season but left the role in November and was replaced by Walter Empsall.[8]

Cardiff also made significant investments in the club’s ground Ninian Park. A new pitch was laid using sea-washed turf which officials at the club labelled as “now being equal to the best in the country”.[6] The earthen embankments that enclosed the pitch were also built up to improve viewing for spectators.[6] The latter work nearly resulted in disaster when the refuse being tipped by Cardiff Corporation caught alight and spread across the Grangetown side of the ground. The fire was doused, with the aid of hundreds of local supporters who had raced to the ground to offer help, and little damage was sustained.[9] Having won promotion and reached the semi-final of the FA Cup, The Times expected Cardiff to adapt well to the higher tier.[10]

First Division


In Cardiff’s first match in the First Division, they met FA Cup holders Tottenham Hotspur at Ninian Park. The game, therefore, became the first top-tier match in English football to be played in Wales and was described in The Times as “the most important event in their (Cardiff’s) history”.[11] The fixture attracted a large crowd, and when 50,000 supporters had paid and been allowed into the ground officials attempted to close the gates. With thousands still queuing to gain entry, supporters broke through the gates and forced their way into the ground. Club officials estimated that between 6,000 and 10,000 people broke into the ground after the gates were initially closed.[12] Cardiff started the season without influential defender Jimmy Blair who was recovering from a bout of pneumonia;[13] Jack Page started the opening match in his place.[14] Tottenham suffered a setback early in the game as Jimmy Seed picked up an injury, but proved too strong for Cardiff and scored the only goal of the game through Jimmy Banks from outside the penalty area.[15] The excessive crowd numbers produced several unsavoury incidents, including fans taking over the scoreboard to use it as a vantage point. This experience prompted the club to seek advice from local police on crowd control at future matches.[6]

Defeat to Tottenham was the start of a difficult beginning in the First Division for the club. Defender Bert Smith became the first player to score for Cardiff in the division in the side’s following match with a consolation goal during a 2–1 defeat to Aston Villa on 29 August. Cardiff met Tottenham in the reverse fixture five days later at their opposition’s home ground but, having proven stubborn opposition for the more experienced side in the first meeting, they were soundly beaten after conceding three goals in the opening 30 minutes of the match. The game finished 4–1 to Tottenham with The Times describing victory for the London-based side as “a very easy matter”.[16] A 4–0 defeat in the reverse fixture against Aston Villa followed, prompting Stewart to make changes to his side ahead of back-to-back fixtures against Oldham Athletic. Blair returned to action having missed the first four matches and goalkeeper Herbert Kneeshaw was dropped in favour of Ben DaviesBilly Hardy, who had been ever-present the previous season, was also left out due to injury along with forward George West.[17] The changes yielded little reward as Cardiff lost both fixtures against Oldham, 1–0 at home, 2–1 away, starting the campaign with six consecutive defeats which left them bottom of the table.[14][18]

Cardiff’s next fixture was against unbeaten league leaders Middlesbrough in a match that was described in The Times as “the most noteworthy example of disparity of strength between contesting clubs”.[19] In a surprising turn of form given the club’s league form, Cardiff recorded their first victory in the First Division after causing an upset to win 3–1 and secure two points.[nb 2] Jimmy Gill, who had been the club’s top scorer the previous season, scored his first goals of the campaign with a brace and Harry Nash added a third. The victory prompted an upturn in fortune for the team as they lost only one of their five matches in October, a 2–1 defeat to Bolton Wanderers. Gill enjoyed a fine run of form during this time, scoring six goals in the five matches including braces during victories over West Bromwich Albion and Bolton in the reverse fixture.[14] With the club struggling for goals, October also saw the arrival of Joe Clennell from Everton for £1,500 (approximately £75,000 in 2020). In an attempt to recoup some of the transfer fees, two forwards who had played an integral role in promotion in the 1920–21 season, Arthur Cashmore and Fred Pagnam,[20] were sold having failed to score in a combined 17 appearances.[14] The club also signed Jimmy Nelson from Irish side Crusaders for £500 (approximately £25,000 in 2020).[21] On 31 October, club captain Fred Keenor was granted a benefit match against Bristol City.[22]


Trainer George Latham was forced into action in January 1922 due to injury, becoming the club’s oldest ever player.

Back-to-back fixtures against Manchester City at the start of November yielded only a point for Cardiff, who lost 2–0 at home and drew 1–1 away. Two victories against Everton later in the month proved a turning point in the season for Cardiff. The departure of Pagnam allowed Len Davies to make his first appearances of the season, scoring all three of Cardiff’s goals in 2–1 and 1–0 victories. The second fixture also saw Hardy and Smith return after injury layoffs.[14] A much-improved run of form ensued with Cardiff losing only one of their following thirteen league matches led by the goals of Davies, Gill and Clennell.[14] Davies also scored the first hat-trick in The Football League by a Cardiff player during a 6–3 victory over Bradford City on 21 January 1922.[23] As well as Bradford, the team’s run included wins over Birmingham (twice), ArsenalPreston North EndBlackburn Rovers and Chelsea.[14] The Times described the team during this time as appearing “almost invincible” as their improved form lifted them to sixth in the table.[24] The team’s victory over Blackburn during this spell saw an unusual Football League debutant when club trainer George Latham was forced into action. Hours before the game was due to start, Gill and Evans both went down with sickness and only one player, Nash, had travelled in reserve. Latham, who had played professionally previously, stepped in and became the oldest player in the club’s history at 41 years old.[25][26]

On 25 February, Cardiff suffered their first defeat since early December, losing 1–0 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge as the opposition defence proved impregnable.[24] The team recovered to beat Sheffield United 2–0 in their following match with goals from Clennell and Ken MacDonald but suffered a further blow after losing 1–0 to struggling Bradford who were 21st in the table.[27] Two matches against reigning First Division champions Burnley produced positive results as the teams drew 1–1 at Turf Moor before Cardiff won the reverse fixture 4–2 at Ninian Park. Len Davies scored a brace with Gill and Jack Evans scoring one each. Cardiff repeated the pattern in their following two matches against Newcastle United, drawing away before Len Davies scored the only goal in a home victory.[14] Despite taking the lead early in the match, Cardiff suffered a 5–1 defeat to league leaders Liverpool on 15 April.[28] Two days later, they lost heavily again in a 3–1 defeat to Blackburn. They met Liverpool in the reverse fixture on 22 April, their opponents already having secured the First Division title.[29] Cardiff went on to win the match 2–0. They finished the season with consecutive draws against Sheffield United and Manchester United before beating the already-relegated Manchester United again in the final game. The side finished its inaugural season in the First Division in fourth place.[14]

Match results:


In result column, Cardiff City’s score shown firstH = Home match
A = Away match
pen. = Penalty
o.g. = Own goal


27 August 1921Tottenham Hotspur (H)0–150,000
29 August 1921Aston Villa (A)1–2Smith30,000
3 September 1921Tottenham Hotspur (A)1–4West45,000
5 September 1921Aston Villa (A)0–440,000
10 September 1921Oldham Athletic (H)0–120,000
17 September 1921Oldham Athletic (A)1–2Grimshaw18,000
24 September 1921Middlesbrough (H)3–1Gill (2), Nash35,000
1 October 1921Middlesbrough (A)0–030,000
8 October 1921Bolton Wanderers (H)1–2Gill40,000
15 October 1921Bolton Wanderers (A)2–1Gill (2)25,486
22 October 1921West Bromwich Albion (A)2–2KeenorGill20,000
29 October 1921West Bromwich Albion (H)2–0Gill (2)35,000
5 November 1921Manchester City (A)0–238,000
12 November 1921Manchester City (H)1–1Gill25,000
19 November 1921Everton (H)2–1L. Davies (2)35,000
26 November 1921Everton (A)1–0L. Davies30,000
3 December 1921Sunderland (H)2–0GillL. Davies35,000
10 December 1921Sunderland (A)1–4Gill20,000
17 December 1921Huddersfield Town (H)0–025,000
24 December 1921Huddersfield Town (A)1–0Grimshaw20,000
26 December 1921Arsenal (A)0–035,000
27 December 1921Arsenal (H)4–3ClennellGrimshawGillL. Davies41,000
31 December 1921Birmingham (A)1–0L. Davies30,000
2 January 1922Blackburn Rovers (A)3–1L. Davies (2), Grimshaw30,000
14 January 1922Birmingham (H)3–1Clennell (2), Grimshaw37,000
21 January 1922Bradford City (H)6–3Gill (2), ClennellL. Davies (3)27,000
4 February 1922Preston North End (H)3–0MacDonaldGrimshawGill27,000
8 February 1922Chelsea (H)2–0ClennellGill25,000
11 February 1922Preston North End (A)1–1L. Davies20,000
25 February 1922Chelsea (A)0–147,000
11 March 1922Sheffield United (A)2–0MacDonaldClennell35,000
15 March 1922Bradford City (A)0–115,000
18 March 1922Burnley (A)1–1Hardy30,000
25 March 1922Burnley (H)4–2J. EvansGillL. Davies (2)35,000
1 April 1922Newcastle United (A)0–025,000
8 April 1922Newcastle United (H)1–0L. Davies25,000
15 April 1922Liverpool (A)1–5Clennell45,000
17 April 1922Blackburn Rovers (H)1–3Clennell30,000
22 April 1922Liverpool (H)2–0GillL. Davies25,000
26 April 1922Sheffield United (H)1–0Clennell15,000
29 April 1922Manchester United (A)1–1L. Davies15,000
6 May 1922Manchester United (H)3–1GillClennell (2)19,000
Partial league table:

Main article: 1921–22 Football League § First Division

2Tottenham Hotspur422191265391.66751
4Cardiff City4219101361531.15148
5Aston Villa422231774451.34547
6Bolton Wanderers422071568591.15347


Cup matches –

FA Cup:

Cardiff entered the competition in the first round, where they were drawn against fellow First Division side Manchester United. Cardiff won the match 4–1, following a brace from Len Davies and one each from Nash and Clennell,[14] and was praised by The Times for a “very brilliant performance”.[32] In the second round, the team were drawn away against Third Division side Southampton, whom they had defeated in the third round the previous year. The lower-ranked side held Cardiff to a 1–1 draw at The Dell but goals from Gill and Clennell in the replay sent Cardiff through in a 2–0 victory.[14]

The side met Second Division leaders Nottingham Forest in the third round. Len Davies scored his second brace in the competition to lead the side to a 4–1 victory in front of over 50,000 spectators at Ninian Park.[33] Their win led to a fourth-round meeting with cup holders Tottenham Hotspur. The match was hotly anticipated, being described by The Times as “the greatest of the day”.[34] Over 50,000 fans again attended Ninian Park for the tie and despite Cardiff having the better of the first half, Tottenham took the lead through Jimmy Seed after the forward dribbled through the defence to strike the ball past Ben Davies with a powerful shot. Cardiff pressed for the remainder of the match with Billy Grimshaw, Gill and Clennell all going close to scoring. As the match entered the final minute, Len Davies was able to turn the ball into the net to salvage a replay for Cardiff.[35]

The replay was held at Tottenham’s ground White Hart Lane and, such as the demand for tickets, match officials agreed for spectators to be allowed to sit or kneel to the very edge of the pitch. Tottenham enjoyed the brighter start to the match but Cardiff took the lead when Jack Evans beat his man on the wing and crossed for Gill to score. In the second half, Tottenham continued to attack and was rewarded with an equaliser when Jimmy Dimmock headed in from a corner kick. Tottenham went on to score a second when Ben Davies failed to clear a cross and the ball fell to Charlie Wilson who scored the winning goal.[36] Wilson’s effort was controversial as Cardiff players complained that goalkeeper Davies had been deliberately impeded as he attempted to deal with the cross but the referee ignored their complaints and the goal stood.[37] Tottenham advanced to the semifinal where they lost 2–1 to Preston North End.[38]

Match results:


In the result column, Cardiff City’s score shows first H = Home match
A = Away match
pen. = Penalty
o.g. = Own goal


7 January 1922FirstManchester United (A)4–1L. Davies (2), NashClennell25,000
28 January 1922SecondSouthampton (A)1–1Gill19,281
1 February 1922Second (replay)Southampton (H)2–0GillClennell40,000
7 January 1922ThirdNottingham Forest (H)4–1L. Davies (2), GillClennell50,470
4 March 1922FourthTottenham Hotspur (H)1–1L. Davies51,000
9 March 1922Fourth (replay)Tottenham Hotspur (A)1–2Gill53,626
Welsh Cup:

Cardiff entered the Welsh Cup in the third round, being drawn against Football League Third Division South side Newport County. Cardiff’s side ultimately proved too strong for Newport as the match ended 7–0 with Len Davies scoring four, Grimshaw two and Keenor one. The side continued their free-scoring form in the following round where they defeated Merthyr Town, also of the Third Division South, with Len Davies scoring a hat-trick during a 5–0 win. In the semifinal, they were drawn against Welsh league side Pontypridd who had eliminated them from the competition the previous year. Keenor, Gill and Jack Evans each scored once to secure a 3–0 victory and send Cardiff through to the final. Ton Pentre were their opponents as Cardiff secured their third Welsh Cup title after winning 2–0 at Taff Vale Park.[14][39] Gill and Len Davies each scored once; Davies’ goal was his eighth in the competition.[14]

Match results:


In result column, Cardiff City’s score shown firstH = Home match
A = Away match
pen. = Penalty kick
o.g. = Own goal


18 January 1922ThirdNewport County (H)7–1KeenorGrimshaw (2), L. Davies (4)5,500
22 February 1922FourthMerthyr Town (H)5–0L. Davies (3), NashJackson (o.g.)5,500
10 April 1922Semi-finalPontypridd (A)3–0KeenorGillJ. Evans12,000
4 May 1922FinalTon Pentre (N)2–0GillL. Davies12,000


Len Davies was Cardiff’s top goalscorer during the campaign, setting a new club record with 30 goals in all competitions.

Billy Grimshaw made the most appearances of any Cardiff player during the season, featuring in 47 matches in all competitions. He also made the most league appearances with 38. Jack Evans was the next highest with 44 appearances and a further five players made 40 or more appearances. Goalkeeper Tom Farquharson made a single appearance in the final match of the season.[14] He would go on to set a club record with 445 appearances in The Football League that stood until 1985 when it was surpassed by Phil Dwyer.[40] Farquharson was one of six players who featured in just one match for the club during the campaign. The others included Albert Barnett, who was recovering from a broken leg suffered the previous season,[41] and George Latham, the club’s trainer who played one match during an injury crisis. At the age of 41, Latham remains the oldest player ever to feature in a competitive fixture for Cardiff.[25] Two of the players, Ernie Anderson and James Melville, never played another match for Cardiff before moving on.[14]

Len Davies was the club’s top goalscorer with 30 goals across all competitions. Although he scored three fewer than Jimmy Gill in league competition, his prolific scoring in cup competitions saw him outscore his teammate.[14] His 30 goals was also a new club single-season record, surpassing Gill’s tally of 20 the previous year and standing until the 1926–27 season when Hughie Ferguson scored 32 times. Gill’s 21 league goals were also a new club record, surpassing his own tally from the previous year. The record stood for two seasons until Len Davies scored 23 during the 1923–24 campaign.[42] Davies and Gill were two of the three players to score ten or more goals for Cardiff during the season, the third being Joe Clennell. Eleven players scored at least one goal during the course of the season and one opposition player scored an own goal.[14]

PlayerPositionFirst DivisionFA CupWelsh CupTotal
Ernie AndersonHB10000010
Albert BarnettDF10000010
Jimmy BlairDF3206030410
Charlie BrittainDF2701040320
Tommy BrownDF20000020
Arthur CashmoreFW40000040
Joe ClarkFW10200030
Joe ClennellFW321063204013
Ben DaviesGK3406030430
Len DaviesFW251765483530
Herbie EvansHB2906040390
Jack EvansFW3614041442
Sidney EvansFW40001050
Tom FarquharsonGK10000010
Jimmy GillFW342054324226
Billy GrimshawFW3866032478
Billy HardyHB3216020401
Eddie JenkinsHB90000090
Fred KeenorDF2711032313
Herbert KneeshawGK70001080
George LathamHB10000010
Ken MacDonaldFW42000042
James MelvilleDF10000010
Harry NashFW811121113
Jimmy NelsonDF20000020
Billy NewtonHB10000010
Jack NockFW20000020
Jack PageDF2106010280
Fred PagnamFW1300000130
Bert SmithDF2914040371
George WestFW41000041

FW = Forward, HB = Halfback, GK = Goalkeeper, DF = Defender



Brown and Willie Page, the two signings made at the start of the 1921–22 campaign, would both depart after a single season with only Brown having played for the first team. Such was Stewart’s confidence in his side that the club made no major signings before the start of the following season and only a poor run of form toward the end of 1922 prompted the arrival of a few players.[43] As a result of the team’s performance, they were regarded as an established side for the 1922–23 season with The Times describing the side as possessing “undeniable all-round ability” in its preseason report.[44]

The club recorded an annual income of £63,000 (approximately £3.2 million in 2020) for the campaign, £12,000 (approximately £600,000 in 2020) of which was profit. The difficulties in crowd control during the opening match against Tottenham had led the club to possess what was described as “the heaviest police bill in the country”. The construction of a concrete wall around the ground to counteract any further instances was approved in the hope of lowering the bill.[45]


  1. ^ Cardiff City FC was founded in 1899 but missed the entry deadline of the Cardiff & District League in their first year.[1]
  2. ^ 2 points were awarded for a win at the time.



  1. ^ Lloyd 1999, p. 17
  2. ^ Shepherd 2002, p. 22
  3. ^ “Growth of the Leagues”The Times. London. 22 August 1921. p. 12. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  4. ^ “Cardiff City”Football Club History Database. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  5. ^ “Louis Page”englandfootballonline.com. 2 September 2018. Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  6. Jump up to:a b c d Lloyd 1999, p. 65
  7. ^ “Cardiff City Football Club Fined”The Times. London. 23 August 1921. p. 4. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  8. ^ Shepherd 2007, p. 50
  9. ^ “Ninian Park Fire”Western Mail. 25 June 1921. p. 4. Retrieved 3 June 2021 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  10. ^ “League Football Prospects”The Times. London. 24 August 1921. p. 10. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  11. ^ “League Football”The Times. London. 26 August 1921. p. 6. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  12. ^ Shepherd 2007, p. 27
  13. ^ “Blair’s Improved Health”Sheffield Daily Telegraph. 17 June 1921. p. 7. Retrieved 24 November 2020 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  14. Jump up to: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Shepherd 2002, p. 23
  15. ^ “The League Season Opened”. The Times. London. 29 August 1921. p. 12. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  16. ^ “League Football”. The Times. London. 5 September 1921. p. 13. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  17. ^ Leighton 2010, p. 64
  18. ^ “League Football”. The Times. London. 19 September 1921. p. 15. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  19. ^ “League Matches for Tomorrow”. The Times. London. 23 September 1921. p. 4. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  20. ^ Leighton 2010, p. 66
  21. ^ “Cardiff Still Recruiting”. Star Green ‘Un. 15 October 1921. p. 6. Retrieved 4 June 2021 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  22. ^ “A Cardiff Benefit”. Athletic News. 31 October 1921. p. 3. Retrieved 4 June 2021 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  23. ^ Lloyd 1999, p. 66
  24. ^ Jump up to a b “Chelsea V Cardiff City”. The Times. London. 27 February 1922. p. 15. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  25. ^ Jump up to a b Leighton 2010, p. 67
  26. ^ “Club Records”. Cardiff City F.C. 28 May 2015. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
  27. ^ “League Football”. The Times. London. 17 March 1922. p. 5. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  28. ^ “The Leagues”. The Times. London. 17 April 1922. p. 5. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  29. ^ “League Football”. The Times. London. 22 April 1922. p. 5. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  30. ^ Jump up to:a b c d Grandin, Terry (2010). Cardiff City 100 Years of Professional Football. Sheffield: Vertical Editions. p. 213. ISBN 978-1-904091-45-5.
  31. ^ “League Division One end of season table for 1921–22 season”. 11v11.com. AFS Enterprises. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  32. ^ “The Cup Ties”. The Times. London. 9 January 1922. p. 17. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  33. ^ “The F.A. Cup”. The Times. London. 20 February 1922. p. 15. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  34. ^ “The F.A. Cup”. The Times. London. 3 March 1922. p. 5. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  35. ^ “Drawn Game at Cardiff”. The Times. London. 6 March 1922. p. 19. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  36. ^ “The F.A. Cup”. The Times. London. 10 March 1922. p. 5. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  37. ^ Leighton 2010, p. 68
  38. ^ Reyes Padilla, Macario (27 January 2001). “England FA Challenge Cup 1921–1922”. The Rec. Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  39. ^ Schöggl, Hans (10 September 2015). “Wales (Cup) 1921/22”. The Rec. Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  40. ^ Shepherd, Richard (21 March 2013). “1974–1989 Friday Fame & 80s Pain”. Cardiff City F.C. Archived from the original on 27 June 2016. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  41. ^ Rowley, Terry. “Albert Barnett”. Altrincham F.C. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
  42. ^ Hayes, Dean (2006). The Who’s Who of Cardiff City. Breedon Books. p. 221. ISBN 978-1-85983-462-6.
  43. ^ Shepherd 2002, p. 24
  44. ^ “Association Football”The Times. London. 25 August 1922. p. 4. Retrieved 6 April 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  45. ^ “Wonderful Record of Progress”Western Mail. 22 August 1922. p. 3. Retrieved 20 June 2021 – via British Newspaper Archive.


Cardiff City F.C. seasons

The Incredulous Twin – Finding Faith: The Second Sunday of Easter

Thomas the ‘Doubter’:

On the second Sunday of Easter, ‘western’ Christians celebrate Thomas the Apostle and the Gospel story in John of how, as the disciple who missed Jesus’ visit to the ‘Upper Room’ after his resurrection, he overcame his doubts about his master’s physical appearance to the others in the first days of ‘Easter Week’:

The Incredulity of St Thomas by Caravaggio

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (called the twin), was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him,

“We have seen the Lord!” Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later the disciples were together again indoors, and Thomas was  with them. The doors were locked, but Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas,

“Put your finger here, and look a my hands; then reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop your doubting, and believe!” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him,

“Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me!”

John 20: 24-29 (Good News for Modern Man)

Who was Thomas the Apostle?

In the gospels, Thomas is also named as ‘the twin’, Didymus,  in Latin to reinforce his Aramaic name, Tau’ma, from the word t’oma, which also means ‘twin’. In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles (v 13) his name is coupled with that of Philip, which suggests he might have been, with Andrew, the other unnamed disciple of John the Baptist who followed ‘the lamb of God‘  from a village called ‘Bethany’ (not the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha) where John had baptised Jesus the previous day, on the eastern bank of the Jordan. In the story in John’s gospel (chapter 1: 35-42), the two spend the day with Jesus until twilight, and are close enough to the town of Bethsaida, on the northern shore of Lake Galilee, for Andrew to fetch his brother Simon (Peter) to meet ‘the Messiah’. The next day Jesus leaves Bethsaida early to walk the twenty miles to join his mother at Nazareth before going on with her for a wedding in Cana two days later. He arrives at the feast with his growing band of disciples, including Philip and, no doubt, Thomas, Andrew and Peter, plus Nathanael (known later as Thaddeus), who is from Cana himself. After their thirsty walk from Nazareth, they find plenty of