Wednesday, April 27, 2011

May 10, 1894 --- A Political Wedding

It is the political and social wedding of the year; at St. George's, Hanover Square, the Home Secretary, Mr. Henry Asquith marries Margot Tennant. The congregation includes the present Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery; his predecessor, Mr. Gladstone; and two future PM's, Mr. Balfour and the groom himself. Adding to the interest is the fact that, at one time or another, Rosebery and Balfour had been rumored to be among the bride's many suitors.

Asquith, 42, is a widower; his first wife, Helen, he had met and married while a young man in Yorkshire. They had five children. Brilliant at Oxford and at the bar, Asquith rose rapidly in the Liberal Party. But in Westminster's heady social world, he moved alone. Helen preferred to stay with the children; he later wrote, "She was not the least anxious for me to 'get on.'" Dining on the terrace of the House of Commons, he met Margot. She is the youngest of the five celebrated daughters of Sir Charles Tennant, a wealthy Liberal Party patron. In her memoirs, Margot recalled. "My new friend and I ... gazed into the river and talked far into the night ... It never occured to me that he was married."

Fascinated by politics and frustrated by a woman's inability to be more than a hostess, Margot attached her ambitions to Asquith. They soon became friends, indiscrete correspondents, but not likely lovers. As for the reclusive Mrs. Asquith, Margot told friends, "She lives in Hampstead and has no clothes." In 1891, while on holiday in Scotland, Helen (conveniently?) died of typhoid. Asquith waited only the proper time before proposing to Margot. She quickly accepted.

Her friends were somewhat dismayed for Asquith is neither wealthy nor fashionable - not even interesting; another of Margot's suitors, the always amorous W.S. Blunt, thought of Asquith, "Truly, he is a dull fellow." But armed with £5000 per year from her father (which proved greatly inadequate), Margot accepted Henry. After 14 years and two children of their own, Margot and Henry arrived at 10 Downing Sheet. While there, her candor and forward ways earned her Anita Leslie's vote, in her book The Marlborough House Set, for "the most unpopular Prime Minister's wife in history."

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