Friday, 7 March 2014

Thirty Seven Days

It was at the beginning of the 1950's that first the causes of WW1 in 1914 were brought to my attention.  It was explained in simple fashion. 

An aggressive autocratic Kaiser, a failing Austro-Hungarian Empire autocratically ruled by a very old man, Russia ruled by an autocratic  man out of his depth, with France and Britain faced with serious domestic issues.

Stir, add confusion in a bowl of secret treaties, old obligations and serve hot with propaganda and ambitious military men.  Down the decades the recipe has changed in many ways and the dish served differently but most key ingredients are little changed.

BBC2 are doing a three part documentary drama called 37 Days, mercifully free from what Tim Piggott-Smith, the leading actor playing Asquith the UK Prime Minister, calls the bam bam bam of most such TV shows that have us reaching for remote fast.

How good it is thought to be will be a matter of taste.  My interest is how near it gets to any of the reality and something of the truth at least.  One aspect of the first part was about the day to day work and all the telegrams.  It seems likely that information overload leading to errors is not a modern problem.

There has already been one unnecessary and egregious error.  In the introductions to major figures Sir Edward Grey, UK Foreign Secretary, was said to have lost two brothers to unusual deaths and his wife had died from a fall from a horse.

It took all of five minutes to discover that she did not.  She died after the two wheeled trap/dogcart she was driving went over when the horse shied, a wheel hit a stump and she and the under gardener in the seat were thrown into the road.  He was unharmed and able to attend to her.

She was in a coma for around two days with fractures to her skull in the local school house attended by doctors and others.  The King, Edward VII, offered to send his surgeon.  Sir Edward's father had been his Equerry in the past and there were other connections going back some time.

By the accounts Lady Dorothy was a major figure in the county, Northumberland, and in the highest circles of the Liberal Party, then in government. Clearly able, widely respected and with a number of progressive interests she was a major support to her husband and Party.

In recent years having read a good deal of normal and such history, I have moved to try to work out who was who and were related or connected to who.  Just as many historians neither are interested or understand monetary matters there is often a major absence of the implications of the personal connections, contacts, interests and crucially marriages.

In the case of Sir Edward Grey it is a case of around a hundred years of weft and warp among a relatively small group of families and their immediate connections.

At least in 37 Days it is emphasising that the monarchs were closely related and not just them.  It seems some of the Ambassadors were as well.  If you track around the personal aides and secretaries as well they seem to be a very close knit group of people.

It could have been a lot worse of course, instead of family, Society and the Hunts it could have been the Bullingdon Club or The Fabian Society, or even worse, the NCCL.

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