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In the Spotlight

Spotlight highlights 2014-2015

Earlier issues of In the Spotlight are available below:

The British military library or journal

The British military library or journal: comprehending a complete body of military knowledge; and consisting of original communications; with selections from the most approved and respectable foreign military publications. Volumes 1 and 2. London: printed for R Phillips, by J Rider. Published by J Carpenter, and Co; by HD Symonds, and by H Colbert, Dublin, 1799-1801

[Foyle Special Collections Library, Rare Books Collection U15.B77]

by Adam Ray, Special Collections Coordinator (Maternity cover)

This month’s In the Spotlight features a work entitled: The British military library or journal, which was featured in the 2015 Maughan Library exhibition: 'The nearest run thing you ever saw’: the Battle of Waterloo.

Reproduced here are illustrations from the periodical showing the uniforms of two regiments who played significant roles in the battle.

Officer of the 42nd Regiment of Foot, with an officer of the 76th Regiment of Foot. From: The British military library or journal, 1801The first of these is the 42nd Regiment of Foot, a Scottish infantry regiment originally raised in 1739 to police the Highlands, from where it gained its title the ‘Black Watch’. The regiment fought at the Battle of Quatre Bras, two days before Waterloo, and then suffered heavy losses in the battle itself.

It lined up on the east side of the front line with other Scottish regiments, the Cameron Highlanders, the Gordons and the First Royal Scots, and was involved in fierce close-quarter fighting. For its service at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, it was one of four regiments mentioned in despatches.

The other featured regiment is the Second Regiment of Life Guards, which, as part of the 1st Cavalry Brigade, took part in a famous and strategically important cavalry charge on the afternoon of the battle.

With the French infantry advancing at La Haye Sainte and to the east, Lord Uxbridge led the British heavy cavalry charging into the French infantry. Two symbolic eagle standards were captured and the French infantry halted, but as the British cavalry chased the French down, they became scattered and were themselves picked off by the fearsome cavalry of the French, the Cuirassiers, and suffered heavy losses.

Officer of the Second Regiment of Life Guards in uniform and mounted on a horse. From: The British military library or journal, 1798The Life Guards are today classified as the senior regiment of the British Army and the uniform shown here from 1799 includes the scarlet tunic and white chest strap, which are still part of the uniform today.

More information about the British military library is found in the current exhibition and in extracts from an article written by former colleague Hugh Cahill, below.

Additional information.

The last years of the 18th century and early years of the 19th century were a time of change in the British Army. Frederick Augustus, the Duke of York, had proved a poor field-commander during the disastrous military campaign in Flanders between 1793 and 1795. However, his appointment as Commander-in-Chief in 1798 revealed his true talents to be in the areas of organisation and administration. 

Frederick instituted a series of reforms which helped mould the British Army into the fighting force that would eventually defeat Napoleon. The British military library gives a vivid picture of the state of the British Army at this time of change, the challenges it faced both in the field and at home and the concerns of its officer corps.

The British military library is an early example of a periodical aimed squarely at a forces readership. The editors aimed to provide their readers with news regarding the British Army and its activities, to publish all new regulations and to furnish 'a collection of the most valuable papers on military subjects, which existed in foreign languages or in scarce or voluminous publications'.

Title page and frontispiece portrait of King George III, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York in military uniform on horseback. From: The British military library or journal, 1798The publication was comprehensive in its coverage of military matters. Not only did it give useful advice for the officer in the field on how to construct field fortifications, how to defend isolated outposts, how to carry out reconnaissance and the best ways to pass obstacles, but there was also much general and theoretical discussion on such matters as the merits of each particular arm of the service and how they should be employed, the role of the staff officer, the qualities needed in a General and the theory behind fortifications.

Military biography also features strongly, detailing the lives and careers of such 18th century military figures as Marshal Count Peter de Lacy, Marshal Vauban and Sir Ralph Abercrombie.

The editors kept their readers informed of current events through a news section entitled 'Military Transactions' which appears in many of the issues and which contained newsworthy information, such as troop movements, the deaths of prominent military men, military parades and reviews and new regulations. 

No aspect of military life is neglected: extracts from Discourses on the nature and cure of wounds (1793–95) by the anatomist and surgeon John Bell (1763–1820) are reproduced and even military music finds a place within its pages. Inserted loosely into a number of the issues, presumably so that they could be played more easily, were sheets of music containing military marches. Unfortunately, this meant that these sheets of music were often lost and are now rare. However, several of them survive in the volumes held at King's.

Further reading.

Thomas Simes. The military guide for young officers: containing a system of the art of war; parade, camp, field duty; manoeuvers, standing and general orders; warrants, regulations, returns; tables, forms, extracts from military acts; battles, sieges, forts, ports, military dictionary, &c., with twenty-five maps and copper plates. London: printed for J. Millan, 1776. [Rare Books Collection U135.G7 Si45]

James Willson. A new pocket vocabulary in six languages: viz. English, German, Dutch, French, Italian, & Spanish; containing such words, terms and questions, as are most generally in use, particularly in military service, to which are annexed, accurate tables of the coins of most European nations and states. London: printed for J.S. Jordan, 1794. [Rare Books Collection P356.A2 WIL]

Student charity work during the Great Depression of the 1930s

by Lianne Smith, Archives Services Manager

group photo of workmen at a King's College London camp for the unemployed in 1937, reference k_ph4_5_21_02 King’s students have always been actively involved in raising money and volunteering for charity. King’s College London’s Student Union currently supports over 50 fundraising and volunteering student groups aiming to make a difference in the community or raise money for a good cause.

However, today’s students are the latest in a longstanding history of fundraising, and this month’s ‘Spotlight’ is focusing on the efforts of an earlier generation.

workmen at a King's College London camp for the unemployed in 1937 working in shallow water, reference k_ph4_5_21_07During the Great Depression of the 1930s, levels of unemployment were high, but the plight of unemployed men in London and elsewhere was alleviated by King's contribution to an unemployed men's camp funded by the University of London Union and staffed by King's volunteers. 

A letter from King’s students R L Shields and L J Reading from the Camp Committee, to those who donated money for the camp, described it as follows:

“The Camp is not a solution of the unemployment problem; it is a temporary effort... to help those who are rapidly drifting into a state of physical and mental unemployability as a result of the economic position. By a month in the open air in congenial surroundings with good food, some three hours’ work a day, plenty of healthy games and mental occupations in an atmosphere of good fellowship, we try to restore both physical fitness and mental stability, giving them as far as we can the incentive to keep on trying.”

The featured album contains photographs from the camp from Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire, from 1937.

Student charity work is one area highlighted in Coming to London an online exhibition produced by King's College Archives.

Observing the moon

by Katie Sambrook, Head of Special Collections

Johannes Hevelius. Selenographia, sive, Lunae descriptio. Gedani [Gdansk]: autoris sumtibus, typis Hünefeldianis, 1647

[Foyle Special Collections Library, Rare Books Collection FOL. QB41.H4]

A few weeks ago millions of observers witnessed with awe and wonder a brief period of daytime darkness, as the sun was eclipsed by the moon. Mankind’s fascination with the moon and its movements dates from prehistory, but it was the invention of the telescope early in the 17th century which first allowed astronomers to study our nearest planetary neighbour in detail.

Engraved title page of featured work. Johannes Hevelius. Selenographia, 1647One of the greatest observational astronomers to take early advantage of this new piece of scientific equipment was Johannes, or Jan, Hevelius of Gdansk (1611-87), and his masterpiece, Selenographia, is the subject of our In the spotlight feature this month.

Hevelius came from a wealthy brewing family and received an excellent education, first in his native Poland and then at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

As a schoolboy, he was greatly influenced by his mathematics teacher, Peter Krüger, who was a keen astronomer. After gaining his degree at Leiden, Hevelius travelled in England and France, where he met the astronomer Athanasius Kircher, before returning to Gdansk in 1634 to join his father in running the family business.

For some years the demands of work and family prevented him from giving much time to his astronomical interests, but his old teacher, Krüger, was determined that his pupil should not let these interests lapse and in 1639 he made an impassioned appeal to Hevelius not to give up his pursuit of astronomy.

Johannes Hevelius looking at the sky through a telescope at his observatory in Gdansk. From: Johannes Hevelius. Selenographia, 1647Hevelius clearly heeded this appeal; he constructed an observatory at his home and began to make his own telescopes and other astronomical instruments. Despite increasing demands on his time - he became an alderman in 1641 and sole proprietor of the family brewery following his father's death in 1649 - he began to record and publish the results of his astronomical observations and also to correspond with many of the leading astronomers of the day.

Hevelius's observatory was one of the best equipped in Europe. It spanned the rooftops of three adjoining buildings and included two observation huts, one of which revolved. His largest telescope had a focal distance of 150 feet and was mounted on a mast 90 feet high. The observatory also contained a printing press for the production of copperplate engravings.

Most of the plates in Hevelius's published works were engraved by the author, and by siting the press so close to the place of observation he was able to ensure that his illustrations were as accurate as possible. He was renowned for his sharp eyesight; he could see stars of the seventh magnitude with his naked eye.

Selenographia, sive, Lunae descriptio, printed in 1647, is probably Hevelius's most important work. Hevelius aimed to produce an authoritative atlas and study of the moon, derived from his own observations. The book contains 133 engraved plates, many of them depicting the moon and its phases.

The copy of Selenographia in the Foyle Special Collections Library contains a surviving volvelle, a plate with a revolving dial and thread to calculate the phases of the moon; in other copies of the book this has often been lost or damaged through frequent handling.

Engraving of the surface of the moon. From: Johannes Hevelius. Selenographia, 1647Hevelius assigns names to the geographical features observable on the moon's surface (seas, mountains, etc) frequently borrowing the nomenclature of terrestrial geography; thus, there is an island of Sicily, complete with a Mount Etna and an island of Corsica, both in the Mediterranean Sea.

A few of these names - the Alps, the Apennines and the Caucasus - are still used today in lunar topography, but on the whole Hevelius's nomenclature was supplanted later in the century by that of Giovanni Battista Riccioli.

The copy of Selenographia held at the Foyle Special Collections Library is in a fine contemporary vellum binding. It is bound up with three of Hevelius's later works: his Epistolae (1654), his Dissertatio de nativa Saturnae facie (1656) and his Mercurius in Sole visus Gedani (1662), all of them printed in Gdansk at their author's expense and all of them illustrated with Hevelius's engraved plates.

The provenance of the volume is intriguing. On the title page of the fourth work, Mercurius in Sole visus Gedani, is an inscription in ink in what appears to be a contemporary hand. Part of the inscription has been cut out.

What remains reads:

Nobilissimo et Clarissimo Viro Dni. ... amico Singulari. Autor.

The workshop of Johannes Hevelius, showing astronomical instruments. From: Johannes Hevelius. Selenographia, 1647Was the book a gift from Hevelius to a fellow astronomer? If so,  to whom? What we know of the later history of this book's provenance may yield a clue. It was part of the library of the London Institution, founded in 1805, and was acquired by King's along with much other material from that library, in 1918.

Another London Institution book, now also held in the Foyle Special Collections Library, is a copy of Giovanni Alfonso Borelli's De vi percussionis (Leiden: ad Petrum van der Aa, 1686) which bears on its engraved title page the signature of John Flamsteed (1646-1719), the first Astronomer Royal. Hevelius corresponded with Flamsteed for many years, and it is possible that our copy of Mercurius in Sole visus Gedani was a gift to him.

Another possible clue lies in the fact that the young Edmond Halley (1656-1742) visited Hevelius in 1679; if the book was given by Hevelius to Halley this would also explain its presence in an English library. In the absence of further information, however, the identity of this early owner remains a matter of conjecture.

Further reading

Eugene Fairfield MacPike. Hevelius, Flamsteed and Halley: three contemporary astronomers and their mutual relations. London: Taylor and Francis, 1937

Scott L Montgomery. The moon and the western imagination. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1999

John David North. The Norton history of astronomy and cosmology.  New York: Norton, 1994

A Pannekoek. A history of astronomy. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1961           

Defeat at Gallipoli

by Kate O'Brien, Archives Services Manager (Collection Development)

In April 1915 Allied forces attacked the Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey, in a huge combined military and naval operation.  They hoped to gain control of the important sea route to southern Russia from the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea, and ultimately to capture Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire. 

The Ottoman forces put up a determined defence at sea and on land and after months of fighting, disease and hardship, the Allies retreated in January 1916.  It was the their single most humiliating defeat of the War, and General Sir Ian Hamilton as commander of the Allied forces took much of the blame.

Map of Gallipoli penisula from 1915 belonging to Gen Sir Ian Hamilton

This is Hamilton’s original map showing the position of the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand) forces, with copious extra notes in Hamilton’s own hand.  On the reverse is what appears to be a draft speech, clearly written out at speed.  Intended to rally the troops and stir their morale, with the benefit of hindsight it rings very hollow. 

Hamilton candidly admits that they lack crucial reconnaissance information, and that the beaches will be ‘cramped’ for the planned mass landings.  His hopes that the Allies will ‘jump plump on both feet together’ were swiftly dashed – by his underestimation of the Ottoman opposition as much as the lack of planning.

Map of Gallipoli from 1915 showing condition before restorationThis map has recently been conserved by John Cuthbert, former Senior Conservator at Guildhall Library.  The paper had disintegrated along its fold lines and the map was in ten pieces, too fragile to be used by researchers.  It can now be consulted in the Archives Reading Room, alongside the rest of the Hamilton collection, with extensive and unique primary source material on the planning, conduct and aftermath of the ill-fated campaign, and hundreds of Gallipoli photographs, some of which can be seen on our Serving Soldier site at Gallipoli Examined.

The Archives are also marking this anniversary with a display The Gallipoli Campaign which can be seen in the foyer of the King’s building.

For more information on the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives’ World War One holdings see our joint World War One research guide including our collections and those held by Special Collections and the LHCMA World War One A-Z listing of our relevant collections.

Scrofula and the royal touch

By Brandon High, Special Collections Officer

John Browne. Adenochoiradelogia; or, An anatomick-chirurgical treatise of glandules & strumaes, or kings-evil-swellings. London: printed by Thomas Newcombe for Samuel Lowndes, 1684

[Foyle Special Collections Library, Rare Books Collection RC311.1 B8]

This book examines the phenomenon of the ‘royal touch’ for the disease of scrofula, also known popularly as the ‘King’s Evil’. The author, as surgeon-in-ordinary to Charles II, would have witnessed the ceremony of the royal touch many times and this work provides the most overt ideological justification for its supposed healing powers.

Scrofula: precursor of tuberculosis 

Scrofula was defined as such before the modern classification of diseases came into being. It was an infection of the lymph glands surrounding the neck, although adjacent parts of the body could also be affected. In many cases, the symptoms of this disease would today be classified as tubercular, though they could possibly have indicated other diseases, including cancers.

Origins and significance of the royal touch

Title page of: John Browne. Adenochoiradelogia, 1684Although Edward the Confessor is thought to be responsible for the earliest recorded use of the royal touch in England, its continuous use by monarchs in both England and France is thought to have originated during the 13th century.

Scrofula was not the only disease which was deemed curable by the magical powers of the monarch: until the reign of Elizabeth I, when the practice was discontinued, English monarchs regularly touched for epilepsy.

However, for reasons which have never been satisfactorily explained, scrofula has been the disease which has been most closely associated with the royal touch. A possible reason could lie in the nature of the disease itself. Prolonged remission is a recognised medical characteristic of tuberculosis, as of epilepsy, and such alleviation could be presented as apparent cure.

Relapses could always be attributed to the patient’s lack of faith or to some other shortcoming. Failure to abide by the correct procedure, in particular the prohibited sale of the gold ring which was given by the English monarch to the sufferer, could also result in the royal touch being deprived of its supernatural power, as Browne emphasises.

There was a clear political reason why monarchs would desire to lay claim to this power. If monarchs asserted that their political legitimacy derived from divine sanction, and if they desired to trump the competing claims of the Church and the feudal aristocracy to such a supernatural mandate, they would have to offer tangible proof of semi-divine powers.

In so doing, they would aim to appeal over the heads of the Church and the aristocracy and establish a mystical communion with their suffering subjects, most of whom lay well outside the political system. It would also be important that it was generally accepted that this power was hereditary, and inhered in the monarch even when he or she was no longer on the throne, or even alive. Browne emphasises this with tales of miraculous cures effected through touching the blood of the executed Charles I.

The ceremony of the royal touch

Frontispiece showing King Charles II healing subjects through the royal touch. From: John Browne. Adenochoiradelogia, 1684It was no accident that the ceremony of the royal touch mixed religious trappings with a pagan ritual. Pre-Christian practices suffused the lives of many people from all social backgrounds throughout the medieval and early modern periods. In other contexts, ecclesiastics would denounce the use of such magical powers as wicked, even though they admitted their efficacy. However, the ceremony of the royal touch remained in the Book of Common Prayer until the middle of the 18th century.

Medical orthodoxy, King Charles II and the royal touch

The practice of the royal touch was much favoured by the Stuarts. King Charles II had practised it in exile as a method of asserting his rightful claim to the throne and of symbolising a bond with his subjects and his descendants continued to practise it after they were banished in 1714. Over 90,000 sufferers received the royal touch during his 25-year reign, reaching a peak in the two years before Browne’s book was published.

Browne makes explicit the political motivations for the royal touch and makes a point of referring to anti-Royalists, such as Quakers, who were ‘cured’ by it. Puritans regarded the royal touch with great suspicion, and viewed it as inherently Catholic.

It is no coincidence that when almost nobody believed in monarchical Divine Right, as was the case in Britain after 1714 and in France after 1789, the royal touch became obsolete.

There were also commoners who purported to possess similar thaumaturgical powers, the most famous of whom, the Irish landowner Valentine Greatrakes (1629-88) also performed surgical operations and was endorsed by leading members of the Royal Society, including the chemist Robert Boyle.

Frontispiece portrait of John Browne. From: John Browne. Adenochoiradelogia, 1684Browne and other medical men accepted practices which would now be termed ‘faith healing’ partly because orthodox medicine, even by the admission of its own practitioners, was of very dubious efficacy.

Those who could not afford physicians relied on a very mixed economy of practitioners and self-medication. Many of these ‘healers’ practised occult remedies.

Although Browne describes the orthodox regimen for scrofula in detail, which included the usual prescriptions for regulated diet, rest, air, emetics and phlebotomy and makes clear that thaumaturgy is the last resort, he does not believe that occult healing contradicts orthodox medicine, but compensates for its inadequacies.

Further reading

Frank Barlow, ‘The King’s Evil’, The English Historical Review, 95, (1980), 3-27

Marc Bloch. The royal touch: sacred monarchy and scrofula in England and France. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974

Helen Bynum. Spitting blood: the history of tuberculosis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011

Harold J Cook. The decline of the old medical regime in Stuart London. Ithaca, NY : Cornell University Press, 1986

Peter Elmer, ‘Greatrakes, Valentine (1629-1683)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 26 Jan 2015]

Peter Elmer, ‘Medicine, religion, and the puritan revolution’, in: Roger French and Andrew Wear (eds.) The medical revolution of the seventeenth century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989 10-45

Kenneth F Kiple (ed.) The Cambridge world history of human disease. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993

Ian Lyle, ’Browne, John (1642-1702/3?’)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 26 Jan 2015]

FG Parsons. The history of St. Thomas’s Hospital: volume II, from 1600 to 1800. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1934

Roy Porter, ‘The early Royal Society and the spread of medical knowledge’, in: Roger French and Andrew Wear (eds.) The medical revolution of the seventeenth century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989 272-293

KF Russell, ‘John Browne, 1642-1702, a seventeenth-century surgeon, anatomist and plagiarist’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 33 (1959), 393-414, 503-518

Keith Thomas. Religion and the decline of magic: studies in popular beliefs in sixteenth-and seventeenth-century England. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973 [1971]

Andrew Wear. Knowledge and practice in English medicine, 1550-1680. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000

Arctic searching expeditions

By Niamh Delaney, Special Collections Library Assistant

Sir John Richardson.  Arctic searching expedition: a journal of a boat-voyage through Rupert’s Land and the Arctic Sea, in search of the discovery ships under command of Sir John Franklin.  London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1851

[FCO Historical Collection G665 RIC]

In 2007 the Canadian government instigated a systematic, three-year search for the lost ships of Sir John Franklin’s ill fated 1845 expedition to discover the Northwest Passage. So began the latest chapter in a very long running mystery. 

Title page of featured item. From: Sir John Richardson, Arctic searching expedition, 1851Explorers first ventured out into the polar north in search of news of Franklin, his 129 strong crew and the two ships they travelled in, in 1848. Spurred on by sponsorship from Franklin’s widow, Lady Jane Franklin, dozens of search parties were launched in the years immediately following the disappearance. 

The Foyle Special Collections Library contains accounts from a number of these early voyages, including one of the earliest of them all   the Richardson-Rae trip of 1848, an expedition written up by Sir John Richardson in two volumes.

Though evidence of the fate of Franklin eluded the Richardson-Rae trip, as it did most early searches, these first expeditions were far from wasted. They played a crucial role in the mapping and understanding of the Canadian Arctic, with explorers typically bringing back copious notes relating to its geography and geology, climate and wildlife, and flora and fauna, as well as the customs of its native people. 

Richardson’s account is a great example of this, with sections on the character of the rocks, on poisonous plants, and on the culture, lifestyle and language of the ‘Eskimos’.

Portrait of a warrior from the Kutcha-Kutchin tribe. From: Sir John Richardson, Arctic searching expedition, 1851In addition, motivated by various scientific, commercial and territorial interests, explorers had been captivated by the search for a northern route west to Asia since the 16th century, and many of those that went looking for Franklin made important contributions to the discovery of the Northwest Passage along the way.

Indeed, John Rae (1813-1893), Richardson’s second officer, is notable for having made outstanding contributions to many of the areas of knowledge outlined above. He was renowned as an exceptionally skilled Arctic explorer, with his successes being in no small part related to an eagerness to learn from and adopt the survival strategies of the Inuit. This affinity with the Inuit no doubt played a crucial role in enabling him to discover the Rae Strait – the last link in a navigable passage from the Arctic to the Pacific Ocean. It also led him to news of Franklin. 

On his 1854 expedition, Rae came across a party of Inuit who had in their possession a number of artefacts of the Franklin expedition. When he enquired further, Rae was told that Franklin and his entire crew had perished, though in some cases not before resorting to cannibalism in a desperate attempt at survival.

Fossil leaves of a tertiary lignite formation. From: Sir John Richardson. Arctic searching expedition, 1851Unsurprisingly, when Rae brought this news back to London it scandalised Victorian sensibilities. Rae was rare in his respect for the Inuit: many others  –  prominent among them Charles Dickens  –  preferred to cast them as liars, or even murderers, rather than believe that an Englishman could be guilty of cannibalism. With the dismissal of Rae’s report came media attacks against him, and his reputation was long tarnished as a result.

The controversy over reports of cannibalism put a temporary halt on the race to find Franklin. Much like the hunt for the Northwest Passage, however, the desire to solve the mystery of the lost ships of the Franklin expedition loomed too large in the imagination of successive generations to be easily ignored, with additional attempts to find relics of Franklin’s last voyage taking place at various stages throughout the 20th century. 

Some of these searches led to significant discoveries; including relics of the original voyage and skeletons of the deceased, with knife-marks said to lend further evidence of cannibalism.

Frontispiece illustration of a winter lodge of the Kutchin tribe. From: Sir John Richardson. Arctic searching expedition, 1851 The latest, and perhaps most significant, breakthrough came in 2014. With the help of tools such as advanced sonar technology and remotely operated underwater vehicles, enabling a rigorous search of a large area of the Arctic Ocean, the project instigated by the Canadian government in 2007 struck gold.

On 1 October 2014, the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was able to publicly confirm that the wreck of the HMS Erebus – the ship captained by Franklin himself  –   had finally been found.

Further reading

BBC News US and Canada (2015). 'Franklin search: Canada confiirms ship as HMS Erebus' [ accessed 3 December 2014]

British Library (2015). 'Online gallery: Northwest Passage' [ accessed 5 January 2015]

Canadian Geographic (2015). 'The search for the lost ships of the Franklin expedition' [ accessed 3 December 2014]

Nellis M. Crouse.  The search for the Northwest Passage.  New York: Columbia University Press, 1934

Robert G  David .  The Arctic in the British imagination 1818-1914.  Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000

John Franklin. Narrative of a journey to the shores of the Polar Sea: in the years 1819, 20, 21, and 22. London: John Murray, Albemarle-Street, [1823]

[FCO Historical Collection G650 FRA]

John Rae Society (2015). 'John Rae biography' [ accessed 24 November 2014]

Andrew  Lambert .  Franklin: tragic hero of polar navigation.  London: Faber and Faber Limited, 2009

Orkney Jar (2015). 'Dr John Rae - the unsung Arctic hero' [ accessed 24 November 2014]

John Rae. Narrative of an expedition to the shores of the Arctic Sea, in 1846 and 1847. London: T & W Boone, 1850 

[FCO Historical Collection G650 1846 RAE]

Rhode Island College (2105). 'Dr Rae and Mr Dickens' [ accessed 24 November 2014]

Sir John  Richardson .  Fauna boreali-americana, or, The zoology of the northern parts of British America: containing descriptions of the objects of natural history collected on the late northern land expeditions, under command of Captain Sir John Franklin,  R.N. London: John Murray, Albemarle-Street, [1829-1837]

[FCO Historical Collection QL219 RIC]

Christmas as a Prisoner of War during the First World War

by Diana Manipud, Archives Assistant

Menu of British prisoner of war in German camp at Christmas 1917The First World War would bring about many changes to how familiar festive rituals would be celebrated. Christmas would be a particularly difficult period for families separated from their loved ones.

Many men had gone to fight in seemingly distant lands, with some becoming prisoners of war.  Around 192,000 British and Commonwealth captives were taken during the First World War.

Amongst these internees was Captain Graeme Chamley Wynne, who was serving with the British Expeditionary Forces when he was captured by German forces, during the Battle of Le Cateau, France, on the 26th August 1914. He was consequently held as an internee from 1914 to 1918.

This month's spotlight focuses on Wynne’s papers held at the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives which includes Christmas cards, menus and letters sent home to his parents that highlight how Christmas festivities might be adjusted to the unique circumstances of war.

In a letter home to his parents dated 30th December 1914, Wynne writes, “We were all very grateful, [and] all send their thanks, for the Xmas cards. They were the only touch of the 'season' we had [and] otherwise Xmas day was unrecognizable from any other; Life's little luxuries being rare”.

Text of part of a manuscript letter by Graeme Wynne, British prisoner of war 20 Dec 1914

However, the Christmas menus seem to tell us that he was able to celebrate Christmas in subsequent years to some extent, with one particular menu from 1917 (above) vividly illustrating a prisoner of war camp in Heidelberg enforced by barbed wire and a guardsman, as well as featuring the signatures of other internees who presumably had celebrated Christmas with Wynne.

The Christmas day menus also convey how Wynne and his fellow internees were able to celebrate the festive season in a more accustomed manner by managing to get hold of 'little luxuries' such as salmon, coffee and wine.

Menu for 29 December 1915 in German prisoner of war camp from Wynne collection

Menu from 29 December 1915

Despite the situation, they seem to have been able to put together some respectable spreads. It is ephemeral items such as these menus that provide a poignant insight as to how prisoners of war were able to celebrate Christmas - a brief respite from the harsh conditions of life in a prisoner of war camp.

Colonial Empire picture sets

Great Britain. Central Office of Information. Colonial empire picture sets. London: HMSO [1948-1962]

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Historical Collection OVERSIZE DA11 GRE

by Adam Ray, Assistant Librarian, Foyle Special Collections Library

In June 2014, the Foyle Special Collections Library began cataloguing approximately 80 sets of black and white photographs issued by the Central Office of Information and published by HMSO. Some of these have the title: Colonial empire picture sets and all were published between 1948 and 1962.

They illustrate social life and economic conditions in British colonies across the world, and provide a valuable resource for picture researchers in areas such as education, agriculture, tropical diseases, health care and economic development.

Independence movements and the move towards decolonisation

The period the photographs cover is significant, in that during this time independence movements across empire were gaining momentum. In the 1950s three countries, Ghana, Sudan and Malaya were granted independence and in the following decade many more followed. Britain, though part of the victorious Allies in the Second World War, was left bankrupt by the conflict and was no longer able – as the Suez Crisis in 1953 revealed – to act as imperial master.

Group of students from the former British Empire, with the City of London in the background. From: Britain aids the colonies. Great Britain. Central Office of Information

This move towards decolonisation was famously marked by Harold Macmillan’s ‘wind of change’ speech delivered in Cape Town in 1960, which signalled that Britain was willing to assent to the independence demands of many of its colonies and thus avoid prolonged bloody conflict, the like of which had engulfed the French in Algeria. These photographs document some of the last days of empire, when the notion that the British Empire was a force for positive change and economic and social progression was still being reinforced.

The Colonial Development Corporation

In these items - and in others throughout the series - Britain was keen to demonstrate how its involvement in its colonies had led to improvements in people’s living standards.

The Colonial Development Corporation, established in 1948, was set up to aid agricultural development in British colonies and is shown in this series aiding economic development by investing in various projects. Now known as the CDC Group, this organisation still offers investment to businesses throughout Africa and South Asia, its mission being ‘to support the building of businesses ... to create jobs and make a lasting difference to people's lives in some of the world's poorest places’.

In a publication in the series entitled Britain aids the colonies, it is recorded that the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1945 saw £12 million given to aid colonial progress during the period 1946-1956. In the photograph shown at the top of this article a group of scholarship holders from across Empire gather in the City of London, beneficiaries of £1 million allocated for special educational scholarships.

Leprosy and medical treatment

Another title in the series is entitled Leprosy can be cured. Images in this work show projects to treat leprosy in Nigeria and Malaya, with the benefits of western medical advances evident in the treatment of the disease through drugs such as DADPS, ‘an easily given sulphone drug which offers cure to sufferers from active leprosy within a period of three to five years’.

Doctor treating a leprosy patient with new drugs. From: Battle against disease. Great Britain. Central Office of Information

Western medical aid and advances in treatment have benefitted millions in poorer parts of Africa and indeed across the world and the development of appropriate drugs to combat the spread of disease in countries with poor healthcare facilities is unfortunately topical again, with the current urgent need to manage the ebola virus.

Image of the law courts in Singapore, seen across the Singapore River. From: Singapore (set of 6 plates). Great Britain. Central Office of Information The growth of Singapore

The post-war growth of the commercially important port of Singapore is documented through images of the law courts, the docks and harbour and the building of modern developments in old parts of the city.

Singapore had been under the control of the British since 1824, following an agreement signed between Sir Stamford Raffles (after whom the famous Raffles Hotel is named) and the Sultan of Johore Lingga in 1819 and became a key strategic and trade centre of the British Empire.

It declared independence from Britain in 1963 and remains one of the world’s most important trading and financial centres.

Image of the Singapore docks, with the harbour visible. From: Singapore (set of 6 plates). Great Britain. Central Office of Information

Sierra Leone and independence

Like many other African colonies, Sierra Leone achieved independence in the 1960s and the image shown here is of Sir Milton Margai, the first premier of Sierra Leone speaking at the Sierra Leone Constitutional Conference in London in 1960.Sir Milton Margai, first premier of Sierra Leone, making a speech in London at the Sierra Leone Constitutional Conference of 1960. From: Sierra Leone. Great Britain. Central Office of Information

This publication records that ‘Sierra Leone traces its origin to a settlement founded by a British philanthropist in 1781 as a home for freed slaves. 

The settlement grew steadily after the suppression of slave trading and in 1896 the hinterland became a British protectorate.’ 

In the later years of the 20th century, Sierra Leone experienced much conflict, a fate which has befallen many former colonial states as they attempt to foster stability and effective institutions in a globalised, post-colonial world.

British Overseas Territories

Some of the colonies referenced in these picture sets did, however, remain part of Britain, with Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands being two of the most notable examples. 

Gibraltar, a strategic ‘rocky promontory’ of Empire since it was ceded to Britain from Spain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht, played an important role as a naval port in both world wars and is today – like the Falkland Islands – classified as a British Overseas Territory. 

The image here shows the famous Rock of Gibraltar, warships in Admiralty Harbour and a view of Catalan Bay, on the rock’s east side.

Scenes from Gibraltar, including an overview of the Rock, warships and Catalan Bay. From: Gibraltar (set of 6 plates). Great Britain. Central Office of Information 

Other items in the series

Through our research, we found other copies of these items at libraries around the world, including in Australia and at the Library of Congress but no other institution is recorded as having such a complete set as King’s.

• A 1956 publication showing the nutmeg harvest in Grenada, which gained independence from Britain relatively late, in 1974 and remains a major centre for the cultivation of the spice

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Historical Collection OVERSIZE DA11 GRE

• In a 1962 publication, the picking of high quality sea island cotton in Antigua is illustrated. Antigua became a self-governing state within the Commonwealth in 1967 and (with Barbuda) achieved formal independence in 1981

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Historical Collection OVERSIZE DA11 GRE

• One of the biennial sugar cane crops of British Guiana is shown on its way to processing in 1956, 10 years before the country achieved independence

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Historical Collection OVERSIZE DA11 GRE

• An image showing agricultural development in Swaziland shows two factories: one concerned with the canning of pineapples and the other with the manufacture of wood for building board. Swaziland had been a British protectorate since 1903 and gained independence in 1968, nine years after the publication of this set of photographs.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Historical Collection OVERSIZE DA11 GRE

Further reading

Commonwealth Development Corporation. ‘Who we are’

[, accessed 1 Oct 2014]


King's College School, Nassau, Bahamas

by Frances Pattman, Senior Archives Assistant

Prospectus for King's College School, Nassau, Bahamas in the1830s ASC_sp_KA_IC_K3-Prospectus-p2-croppedIn May 1835 a committee was formed in Nassau, the Bahamas to draw up plans for a new school -

‘denominated the “KING’S COLLEGE SCHOOL”, and be formed, as far as local circumstance will permit, on the model of the School bearing the same name in London, and which School is a preparatory School for the instruction of boys, previous to their entering King’s College’. 

It is widely supposed that this proposal never came to fruition.  However, the College Secretary’s In-correspondence in the Archives of King’s College London includes letters revealing the history of the school and the College’s involvement. 


The proposal was put before the Council of King’s College London who supported the plan and agreed to recruit a headmaster.  The school was opened in September 1837 with Revd William Bridgman as its head.   Sadly, Bridgman’s wife became ill and so they returned to England in 1840 with their two young children who were both born in Nassau.  The Board of the School chose to promote the Second Master, Revd Daniel Darnell, to the headship but he appears to have struggled with the pressures of the role and resigned due to ill health. 

Minutes of King's College Council relating to Nassau school ASC_sp1_KA_C_M2-1835-Nov-13 A replacement had to be found so once again, in July 1841, the Council of King’s College London was approached to make the selection.  It was more than a year before a new head was in post.  The delay was due to the Board wondering if they could entice William Bridgman back and then Revd Collett who was appointed to the post had a change of heart and withdrew shortly before he was due to leave for Nassau.  Following a second round of advertising the successful candidate was the Revd John Fletcher.  He arrived in Nassau in August 1842 and, according to his first letter back to the College on 3rd September, what he found was not at all what he had been led to expect. 

According to his letters, Fletcher’s time at the school was one of conflict, disappointment and sadness.  He believed that certain members of the Board of Directors were acting against him and blocking his attempts to run a successful school.  This may or may not have been true; his predecessors didn’t seem to have the same opposition.  It is just as likely that the political and economical difficulties that the islands faced were as much a cause of the strife as anything. 

Despite tendering his resignation on several occasions, John Fletcher did stay in his post for almost three years.  During this time, he married the daughter of the Chair of the Board of Directors for the School (John Campbell Lees), although she sadly died in May 1844 at the age of 22.  When he left the island, John Fletcher first went to Havana, Cuba where he wrote his final letter to the College and told them of his intention to travel back to England via Yucatan, Mexico and America.

Letter by John Fletcher sent in 1845 from Havana concerning King's College School Bahamas KA_IC_F19-Fletcher-Havana The school closed in 1845 when Fletcher left and was passed to the authority of the Bahamian Government.

Thomas Bowen and Bethlem Hospital

Thomas Bowen. An historical account of the origin, progress, and present state of Bethlem Hospital, founded by Henry the Eighth, for the cure of lunatics, and enlarged by subsequent benefactors, for the reception and maintenance of incurables.  London: printed in the year MDCCLXXXIII. [1783]  [Foyle Special Collections Library, Rare Books Collection RC450.E2 BOW]

by Brandon High, Special Collections Cataloguer

This month’s 'In the spotlight' concentrates on Thomas Bowen’s history of Bethlem Hospital, published in 1783 and purchased by the Foyle Special Collections Library earlier this year. It was the first history of Bethlem Hospital to be published, although it makes no claims to scholarly accuracy.  

 Engraved frontispiece from featured item

Hospital care in early modern England

The Henrician Reformation had almost denuded England of the social institutions whose traditional purpose had been to care for the indigent. Medieval hospitals had, in any case, a general duty of hospitality and care for those who needed it, a capacious category which included the sick, though it went far beyond them. Those who were affluent customarily received medical care in domestic privacy until well into the 19th century.

In 1700 England had only two publicly endowed hospitals – St. Thomas’s and St. Bartholomew’s – and Bethlem Hospital was the only publicly endowed lunatic asylum. During the course of the 18th century, as a result of a growing population, an increasing element of which was poor and marginalised, and the presence of an increasingly wealthy mercantile class which was able to engage in charitable activity, more institutions akin to Bethlem were founded. However, need far outstripped supply. Organisations such as Bethlem were dealing with more than just the mentally ill; they were endeavouring to cope with demographic and economic changes, which, in the eyes of many contemporaries, were ‘solved’ only by the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which created the workhouse system.   

Continental Europe had a network of such hospitals which were supported either by ecclesiastical or by state authority. Although conditions in these places were very far from ideal, both state and church continued to recognise certain responsibilities which had been abandoned during the Reformation in England. In order to fill this chasm of need, private ‘madhouses’ came into existence in England from the late 17th century onwards. Public concern about the negligence or sadistic brutality of a number of madhouse keepers toward their charges resulted in the first attempt to regulate them by law in 1774. Although there was much to criticise concerning standards of care and medical practice in Bethlem Hospital in the 1780s, these were not among the worst of that era, particularly when compared to the practices of its Continental and private counterparts.  

The history of Bethlem Hospital to the 1780s

Patient chained to a bench in hospital. From: Etienne Esquirol. Des maladies mentales, 1838 The origins of Bethlem Hospital lay in medieval piety. The priory of the Order of St. Mary had been founded in 1247. From 1377, having been seized by King Edward III, it was used for lunatics. The Crown granted it to the City in 1546. From 1557, it was jointly managed with Bridewell, a prison in Blackfriars, by a court of governors. After its old premises on the site of the present Liverpool Street station had been destroyed by fire, it re-opened in 1676 in a new building designed by the polymath Robert Hooke. Its capacity had increased to just over a hundred.

At the start of the 1780s, Bethlem was struggling to cope with the cumulative impact of a number of problems. From the 1730s onwards, it had departed from its former policy of not treating patients defined as ‘incurables' - those who had been insane for more than one year. As few of these patients were private patients and therefore could not cover their own costs, they posed an agonising financial problem for the hospital.

These resources, unfortunately, were not increasing, due to the mismanagement of the Hospital’s finances, which included embezzlement, and a shortfall in philanthropic finance, which arose from the adverse impact of the War of American Independence on the fortunes of the mercantile class in the City of London.

Both medical practice and the public mind were beginning to accept that lunatic asylums might have a therapeutic purpose and that the human mind was susceptible of being changed by the benevolent intentions of others, although the really significant impetus for reform did not come until the 1790s, with the work of  Philippe Pinel in France and the Tuke family at the York Retreat. A mood, exemplified by Henry Mackenzie’s novel The Man of Feeling (1771), that benevolent humanitarianism, excited by pity at the distress of others, was something that should be encouraged, is reflected powerfully in Thomas Bowen’s pamphlet.

Thomas Bowen’s account

The historian Roy Porter has described Bowen’s pamphlet as ‘unblushing panegyric.’ If one accepts that its aim was to raise funds for a hard-pressed organisation, and that it was never intended as a ‘history’, as its title implies, it has value as a primary source which can tell us much about contemporary attitudes to social virtue, altruism and philanthropy.

It also provides scant information on medical care and therapeutics, although it does note, correctly, the comparatively humane treatment of patients, respect for their privacy, and the healthy and spacious condition of the building. It also ignores the practice of exposing patients to public view, which had only recently ceased. As the regimen of the Hospital was unimaginatively Galenic, employing techniques of purging, cupping and bleeding, and so was broadly akin to the practices of similar institutions, Bowen obviously did not think it worthy of comment.  

Bowen and the psychology of philanthropy

Title page from featured itemThomas Bowen was a Fellow of St. John’s College Oxford. However, more importantly, he was Reader and Schoolmaster at Bridewell Hospital, whose livelihood depended on the personages to whom he dedicated the pamphlet, the Governors of Bridewell and Bethlem and three named people, one of whom, the Worshipful Richard Clarke, was the Treasurer of Bethlem Hospital and the Lord Mayor in 1784.  

The Clerk of Bethlem sent Bowen’s Account to the Governors, members of both Houses of Parliament, and to many bankers and editors, after having been instructed by the Governors to distribute it ‘in such a manner, as may tend most effectually to promote the Interests of that most excellent Charity.’ In his plea for more money, Bowen shamelessly flatters those who were the intended recipients of his plea.

Bethlem was, according to Bowen, an ‘illustrious monument to British charity’, which owed everything to ‘the wealthy and munificent City of London.’ Bowen also had a very shrewd perception of his own era’s exploration of human motivations:  

And here the mind, which rejoices to indulge the pleasing sensations of benevolence, cannot but feel the warmest glow, when it perceives how much the hospital of Bethlem has been indebted to secret, unknown benefactors. He who conceals his good deeds cannot possibly be influenced by any other than the purest motives: it is the merit of the objects only that he regards; these he weighs well before he gives his alms, and he is seldom mistaken in their application.

Bowen’s remarks here reflect the ongoing 18th century debate concerning human motivation and psychology. Just as neuroanatomists were looking at physiological, as opposed to metaphysical, explanations for human behaviour, so philosophers, such as Adam Smith, and polemicists, such as Bernard Mandeville, were examining the connections between human virtue or vice and the functioning of society.

Those, like Mandeville, who favoured self-love and self-interest as the wellspring of social harmony and prosperity, or, as Alexander Pope put it in the Essay on Man, ‘Self love and social are the same’, were influential, but were opposed by those, like Adam Smith, who believed that altruistic sentiments, prompted by a desire for social approval, were essential for social order. Bowen must have been aware of these arguments, and even more conscious of the mixed feelings, including, perhaps, guilt, which prompted his intended audience to give.  

This pamphlet is, truly, about much more than Bethlem Hospital.   

Select Bibliography

  • Jonathan Andrews [et al]. The history of Bethlem. London/New York: Routledge, 1997
  • Roy Porter. Madmen: a social history of madhouses, mad-doctors and lunatics. Stroud: Tempus, 2004 [1987]
  • Roy Porter. The Enlightenment: Britain and the creation of the modern world. London : Allen Lane, 2000
  • Andrew Scull. The most solitary of afflictions: madness and society in Britain, 1700-1900. New Haven/London : Yale University Press, 1993 
  • Leonard Smith. Lunatic hospitals in Georgian England, 1750-1830. Abingdon/New York: Routledge, 2007


1839 Treaty

Treaty between Great Britain, Austria, France, Prussia, and Russia, on the one part, and The Netherlands, on the other. Signed at London, April 19, 1839 [London: 1839] [Foyle Special Collections Library, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Historical Collection FOL. JX636 TRE]

by Brandon High, Special Collections Cataloguer

This month’s ‘In the spotlight’ features the Treaty which was the ostensible reason for Great Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in 1914. It was included in the 2014 exhibition, 1914-18: the most stupendous struggle, which ran in the Maughan Library’s Weston Room. 

1839 Treaty on display in exhibition case
Why was Belgium neutral?

The treaties which guaranteed Belgian neutrality in 1831 and 1839 were signed in the immediate aftermath of the achievement of Belgian independence in the revolution of 1830. The Congress of Vienna in 1815 had ‘gifted’ Belgium to the Netherlands as a buffer state to curb any revanchist ambitions which France may have possessed. However, the political ghost of Napoleon was not the only problem on the minds of the ruling classes of Europe, as they attempted to restore the ancien régime after the horrors (as they saw them) of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. 

Liberalism and nationalism were regarded as the common enemies of all hereditary rulers. If there were an outbreak of either of these viruses anywhere, the whole of Europe might become infected. Threatened by nationalist discontent of his own in Poland, the Tsar of Russia was on the verge of mobilising soldiers to suppress the Belgian uprising. This would have threatened, in turn, intervention by King Louis Philippe of France, whose rule had not yet been consolidated after he had come to power in a revolution in France that same year. The treaty guarantee of Belgian neutrality saved Europe from war at that point by maintaining Belgium’s status as a buffer state. 

This Treaty, however, did not give explicit military guarantees, which was deliberate; and it arose from a quite specific international problem. For this reason, William Gladstone, during his first term as prime minister, felt the need to guarantee Belgian independence against possible incursions by Napoleon III during the Franco-Prussian War through a more explicit undertaking in a supplementary treaty, which, however, had a definite time limit. 

By the early 20th century, the official opinion of the Foreign Office was that the Treaty of 1839 did not amount to an explicit military guarantee. When Sir Edward Grey, the foreign secretary in Asquith’s Liberal government from 1905 to 1916, mentioned the Treaty guarantee to Belgium in his speech to the House of Commons, in which he justified the British declaration of war, on 3 August 1914, it was almost as an afterthought to a long elaboration of Britain’s obligations to France. Yet the Treaty guarantee to Belgium has loomed large in accounts of the British decision to abandon its own neutrality in 1914.

Great Britain and its relations with the European powers before 1914

So what was at stake for British interests? Great Britain had certainly not extended explicit military guarantees to France (about which France complained bitterly) or to Russia. It was not bound by anything to enter a war on anybody’s side. 

A significant number of cabinet ministers desired a treaty with Germany; Britain’s position in international poltics was not fixed. (Even states which had signed agreements with other states did not regard them as binding: the decision of Italy in 1915 to ignore its existing treaties is a case in point.)  Its war plans had assumed that the British contribution would be largely naval, and that the size of a British expeditionary force on the Continent would be relatively insignificant. This was so even after 1911, when British military planners had come to the conclusion that a confrontation with Germany in Belgium or France was more likely to happen than the hitherto envisaged scenario, that of a conflict with Russia in Central Asia.

Why did Great Britain go to war?

The Asquith government declared war because it recognised that British interests were directly threatened by Germany’s invasion of Belgium, in two ways. Ever since the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain had sought to prevent one power from becoming predominant in Europe. Although it had managed to live with the Napoleonic domination of Europe for some years, the experience had been so perilous that British policymakers had no desire to risk its recurrence.

Second, ever since the 16th century, Britain had regarded designs on the Low Countries by unfriendly powers, whether France or Spain, as a threat to its maritime interests in the North Sea. Not only the British Empire but also British ‘invisible’ earnings (from shipping, insurance, etc.) depended to a large extent on mastery of the seas, and did not want these to be challenged by a state which was intent on building up its navy. 

Although, as the economic historian Niall Ferguson and many others have pointed out, the British Empire lost its pre-eminent place in the world thanks largely to the War, British politicians and diplomats thought that the German threat to Britain’s formal and informal empires was real, and made all the more pressing by the uncomfortable fact that, regardless of the war, Germany was by 1914 more economically advanced and stronger than Great Britain. The entry of the British Empire into the war, precisely because it was a global empire, and more global than the French, made it a world war; and the extent of its economic connections, embracing as it did a very significant quantity of investments in the Americas, made the entry of the United States into the War more likely. 

Asquith and Grey thought that they had to include the Treaty guarantee as part of the justification for war because the Liberal party had serious internal disagreements on this issue, a factor which contributed to a formal split in 1916. A secondary factor in Grey’s mind was the fear of reprisals by either France or Russia against British colonial interests if Britain did not come to their aid. 

A substantial part of the parliamentary party, when not actually pacifist, was deeply suspicious of anything that smacked either of ‘jingoism’ or Realpolitik. If Liberals were to support the Cabinet’s decision, the decision had to be ostensibly grounded on moral obligation rather than on naked self-interest. As the government had not enjoyed a majority in Parliament since 1910, and depended on the support of Labour and the Irish Nationalists, it would have been embarrassing for Asquith and Grey to lose the support of their own party.

Detail showing Article VII from 1839 TreatyThe illustration above shows the Treaty open at Article VII, with an underlining in pencil indicating the guarantee of neutrality. The person responsible for the underlining could have been a Foreign Office official.

  • Correlli Barnett.  Britain and her army, 1509-1970: a military, political and social survey . London: Allen Lane/Penguin, 1970
  • Max Beloff.  Imperial sunset: vol. 1: Britain’s liberal empire, 1897-1921 . London: Methuen and Co. Ltd., 1969
  • John Charmley.  Splendid isolation?: Britain, the balance of power and the origins of the First World War . London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1999
  • Richard J Evans. ‘Before the First World War: what can 1914 tell us about 2014?’ New Statesman, January 23rd 2014.
  • Richard J Evans. ‘Enough of the armchair generals’,  The Guardian  (Review), March 15th 2014
  • Niall Ferguson.  The pity of war.  Harmondsworth: Allen Lane/Penguin, 1998
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  • CP Gooch and Harold Temperley (eds.) British documents on the origins of the war, 1898-1914: vol. XI, the outbreak of war, Foreign Office documents June 28th-August 4th 1914. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1926
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  • Michael Howard. War and the liberal conscience. London: Maurice Temple Smith, 1978
  • Michael Howard. The continental commitment: dilemmas of British defence policy in the era of two world wars. London: Temple Smith, 1972
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