Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Aspects of Aristocracy: Grandeur and Decline in Modern Britain by DAVID CANNADINE

“In this stylish and provocative book, the eminent historian David Cannadine brings his characterisitc wit and acumen to bear on the British aristocracy, probing behind the legendary escapades and indulgences of aristocrats Such as Lord Curzon, the Hon C.S. Rolls (of Rolls Royce), Winston Churchill, Harold Nicolson, and Vita Sackville -West, and changing our perceptions of them - transforming wastrels into heroes and the self-satisfied into tthe second-rate. Cannasine begins by investigating the land-owning classes as a whole during the last two hundred years, describing their origins, their habits, their increasing debts, and their involvement with the steam train, the horseless carriage, and the aeroplamne. He next focuses on patricians he finds particularly fascinating: Lord Curzon, an unrivaled ceremonial impresario and inventor of traditions; Lord Strickland, part English landowner and part Mediterranean nobleman, who has both an imperial proconsul and prime minister of Malta; and Winston Churchill, whom Cannadine sees as an aristocratic adventureer, a man who has burdened by more than he benefited fromhis family connections and patrician attitudes. Cannadiine then moves from individuals to aristocratic dynasties. He reconstructs the extraordinary financial history of the dukes of Devonshire, narrates the story of the Cozwns-Hardys, a Norfolk family who playeda remarkably varies part in the life of their country, and offers a controversial reapraisal of the forebears, lives, work, and personalities of Harols Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West- a portrait, notes Cannadine, of more than a marriage.”

Aspects of Aristocracy: Grandeur and Decline in Modern Britain
Copyright Date: 1994

Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
INTRODUCTION: Aspects of Aristocracy
INTRODUCTION: Aspects of Aristocracy (pp. 1-6)
The essays collected here have been accumulating during the last sixteen years, and were completed before, during and after the period when I was primarily concerned with writingThe Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy(1990). Some were attempts to sort out particular problems which I needed to get clear before tackling the larger survey; some sought to look in more detail at an individual or a dynasty than was possible in a general and generalised account; and some were written out of curiosity and for pleasure, and for no other reason. Assembled together, these occasional pieces cover the (...)

1 The Making of the British Upper Classes
1 The Making of the British Upper Classes (pp. 9-36)
During the last ten years or so, it has become commonplace to argue that between the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and the outbreak of the First World War, something called the ‘old regime’ survived and persisted in England much more successfully than was previously supposed.¹ Instead of stressing, as had an earlier generation of scholars, the inexorably declining aristocracy, the inevitably rising middle class, and the proletariat actively making itself in the furnace-fire of the Industrial Revolution, historians have become increasingly impressed by the resilience of the traditional landowning elite, by the weaknesses and divisions of the bourgeoisie( ...)

2 Aristocratic Indebtedness in the Nineteenth Century
2 Aristocratic Indebtedness in the Nineteenth Century (pp. 37-54)
During the 1950s, while the ‘storm over the gentry’ raged and thundered, there took place another debate about the British landowning classes, more genteel and thus less well known. Its chief protagonists were Professors David Spring and F.M.L. Thompson, and the subject of their disagreement concerned the origins, extent, and consequences of aristocratic indebtedness in nineteenth-century Britain. In a pioneering and provocative article, Professor Spring drew attention to the ‘widespread financial embarrassment’ and the ‘heavy indebtedness’ which he believed were ‘often to be found among the older landed families’ during the first half of the century, resulting from heavy and (...)

3 Nobility and Mobility in Modern Britain
3 Nobility and Mobility in Modern Britain (pp. 55-74)
In traditional western societies, the horse was the very emblem of aristocratic wealth, power and status. ‘All pre-eminence’, an Arab emir noted of the Franks, ‘belongs to horsemen. They are in truth the only men who count. Theirs is to give counsel; theirs to render justice.’¹ For more than a millenium, this remained the case: the ownership of horses was largely confined to the patrician elite, their dependants and their servants. From the Norman Conquest to the nineteenth century, an English gentleman who did not possess a safe seat in the saddle was almost a contradiction in terms. The breeding(...)

4 Lord Curzon as Ceremonial Impressario
4 Lord Curzon as Ceremonial Impressario (pp. 77-108)
The last quarter of the nineteenth century and the years before the First World War witnessed a remarkable flowering of ceremonial and spectacle in Europe and the United States, and throughout those parts of the globe where the great powers held sway. Though they were novel pageants in many ways, self-consciously planned and developed, the aim of those who stage-managed them was to create feelings of security, cohesion and identity, in an era of anxiety, uncertainty and social dislocation. As a result, old rituals were refurbished, and new traditions were invented, in the churches, in the armed services, in schools(...)

5 Lord Strickland: Imperial Aristocrat and Aristocratic Imperialist
5 Lord Strickland: Imperial Aristocrat and Aristocratic Imperialist (pp. 109-129)
It is a commonplace of history that between 1877, when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India, and 1947, when the Raj came to an end, to the King-Emperor’s great regret, relations between the British monarchy and the British Empire were fundamentally transformed. Less well known, but no less important, were the changes that took place, during the same period, in the relations between the British aristocracy and the British Empire. At a time when the future for landed estates in Britain – and, more especially, Ireland - seemed increasingly uncertain, many of the greatest grandees sold off some of(...)

6 Winston Churchill as an Aristocratic Adventurer
6 Winston Churchill as an Aristocratic Adventurer (pp. 130-162)
In his early twenties Winston Churchill was briefly the heir to one dukedom, and over half a century later, on his retirement from public life, he declined his sovereign’s offer of another.¹ This double connection with the highest rank in the British peerage may not have been his greatest claim to fame, but it certainly makes him unique among British Prime Ministers, and it forcibly reminds us that Churchill himself was in C.P. Snow¹s words, ‘the last aristocrat to rule – not just preside over, rule – this country’. It was at Blenheim Palace that he took the two most(...)

7 The Landowner as Millionaire: The Finances of the Dukes of Devonshire
7 The Landowner as Millionaire: The Finances of the Dukes of Devonshire (pp. 165-183)
Who were the wealthiest landowners in the United Kingdom between the Battle of Waterloo and the Battle of Britain? Many names were suggested by contemporaries. In 1819 the American Minister David Rush recorded that the ‘four greatest incomes in the kingdom’ belonged to the Duke of Northumberland, Earl Grosvenor, the Marquess of Stafford, and the Earl of Bridgewater, each of whom was reputed to possess ‘one hundred thousand pounds, clear of everything’.¹ Forty years later, another foreign observer, the Frenchman H.A. Taine, visited the House of Lords where the principal peers present were pointed out to me, and named, with(...)

8 Landowners, Lawyers and Litterateurs: The Cozens-Hardys of Letheringsett
8 Landowners, Lawyers and Litterateurs: The Cozens-Hardys of Letheringsett (pp. 184-209)
Although never distinguished for its large number of great estates, the county of Norfolk may justly be regarded as one of the most aristocratic in the land.¹ England’s premier duke draws his title from the shire, and England’s premier baronet resides in the county at Raveningham. The great houses of Blickling, Felbrigg, Raynham, Houghton and Holkham are vivid reminders of the wealth, power and prestige once enjoyed – and in some cases still enjoyed – by Norfolk’s traditional territorial elite. The leading part taken by Sir Robert Walpole, by ‘Turnip’ Townshend and by Coke of Holkham in the agriculural revolution(...)

9 Portrait of More Than a Marriage: Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-west Revisited
9 Portrait of More Than a Marriage: Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-west Revisited (pp. 210-241)
Harold nicolson and Vita Sackville-West were two very remarkable people; but that is no reason for regarding them as having been more remarkable than they actually were. Yet since their deaths – she in 1962, he in 1968 – they have received an excessive amount of deferential attention and ahistorical celebration, especially from the ‘bedint’ bourgeoisie, the very class of people that they themselves most despised. They have been more biographied than many of their greater contemporaries.¹ Their diaries and letters have been published and re-published at indulgent length.² Their private lives have been described and televised in excessive and(...)

CONCLUSION: Beyond the Country House
CONCLUSION: Beyond the Country House (pp. 242-246)
It would clearly be unconvincing to suggest that the rather random accumulation of these essays over the years gives this book a coherently-articulated message beyond that of aristocratic diversity and (I hope) historiographical liveliness. But there is an underlying argument which each of these chapters in some ways illuminates, however obliquely, and it might be helpful to make it more explicit by way of conclusion. There is no better means of doing so than by quoting from one of Mark Girouard’s most recent writings. ‘I am’, he observes, ‘depressed by the mixture of snobbery and nostalgia which forms so large(...)

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