Margot at War

Written by Anne de Courcy
Review by Julia Stoneham

Margot Asquith was the wife of the early 20th century British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. By 1912 her personality, her background, her appearance and her emotional intensity had an inevitably disturbing effect on events within No 10 Downing Street, to which she had brought not only her stylish wardrobe and envied skills as a hostess, but also the enlivening effect on its gloomy interior, of her pictures, lavish furnishings, carpets and ornaments. The circle of high-octane colleagues and celebrities that flocked to her table was unmatched across London and made the Asquiths’ lives legendary.

Her reputation as a hostess, unrivalled at that time, led to heightened tensions within 10 Downing Street, which, together with political situations, were matched by intense personal affairs and indulged relationships which were to prove fatal to careers and to reputations.

With the approach of the First World War, issues involving political and personal enemies added to the demands on a Prime Minister who was already losing the confidence of the country. Unrest, exacerbated by increasing pressure for social reform, ranging from the Suffrage Movement, through disputes amongst various work forces, to the ongoing problems with Irish Nationalists, escalated.

When Asquith was finally toppled, Margot was distraught, her mood nicely caught  by Anne de Courcy’s use of an account, given to Virginia Woolf by Maynard Keynes, of her distress  when at dinner she “began to cry with the soup, called to cigarettes and dropped tears and ashes together, onto her plate – utterly overcome”.

There are many instances in this engaging book, where, as well us giving us an informed account of events, the writer includes observations that are both logical and empathetic. This is a useful, entertaining and impressive publication.