The time bomb Claus von Stauffenberg alias Tom Cruise carries in Valkyrie: the movie, is made with components provided for by the British, whereby the July 20 plotters hoped for a never confirmed, peace deal with England.
Of course from a historical point of view, there were initiatives in many branches of government aimed at negotiating an Anglo-German peace accord. Andrew Roberts might have a point with his amusing observation, "There were so many amateur and professional contacts between the protagonists in the various neutral countries that one is left with the impression that it must have been hard to get to the bar in any Swiss cafe during the Phoney War for all the spies discussing peace terms with one another.”1
But aristocrats where certainly among them, and not only to try and secure a peace deal with England. On 27 November 1940, there was a meeting in San Francisco between two men and a woman: the person who joined Stephanie von Hohenlohe and Fritz Wiedemann for 'peace talks' was Sir William Wiseman, former head of the British Secret Service in the western hemisphere. Stephanie genuinely saw herself as the woman who wanted to stop the war and who could have been a peace broker, and that the war would be over by the beginning of 1941. Her son Prince Franz even published an essay to this effect, entitled “The Woman who Almost Stopped the War.” The question also arose as to who in Germany would back such a peace plan. The first name to be mentioned was that of Crown Prince Wilhelm, who later would refuse cooperation with “Valkyrie,” that entailed killing Hitler in 1944. Stephanie also mentioned the Gestapo and SS chief, Heinrich Himmler, as a possible ally, on the grounds that he was a “royalist.”2
Thanks to her remarkable gifts for networking and negotiation, Stephanie who in fact obtained her title trough her marriage, was employed as a society columnist by Lord Rothermere. She gained access to the German Reich Chancellery in Berlin and got to know Adolf Hitler personally. Conveniently overlooking her Jewish origins, Hitler began to employ her on secret diplomatic missions. She reached the peak of her success when Hitler awarded her the Golden Insignia of the Nazi Party and gave her a castle in Austria. By this time Hitler's adjutant, Fritz Wiedemann, had been her lover for several years. However, when this liaison was discovered by the Fuhrer, Wiedemann was dispatched to the USA in a junior diplomatic post, and Stephanie followed him.
During their conversation, Wiedemann trustingly informed Sir William that the German embassy in Washington and all official German establishments in the USA had received instructions from Berlin not to do anything that might mobilize American public opinion against Hitler and the Third Reich. On 13 January 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt received a 30-page summary of the meeting of the 'peace envoys' in California. Hoover's summary includes this account of the princess's contribution to the discussion:
The Princess stated that she had not seen Hitler since January 1939. Wiseman then suggested that Hitler might think she was going to Germany on behalf of the British. In reply to this remark, the Princess stated she would have to take that chance but that Hitler was genuinely fond of her and that he would look forward to her coming, and she thought Hitler would listen to her. When asked by Wiseman just what she would say to Hitler, she replied, 'I must say more than "war is terrible and must stop",' She stated she would make Hitler see that he was 'butting against a stone wall' and make him believe that at the opportune moment he must align himself with Britain and that such an alliance would bring a lasting peace.
The Princess stated that she would set forth three powerful arguments: First that Hitler had failed to conquer Britain [two months earlier the RAF had beaten off the German Luftwaffe, and Hitler's plans to invade Britain were postponed indefinitely.]; secondly that the alliance with Russia [i.e. since the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of August 1939.] and Italy was of little importance compared to an alliance with Britain which would bring about a lasting peace. She stated also that 'Mussolini is a clown, the laughing-stock of the whole American nation'. [ ... ] She continued that the third point in her discussion with Hitler would be to point out the strength of the American nation and that “anybody that told Hitler that the German Reich was stronger than the United States, was telling damn lies.”3
Forthcoming as she was, Stephanie however also pointed out to her colleagues that President Roosevelt was already technically in breach of US neutrality by sending fifty destroyers to Britain at America's expense. Hence it didn’t come as a surprise that Roosevelt himself did not think much of the endeavors of Wiedemann and Princess Stephanie, it was already too late.
Interesting, Stephanie also belonged to the exclusive Cliveden Set. This informal grouping took its name from the Thames-side country house, Cliveden, near Maidenhead. owned by Lord and Lady Astor. Lady Astor (1879-1964) was born Nancy Witcher Langhorne and brought up in Virginia, one of the five exceptionally good-looking Langhorne sisters.
The Cliveden Set was a group of people sympathetic to Germany, who advocated a policy of appeasement towards the Nazi regime. It existed alongside two other informal pro-German associations in London: the Link, and the Anglo-German Fellowship. Together they formed the basis for National Socialist infiltration of Britain, both on the political and the propaganda level. The Link received financial support from Berlin; it and the Anglo-German Fellowship were also backed by Lord Rothermere and his son Esmond. So it is no surprise that Princess Stephanie was made an honorary member of the Anglo-German Fellowship. Her most important and influential friends in this association were Lord Elibank and Lord Sempil It was through these two members of the House of Lords that the princess was kept constantly informed about shifts in policy and sentiment within the British government.4
In London there were other hostesses who played a high-profile role in the three pro-German circles already mentioned. One was Lady Londonderry, wife of the Marquess of Londonderry, holder since 1935 the office of Lord Privy Seal, and another was Lady (Emerald) Cunard, another American-born Englishwoman. Lady Cunard, the widow of Sir Bache Cunard, maintained a literary and musical salon and was known as 'the Queen of Covent Garden'. In 1935 she was full of enthusiasm not only for Hitler but also for Ambassador Ribbentrop, and it was said that she, through Wallis Simpson, influenced the Prince of Wales to favor Germany. It was at the instigation of Lady Cunard that the conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham, gave a concert in the Berlin Philharmonic Hall, which Hitler himself attended. In 1936 Lord and Lady Londonderry visited Hitler together; in February 1937 she described Hitler as the symbol of the new Germany, as its creator and a born leader, a captivating personality and a man who possessed the greatness 'to act in a perfectly normal way'. She was convinced that he was a guarantor of peace and of friendship with the British. He had preserved Germany from communism and he alone “could be relied upon to save Europe.”5
The term "Cliveden Set", which was later bandied about by influential journalists, was an exaggeration, a most ominous example is the at the time popular in the USA “None Dare Call It Conspiracy” by Gary Allen. The Cliveden Set as Norman Rose details, however simple consisted of a number of leading British figures, who enjoyed Nancy Astor's hospitality over long and interesting weekends.
As another example of conspiracy theory mongering in 1962 an early member of the Cliveden Set, Lord Robert Henry Brand, was consulted by Carroll Quigley an American professor of History at Georgetown University about a piece of research he was doing. Later published in “Tragedy and Hope” told of a 'secret society' founded by Cecil Rhodes and 'his principal trustee', Milner. Devoted to the preservation and expansion of the British Empire, it still functioned. Known variously as Milner's Kindergarten, or the Round Table group, or the Cliveden Set, they met “secretly” at All Souls, Blickling and Cliveden. Among its leaders he named Lothian and Brand. Quigley crowed that he had revealed “one of the most important historical facts of the twentieth century”, for this group had been “the unknown force guiding Chamberlain's government”, the “hidden factor” responsible for its policy. Brand however had no time for this kind of nonsense if “Astounded” at Quigley's conclusions, Brand dismissed his conjectures as “absolute moonshine” and “entirely without foundation.” Summing up, he told Quigley: “Your ideas on this subject are a mare's nest based on an illusion.”6
Not meaning the group around Nancy Astor but general concept of British society as a whole, outlined in a paper by the German foreign ministry was that of a pyramid in which the upper class played a vital political role and consequently seemed to be a much more important player than its dethroned German counterpart.7
Thus as we have seen so far, the interwar years seem to have given some nobles brief political opportunities-in Germany for those surrounding Hindenburg, in Hungary those following Horthy, in Spain those collaborating with Franco, and as we have started to see also, be it to a lesser degree-in England. This would indicate that in countries in which fascist or authoritarian regimes were successful the aristocracy experienced a last hurrah. Yet what part did they really play in such movements? Are we perhaps falling for a left-wing conspiracy theory by overestimating the nobility's political prowess and underestimating the degree to which they often stood as a conservative bulwark against the radical right? Measuring the explanatory variable, let us therefore first continue by taking a closer look at England, and next test our thesis in P.3 on two additional examples, France and Rumania.9
As with fascism agreement on a common definition is difficult to find, we will not claim any false precision. What was not meant however in the case of Germany in P.1, is the concept of a “conservative revolution”, a phrase particularly popular in the older historiography of the subject in Germany. Generally speaking, as we have seen, the radical right was composed of groups that existed in small numbers on the political margins of Europe before the First World War, but became increasingly powerful in the interwar years. There were affinities and coalitions between conservatives and the radical right. Disgruntled former Tories in Britain, for example, were as much fascinated by authoritarian and later fascist regimes as Prussian conservatives who eventually turned to Hitler.10
Nobles were suddenly confronted with republics, revolutions, and an influx of 'Bolshevist' ideas. The Red threat varied from country to country, of course; but the international network of the European aristocracy tried to turn it into a common experience-a class war seemed to be imminent. How, if at all, did they as a result become a focus for anti-democratic tendencies? Or, to quote Dominic Lieven's last sentences in The Aristocracy in Europe 1815-1914: In extremis, would aristocrats be sufficiently reactionary or civilized to remain constrained by traditional conceptions of religion and honor, or would insecurity, resentment of lost status and agnosticism lead them down the path towards totalitarian nationalism and its inevitable companion, barbaric anti-Semitism?11 In fact debates about a new order (preferably based on the old one) in which aristocrats would play a leading role took place in all European countries after 1918.
According to the Duchess of Westminster the aristocracy led rather a schizophrenic life: The dark shadows were caused by labor problems, strikes and unemployment. From time to time I wrote cheerfully in my diary that we seemed to be on the brink of a bloody revolution, but it was a possibility which had been at the back of the minds of the upper classes since the days of Marie Antoinette and which they had got quite used to, so in the next sentence I went on to describe how I was trimming a hat or arranging a dinner party.12
In England furthermore, as we have started to see, German aristocrats were, useful in doing the proselytizing. Aristocrats preferred talking to aristocrats, and access to each other was easily gained, even if there was no family connection. The aforementioned international communication within the aristocracy worked again: German aristocrats passed on their positive experiences with the new regime to their English cousins in order to give Hitler more credibility abroad. British aristocrats and the royal family were bombarded with glowing reports about the Third Reich. Some of the delivery boys were well chosen. By recruiting for example the Duke of Coburg, the Nazis gained a direct channel to the British peerage and monarchy. For Coburg, the Nazis offered the chance to play a political role once again: “but what pleases me most is that they still need our help. In spite of their saying nowadays that the young must rule.”13
Coburg had strong personal reasons to hate the Communists. His sister-in-law Victoria was married to Grand Duke Cyril and used Coburg as a base to further her husband's candidature as the only legitimate tsar in exile. This brought her into contact with the German extreme right, first Ludendorff, then Hitler, who in 1922 celebrated the infamous German Day in Coburg.14 'Charlie' Coburg wholeheartedly supported his Russian relatives and their new German friends, and tried to export this crusade to England. His correspondence with his sister, the Countess of Athlone, extracts of which have been made available by the Royal Archives in Windsor, indicates that in the 1930s he used her house as a base for propaganda talks, and later reported to Berlin on their outcome.15
British country houses must have been busy places in the 1930s, the last heyday of country house politics. Coburg was only one of many go-betweens. Goering even cultivated a ménage of aristocrats with international contacts, including Stephanies first husband Max Hohenlohe (who had excellent contacts and worked for Goering in Czechoslovakia, Spain, and Switzerland) and the Wieds family. The aristocratic grandeur of Goering, a self-styled renaissance man, who invited his British guests to hunting parties and entertained like Louis XIV, as Chips Channon noted, seemed familiar and appealing to international members of the aristocracy. British aristocrats, true 'choreographers' themselves, were full of admiration for the pomp of fascist movements. 16
Nor was the idea of charismatic leadership remotely alien to the British aristocracy they regarded themselves as the bearers of ‘inherited glory'. And referring to the Duchess of Malfi wrote, “The cinema star had not yet eclipsed the duchess,” as the Duchess of Westminster put it.17 Furthermore the Nazi policy of anti-Semitism did not prove to be an obstacle to liking the regime. Lord Redesdale and Churchill had admired Houston Stewart Chamberlain's Foundations if the Nineteenth Century, and the aristocratic discourse about racially pure elites was as strong in Britain as in Germany (although in Britain this was mainly connected with the Empire).18
After the First World War anti-Semitic conspiracy theories thrived among all classes and aristocrats were in the lead. Their anti-Semitism ranged from the 'mild' forms used within the Cecil family to obsessive outbursts such as those of the Duke of Northumberland at the far end of the spectrum, who believed in a Jewish Bolshevik conspiracy. Richard A. Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, even consulted a book entitled Jews Who's Who, which gave an exact breakdown of how much Jewish blood was flowing in English aristocratic veins.19 Such issues also worried the organo-fascists who have been analysed by Dan Stone. This group, in some ways similar to the German Blut und Boden ideologues, were known as the English Mistery, and believed in an 'organic society, a holistic, unitary, racially pure body in the sense of being rooted in the soil, and led by a hereditary landed aristocracy that instinctively performed its leadership role'. 20 Its members included anti-Semites as well as reactionary conservatives such as Anthony Ludovici and Viscount Lymington. The latter eventually left the Mistery and founded the English Array, which was pro-German.21
The papers of the German foreign ministry show that the Nazi regime placed great hopes in this movement. One reason was that lesser British royals had connections with the Mistery and English Array, another was that it held out the promise of becoming an opposition movement: “this group is extremely anti-parliamentarian. It includes people from the politically interested upper classes, among them numerous members of the House of Lords.”22
The above points show that during the interwar period aristocrats were for a number of reasons attracted to fascist ideas. But ultimately the British aristocracy had more to gain by conformity. In the House of Lords debate of 1934 on the British Union of Fascists, the higher ranks of the nobility fought amongst themselves as to which interpretation was correct. After the aforementioned Earl of Kinnoull had accused his fellow peers of helping to finance fascist movements in Britain, Viscount Esher responded that if the choice had to be made between Stafford Cripps and Oswald Mosley, it would have to be Mosley: There are innumerable quiet people in this country, who hating both those gentlemen, will, if they are forced to choose between them, I am glad to say, choose Sir Oswald Mosley.23
Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, who was later to become Londonderry's formidable opponent, considered this response dangerously nonchalant. He reminded the House that radical parties which believed they could come to power by force were a danger to the constitution. This House of Lords debate, with its three aristocratic archetypes ranging from the far left to the far right, shows how important this institution, written off by many as irrelevant, was for upholding aristocratic decorum. It played a crucial role in enabling fellow peers to exert social control over radical aristocrats. Its traditional political language and social code did not allow aggressive confrontations.
In Germany after long overdue reform debates, the first chambers and the Prussian Upper House disappeared in 1918, and soon afterwards the radical Deutsche Adelsgenossenschaft (DAG) usurped their position, forcing conformity on the German aristocracy. Britain had more political pluralism within the aristocracy than did Germany. 'Red' aristocrats, the Duchess of Atholl being the most prominent example, had always caught the limelight. Others were fairly apolitical, such as Nancy Mitford, Mosley's sister-in-law, who enjoyed making fun of him and her Hitler-obsessed sister Unity in Wigs on the Green. The Mitfords were the most famous, but not the only, aristocratic family divided by politics.
Institutional ties with the government are, ultimately, what prevented the British aristocracy from following the same path as their German cousins. Aristocrats often had younger sons or sons-in-law in the 'House of Pretence' (that is, the House of Commons), unpopular though it might be, and this meant that for the sake of their careers they had to give due consideration to political and social issues. Furthermore, solidarity with the losers, for example, the impoverished Anglo-Irish aristocracy, was over by the 1930s. They were eventually written off, many ending their lives in genteel Irish poverty or in lodging houses on the south coast.24
Another reason why radical ideas were held in check amongst the English aristocracy was that this group, unlike their German counterparts, had various lines of retreat. After losing formal and institutional status in 1918 the German aristocracy continued to focus on the land, and did not try to find new career opportunities. The English aristocracy, on the other hand, had more than one iron in the fire. They had never been totally dependent on life in the country-indeed, it was precisely their investment in urban centers, industry, and the Empire that had made them strong. Their relationship with country life was characterized by a mixture of pragmatism and mysticism. But despite any sentimental attachments, they took less and less responsibility for countryside affairs, for instance, in church matters.25
Because the British aristocracy had always worked at many levels as a local, national, and imperial elite, the Empire was an ideal safe haven in a crisis. It enabled the English aristocracy to create a flourishing parallel universe, an aristocratic Disneyland full of replica country houses and urban palaces. Many aristocrats, such as the Marquis of Graham (later 7th Duke of Montrose) or Lord William Scott (son of the Duke of Buccleuch), moved to the White Highlands of Kenya and Rhodesia, and created a feudal lifestyle. Viscount Lymington was to join them in 1947, deeply disappointed by post-war England.26
He should have
counted himself lucky not to have been interned under Regulation 18B. A
recently published MI-5 file shows that another ardent fascist, Viscountess
Downe, was not interned because “if too many titled people are arrested the
public might get the wrong idea as to the importance of the Fifth Column in
this country.”27 Many illustrious Hitler admirers-among them Tavistock, Buccleuch, Westminster, Brocket, Mar, and Queenborough-escaped prison. It could hardly be seen as
surprising that the establishment was covering up for its own people. Halifax,
for example, forwarded pro-Nazi correspondence he received from the public to
Special Branch, On the outbreak of war every aristocrat did his duty. For some
this meant a schizophrenic lifestyle. The Marquis of Graham served on
destroyers in the Mediterranean, but whenever he and his brother had time they
were involved in pro-peace activities and secret meetings with the Duke of
Westminster.28 This group did not give up its ideologies overnight.
1 Andrew Roberts, The Holy Fox. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991,182.
2. Martha Schad, Hitler's Spy Princess: The Extraordinary Lifeof Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe, 2004, 136.
3. Idem, Schad, 136-37.
4. For a detailed description see Norman Rose, The Cliveden Set: Portrait of an Exclusive Fraternity, 2000.
5. See Ian Kershaw, Making Friends With Hitler: Lord Londonderry, the Nazis, and the Road to War II, 2004.
6. Rose, The Cliveden Set, p. 212
7. Report by Herr von Korostovetz, a former Russian diplomat who worked for the Nazi reglme. Auswartiges Amt Archiv Berlin, Pol. 2977175.
8. See in particular Martin Blinkhorn (ed.), Fascists and Conservatives: The Radical Right and the Establishment in Twentieth-Century Europe, London, 1990.
9. Using different material, a similar comparison was initially started by Walter Demel, in ; Der Europaische Adel vor der Revolution: Sieben Thesen, in Ronald G. Asch (ed.), Der europaische Adel im Ancien Regime: Van der Krise der staendischen Monarchien bis zur Revolution (1600-1789) Cologne, 2001, 420.
10. Martin Blinkhorn (ed.), Fascists and Conseroatives: The Radical Right and the Establishment in Twentieth-Century Europe (London, 1990).
11. Lieven, Aristocracy in Europe, London, 1992,242.
12. Loelia, Duchess of Westminster, Grace and Favour: The Memoirs of Loelia, Duchess if Westminster, London, 1961,123.
13.Duke of Coburg to his sister, Alice, Countess of Athlone, 2 Mar. 1939, AV/FF 31 Athlone, Royal Archives, Windsor.
14. Stalin was paranoid about the emigres. The Cheka even invented a front group, the Trust, which fooled monarchists. It became a source of misinformation for monarchist groups about events in Russia and aristocrats also invested in it financially. See Andrew Barros, 'A Window on the "Trust": The Case of Ado Birk', Intelligence and National Security, 10/2 (April 1995), 275.
15. Thank you letter from Charles, Duke of Saxe Coburg, to Alice, Countess of Athlone, 15. Apr. 1936, AV/FF 3/ ACA/10, Royal Archives, Windsor.
16. Earl of Portsmouth, A Knot if Roots, London,1965, 49.
17. Loelia, Duchess of Westminster, Grace and Favour.
18. Karina Urbach and Bernd Buchner, Der Briefwechsel zwischen Houston Stewart Chamberlain und Prinz Max von Baden (1909-1919), Vierteljahrshäfte fuer Zeitgeschichte, 52/1, January 200), 121-77.
19. According to the Duke of Westminster, the Jews themselves, not liking to be revealed in their true colours, had tried to suppress this interesting publication and his copy was the only one that had escaped some great holocaust.' Loelia, Duchess of Westminster, Grace and Favour, 189.
20. Dan Stone, Responses to Nazism in Britain,1933-1939, London, 2003, 165.
21. See Richard Moore-Colyer, 'Towards "Mother Earth": Jorian Jenks, Organicism, the Right and the British Union of Fascists', Journal of Contemporary History, 39/3, July 2004, 354; Jorian E. F. Jenks was the agricultural expert for the radical right. He fought for the impoverished landed aristocracy that had been ousted by an 'alien plutocracy'. According to Jenks the aristocracy should stay in charge: The aristocratic principle of respect for the past, careful husbandry of the present and stewardship for the future was pivotal to the organicist credo and, by implication demanded a stable society susceptible to sympathetic, yet firm, authority. Ibid. 366.
22. Bericht iiber politische Erneuerungbestrebungen im Sinne autoritarer Staatsführung, Pol. 29 77175. 2 May 1934, Auswartiges Amt Archiv, Berlin.
23. ”Fascist Organisation in this country”, Parliamentary Debates, Fifth Ser. xc, House of Lords, Session 1933-4, p. 1013.
24. David Cannadine, Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy,London, 1992, 699.
25. For this see Peter Mandler, The Fall and Rise of the Stately Home (London, 1997) and Alun Howkins, The Death of Rural England: A Social History of the Countryside since 1900, London, 2003, 21-2.
26. Martin Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts! Faschist And Fascism in Britiain Between the Wars, 2005, 82.
27. PRO KV 2/2146, National Archives, Kew. However the viscountess wanted to go to prison. Her lawyer even planned a 'question being put to the Home Secretary as to why you have not been detained while certain working class members in your constituency have'. Ibid.
28. For this see Pugh, 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts', 307.