Violet Bonham-Carter

Violet Bonham-Carter

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Violet Asquith, the only daughter of Herbert Henry Asquith and Helen Melland was born in Hampstead, London, on 15th April, 1887. Her father had been a lawyer but In the 1886 General Election he was elected as the Liberal MP for East Fife.

Her mother died of typhoid on 11th September 1891 while on the family's holiday on the Isle of Arran. After the 1892 General Election, William Gladstone formed a new Liberal administration and her father was appointed as Home Secretary.

Herbert Henry Asquith asked Margot Tennant to marry him. He was twelve years older than Margot and at first she rejected the idea but she changed her mind and they were married on 10th May 1894. Over the next few years Margot had five children but only Elizabeth Asquith (1897–1945) and Anthony Asquith (1902–1968) survived, three dying at birth. Margot had a reputation for speaking her mind and relations with her step-children were difficult. This was especially true of her dealings with Violet and her brother Raymond Asquith.

John Grigg has argued: "Because of her sex Violet was not, like her brothers, sent to school or university, but was taught at home by governesses.... She had a powerful and inquisitive mind, allied to a temperament of overwhelming force... She was also acutely sensitive to beauty, visual and musical, and a lover of literature, with a command of language that enabled her to write most colourfully and expressively."

According to her biographer, Mark Pottle: "Margot Asquith was an important influence on Violet in particular. She ensured that her stepdaughter's informal education was of a high standard, employing good governesses and overseeing her finishing in Dresden and in Paris. And she fostered the sense of style and ready turn of phrase that carried Violet triumphantly through... her first season in 1905. Relations between the two women, though, were constantly strained." Herbert Henry Asquith wrote to his daughter lamenting that the two women should be "on terms of chronic misunderstanding".

Margot Asquith commented: "My stepdaughter Violet... though intensely feminine, would have made a remarkable man. I do not believe there is any examination she could not have passed either at a public school or university. Born without shyness or trepidation, trom her youth upwards she had perfect self-possession and patience. She loved dialectics and could put her case logically, plausibly and eloquently; and, although quite as unemotional as her brothers, she had more enterprise and indignation. In her youth she was delicate... and this prevented her going through the mill of rivalry and criticism which had been the daily bread of my girlhood."

In April, 1908, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman resigned and Herbert Henry Asquith replaced him as Prime Minister. Working closely with David Lloyd George, his radical Chancellor of the Exchequer, Asquith introduced a whole series of reforms including the Old Age Pensions Act and the People's Budget that resulted to a conflict with the House of Lords.

The Conservatives, who had a large majority in the House of Lords, objected to this attempt to redistribute wealth, and made it clear that they intended to block these proposals. David Lloyd George reacted by touring the country making speeches in working-class areas on behalf of the budget and portraying the nobility as men who were using their privileged position to stop the poor from receiving their old age pensions. After a long struggle with the House of Lords Asquith and the Liberal government finally got his budget through parliament.

With the House of Lords extremely unpopular with the British people, the Liberal government decided to take action to reduce its powers. The 1911 Parliament Act drastically cut the powers of the Lords. They were no longer allowed to prevent the passage of "money bills" and it also restricted their ability to delay other legislation to three sessions of parliament.

When the House of Lords attempted to stop this bill's passage, Asquith, appealed to George V for help. Asquith, who had just obtained a victory in the 1910 General Election, was in a strong position, and the king agreed that if necessary he would create 250 new Liberal peers to remove the Conservative majority in the Lords. Faced with the prospect of a House of Lords with a permanent Liberal majority, the Conservatives agreed to let the 1911 Parliament Act to become law.

Violet Asquith became romantically involved with Archie Hamilton-Gordon, son of the John Hamilton-Gordon, 7th Earl of Aberdeen. He was seriously hurt in a motor car accident in December 1909. The doctors diagnosed several fractured ribs, a badly broken pelvic bone, a dislocated shoulder and a seriously ruptured bladder. They became engaged in Winchester Hospital as Gordon lay dying.

On the outbreak of the First World War, her brother, Raymond Asquith, although he was 36 year old, thought that as his father was prime minister, he was duty bound to enlist in the British Army. In January 1915 he joined the Queen's Westminster Rifles.

Violet Asquith married in 1915 Maurice Bonham-Carter (1880–1960), her father's principal private secretary. She became Mrs Bonham-Carter until, in December 1916, when he received a knighthood and she became Lady Bonham-Carter. The couple had four children, Cressida, Laura, Mark and Raymond.

Raymond Asquith resisted attempts by his father to use his influence to transfer him onto the General Staff but against his wishes he did serve for four months at general headquarters of the British Expeditionary Force. In May, 1916, Asquith insisted on returning to the front-line and took part in the Somme offensive. As Mark Pottle has pointed out: "Though the staff position had been arranged without his knowledge and against his will, it naturally invited the conclusion that he had used his influence to escape the expected spring offensive. By returning to his regiment Raymond had set the record straight."

On 7th September, 1916, Herbert Henry Asquith visited the front-line and managed to obtain a meeting with his son. He wrote to Margot Asquith that evening: "He was very well and in good spirits. Our guns were firing all round and just as we were walking to the top of the little hill to visit the wonderful dug-out, a German shell came whizzing over our heads and fell a little way beyond ... We went in all haste to the dug-out - 3 storeys underground with ventilating pipes electric light and all sorts of conveniences, made by the Germans. Here we found Generals Horne and Walls (who have done the lion's share of all the fighting): also Bongie's brother who is on Walls's staff. They were rather disturbed about the shell, as the Germans rarely pay them such attention, and told us to stay with them underground for a time. One or two more shells came, but no harm was done. The two generals are splendid fellows and we had a very interesting time with them."

On 15th September, 1916, Raymond Asquith led his men on a attack on the German trenches at Lesboeufs. He was hit in the chest by a bullet and died on the way to the dressing station. According to a soldier quoted by John Jolliffe: "there is not one of us who would not have changed places with him if we had thought that he would have lived, for he was one of the finest men who ever wore the King's uniform, and he did not know what fear was." Only five of the twenty-two officers in Asquith's battalion survived the battle unscathed."

Violet Bonham Carter, wrote: "He was shot through the chest and carried back to a shell-hole where there was an improvised dressing station. There they gave him morphia and he died an hour later. God bless him. How he has vindicated himself - before all those who thought him merely a scoffer - by the modest heroism with which he chose the simplest and most dangerous form of service - and having so much to keep for England gave it all to her with his life."

The consequences of the Battle of the Somme put further pressure on Violet's father. Colin Matthew has commented: "The huge casualties of the Somme implied a further drain on manpower and further problems for an economy now struggling to meet the demands made of it... Shipping losses from the U-boats had begun to be significant... Early in November 1916 he called for all departments to write memoranda on how they saw the pattern of 1917, the prologue to a general reconsideration of the allies' position."

At a meeting in Paris on 4th November, 1916, David Lloyd George came to the conclusion that the present structure of command and direction of policy could not win the war and might well lose it. Lloyd George agreed with Maurice Hankey, secretary of the Imperial War Cabinet, that he should talk to Andrew Bonar Law, the leader of the Conservative Party, about the situation. Bonar Law remained loyal to Asquith and so Lloyd George contacted Max Aitken instead and told him about his suggested reforms.

On 18th November, Aitken lunched with Bonar Law and put Lloyd George's case for reform. He also put forward the arguments for Lloyd George becoming the leader of the coalition. Aitken later recalled in his book, Politicians and the War (1928): "Once he had taken up war as his metier he seemed to breathe its true spirit; all other thoughts and schemes were abandoned, and he lived for, thought of and talked of nothing but the war. Ruthless to inefficiency and muddle-headedness in his conduct, sometimes devious, if you like, in the means employed when indirect methods would serve him in his aim, he yet exhibited in his country's death-grapple a kind of splendid sincerity."

Together, Max Aitken, David Lloyd George, Andrew Bonar Law and Edward Carson, drafted a statement addressed to Asquith, proposing a war council triumvirate and the Prime Minister as overlord. On 25th November, Bonar Law took the proposal to Asquith, who agreed to think it over. The next day he rejected it. Further negotiations took place and on 2nd December Asquith agreed to the setting up of "a small War Committee to handle the day to day conduct of the war, with full powers", independent of the cabinet. This information was leaked to the press by Carson. On 4th December The Times used these details of the War Committee to make a strong attack on Asquith. The following day he resigned from office. Aitken later recalled that it was the most important thing that he had done in politics: "The destruction of the Asquith Government which was brought about by an honest intrigue. If the Asquith government had gone on, the country would have gone down."

Violet Bonham-Carter was devastated by these events and did everything she could to defend her father's reputation. She was also a fierce critic of the Versailles Peace Treaty. She warned in 1923: "In Germany today one feels there is always a revolution in the offing, if not in full swing. A new and unsteady Democracy is struggling on to its feet, and we've got to keep it there: we've got to help it and back it up. French action in the Ruhr is threatening with extinction this new spirit which is struggling for life, and if the German workers are defeated in their fight against militarism it may have far-reaching and disastrous international consequences, for which our children and the children of the world will have to pay."

Violet Bonham-Carter was active in the Liberal Party and served as president of the Women's Liberal Federation (1923-1925), but grew disillusioned with politics after her father gave up the party leadership to David Lloyd George in 1926.

Bonham-Carter returned to the world of politics when she began to attack the government of Neville Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement. Her biographer, Mark Pottle, has argued: "As a young woman Violet had reflected the antisemitism of her social background, but the Nazi persecution of Jews fired her indignation." After the election of Adolf Hitler she commented: "In Germany freedom as we conceive it seems to have perished in the last few weeks, in the twinkling of an eye, almost without a struggle, and given place to a nightmare reign of force whose horror how this nightmare can have arisen - how it has become possible. I can truthfully say that nothing within my political memory has ever moved me more deeply to horror and indignation than recent events in Germany." In a speech given on 20th October 1938, she described "appeasement" as the policy of "peace at any price that others can be forced to pay".

During this period she became a strong supporter of Winston Churchill and became a leading figure in his anti-fascist group Freedom Focus. This cross-party pressure group acted under the auspices of the League of Nations Union. During this period she described Churchill as "that brilliant political phenomenon who eludes all categories and defies classification."

During the Second World War Bonham-Carter worked as an air-raid warden. She was also as governor of BBC with served a second term as president of the Women's Liberal Federation. Her son, Mark Bonham-Carter joined the Grenadier Guards and took part in a major battle in Tunisia in March 1943. His biographer, Roy Jenkins, has pointed out: "His battalion lost fourteen officers killed, five wounded, and five taken prisoner (with the casualties among other ranks 255). As the total officer strength of a battalion was under forty this was an appalling rate of loss. Bonham Carter was lucky to be among the five taken prisoner. He was transported to a camp in the north of Italy, from where he escaped six months later. He and another officer then proceeded in night marches and thirty days to cover 400 miles before they reached British lines near Bari."

At the 1945 General Election, Violet Bonham-Carter, the Liberal Party candidate, came bottom of the poll at Wells. Her biographer, Mark Pottle, has pointed out: "It was a crushing disappointment, and for some time afterwards she feared the party's extinction. Although Churchill reassured her that he wanted its survival, he could not persuade Conservatives to throw Liberals the lifeline of electoral reform. And at the 1951 election he could not even guarantee Violet the undivided support of local Conservatives when she stood at Colne Valley. Though they withdrew their candidate in her favour, many abstained from voting. The election was narrowly lost to Labour. To add insult to injury fellow Liberals attacked her for openly accepting Churchill's support. She regarded their lack of pragmatism as symptomatic of the Liberal decline."

Despite not being elected to the House of Commons, she continued to campaign for equal pay for women. She also had the satisfaction of her son-in-law, Jo Grimond, become the leader of the Liberal Party. In 1958 her son, Mark Bonham-Carter, won Torrington. She also was involved in the Anti-Aparthied Movement and in January 1960 defended a boycott of South African goods on the BBC's Matters of Moment radio programme. She also wrote several books such as Winston Churchill As I Knew Him (1965) and several volumes of diaries and letters including Lantern Slides (1904-1914), Champion Redoubtable (1914-45) and Daring to Hope (1946-69).

After the success of the Labour Party of 1964 General Election, the new prime minister, Harold Wilson, gave her a place in the House of Lords. She took the title, Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury, and despite of failing health she regularly attended debates. She also voted in favour of more liberal laws on abortion and homosexuality in 1966–7. Her last speech, in November 1968, was on the need for reform of the second chamber.

Violet Bonham-Carter died in London on 19th February 1969 and was buried at Mells, Somerset.

My stepdaughter Violet - now Lady Bonham Carter - though intensely feminine, would have made a remarkable man. and this prevented her going through the mill of rivalry and criticism which had been the daily bread of my girlhood.

She had the same penetrating sense of humour as her brother Raymond and quite as much presence of mind in retort. Her gift of expression was amazing and her memory unrivalled.... She is a natural speaker, easy, eloquent, witty, short and of imperturbable sang-froid.

In Germany today one feels there is always a revolution in the offing, if not in full swing. French action in the Ruhr is threatening with extinction this new spirit which is struggling for life, and if the German workers are defeated in their fight against militarism it may have far-reaching and disastrous international consequences, for which our children and the children of the world will have to pay.

In Germany freedom as we conceive it seems to have perished in the last few weeks, in the twinkling of an eye, almost without a struggle, and given place to a nightmare reign of force whose horror how this nightmare can have arisen - how it has become possible.

I can truthfully say that nothing within my political memory has ever moved me more deeply to horror and indignation than recent events in Germany. We in this country have looked on with dazed astonishment at this nightmare. We have seen libraries burnt. We have seen monuments erected to murderers. We have seen faith and race persecuted and proscribed, thought and art forbidden unless confined in the straight-jacket of State control. We have seen Germany banish and despoil many of her greatest and most distinguished sons, men whose high achievements in every field of endeavour have brought her honour throughout the world.

At 9 o'clock I went downstairs and listen in to (the radio) and heard Chamberlain make a very dignified resignation speech - and say he had recommended the King to send for Winston as his successor. What a moment to take on! He will have to ride the whirlwind and direct the storm. If any man can he will, but he has as a heritage the years that the locust has eaten. How different if he had been allowed to take a part during the last 5 years in preparing for the peril which he so clearly foresaw.

Great Contemporaries: Lady Violet Bonham Carter (Part 2)

By 1922, Churchill had been in the Liberal Party almost two decades, but change was afoot. In October the Lloyd George Coalition broke. In the ensuing election, Churchill was defeated as Liberal Member for Dundee. He ran in West Leicester as a “Liberal Free Trader” in December 1923, and lost again. By now the party had split between Asquith and Lloyd George factions, and when the former threw tacit support to a minority Labour government, Churchill was gone for good. Lady Violet (she bore the courtesy title after her father was elevated to the peerage) was not happy:

I feel there is no more to be said….I rather hoped that the difference might be bridged and reconciled by events before it was known to the world at large. But of course I recognize and respect the strength and the sincerity of your conviction—though I cannot share it. 15

Churchill ran and lost as an independent in a London by-election in March 1924. Finally, in October, he was elected for Epping as a “Constitutionalist.” A week later he accepted the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer under new Tory Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. In early 1925 he formally rejoined the Conservatives. “Anyone can rat,” he quipped later. “It takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat.” 16

On 15 February 1928, H.H. Asquith died at age 75. His relations with Churchill had never recovered after the Dardanelles episode, followed by Churchill’s support of Lloyd George. Lady Violet remained devoted to his memory and the Liberal tradition. She now took on a more active role in party affairs, though the Liberals never again achieved power. 17

“A unique degree of warmth”

In 1933, Churchill sent eight proofs of his second Marlborough volume for comment and scrutiny. One went to Lady Violet. On 11 June she wrote him, paying the book high compliments while offering only minor alterations. That he considered her worthy of so limited a number of proofs attests to the respect he had for her judgment.

She is one of only two-dozen close friends whose names appear ten times or more in the Chartwell visitors book. One such visit was on Winston’s 60th birthday in 1934. She RSVP’d his son: “My dear Randolph— (May I call you this as you were my page? A very old-though I fear now obsolete relationship!) We shall love to come to Winston’s birthday party.” 18

Lady Violet and Churchill were as one on the threat of Nazi Germany. In May 1936, they appeared together at the first luncheon of a new group called the “Focus.” It was created to bring together representatives of all parties and groups opposed to Appeasement. Churchill spoke on how unsatisfactory Britain’s defenses were compared to Germany’s. The government was shutting its eyes to these facts, he said rearmament was a matter of life and death.

Churchill, always insisted that he be seated next to Lady Violet at Focus luncheons. In November 1936, he ordered his favorite vintage port. When asked whether there was any connection between the two, Churchill replied: “Both of them generate a unique degree of warmth.” 19

“God bless you and keep you—& England”

Churchill and Lady Violet often exchanged crucial information. On 28 November 1939, she wrote: “I had a most interesting 2 hours talk with [Edward] Beneš [President of Czechoslovakia, 1935-38] about Russia yesterday—which I should like sometime to tell you about. He appears to me to be better informed than most people about the ‘riddle wrapped in an enigma.’” 20 When her friend became Prime Minister in May 1940, her message was heartfelt:

Dearest Winston, My wish is realized—I can now face all that is to come with faith & confidence. I know, as you do, that the wind has been sown, & that, we must all reap the whirlwind. But you will ride it—instead of being driven before it—Thank heaven that you are there, & at the helm of our destiny—& may the nation’s spirit be kindled by your own. God bless & keep you—& England.

Churchill’s coalition government included the Liberals, and Lady Violet remained a close confidant. In 1941 he appointed her a governor of the BBC, a position she relished and held until 1946. In 1942, bad news piled up from Singapore to Libya, and Churchill shared with her his inmost feelings. On 12 February Harold Nicolson recorded:

She had been to see Winston yesterday, and for the first time in their long friendship she found him depressed…. underneath it all was a dreadful fear, she felt, that our soldiers are not as good fighters as their fathers were. “We have so many men in Singapore, so many men—they should have done better” [he said]. “It is the same of course, in Libya. There is something deeply wrong with the whole morale of the Army.” 22

Victory and defeat

Violet always had concerns for Churchill’s health. On 6 January 1944, after his rebound from pneumonia, she wrote of her

inexpressible joy in your lightning recovery. My heart stood still when I heard of your illness—but not for long…. The sigh of relief “heaved” by the nation was so resounding that it drowned the roar of those 100 guns that Stalin has got into the habit of letting off night after night. 23

In the 1945 general election, Lady Violet stood as a Liberal and lost. In 1951, she ran again, and Churchill wrote a remarkable letter for a Conservative Party leader:

I learn from Lord Woolton that the Liberals in the Colne Valley Division have now agreed to adopt Lady Violet Bonham Carter as their candidate. I write this letter to you in the earnest hope that you and our Conservative friends in the Division will support her candidature with enthusiasm. She is a remarkable figure, and I should think probably on the whole the best woman speaker we have alive today. All her life has been spent in a political atmosphere. She has been the strongest fighter in several elections for her Father. She has a high, broad, enlightened view of the needs and duties of this country, both in war and peace.

As Leader of the Conservative Party I can assure you that the Colne Valley Association would be making an invaluable, and in some ways decisive, contribution in these perilous times if they carried her into Parliament as a Liberal Member. 24

Lady Violet would have been a prop to Churchill, who was elected that year, but in the event, she narrowly lost.

“Walking with destiny”

From 1947-49, she was a member of the Royal Commission on the Press. In the 1953 Coronation Honors she was appointed Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (DBE). Their friendship never waned. On Blenheim Day, 13 August 1955, Churchill wrote his absent wife: “I am getting quite festive, Violet is staying with me today & tomorrow. Violet made herself vy agreeable last night and argued a great deal about her Papa, the Liberal Party & all that.” 25

On 21 December 1964, Lady Violet was created a life peer as Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury, one of the first new Liberal peers in several decades. As vigorous as ever, she took frequent part in debates in the House of Lords. Aged 90 on 24 January 1965, Sir Winston passed away. Among the tributes in the House of Lords was Baroness Asquith:

I count myself infinitely blessed in having known Winston Churchill as a close and dear and life-long friend. But, from the day of our first meeting in my early youth, I saw him always in a dual perspective. Through and beyond my friend, well known and dearly loved, I saw one of the greatest figures of all time upon the stage of history.

Despite frustrations and setbacks and disappointments, I was always conscious that his ultimate confidence in himself remained unshaken. He had no doubts about his star. Even in those early days he felt he was walking with Destiny and that he had been preserved through many perils in order to fulfil its purpose. 26

Violet Bonham Carter’s Winston Churchill as I Knew Him (Winston Churchill: An Intimate Portrait in the U.S.) goes only to 1914. It remains one of the most honest and penetrating portraits of WSC by those who knew him. She possibly contemplated a sequel unfortunately she died of a heart attack aged 81 in 1969. Their friendship had lasted almost sixty years.


15 Martin Gilbert, The Churchill Documents, Volume 11, The Exchequer Years 1922-1929 (Hillsdale, Mich.: Hillsdale College Press, 1979), 97.

16 Richard M. Langworth, Churchill by Himself (London: Ebury Press, 2012), 42.

17 Lady Violet was President of the Women’s Liberal Federation (1923-25, 1939-45), and President of the Liberal Party 1945-37.

18 Gilbert, The Churchill Documents, Volume 12, The Wilderness Years 1925-1935 (Hillsdale College Press, 1981), 950.

19 Gilbert, The Churchill Documents, Volume 13, The Coming of War 1936-1939 (Hillsdale College Press, 1982), 388.

20 Gilbert, The Churchill Documents, Volume 14, At The Admiralty September 1939 May 1940 (Hillsdale College Press,1993), 437.

21 Gilbert, The Churchill Documents, Volume 15, Never Surrender: May 1940-December 1940 (Hillsdale College Press, 2011), pp. 2-3.

22 Gilbert, The Churchill Documents, Volume 17, Testing Times 1942 (Hillsdale College Press , 2014), 242.

23 Martin Gilbert and Larry P. Arnn, The Churchill Documents, Volume 19, Fateful Questions September 1943 to April 1944 (Hillsdale College Press, 2017), 1341.

24 Winston S. Churchill to Joshua B. Whitehead, 2 February 1951, Martin Gilbert and Larry P. Arnn, The Churchill Documents, Volume 22, Leader of the Opposition August 1945 to October 1951 (Hillsdale College Press, 2019), 1997.

25 Gilbert and Arnn, The Churchill Documents, Volume 23, Never Flinch, Never Weary November 1951 to February 1965(Hillsdale College Press, 2019), 2033.

The author

Mr. Glueckstein, of Kings Park, New York is a Churchill writer who has traveled the world seeking people and places related to the Churchill saga.

Violet Bonham Carter

&ldquoI first met Winston Churchill in the early summer of 1906 at a dinner party to which I went as a very young girl. Our hostess was Lady Wemyss and I remember that Arthur Balfour, George Wyndman, Hilaire Belloc and Charles Whibley were among the guests…

I found myself sitting next to this young man who seemed to me quite different from any other young man I had ever met. For a long time he seemed sunk in abstraction. Then he appeared to become suddenly aware of my existence. He turned on me a lowering gaze and asked me abruptly how old I was. I replied that I was nineteen. “And I,” he said despairingly, “am thirty-two already. Younger than anyone else who counts, though, “he added, as if to comfort himself. Then savagely: “Curse ruthless time! Curse our mortality. How cruelly short is this allotted span for all we must cram into it!” And he burst forth into an eloquent diatribe on the shortness of human life, the immensity of possible human accomplishment—a theme so well exploited by the poets, prophets, and philosophers of all ages that it might seem difficult to invest it with new and startling significance. Yet for me he did so, in a torrent of magnificent language which appeared to be both effortless and inexhaustible and ended up with the words I shall always remember: “We are all worms. But I do believe that I am a glow worm.”

By this time I was convinced of it—and my conviction remained unshaken throughout the years that followed. Later he asked me whether I thought that words had a magic and music quite independent of their meaning. I said I certainly thought so, and I quoted as a classic though familiar instance the first lines that came into my head.

Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

His eyes blazed with excitement. “Say that again,” he said, “say it again—it is marvelous!” “But I objected, “You know these lines. You know the ‘Ode to a Nightengale.’ ” He had apparently never read or heard of it before (I must, however, add that next time I met him he had not learned not merely this but all of the odes to Keats by heart—and he recited them quite mercilessly from start to finish, not sparing me a syllable).

Finding that he liked poetry, I quoted to him from one of my own favorite poets, Blake. He listened avidly, repeating some lines to himself with varying emphases and stresses, then added meditatively: “I never knew that old Admiral had found so much time to write such good poetry.” I was astounded that he, with his acute susceptibility to words and power of using them, should have left such tracts of English literature entirely unexplored. But however it happened he had lost nothing by it, when he approached books it was “with a hungry, empty mind and with fairly srong jaws, and what I got I *bit*.” And his ear for the beauty of language needed no tuning fork.

Until the end of dinner I listened to him spellbound. I can remember thinking: This is what people mean when they talk of seeing stars. That is what I am doing now. I do not to this day know who was on my other side. Good manners, social obligation, duty—all had gone with the wind. I was transfixed, transported into a new element. I knew only that I had seen a great light. I recognized it as the light of genius…

I cannot attempt to analyze, still less transmit, the light of genius. But I will try to set down, as I remember them, some of the differences which struck me between him and all the others, young and old, whom I have known.

First and foremost he was incalculable. He ran true to no form. There lurked in his every thought and world the ambush of the unexpected. I felt also that the impact of life, ideas and even words upon his mind, was not only vivid and immediate, but direct. Between him and them there was no shock absorber of vicarious thought or precedent gleaned either from books or other minds. His relationship wit&rdquo
― Violet Bonham Carter

‘My Grandparents’ War’: Helena Bonham Carter and More Stars on Their WWII Family Histories

On the four-part PBS docuseries My Grandparents’ War, debuting in the U.S. Sunday, April 4, a notable Briton dives into his or her ancestors’ connections to World War II, learning never-told stories and retracing their steps around the world. Below, a look at how their families changed history.

“I’ve always had one foot in the past,” says Helena Bonham Carter. Indeed, the actress who played Princess Margaret on The Crown for the past two seasons, has her own storied family history.

“Millions of our grandparents served in World War II. A lot of them felt unable to talk about it when they came home,” says executive producer Tom Anstiss, whose team of researchers investigated the past and surprised the celebrities on camera with their findings.

Bonham Carter had heroes on both sides of her family. She visits the Spanish consulate in Bordeaux, France, where her maternal grandfather, Eduardo Propper de Callejón, a diplomat, defied government orders and issued visas to Jewish people fleeing the Nazi invasion of France in 1940. Living proof of his impact comes when she meets a woman whose family was saved by one of those visas.

(Credit: Courtesy of FAMILY ARCHIVE Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Back in London, Bonham Carter learns that during the Blitz of 1940–41, her paternal grandmother, liberal activist Lady Violet Bonham Carter (the daughter of a former prime minister), remained in the city as a volunteer air raid warden when other prominent citizens fled.

In the episode, Bonham Carter studies photos of the rubble-filled streets, her face flickering with both pride and concern, as if German bombs are still raining down. Lady Violet “was very brave…but also completely bonkers going out with bombs flying,” marvels the actress, who encourages everyone to dig into their family trees. “We carry our grandparents and what they did inside us. They have a lot to teach.” (April 4)

(Credit: Courtesy of Wild Pictures)

Oscar winner Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) is incredulous when he hears the date in 1941 that his grandfather Osmond Skinner, an English banker working in Hong Kong, was shot and captured by the Japanese. “On Christmas Day?” he queries. Skinner, like his comrades in the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, had no military training but fought a deadly battle to defend his adopted home.

At the former site of a POW camp where the captives survived four brutal years, Rylance makes a connection to his ancestor, who appeared in an inmate staging of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. It’s a play Rylance has performed hundreds of times. “I never knew that was the root of my acting!” he says. (April 11)

(Credit: Courtesy of Wild Pictures)

William Scott Thomas was a commanding officer in the Royal Navy on 1944’s infamous D-Day and during other critical wartime moments, but he never spoke about it to his family, including granddaughter Kristin Scott Thomas. The Rebecca star learns the elder Scott Thomas saved thousands on the 1940 Dunkirk rescue mission, helping to evacuate the retreating Allied troops. She meets some of their descendants, sisters who tell Scott Thomas they owe their lives to her grandfather. The actress also finds out that he captained treacherous convoys through the Russian Arctic. ‘There’s a very moving moment where a veteran who knew her grandfather actually gives [her] a medal he was owed,” says exec producer Anstiss. (April 18)

(Credit: Courtesy of Wild Pictures)

During the war’s final months in 1945, Carey Mulligan‘s Welsh grandfather, Denzil Booth, served in Japan — which is where she travels to learn more. A junior officer in the Navy, he was aboard Britain’s biggest warship when it was the first to be attacked by Japanese kamikaze planes. While he survived, some of his closest friends were killed. The Promising Young Woman Oscar nominee mourns the loss of life on both sides of the conflict, views photos of the battered ship and discovers a long-forgotten kindness. “Literally days before [Booth] was hit in that ship, he had been looked after by a family in Australia who threw a 21st birthday party for him,” Anstiss says. “We tracked down one of the daughters who was still alive! Is someone chopping onions?! (April 25)

My Grandparents’ War, Series Premiere, Sunday, April 4, 8/7c, PBS, check your local listings

Carey Mulligan

(Credit: Courtesy of Wild Pictures)

During the war’s final months in 1945, Carey Mulligan‘s Welsh grandfather, Denzil Booth, served in Japan — which is where she travels to learn more. A junior officer in the Navy, he was aboard Britain’s biggest warship when it was the first to be attacked by Japanese kamikaze planes. While he survived, some of his closest friends were killed. The Promising Young Woman Oscar nominee mourns the loss of life on both sides of the conflict, views photos of the battered ship and discovers a long-forgotten kindness. “Literally days before [Booth] was hit in that ship, he had been looked after by a family in Australia who threw a 21st birthday party for him,” Anstiss says. “We tracked down one of the daughters who was still alive! Is someone chopping onions?! (April 25)

My Grandparents’ War, Series Premiere, Sunday, April 4, 8/7c, PBS, check your local listings

Violet Bonham Carter British Politician

According to our records, Violet Bonham Carter is possibly single.


Violet Bonham Carter was previously married to Maurice Bonham Carter (1915 - 1960) .


British Politician Violet Bonham Carter was born Helen Violet Asquith on 15th April, 1887 in Hampstead, London, United Kingdom and passed away on 19th Feb 1969 London, United Kingdom aged 81. She is most remembered for President of the Women's Liberal Federation (1923�, 1939-1945), President of the Liberal Party (1945-1947).. Her zodiac sign is Aries.


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First Name Violet
Last Name Bonham Carter
Maiden Name Asquith
Full Name at Birth Helen Violet Asquith
Alternative Name Violet Asquith, Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury, Lady Violet, Helen Violet Bonham Carter, Helen Violet Asquith
Birthday 15th April, 1887
Birthplace Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Died 19th February, 1969
Place of Death London, United Kingdom
Cause of Death Heart Attack
Build Slim
Eye Color Brown - Dark
Hair Color Brown - Dark
Zodiac Sign Aries
Sexuality Straight
Ethnicity White
Nationality British
Occupation Text Diarist, Governor of the BBC (1941-1946), Governor of the Old Vic (1945-1969).
Occupation Politician
Claim to Fame President of the Women's Liberal Federation (1923�, 1939-1945), President of the Liberal Party (1945-1947).
Father H. H. Asquith (politician)
Mother Helen Kelsall, Margoth Asquith (step mother)
Family Member Helena Bonham Carter (granddaughter) (actress), Mark Bonham Carter Baron Bonham-Carter (son) (politician), Raymond Bonham Carter (son), Jo Grimond (son-in-law) (politician)
Friend Winston Churchill (politician), Venetia Stanley 1887�

Helen Violet Bonham Carter, Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury, DBE (15 April 1887 – 19 February 1969), known until her marriage as Violet Asquith, was a British politician and diarist. She was the daughter of H. H. Asquith, Prime Minister from 1908–1916, and later became active in Liberal politics herself, being a leading opponent of appeasement, standing for Parliament and being made a life peer. She was also involved in arts and literature. Her illuminating diaries cover her father's premiership before and during the First World War and continue until the 1960s.

File:Portrait of Lady Violet Bonham Carter, by William Orpen.jpg

The author died in 1931, so this work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or fewer.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1926.

Correspondence and papers of Lady Violet Bonham Carter, 1892-1969, and other family papers, 1852-2000

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Biographical / Historical

Helen Violet Bonham Carter, Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury (1887-1969) was born in Hampstead, London, the fourth of five children, and the only daughter of Herbert Henry Asquith, later 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, and his first wife Helen Kesall Asquith née Melland. Her mother died of typhoid fever in 1891, while on holiday in Scotland, when Violet was only four years old. In 1894 Asquith married his second wife, Emma Alice Margaret (Margot) Tennant and the family moved to 20 Cavendish Square, a wedding present from her father, Sir Charles Tennant. Margot and Henry, as she preferred him to be called, had two further children, Elizabeth and Anthony.

Unlike her brothers Violet had no formal school education but was educated by governesses, later spending time in both Dresden and Paris perfecting her languages. During her early life Violet suffered from ill health and was away from home on the continent, when her father, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, became Prime Minister. She had from an early age always discussed politics with him and was now to be a member of the family at the very centre of affairs of state.

In 1909 one of her dearest friends, Archie Gordon, had a tragic and ultimately fatal motoring accident, and while he was in Winchester hospital Violet agreed to his request that they become engaged to be married. This event coloured her life for the next few years, and in 1910, with money raised for a living memorial to Archie from their many friends, she with Maurice Bonham Carter, her father's principal private secretary, founded a boys' club (the Archie Gordon Club) in Hoxton, a deprived area of East London.

In 1915 Violet married Maurice, later Sir Maurice, and they had four children, two girls and two boys. Even with her family commitments she continued to accompany and support her father on the election platform, most notably in the Paisley by-election of 1920, when he was returned to Parliament after losing his East Fife seat in 1918. Lady Violet Bonham Carter, as she was now known, subsequently went on to fight two elections in her own right, Wells, Somerset in 1945 and Colne Valley, Yorkshire in 1951, losing on both occasions. Her upbringing made her ideally suited to hold the position of President of the Women's Liberal Federation, an office she held twice, from 1923-1925 and again 1939-1945. In 1945 she was invited to become President of the Liberal Party Organization, the first woman to do so, holding office until 1947. During this period she was appointed a governor of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), resigning briefly from the board to fight the Wells seat in 1945, but was reappointed on her defeat and served until 1946. Lady Violet was also a member of the Royal Commission on the press from 1947-1949, a governor of the Old Vic from 1945, and a trustee of the Glyndebourne Arts Trust from 1955.

Throughout her life she spoke in public, addressing all kinds of audiences on many varied subjects. In 1963 she became the first woman to give the Romanes lecture at the University of Oxford, speaking on 'The Impact of Personality on Politics'. Again in 1967 she was the first woman to speak at a Royal Academy dinner. As well as public speaking she appeared regularly on the radio, primarily as one of the panel on The Brains Trust, and on television, most notably in 'As I Remember' an interview with Kenneth Harris in 1967. She also wrote articles for magazines, mainly for women, and letters to newspapers on national and international causes. A great defender of her father's reputation, she would not let criticism of him in print (no matter how minor) go unchallenged. She was in later life pursuaded to use her writing talents to write a biography of her lifelong friend Winston Churchill, her only book. The first volume of Churchill as I Knew Him was published in 1965, the year of his death, but unfortunately the second volume was never completed.

Lady Violet, after a lifetime immersed in politics, was awarded a life peerage in 1964 and took the title Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury. Sir Winston Churchill died on 24 January 1965 and on 25 January her maiden speech in the House of Lords took the form of a eulogy on her departed friend. She continued to attend the House as an active member until her death in 1969. During her lifetime she witnessed the continuation of the Liberal traditions of her family. Her daughter Laura married Jo Grimond, who later became the Leader of the Liberal Party and her son Mark, standing as a Liberal, won Torrington, Devon at a by-election in 1958.

Violet Bonham Carter

Helen Violet Bonham Carter, Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury, DBE (15 April 1887 – 19 February 1969), known until her marriage as Violet Asquith, was a British politician and diarist. She was the daughter of H. H. Asquith, Prime Minister from 1908 to 1916, and she was known as Lady Violet, as a courtesy title, from her father's elevation to the peerage as Earl of Oxford and Asquith in 1925. Later she became active in Liberal politics herself, and was a leading opponent of appeasement. She stood for Parliament and became a life peer.

She was also involved in arts and literature. Her diaries cover her father's premiership before and during the First World War and continue until the 1960s. She was Sir Winston Churchill's closest female friend, apart from his wife, and her grandchildren include the actress Helena Bonham Carter.