Tory radicalism and the home rule crisis, 1910-1914: the case of Lord Willoughby de Broke.
Whatever its enduring value as history, George Dangerfield's The Strange Death of Liberal England remains a great read. Among the many delights it has offered to generations of iconoclastic students is Dangerfield's description of Richard Greville Verney, nineteenth Baron Willoughby de Broke, as the Diehard Tory peer whose face bore a pleasing resemblance to the horses his ancestors had sat astride since Bosworth Field, and who was "no more than two hundred years behind his time." (1) But for all the chortles the scintillating portraiture of The Strange Death has provoked, Dangerfield's scornful commentary on the apparent haplessness of Lord Willoughby de Broke has been seriously challenged. In 1965 J.R. Jones characterized Willoughby de Broke as an "underestimated and misunderstood" politician who stood courageously and unflinchingly for the "principles of justice, unity, freedom, duty, responsibility, and patriotism...." (2) Such comments would seem to justify the prediction of Willoughby de Broke's "Boswell," Thomas Comyn Platt, that "some day the great use he made of his life will ... be told in full. It will be copy for men of lesser worth, and politicians will see the fibre from which the best are fashioned." (3)
Subsequently, a number of studies of the Edwardian Conservatism or its radical right wing, all of them more impressive as regards both archival sources and serious analysis than Dangerfield's glib cleverness or Comyn Platt's fawning sycophancy, have depicted Willoughby de Broke as a man who was, quixotically or heroically, attempting to save the Conservative and Unionist Party from itself by articulating what he sincerely believed to be the fundamental principles of British Toryism. (4) Certainly, his name appears with sufficient frequency in the papers of leading political figures of the late Edwardian period to indicate that many of his contemporaries took him seriously and even to justify further investigation of this fascinating, and apparently not untalented, creature in his role as the Tory party's point man in its defence of loyalist Ireland, and especially Ulster, from the horrors of Home Rule in the years immediately prior to the First World War.
If Willoughby de Broke was, as Dangerfield implied, a true reactionary, he came by this condition honestly. During his days at Eton young Richard Verney had occasion to tell his father that the new headmaster, Dr. Warre, had introduced certain changes "in the method of delivering the praeposters' books." Horrified by this wave of innovation, the eighteenth Baron Willoughby de Broke warned his son that Warre was obviously a "[d]angerous man." (5) For the Verneys some things, the customs of Eton, the soundness of the existing social order, and the sanctity of private property, were not subject to alteration. As Alan Sykes has pointed out, Willoughby de Broke always claimed the moral high ground and never ceased to insist upon "the divine sanction for certain aspects of the social order...." At the same time, while he was ever suspicious of "the exploitation of the nation by the money-grubbing classes," he never for a moment rejected the material advantages bestowed upon him by accident of birth. In later life he was pleased to recall that his impressions and ideas were greatly influenced by the fact that he was "born in time to appreciate the dignity of the Victorian era" and to have "tasted the luxury of the Edwardian period at just the right time of life to be able to enjoy it...." (6)
Willoughby de Broke mistrusted "shallow `intellectuals" even more intensely than the new rich and was proud to point out that in his old house at Eton a boy who won the prize scholarship for poetry would have been far less a celebrity than one who was captain of the cricket eleven or keeper of the field. These were the sort of priorities he steadfastly maintained and when Richard Verney went up to New College, Oxford, it was obviously more for the sake of being there than for any lofty ambitions about the wonders of learning. Indeed, when one of the fellows of New College (not surprisingly, a Liberal) attempted to persuade him to take a turn at the life of the mind, the young gentleman demurred, noting that such a leap into the unknown would have meant actually attending lectures as well as reading up to seven hours a day. "How," he asked, "was I to hunt if I were to read seven hours a day." So, opting for a life-style he felt unable to escape, even if he had wanted to, the future peer managed, after one failure, a third class degree in law. (7)
Richard Verney's first venture into politics began soon after he came down from Oxford when, in 1895, he was selected for the family seat in the Rugby division of Warwickshire. He sat for five quiet years on the Tory backbench, during which time he spoke briefly on half a dozen occasions. (8) But if Verney was an inconspicuous member, he was also always sure of who he was and proud of both the legacy he represented and the creed he embraced. To begin, he believed that England's strength lay, as it ever had done, in the historic willingness of hereditary land holders to risk all in defending the nation from foreign enemies and domestic usurpers, including the monarchy itself, who would violate the rights and liberties of free-born Englishmen. Among the rights and prerogatives to be protected, none ranked higher than the ability to acquire property and maintain unequivocal control of it without inference from an overbearing state or envious underlings. Willoughby saw nothing unjust in the fact that those who had borne the burdensome responsibility of securing and protecting liberty and justice for the nation had acquired certain entitlements. Rank did have its privileges, but these were more than equaled by solemn responsibilities which had grown and expanded with time. Of the burdens the upper classes had acquired, none was more significant than service to and protection of the British empire and, in the context of this discussion, Ireland was, for Willoughby de Broke, vital to Britain's imperial interests. A critical aspect of these principles and this tradition was his devotion to a social order that inclined ordinary Englishmen, especially solid country folk, to follow their natural leaders in defence of their national heritage. By all accounts, Willoughby de Broke was a good squire who earned the respect and affection of the lesser folk among whom he lived and worked. Beyond sitting in both Houses of Parliament, Willoughby fulfilled his hereditary responsibilities as an enthusiastic member of the Warwickshire Yeomanry. And although he did not see active service in the South African War, his public career was distinguished by consistent and, at times, courageous adherence to the ideals and values he espoused.
After succeeding his father in 1902, however, Willoughby de Broke decided that the back benches of the House of Lords held little allure, hoping instead that "there was nothing but my bankers between me and the perpetual Mastership of the Warwickshire Hounds." (9) This retirement from public life (at age 33) was short-lived. After the Tory debacle of 1906 placed the Commons and the government in the hands of what Willoughby labeled a "Coalition of Wreckers," he decided, in the circumstances, that "a seat in the House of Lords was worth having." Thereafter, he sacrificed the joys of the hunt for the tedium of Westminster on a regular basis, but until 1910 spoke only occasionally. (10) It was amidst the frustration of lost elections and the perceived unwillingness of Unionist party leadership to "discharge its primary functions by fighting to the bitter end to defend the Constitution," that he formed a troika with the irrepressible Tory radical Henry Page Croft and Leo Maxse, editor of the National Review, thereby becoming one the leading lights of the so-called Reveille Group on the right wing of what was a confused and demoralized Unionist Party. (11)
If there was never any doubt about the values and interests for which Willoughby de Broke fought, his political struggle was complicated by the fact that he always battled on two fronts. The most obvious and implacable enemy were the "Radicals" (he never used Liberal to define the political other) who, with their "traditional and undying hatred for all large landowners" constituted "a very grave danger to the State, more insidious and hence more formidable than all the massed ormaments of Europe." (12) At the same time, he believed that "the quint-essential Diehard ... never entirely trusts his leaders not to sell the pass behind his back." He wanted "the Unionist Party, as heir to the Tory or national tradition, [to] provide a moral as well as a material environment into which nothing that is anti-national can ever be born," but he was always skeptical about the capacity or even the desire of "moderates" like Arthur Balfour and Lord Lansdowne to lead the party or the country toward the sort of moral regeneration and national revival he sought. (13)
Indeed, Willoughby de Broke had little time for or interest in conciliating party readers in whom his confidence and trust was gradually fading. (14) Certainly, he did not look to them for guidance when he threw himself, heart and soul, into the struggle to preserve the powers of the House of Lords from the ravages of the parliament bill which, as he believed, would establish a single chamber government as well as "practical Socialism by the progressive taxation of capital." (15) "No Crusader," recalled Comyn Platt, "was ever more inspired by the righteousness of his actions than was Willoughby in those days." Indeed, right up to the last few weeks, despite growing signs of rats slinking off the good ship Diehard, he appears to have truly believed that victory for the status quo was still possible. As he told Lord Selborne in mid-July 1911: "Our band is increasing daily.... Unless out men who do not want to go to extremes vote with the Rads, the day is ours." (16)
In light of such myopic optimism, the passage of the Parliament Act must have been, as Comyn Platt recounts, a "stunning blow." Still, the disappointment of defeat was softened by the adulation that rained down upon him as leader of this lost cause. Leo Maxse told Lady de Broke that "Willoughby's praises are on everybody's lips, and he has become a National hero ... [for those] of both Parties who love a ... disinterested man fighting for his principles.... The ... sentiment is universal." (17) With obvious pride the Diehard Duke of Bedford reminded de Broke that "our stand has saved our party from complete collapse"; Lord Ampthill added that men like Willoughby had rescued "the Unionist Party from utter demoralization and ... the House of Lords from complete dishonour." (18)
Thus, the headiest moments of Willoughby de Broke's incipient political career came in the wake of his bitterest political setback. Indeed, hard on the Tory disaster of August 1911, the mood amongst Diehards seemed to be one of defiant exultation at the prospect of sloughing off what Reveille MP Rowland Hunt called the "Bolting Barons of the Balfour Breed" and establishing a "New Patriotic Party" in which, as Hunt obviously believed, Willoughby would play a major role. (19) George Wyndham's letter to the new hero of the Tory Right was scarcely more circumspect. In the circumstances, Wyndham told Willoughby, Unionists should implement an "emergency policy of public safety" repudiating the Parliament Act and asserting the need for an "Emergency constitution" until such time as "a permanent constitution" could be reconstructed. (20) Whether or not Willoughby de Broke's enthusiasm was affected by the nearly hysterical tone of Wyndham's fevered correspondence, he was doubtless impressed by Lord Selborne's calm but implacable response to the crisis. Any attempt to establish a new party of the right, Selborne said, would be "a disastrous blunder." Still, Selborne believed that with the united action of men like de Broke and his Reveille colleagues, allied to the real tariff reformers and unyielding imperialists in both houses of parliament, patriotic Tories might "capture the party and Unionist machine, lock, stock and barrel." (21) Ever the true believer in the moral worth and political potential of the causes he championed, Willoughby de Broke was perhaps borne away by a vision of standing at the right hand of the great imperialist Selborne as together they constructed a powerful parliamentary faction with the aim of restoring a true constitutional government in support of an inviolable empire.
After the passage of the Parliament Act, the first concern of Selborne, Willoughby de Broke and company was, of course, its inevitable adjunct, Home Rule. But, again, as with the rats, the enemies to the maintenance of the constitution and unity of the empire were not necessarily concentrated on the opposite side of the parliamentary aisle. Indeed, there were a sizeable number of British and Irish Unionists who had come to believe that a federal scheme or "Home Rule all-round" for the United Kingdom could both resolve the Irish imbroglio and provide for a more secure and effective form of imperial government. (22) Willoughby believed that Conservative federalists who were vigorously campaigning for a reconstitution of the nation's political structure represented a serious threat to imperial stability and security. Prominent among these Tory federalists were businessman/lawyer/ historian Frederick Scott Oliver, a close friend of Austen Chamberlain. At various times Oliver, an unremitting campaigner, appeared to have convinced Tories ranging from Chamberlain to Lord Northcliffe and even Lord Milner that federalism would be a modern, safe, and efficient means of reforming Britain's governing structure. J.L. Garvin, editor of The Observer, was another federalist who wielded considerable influence in the higher echelons of the Unionist Party. (23) Anticipating this problem, the Reveille group had issued a "Manifesto on Home Rule" which warned against any attempt, especially by "various armchair politicians who have no right whatsoever to speak in the name of Unionism ... to pilot the party towards the dangerous abyss of Home Rule." (24) Lord Selborne's letters to de Broke echoed the Reveille's determination never to betray loyal Irishmen or the integrity of the empire by acquiescing in still another languid surrender of constitutional principle. Selborne made clear that while he would meet Home Rule with "a blank negative," he would not sit idly by and allow corrupt and disloyal Irish politicians to decide the fate of the British empire nor "let our Ulster friends think for a moment that we are going to palter the question." (25)
Whether by coincidence or design, this show of defiance among the Diehard/Reveille Tories was concurrent with the Ulster Unionist Council's (26) appointment in September 1911 of a "Commission of Five" to draw up the constitution for a projected Ulster Provisional Government in the event of Home Rule becoming law. (27) And whether or not Willoughby de Broke was immediately aware of this development, it represented the sort of fighting approach he relished and, again, one he always felt could be successful. He had nothing personally or economically at stake in Ireland, for he owned no Irish land, but as Alan Sykes has noted, Willoughby believed that larger values and stakes were involved: the need to "stiffen the sinews" and "warm up the blood" of "all good Unionists" who understood that "the whole atmosphere of Radical rule [w]as absolutely incompatible with the existence of the Empire." (28) The Asquith government, he said, had "gained the supreme power of the State by an example of tyranny and lawlessness in high places which has ... brought the country to the verge of anarchy." And although the parliamentary Unionists might be temporarily in the minority, they were not obliged "to accept peaceably the decision of the majority to destroy the whole fabric of free government." Thus, if Conservative Party leaders were not willing to base their actions on the conviction that such Radical wreckers were "a menace to the State, and a danger to the Empire," they were not fulfilling their grave responsibilities as his majesty's loyal opposition. (29)
Willoughby de Broke's spirits were most certainly lifted in November 1911 when Arthur Balfour, feeling, amongst other things, unyielding pressure from and deep resentment at the maneuverings of the Tory right, resigned his party leadership and was replaced by the sterner if less elegant Andrew Bonar Law. Willoughby was clearly elated. "[F]or the first time in many years," he noted, "the whole of the forces of the Constitutional Party, horse, foot and artillery, will be brought into the firing line for a ding-dong fight to the finish in defence of fundamental principles." Under a fighting party leader, he told Selborne, the Diehards could use their growing influence "to create a national atmosphere as opposed to a party atmosphere and ... an Imperial ideal as opposed to a cosmopolitan ideal." (30)
Bonar Law's Blenheim speech in July 1912, apparently endorsing Willoughby de Broke's vision of a fight to the finish, violent or otherwise, against Home Rule cut the traces for the Diehard leader. Soon after Bonar Law threw down the gauntlet, Sir Edward Carson wrote to Willoughby expressing confidence that he also would stand by Ulster "in the pitched battle over Home Rule." Others, like the Duke of Bedford, egged him on, expressing the view that passage of Home Rule without a general election would justify "extreme measures." (31) So, while de Broke stumped around northern Ireland in the company of Carson, F.E. Smith, and Lord Salisbury, carrying with them the Solemn Covenant which Ulstermen began to sign, in ink or blood, on 28 September 1912, his chief lieutenant T. Comyn Platt was proposing to Selborne that a League of British anti-Home Rulers be formed to "sound the note of Civil War, should the government continue its devilish policy." For too long, Comyn Platt noted, Englishmen had merely talked Unionism: "I want to `show fight' for it." (32)
Selborne's response to both de Broke and his zealous scout was more than a bit equivocal. Armed resistance, he said, might as be justified as a final desperate measure, "but the last party in the world that ought to turn to arms ... is the Conservative and Unionist Party." To begin, Selborne did not believe the government would implement a Home Rule bill without an election and, furthermore, even if the Radical coalition won such an election due to "the sheer stupidity of our people," the Liberals would be driven from office if they attempted to coerce Ulster. (33)
Willoughby de Broke was, no doubt, disappointed by Selborne's newly acquired caution, but he was not convinced by it. Late in 1912 he wrote to Bonar Law noting that it was time to stop playing a party game of compromise and drift. National Toryism, as he conceived of it, should be pulled up from "the morass compounded by ... years of hucksterism, wire-pulling and opportunism" to stand unflinchingly for "a few national ideas," beginning with the rejection of Home Rule in any guise as a threat to the integrity of Great Britain and the empire. (34) It was in this spirit that in late March 1913 Willoughby de Broke announced the formation of the British League for the Support of Ulster and the Union (BLSUU) and called upon Englishmen who were prepared "to fight side by side with Ulstermen" to enlist. (35) The formation of the BLSUU, as with most of the "legions of leagues" formed on the political right during the Edwardian period, reflected the mistrust in which many presumptive Conservative/Unionists held the party leadership as well as the confusion besetting the ideological and even the political thrust of the party. (36) In that light, one of the first to respond to Willoughby's initiative was putative Ulster Unionist leader Sir Edward Carson. "I always felt certain," he said with clear implication, "that our determination to resist Home Rule would have behind us all those who were not prepared to sacrifice their friends for the purpose of placating their enemies." (37)
As chairman of the BLSUU, Willoughby was surrounded by an array of Diehard peers and right-wing MPs, eventually claiming over a hundred members from each house of Parliament and 10,000 other followers who were, according to their chief, "as much in earnest as the Ulstermen" of the rapidly expanding Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) "in the great struggle that lies before them." In a speech to the House of Lords, Willoughby de Broke warned that he and his friends had created a league whose London headquarters were "curiously enough next to a gun-maker's shop" and if the government would not allow the Home Rule contest to be "fairly fought" in a general election, then "we must fall back on the only means at our disposal." (38) Such rhetorical flourishes gave rise to wild rumors, including one predicting that if violence broke out in Ulster, Willoughby de Broke and his followers would swoop down on London and gallop into Downing Street to take Asquith hostage. (39)
Such fanciful notions no doubt helped to create the vision of Willoughby as an empty-headed swashbuckler, but there is no question that he was serious in his resolve to bring the British League into a fight on behalf of Ulster should the need arise. His seriousness may be gauged by the letter he wrote to Lt. General (ret.) Sir George Richardson, Commander of the Ulster Volunteer Force, noting that he could "ride and shoot" and would "serve in the ranks, or do any duty you wish...." Richardson's response was that Willoughby could "be of more assistance to us in England than over here ... where everything is working smoothly and well." (40) Whether or not this implied that things might not remain so smooth if people like Willoughby de Broke got involved, it is clear that other observers on both sides of the Home Rule issue often did not take him as seriously as he wished to be taken. And while complacency about the violent propensities of their opponents seemed an endemic condition of Liberal cabinet ministers and their Nationalist allies, even some of the proposed beneficiaries of the British League's gallant fighting spirit were less than impressed with its potential contribution. For example, Fred Crawford, the UVF's director of ordnance and future gun-runner, "formed a very poor opinion of the BLSUU." Crawford contended that Ulster needed arms more than she needed men and that the League would be better off sending money for munitions than untrained men with nothing but brave spirits and hunting rifles. (41)
Yet Sir Edward Carson, for one, consistently expressed his gratitude for Willoughby de Broke's efforts, especially in view of the "cold water in abundance" that some other Unionists were wont to offer in place of warm support. (42) Among party regulars, of whom Willoughby was in any case instinctively suspicious, and even some irregulars, the BLSUU's chief was generally less well received. For example, when the Liberal peer Lord Loreburn proposed still another party conference on Home Rule, Willoughby's response was an attempt to ratchet up Tory resolve by dispatching British League pamphlets to, among others, Lord Robert Cecil, a supposedly unreconstructed anti-Home-Ruler. Cecil seemed seriously alarmed by the BLSUU's militant stance, noting that given his "profound horror of civil war.... They [the pamphlets] rather frighten me." If a civil war were unsuccessful, he said, it" would be disastrous for Ulster, if it succeeded it would be probably be fatal to the United Kingdom." On the other hand, Cecil wrote, if there was even an outside chance that an "unfettered" conference might produce results that would force the government to accept a referendum on Home Rule, Unionists should take that chance. Unmoved, Willoughby answered that while compromise would undermine the party's credibility with the voters, it would not reduce the threat of civil war. He firmly believed that Unionist Party leaders "who have already given away the Constitution" should never again be let "out of our sight" if the party were to "ever see office again." (43)
Resolved to illustrate that the government's rash actions had placed the country "well within sight of civil war" and to expose the futility of those alleged Unionists who encouraged a fatal policy of drift by relying on the "very slender chance" of negotiations, Willoughby spearheaded the publication of a new BLSUU "Manifesto" in November 1913:
we call upon all able-bodied fellow-countrymen who think the Ulstermen are arming in a righteous cause to enroll themselves and prepare to reinforce the ranks of the men who are going to risk their lives for the integrity of the Empire as well as their own civil and religious liberties secured to them by the British Constitution. (44)
There was no subtlety, no half-measure, no vacillation in this message. Liberals, Irish Nationalists, Labourites, and the cringing section of the Conservative party were in one fashion or another prepared to betray the constitution and the empire. All good Englishmen should therefore join with a Tory remnant and a body of outraged Ulstermen in taking up arms to prevent the implementation of this unspeakable act.
All this was more than previously rabid anti-Home-Rulers like Lord Salisbury, the Cecils, and Joseph Chamberlain's sons could stomach. As Austen Chamberlain told de Broke: "Civil war is an awful thing ... but it is not the greatest evil...." More terrible still would be the ensuing anarchy, the dogs of war let loose by those who had no means of controlling them, bringing the army, the House of Commons, and the fabric of civil society crashing down. (45) Still, there was a powerful voice on the fringes of the Unionist party who might well give authority and direction to the militants of the British League. Alfred Lord Milner, ostensibly "dead sick of party politics" and wishing nothing but retirement, was, when the BLSUU's "Manifesto" surfaced, about to launch a "strenuous & not too scrupulous conspiracy" aimed at bringing down Home Rule simultaneously with the Liberal government. (46) To carry through his plan, Milner needed to enlist a band of followers who were willing to do "more than talking." Who were more apt or available candidates than those Robert Cecil called "W de B & his merry men"? (47)
Geoffrey Phillips has asserted that Milner entered the Home Rule fray after being approached by Willoughby de Broke. In fact, this appeared to be a confusion of the user and the used. Certainly, de Broke did write to Milner on behalf of the BLSUU early in 1914, setting out his view that Unionist leaders were playing into the government's hands "by disabling our armed strength through lack of preparation" and asking the former proconsul to join the League's executive committee. But Milner had already determined, as he told Carson in early December 1913, to do "something ... to help you" and although his reply to Willoughby at least affected ambivalent about joining the BLSUU committee, he agreed to attend its meeting "as a sympathetic outsider." (48)
When the British League's Committee met on 12 January 1914, Milner, with the assistance of his aide-de-camp Leopold Amery, sprung the trap which captured the BLSUU for the former proconsul's grandiose scheme of a British Covenant by which, following Ulster's example, Englishmen would pledge themselves to take "any steps ... to prevent [Home Rule] being put into operation, and more particularly to prevent the armed forces of the Crown being used to deprive the people of Ulster of their rights as citizens of the United Kingdom." (49) Of course, all this was to be kept "quite separate" from the official Conservative party, but Milner did contact Bonar Law about receiving a deputation from the BLSUU. The party leader could not, of course, give his official imprimatur to any such militant action but, as he told Lansdowne: "I am inclined to think that if a movement of this kind could be started by the right people and on the right scale[,] it would be decisive.... (50)
So, Milner's conspiracy had indeed been well-launched with Willoughby de Broke's League to play the role not of fighting in Ulster but of rallying in arms in England to support Northern loyalists and"[i]n the last resort ... to furnish a really effective resistance to the action of the Government" by launching "an organized and immediately successful national uprising."(51) Naturally, Milner stressed that the ultimate objective of this new British Covenant was "to avert civil war" by both frightening the government and keeping "Ulster steady and confident" in order to "prevent the danger of precipitate action." (52) Still, party moderates, suddenly including the Chamberlains, Robert Cecil, and Salisbury, refused to commit to any "loosely worded" and, it might be added, rhetorically explosive pledge. (53) For his part, Bonar Law responded by attempting to pour on a bit of oil before the waters began to boil, assuring Willoughby de Broke that he "need not be afraid of compromise" as such a contingency was "quite improbable" given the existing political environment. (54)
Willoughby de Broke's leadership role in the British League and its new alliance with Lord Milner made him a central figure in the Tory struggle against Home Rule. Weighty Conservatives were gave him increased attention and his stock continued to rise among his natural allies on the far right. "I am heartily glad," Lord Ampthill wrote, "... we may count on you to give us a lead in resistance ... to some unprincipled and disastrous compromise." Lord Charles Beresford praised Willoughby as that rare politician who saw matters "clear & straight." For his admirers that clear vision was reflected in his unbending refusal to consider "a betrayal of the great principle for which we have been fighting for the last 30 or 40 years." Whatever the outcome of this unyielding struggle, Lord Saltoun declared: "We cannot be guilty of civil war because we are maintaining the constitution ... it is those who seek to destroy the constitution who will be guilty of civil war." (55)
Saltoun's declaration of immunity from culpability would appear to give the Opposition carte blanche to take whatever action was necessary to block the Home Rule conspiracy. It seems amazing that self-proclaimed conservatives would engage in such high-flown and threatening rhetoric in the superheated political atmosphere of early 1914, but such pugnacity was clearly the order of the day. As Parliament prepared to open in February 1914, the Unionist party leadership, with Bonar Law directing the charge, seriously contemplated politicizing the army by amending the Army Annual Act so as to prevent the use of military forces in Ulster until the sitting Parliament had been dissolved and new elections held. (56) Willoughby de Broke strongly supported this initiative and was seriously disappointed when it did not come to pass. Indeed, its ultimate rejection may have quickened his sense of the need to take independent action to thwart any compromise in the struggle against the menace of Home Rule.
Just before the opening of the parliamentary session, Willoughby joined with Lords Ampthill, Arran, and Stanhope to issue a declaration decrying a nefarious government plan to pin responsibility for possible bloodshed in Ireland on the House of Lords for its refusal to accept a compromise bill, even one that would include the temporary exclusion of Ulster from the authority of a Nationalist-controlled Dublin parliament. On the contrary, Willoughby and his allies asserted that the passage of any Home Rule bill, with or without Ulster's exclusion, would not only be a betrayal of the sacred principle of union but "might indeed lead to the very conflict that we all desire to avoid." As much as one wonders at Willoughby de Broke's credibility in the field of conflict resolution, his determination to nip in the bud any possible compromise to which the Unionist leadership might, in a moment of weakness or treachery, endorse cannot be doubted. What he proposed as a means of blocking a settlement was to move an amendment to the speech from the throne to the effect that the government be required to consult the nation "before carrying into law grave changes in the Constitution." (57)
Willoughby's determination to plow his own furrow gave every appearance of being a separate and discordant maneuver by radical back-bench peers. Certainly, it caused grave consternation among Unionist leaders. An obviously irritated Lansdowne told Willoughby that while he would not "question your right ... to take independent action, I should have thought you might have held your hands ... until you ascertained the intentions of party leaders." The possible intentions of party leaders were, of course, the principle reason why Willoughby de Broke determined to strike first. He was already aware through his long-time friend Lord Arran that many of the same Ulstermen for whom he had pledged himself ready to fight and die were "in spite of their oaths ... willing to accept an Irish Parliament if they themselves are left out" and abandon their southern Irish Protestant brethren in the process. (58) But Willoughby's principles were unalloyed; he would stand his ground and fight against the coalition of radical wreckers, against the Conservative party leadership, including even Bonar Law, and, if need be, against Ulster Protestants unwilling, in spirit or in arms, to sustain their struggle. In his speech on the proposed amendment, Willoughby de Broke implored Tory peers to remember that victory in their battle against Home Rule could only be won if they likewise stuck to their principles--and their guns--refusing all compromise. The mass of voters, he said, would "understand methods of a more sledgehammer type." (59)
Lord Willoughby de Broke had gained a foothold in high politics because his party, ostensibly conservative, had temporarily lost its compass and its poise. If the ship of Union was being tossed about by a series of dangerous storms, Willoughby de Broke was one of the figures who appeared on deck from time to time seeking to persuade those manning the rudder to turn in a new direction. Who or what could return him down below decks where he belonged and could do no harm? In the midst of this newly contrived uprising on the right, one of his fellow Diehards made the attempt. Responding to Willoughby's plea for ultimate resistance in last ditch, the Duke of Northumberland promised to join his old ally in voting against any compromise prior to an election, but added: "I do not approve of ... armed resistance in Ulster, & I do believe that those who are preparing it are hatching a brood of chickens which will some day ... come very awkwardly home to roost in England." (60)
If Willoughby took the point he never let on. Indeed, he had one more arrow in his quiver. After the Curragh Incident (61) revealed the Army's unwillingness to forcibly suppress Ulster resistance to Home Rule and Asquith had maneuvered John Redmond into accepting an amending bill that would provide for the temporary exclusion of part of Ulster from the operation of any Home Rule measure, the overwhelming body of Unionists, including anti-Home Rule extremists like Ampthill, Stanhope, and Milner (62), acquiesced in Bonar Law's decision to allow the amending bill to pass its second reading. But in July 1914 a still defiant Willoughby de Broke presented an amendment to reject the amending bill outright. A few bitter-enders like Lord Raglan agreed that Willoughby was "taking the only sound line," but after a stem and angry speech by its proposer, the motion went down in flames just a month before the outbreak of war in Europe. (63)
J.R. Jones has asserted that at the moment of crisis in 1914, the British right "possessed more coherence and strength than ever before-or since," citing Willoughby de Broke as a staunch member of the "real Right." One wonders if perhaps Lord Crewe was not closer to the mark when he noted that Willoughby de Broke's speech against the amending bill had demonstrated "that spirit which made the passing of the Parliament Act ... absolutely inevitable if our Parliamentary system was to be preserved...." (64)
Unquestionably many British Tories looked on opposition to Home Rule, patriotically touted as defense of the Union, as a God-sent means of unifying their divided, frustrated and demoralized party. As its leader, Andrew Bonar Law astutely attempted to shift the focus from bitter internal divisions over tariff reform and social policy to comradely unanimity in the struggle against Home Rule. But in working out his political strategy, Bonar Law played a dangerous game of political brinkmanship. His extreme rhetoric was meant to inspire resistance to Home Rule and to frighten its proponents into abandoning both parliamentary action and private negotiations as means to attaining any measure of Irish autonomy. Law was determined, not to force a settlement for Ireland but to force an election, one which he believed, or at least hoped, would bring the Unionists into office and an end to any possibility of Home Rule. Given the tentative nature of the Liberal-Nationalist alliance and Law's belief that most Liberals did not really have their hearts in the fight, he was convinced an election was far more probable than political violence. The problem, of course, was that Asquith, whether from complacency, or fear of losing Irish Nationalist support, or canny political management, would not play the game by Bonar Law's rules. So, as Asquith fiddled and time flew, the Home Rule bill slowly but inexorably made its passage through Parliament, and the level of rhetoric increased along with the unyielding determination of the least-controllable elements in the anti-Home-Rule camp, Ulster Unionists and right-wing Tory radicals. But while both these factions were resolutely militant and increasingly beyond the control of mainstream Conservative leaders, they sought different, even contradictory, objectives.
The Orange-tainted Unionists gradually shifted the focus of their resistance from stopping Home Rule to obtaining autonomy for Ulster on Ulster's terms, eventually abandoning even a pretense of unity with southern Irish Unionists. (65) On the other hand, Willoughby de Broke and his radical Tory allies vowed never to accept anything but the status quo for Ireland, believing that Home Rule for Ireland, Home Rule all-round, or Ulster's exclusion all violated the political and constitutional integrity of Great Britain and the empire. So, as the defiant threat of "Ulster will fight" drifted from slogan toward battle-cry and the radical right ironically and impossibly rushed to support a clash whose final objectives they staunchly repudiated, it became clear that the sort of pragmatic, if perilous, Unionism represented by Bonar Law's leadership differed in both degree and kind from the value-laden, absolutist, old Toryism of Willoughby de Broke. Faced with the sort of civil and political chaos Willoughby would not repudiate, Conservative party leaders, who had been willing to use him to frighten and intimidate their political opponents, finally had to reject him. However earnestly advanced, Willoughby's steadfast extremism could only have meant the further splintering of an already fractured Tory Party, with all the devastating implications such a prospect held for the future of British Conservatism and even British popular government. So, when the coming of the war placed Irish troubles on the back burner and left a half-baked form of Home Rule to stew until that unnatural concoction exploded in 1916, Willoughby de Broke and his allies faded back into the shadowy political periphery from whence they had emerged.
When one attempts to calculate the political balance sheet of the Edwardian struggle over Ireland's future, the Liberals managed to place Home Rule for most of Ireland on the statute books, a partial but obviously pyrrhic victory. The experience of the Irish Nationalists illustrated that, by following constitutional methods, they had lost not only a part of their island but nearly all of their political capital. On the other hand, Protestant Ulster was triumphant, and although this triumph would be dearly bought along the Somme, it eventually brought them fifty years of the sort of resolute political, social, and economic control their Edwardian forefathers could scarcely have dreamed possible. For the British Conservative party, Irish affairs ended badly. By lending legitimacy to the ideals and actions of militant Ulster Unionism and by failing to rein in the atavistic fervor of their radical right-wing, Tory leaders had condoned violent resistance to the policies of a democratically elected government and had colluded with pro-Ulster military leaders in rendering the army useless as an enforcement arm of that government. Then, having urged Ulster on to every extreme for the sake of Union, they abandoned southern Irish Unionists for the sake of Ulster. In the end, the Tories lost the straggle to prevent Home Rule and handed over decision-making authority to an Ulster Unionist Party which opted to embrace its own narrow interests rather than Union. By rights, such a policy seemed destined to create further crippling divisions within the Conservative party and to ensure its electoral rejection by moderates regardless of party. (66) But, in the end, the war created circumstances that made once vibrant pre-war Liberalism seem somehow irrelevant and out of date, while simultaneously rescuing the Tories from the consequences of an irresponsible and potentially disastrous Irish policy.
University of Arkansas
(1) George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England (New York, 1961), pp. 43-4.
(2) J.R. Jones, "England," in Hans Rogger and Eugen Weber (eds.), The European Right: A Historical Profile, (Berkeley, 1965), pp. 43-4.
(3) From Comyn Platt's completion of Willoughby de Broke's posthumously published autobiography, The Passing Years (London, 1924), p. 291. Hereafter cited as W. de B., Passing Years.
(4) See Geoffrey Phillips, The Diehards (London, 1979) and Geoffrey Phillips, "Lord Willoughby de Broke and the Politics of Radical Toryism, 1909-1914," Journal of British Studies, XX (1980), 205-24; Larry Witherell, Rebel on the Right: Henry Page Croft and the Crisis of British Conservatism, 1903-1914 (Newark, Delaware, 1997); E.E.H. Green, "The Strange Death of Tory England," Twentieth Century British History, 2 (1991), 67-88, and E.E.H. Green, The Crisis of Conservatism (London, 1995); and Alan Sykes, "The Radical Right and the Crisis of Conservatism Before the First World War," The Historical Journal, 26 (1983), especially 665-74.
(5) W. de B., Passing Years, p. 145.
(6) Sykes, "Radical Right," 665-6, 669; Willoughby de Broke's "Introduction" to National Revival: A Re-statement of Tory Principles (London, 1913), p. ix, and Passing Years, "Dedication."
(7) In the course of securing his humble degree, Verney did read at least one book, Walter Bagehot's English Constitution, which, he asserted, proved "really useful to me in such incursions as I ... made into politics." W. de B., Passing Years, pp. 141, 150-51, 165. Also see de Broke's reference to Bagehot in a speech against reforming the House of Lords, Series 4, H.L., Vol. 173, col. 1252, 6 May 1907, and Passing Years, p. 152 for de Broke's evocative description of the wonderfulness of Oxford for a man of his standing during the late nineteenth century, a passage which, almost alone, confirms Dangerfield's judgment that his lordship had "quite a gift for writing....": Strange Death, p. 44.
(8) Between 1895 and 1898 R.G. Verney is recorded as having given three brief speeches on such diverse items as an Agricultural Land Ration Bill, Army Forage, and a conscientious objection clause in the Vaccination Act--he disapproved, naturally. One of the three questions he asked concerned a muzzling order for dogs in Warwickshire, obviously a matter of grave concern to the fox-hunting set.
(9) W. de B., Passing Years, p. 240.
(10) Ibid., p. 257 and "The Coming Campaign," National Review, 331 (September 1910), 59-60. Also see Phillips, "Politics of Radical Toryism," 206.
(11) W. de B., "Coming Campaign," 65. For the Reveille Movement see Witherell, Rebel on the Right, pp. 120-30.
(12) W. de B., "Coming Campaign," 59-60, 69. As E.E.H. Green bas noted, Lloyd George's Land Campaign seriously and justifiably frightened the landed classes: "Strange Death of Tory England," 80-3.
(13) W. de B., "Coming Campaign," 60, W. de B., Passing Years, p. 270 and, W. de B., National Revival, p. viii. Also see W. de B. to Selborne, 17 Aug. 1911, 74/182-3, Selborne Papers (SP), Bodleian Library, Oxford.
(14) See John Ramsden, The Age of Balfour and Baldwin, 1902-1940 (New York, 1978), pp. 56-62.
(15) W. de B., "The House of Lords and After," National Review, 339 (May 1911), 394-404.
(16) W. de B., Passing Years, p. 275 and W. de B. to Selborne, 15 July 1911,74/102-3, Selborne Papers (hereafter SP).
(17) W. de B., Passing Years, p. 275 and Maxse to Lady W. de B., 11 Aug. 1911, WB/3/9, Willoughby de Broke Papers (hereafter W. de B.P)
(18) Bedford to W. de B., 12 Aug. 1911, WB/3/17 and Ampthill to W. de B., 13 Aug. 1911, W/3/25, W. de B.P.
(19) Rowland Hunt to W. de B., 14 Aug. 1911, W/3/34, W. de B.P.
(20) Wyndham to W. de B., 15, 19 & 20 Aug. 1911, WB/3/40, 50, 51, W. de B.P.
(21) Selborne to W. de B., 18 Aug. 1911, WB/3/46, 1911, W. de B.P; W. de B. to Selborne, 23 Aug. 1911, 74/194-97 and Selborne to Wyndham, 22 Aug. 1911, 74/190-93, SP.
(22) See John Kendle, Ireland and the Federal Solution: The Debate over the United Kingdom Constitution, 1870-1921 (Kingston and Montreal, 1989), and John Fair, "F.S. Oliver, Alexander Hamilton, and the `American Plan' for Resolving Britain's Constitutional Crises, 1903-1921," Twentieth Century British History, 10 (1999), 1-26.
(23) See Alfred M. Gollin, The Observer and J.L. Garvin, 1908-1914 (Oxford, 1960).
(24) Quoted in Witherell, Rebel on the Right, p. 138.
(25) Selborne to W. de B., 12 Sept. 1911, 74/202-5, SP, and Selborne, "Unionist Reveille Movement," The Times, 22 Dec. 1910. Curiously, Selborne seems to have had a fatalistic vision of the final outcome. When W. de B. expressed the opinion that they might prevent the passage of a Home Rule bill, Selborne replied drearily: "I admit a European War might stop it, but I do not think anything else will." Selborne to W. de B., 12 Sept. 1911, 74/205-06, SP.
(26) The Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) was established in March 1905 partially in response to waning Irish Unionist influence in parliament. Its leadership reflected both the shifting of political power in Ulster from the landed gentry to urban politicians and the establishment of a distinctive and militant northern Unionism which became increasingly unconcerned with the opinions and interests of southern loyalists. See Alvin Jackson, Ireland, 1798-1998 (Oxford, 1999), pp. 231-238 passim for an enlightening discussion of the significance of the UUC.
(27) See A.T.Q. Stewart, The Ulster Crisis (London, 1967), p. 47.
(28) Sykes, "Radical Right," 671; W. de B., "National Toryism," 417 and W. de B., "Coming Campaign," 67. Also see Philips, The Diehards, p. 149 and "Politics of Radical Toryism," 218.
(29) W. de B., "The Tory Tradition," National Review, 344 (Oct. 1911), 205-06, 213.
(30) W. de B., "The Restoration of the Constitution," National Review, 347 (Jan. 1912), 858, and W. de B. to Selborne, 10 April 1912, 74/216-17, SP.
(31) Carson to W. de B., 21 Aug. , WB/3/59 and Bedford to W. de B., 7 Sept. 1912, WB/5/4, W. de B.P. Also see Sykes, "Radical Right," 672-3.
(32) Stewart, Ulster Crisis, p. 63 and Comyn-Platt to Selborne, Sept. 1912, 77/14-17, SP.
(33) Selborne to Mr. Platt, 19 Sept. 1912, 177/18-22, SP, and Selborne to W. de B., 20 Sept. 1912, WB/5/5, W. de B.P. An unsigned Memorandum of this period in Selborne's papers decries "the policy of keeping a mass of back woodsmen in reserve for Home Rule" as likely to be unpopular with the electorate, 74/107-16, SP.
(34) W. de B. to Bonar Law, 19 Nov. 1912, 27/4/74, Bonar Law Papers (hereafter BLP), House of Lords Record Office, London, and Phillips, The Diehards, p. 157.
(35) Phillips, "Politics of Tory Radicalism," 219 is obviously mistaken in claiming the BLSUU was formed in March 1912.
(36) See Green, "Strange Death of Tory England," 81-2.
(37) Carson to W. de B., 28 March 1913, quoted in Ian Colvin, Carson the Statesman (New York, 1935), p. 186. Also see William S. Rodner, "Leaguers, Covenanters, Moderates: British Support for Ulster, 1913-14," Eire-Ireland, 17 (1982), 69-71.
(38) The Times, 27 May 1913,10 and 5 HL14:921-25, 14 July 1913. Jeremy Smith, The Tories and Ireland, 1910-1914: Conservative Party Politics and the Home Rule Crisis (Dublin, 2000), p. 81 believes that despite such rhetorical flourishes, the BLSUU was far from being a dangerous company of extremists" and actually helped to keep the situation under control.
(39) The source for this particular tale was the Irish MP Tim Healy, not perhaps the most reliable commentator: Stewart, Ulster Crisis, p. 133.
(40) W. de B. to Richardson, 21 March 1914, WB/10/3 and 23 March 1914, WB/0/4; also see James Craig to W. de B., 28 March 1914, WB/10/6, W. de B.P.
(41) Cited by Stewart, Ulster Crisis, p. 94. Eventually, one of the BLSUU's Committeemen, Col. T.E. Hickson, MP, played a role in recruiting half-pay and retired English officers for the Ulster army, ibid, p. 122, 132.
(42) Carson to W. de B., 16 Sept. 1913, WB/6/2, W. de B.P.
(43) R. Cecil to W. de B., 18 Sept.. 1913, WB/6/3, and W. de B. to Cecil, 21 Sept. 1913, Add MS 51, 24-25, Cecil of Chelwood Papers, British Library. Also see W. de B.'s letter to The Times, 17 Sept. 1913, 8 declaring the folly of Unionists being driven into another conference.
(44) The Times, 11 Nov. 1913 and the Morning Post, 18 Nov. 1918. The Manifesto was signed by W. de B., the Duke of Bedford, Sir Charles Beresford, Ulster Unionist Ronald McNeill MP, and five lesser lights of the right.
(45) Austen Chamberlain to W. de B., 32 Nov. 1913, WB/6/9, W. de B.P; Austen Chamberlain to Amery, 17 Jan. 1914, c.689/5-6, Milner Papers (hereafter MP), Bodleian Library, Oxford; and Neville Chamberlain to Amery, 18 Jan. 1914, c.689/8-9, Bodleian Library. Also see Radnor, "Leaguers, Covenanters, Moderates," 72-4.
(46) Milner to Carson, 9 December 1913, reprinted in Colvin, Carson, 241-2, and Milner to F.S. Oliver, 30 Nov. 1913, f.13, MP.
(47) Milner to Lord Roberts, 30 Oct. 1913, 7101/23/45/126, Roberts Papers, National Army Museum, London, and Cecil to Amery, c.689/10-13, MP.
(48) Phillips, "Politics of Radical Toryism," 220; W. de B. to Milner, 6 Jan. 1914, c.689/2, MP; Milner to W. de B., 8 Jan. 1914, WB/7/3, W. de B.P, and Rodner, "Leaguers, Covenanters and Moderates," 75.
(49) See Stewart, Ulster Crisis, p. 132 and Phillips, "Politics of Radical Toryism," 220. The British Covenant was published in major newspapers on 3 March 1914 to somewhat mixed reviews.
(50) Bonar Law to Lansdowne, 17 Jan. 1914, 34/1/14, BLP.
(51) "Memorandum," c. 689, 178-85, MP.
(52) Ibid., and Milner to Oliver, 3 Feb. 1914, Mss Dep 13, 71-4, MP.
(53) See Cecil to Amery, 18 Jan. 1914, A. Chamberlain to Amery, 17 Jan. 1914, and Neville Chamberlain to Amery, 18 Jan. 1914, C.689/5-6, 8-9,10-13, MP. Salisbury seriously mistrusted Milner who, he said, did not "believe in freedom" and who was pushing the Conservative party to support ideas and actions that were anything but conservative: see Salisbury to Selborne, 11 Nov. 1910, 6/33-39, SP. In the end both Robert Cecil and Neville Chamberlain, somewhat shame-faced, signed a toned-down version of the British Covenant.
(54) Bonar Law to W. de B., 26 Jan. 1914, WB/7/13, W. de B.P.
(55) Ampthill to W. de B., 4 Jan. 1914, WB/7/1; Beresford to W. de B., 14 Jan. 1914, WB/7/7; and Lord Saltoun to W. de B., 16 Jan. 1914, WB/7/10, W. de B.P.
(56) For contrasting, though not contradictory, discussions of Bonar Law's serious consideration of amending the Army Annual Act to prevent the Government from using military force to suppress the Ulster Volunteer Force, see: R.J.Q. Adams, Bonar Law (London, 1999), pp. 145-52; Corrine C. Weston, "Lord Selborne, Bonar Law and the `Tory Revolt'," in R.W. Davis (ed.), Lords of Parliament (Stanford, 1995), pp. 163-177; Jeremy Smith, "`Paralysing the Arm': The Unionists and the Army Annual Act, 1911-1914," Parliamentary History, XV (1996), 191-207.
(57) For a copy of this Declaration of 4 Feb. 1914, see WB/8/5, W. de B.P.
(58) Lansdowne to W. de B., 7 Feb. 1914, WB/8/24, and Arran to W. de B., 4 Feb. 1914, WB/8/2, W. de B.P.
(59) 5HL 15: 43, 10 Feb. 1914.
(60) Northumberland to W. de B., 7 Feb. 1914, WB/8/35, W. de B.P.
(61) In March 1914, 60 of 64 officers of the 3rd Cavalry Bridge stationed at the Curragh Camp in southern Ireland threatened to resign their commissions rather than obey orders to move into Ulster for the purpose of defending arms depots and other military facilities from possible seizure by members of the Ulster Volunteer Force. Eventually, after the forced resignation of Secretary of State for War, J.E.B. Seeley and his replacement by Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, the offending orders were rescinded and the resignations refused. A remarkable aspect of this disturbing affair was the close collusion between high-ranking Army officers and leaders of the Opposition with a view to thwarting any Government use of the Army. See Ian F.W. Beckett (ed.), The Army and the Curragh Incident, 1914 (London, 1986).
(62) See Milner to W. de B., 14 June 1914, WB/10/12; Ampthill to W. de B., 29 June 1914, WB/10/13; and Stanhope to W. de B., n.d. [June-July 1914], W. de B.P.
(63) Raglan to W. de B., 5 July 1914, W. de B.P.
(64) J.R. Jones, "England," 35, 53 and Parliamentary Debates, 5 HL 16:574, 6 July 1914.
(65) On this point see Alvin Jackson, Ireland. 1798-1998 (Oxford 1999), pp. 239-40.
(66) On this point, compare Green, Crisis of Conservatism, pp. 300-01, who believes Bonar Law's no compromise approach caused a deep split in the Party, with Smith, Tories and Ireland, pp. 197-201, who concludes that, before the war intervened, Bonar Law's tactics had been successful not only in preserving the unity of the Unionist coalition (always excepting armed and rampant Ulster) but also in leaving Asquith, after the failure of the Buckingham Palace Conference in late July 1914, with little option other than to call for a general election prior to the statutorily required date in 1915, Bonar Law's primary objective all along.
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|Author:||Kennedy, Thomas C.|
|Publication:||Canadian Journal of History|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2002|
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