Ava Anderson, Lady Waverley, (1896-1974) was a renowned society hostess and confidante. Among her papers at the Bodleian Library is a collection of letters from Harold Macmillan (1894-1986) which provide a fascinating insight into his political career 1947-74. Harold Macmillan’s friendship with Lady Waverley provided him with a confidential sounding board for his thoughts. This particular letter dates from 12 August 1961, whilst Macmillan was Prime Minister.
Macmillan mentions that he has applied to join the European Community. Achieving British membership was a key part of his government’s foreign policy. However, Charles de Gaulle would veto British entry in 1963, fearing that an Anglo-American alliance would dominate Europe. It would be another ten years until Britain joined the European Community in 1973.
It is not all serious politics. Writing to Lady Waverley whilst she was on holiday in Italy, Macmillan jokingly suspects that their correspondence is under surveillance by the Italian authorities. His abhorrence of thrillers and detective novels, and his delight in seeing his children and grandchildren create a really human picture of the former Prime Minister.
The letter also includes a poignant account of his visit to see an elderly Winston Churchill at his home at Chartwell, where Macmillan is saddened to see the decline of a once powerful statesman.
These letters to Lady Waverley show us Macmillan through his own words, and provide a personal complement to Macmillan’s own archive, which is also held at the Bodleian, on deposit.
A catalogue of other papers of Lady Waverley held by the Bodleian is available online.