Monday, December 17, 2018

DAY 36: Violet--The Girl Who Nearly Died For Love

Violet Asquith as a debutante

She grew up at No. 10 Downing Street in the years before the First World War, when her father, Herbert Asquith, served as Prime Minister of England from 1908-1916. Her mother died of typhoid when she was four years old; her stepmother was the magnetic and forceful Margot Tennant Asquith. Her best friend was Venetia Stanley, a beautiful young woman who had an affair with her father. And the great love of her life was a rising politician named Winston Churchill.

Nothing about Violet Asquith's youth was dull or predictable. But the rest of her career was even more formidable.

Violet met Winston Churchill when she was seated next to him at a dinner party one April night at Taplow Court, the home of Lady Desborough outside Windsor. She was twenty years old; he was thirty-two, and a rising Liberal Member of Parliament. Later, in her memoirs, she asked herself: Was he, as people said, inebriated by his own words? and answered: I did not care; I only knew that I wasThe next morning Violet excitedly told her father, who was on the verge of becoming Prime Minister, that she'd met the most interesting man in England. From that point on, she was besotted with Winston, and he fairly absorbed in her--the two would meet at balls and dinner parties all over England and retire to a corner to talk ideas for hours. "He generated his own light," she wrote years later. "Intense, direct, and concentrated as a beam."

Winston later admitted that he had probably treated Violet badly. By the summer of 1908, he was serving in H.H. Asquith's Cabinet. Violet was violently in love with him and expected him to propose that August of 1908. But Winston had already asked another young woman to marry him--Clementine Hozier.

"Will he ultimately mind her being stupid as an owl?" Violet wondered bitterly when she received his letter with the news. 

Violet Bonham Carter
Winston traveled north to Scotland three weeks before his wedding to spend a few days with Violet--she was staying with her parents at Slains Castle for the shooting season. The two went rock-climbing together, scaling the seaweed-slippery cliffs that rose above the sea. Nearly a month later, while Winston and Clementine were honeymooning in Italy, Violet wandered back out on the cliffs and failed to return. A search party hunted for her for hours in darkness, with lanterns and dogs--she was finally discovered lying unconscious on a ledge. The newspapers were full of it: "Prime Minister's daughter missing! Miss Asquith's life at risk!" Whether she had attempted suicide or not was never discussed. Herbert Asquith informed the press that his daughter had merely lost her footing and hit her head; Margot thought it a deliberate bid for attention.

Violet and Winston during the WWII years
Violet seems to have healed her broken heart with time. In 1915 she married her father's secretary, Maurice Bonham-Carter, and chose as her wedding day November 30th--Winston's birthday. She entered politics with a vengeance, becoming a force as a public speaker and advocate of Liberal ideals and serving first as President of the Women's Liberal Federation and then, twenty years later, as the first female President of the Liberal Party. She was a leading opponent of appeasement during the rise of Naziism in the Thirties, and one of Winston's greatest political allies throughout her life--speaking in support of him, and frequently alongside him, during the 1930s. She remained his closest female friend other than Clementine. She was made a Dame of the British Empire and a life peer--Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury--by the close of her life.

Violet and Maurice Bonham Carter had four children. And yes, Helena Bonham Carter is indeed her granddaughter.

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel. 

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