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The Seventh Earl Beauchamp

A Victim of His Times

Peter Raina

The 7 th Earl Beauchamp was a prominent figure in English public life in the years 1900–30, but his career ended in scandal. He was barred from English soil, his reputation was destroyed and his papers were withheld from public view. In this book, Peter Raina uses previously unreleased documents to reassess Beauchamp’s life and legacy.
Born into the aristocracy, Beauchamp was driven by a sense of noblesse oblige and devoted his life to public service. Though some of this was ceremonial, Beauchamp was keen to involve himself in practical politics, where he showed his independence of mind. He joined the Liberals as they pushed through change against obstruction from his own landowning class. He championed Irish Home Rule. In 1914 he opposed entry into the war and lost any chance of promotion. However, he remained deeply loyal to his party even after its split and decline, and worked tirelessly in its cause.
His life touched on great events such as the formation of Australia and, in Britain, the great reforms of 1906–9, the 1911 Parliament Act, the crisis of 1914, the creation of the Irish Free State, the Liberal collapse, the first Labour government and the economic slump. Through all these, he busied himself in party affairs, but one aspect of his private life worked against him and, in a Sophoclean twist, he fell from grace.
This book documents the Earl’s involvement in politics, explores his personality and looks carefully at the issues that brought him down. In the light of this analysis, it is hoped that historians will recognize his significant contribution to the events of his day.
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My knowledge of the 7th Earl Beauchamp began accidentally. I first became acquainted with his name while writing the history of House of Lords reform. Beauchamp was one of the very few hereditary peers who, in 1910, strongly favoured limitation of the powers of the Lords. In addition, I came across a note by the writer Paula Byrne in her entertaining book Mad World: in this note, she stated that, because of the ‘scandal’ associated with the person of Beauchamp, nobody had undertaken a ‘full-scale political biography of this remarkable man’.1 This provoked my interest and made me consider trying to correct the omission. I was also much inspired and encouraged by David Cannadine’s erudite study, Aspects of Aristocracy. Introducing his work, this distinguished historian advises ‘other historians’ to ‘delve more deeply and more originally into the modern aristocracy’.2 Finally the determining factor that impelled me to engage in this book was the entry for the 7th Earl Beauchamp in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by the renowned biographer Richard Davenport-Hines.3

The ‘scandal’ to which Paula Byrne refers had two motivational sources, each different from the other: one was the jealousy of a member of the aristocracy and the other the infantile outpourings of a coarse novelist. In both cases the smearing of the Earl was unjustified. The 2nd Duke of Westminster, a playboy and dandy but a total nonentity in high politics, could not bear the thought that his brother-in-law, the 7th Earl Beauchamp,...

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