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The Oldham West by-election: looking back to 1968

CCO 500-18-114 - Michael Meacher (Labour)

[Michael Meacher’s election address, Oldham West, June 1968: Shelfmark: CCO 500/18/114]

Polling Day in the Oldham West & Royton by-election takes place tomorrow,  3rd December, 2015, in the constituency formerly held by the late Michael Meacher, the veteran Labour MP who held the constituency for 45 years, who died in October.

While the Westminster parties prepare for the voters’ verdict in this the first by-election of the 2015-2020 Parliament, the detailed records of Conservative Central Office, deposited at the Bodleian Library as part of the Conservative Party Archive, afford us the opportunity to look back to 13th June, 1968, when the last by-election was held in Oldham. While the conditions of 1968 were very different from today, there are some obvious parallels as well.

The Oldham West by-election took place four years into the Labour Government led by Harold Wilson which had been strengthened by its 1966 election victory. But despite leading what was arguably one of the most socially progressive governments of the 20th century, Wilson was dogged by economic problems and imposed austerity measures in a number of areas – notably introducing prescription charges, increasing National Insurance contributions, and reducing tax allowances. In addition, poor economic growth and the large deficit had resulted in Wilson’s decision to devalue Sterling the previous year.

Taken against this backdrop, some kind of protest vote was probably inevitable. But the scale of the by-election defeats which Labour suffered took all the parties by surprise, and paved the way for the Conservatives return to power at the 1970 general election. The Oldham West by-election was the eighteenth of the 1966-1970 parliament, and the sixth of eleven by-elections to be fought in 1968 alone, of which eight resulted in Conservative victories, including five which were gains from Labour.

Oldham West & Royton, as it is now, was created as a parliamentary constituency only in 1997, formed primarily out of Oldham West. Since the late 19th century, Oldham had demonstrated a marked preference first for the Liberals until the early 1920s and then for Labour (one of the few exceptions to this was Winston Churchill’s election there as a Conservative in 1900, though he subsequently crossed the floor to the Liberals in 1904). Since 1945, Oldham West had been represented continuously by Leslie Hale. A highly popular MP locally, at the 1966 general election he had been returned with an increased majority of 7,572. The by-election was caused by his decision to retire.

Oldham clearly had its problems by the end of Hale’s tenure. Traditionally the centre of the UK Cotton Industry, and at one time the most productive cotton spinning mill town in the world, by 1968 this was an industry in decline. A public opinion survey commissioned by the Conservatives and undertaken by the Opinion Research Centre (ORC) between 9-13 February, 1968 found that Cotton was rapidly being overtaken by Engineering as the main industry in Oldham, with 65% of those surveyed feeling that the Labour Government had failed to provide sufficient support to the Cotton Industry. Perhaps surprisingly, Tommy Thompson, Head of Communications at Conservative Central Office, advised against focusing the Conservative campaign on this point. In a note to the Party Chairman dated 1st March, 1968, he said,

I think there is always a tendency, perhaps, to be slightly nervous about old and dying industries – and often to over-compensate by paying too much attention to them….[It] suggests to me that our campaign should concern itself more with the importance of the new industries rather than bemoaning the decline of the old.

[Source: Memorandum from Tommy Thompson, Head of Communications at Conservative Central Office to the Party Chairman, 01/03/1968: shelfmark: CCO 500/18/114]

While the survey found that 74% of voters felt they would be affected by the economic problems facing the country, and 50% were worried about rising prices and the cost of living, generally, Oldham’s voters felt that the Labour government had handled the issues of education, the NHS, road and traffic, well. Surprisingly with the furore going on elsewhere concerning Immigration following Enoch Powell’s inflammatory ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, only 2% of those surveyed considered this to be a problem for Oldham. In his Preliminary Report on the Oldham by-election, dated 15th February, Tony Garner, the Central Office Agent for the North West Area, advised the Conservatives to run a ‘softly-softly’ campaign, intended to avoid rousing the Opposition, while at the same time encouraging full mobilisation of the Conservative vote. Agreeing with this, Tommy Thompson recommended that the one exception should be over Defence:

It is necessary, for the faithful, to appear to be bashing the Government pretty hard and the defence aspect of the cuts is one which, while satisfying the hard core party boys, is fairly harmless. If, for example we can point pretty strongly at the waste of money which has turned the RAF into a Eunuch…it might damage the Government…

20151127_113412(rev)

[Extract from memorandum by Tommy Thompson, Head of Communications at Conservative Central Office, to members of the Party’s Policy Initiatives & Methods Committee dated 14th February, 1968, concerning the strategy for dealing with the by-elections: Shelfmark: CCO 500/18/114]

From the outset, a major hindrance to the Conservative campaign was felt to be the Party’s own candidate. Bruce Campbell, a veteran of Dunkirk who had seen service across the Middle East and Italy during the Second World War, had stood unsuccessfully in Manchester Gorton during the 1955 General Election, and Oldham West in 1966, where he was kept on by the local Conservative association to fight the by-election. But despite his previous experience, Central Office had no confidence in him. Richard Webster, Director of Organisation at Conservative Central Office, reporting on the situation to Deputy Party Chairman Sir Michael Fraser on 6th February, stated,

Mr Campbell is not an impressive figure. He appears to be very lacking in personality though probably a nice enough chap. In addition, even the Chairman tells me he is an appalling speaker.

This opinion was supported by Tony Garner a week later:

Mr Campbell is not a strong Candidate. Although he is an eminent barrister he is a poor speaker and seems to lack personality. However, he is highly thought of in Oldham and there is no question of any alternative.

He went on,

The Candidate’s political knowledge is limited and it will be necessary to have someone attached to him from Research for the period of the Election.

Chris Patten was mentioned as a possibility, but with Conservative Research Department personnel stretched due to the spate of by-elections then being fought, he was directed to Meriden, where that by-election was due to be held on 28th March.

PUB 229-1-18 - Bruce Campbell (Conservative)1 PUB 229-1-18 - Bruce Campbell (Conservative)2

[Election address of Bruce Campbell, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Oldham West, June 1968: Shelfmark: PUB 229/1/18]

To add to the Conservatives’ woes, their experienced local Agent was ineligible to take on the duties expected of him as an Election Agent during the campaign as he was then serving as the Mayor of Oldham. A temporary replacement had been brought in but after a 4-month delay in determining the date for the by-election, he had left, and the post was then filled by Mrs Blaby, a ‘qualified Women Organiser employed by the Area’.

As today, much was made of Labour’s seeming inability to attract many of its ‘big-hitters’ to campaign in Oldham in 1968. Webster wrote on 5th June, just over a week before polling,

They claim that they have 17 MPs canvassing. With the exception of one press officer from Transport House no other officials other than the Area Agent for Yorkshire have been seen….[They] do not strike me as being very high powered lists of speakers and the obvious missing links are Roy Jenkins, Barbara Castle, Michael Stewart, Anthony Crossland, Jim Callaghan, Richard Crossman, Dennis Healey, etc.

In contrast, the Conservatives persuaded a number of its Front-Benchers to assist in Oldham, including Bernard Braine, Selwyn Lloyd, Anthony Barber, Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Alec Douglas-Home, and Margaret Thatcher.

The Conservative investment in Oldham paid off. Despite Central Office’s concerns about its candidate, Bruce Campbell was elected with a majority of 3,311, and a swing to the Conservatives of 17.7%.

Weekend Talking Point Weekly News

[How the by-election victories were reported in 1) the Conservative Party’s internal newsletter for Party activists – Weekend Talking Point; and 2) the main Party newsletter, Weekly News, June 1968: Shelfmarks: PUB 216/5 and PUB 193/22]

The Conservatives’, and Campbell’s, success in Oldham was short-lived, however. Despite the 1968 by-elections anticipating the national swing to the Conservatives at the 1970 General Election, Campbell bucked the trend and lost his seat, and Oldham returned to Labour control for the next 45 years. Campbell himself returned full-time to the Law and ultimately became a Circuit Judge. In 1983, he was caught by Customs attempting to smuggle whisky and tobacco into Ramsgate aboard his yacht, following which he received the ignominious accolade of being the first judge to be struck off by the Lord Chancellor.

Web Archiving at the Bodleian

Web archiving is a relatively new initiative which is becoming more and more of a priority as we realise how rapidly the World Wide Web is expanding and how transient web pages can be. The Bodleian Libraries is working to ensure meaningful online content is captured for posterity and future research.

The British Library’s UK Web Archive blog published a worrying chart of how many URLs are now irrecoverable because the content is simply no longer available online:

eya blog pic 2

(‘What is still on the web after 10 years of archiving?’, UK Web Archive Blog, 2014)

To combat this in the future, the Bodleian has been contributing to the British Library’s UK Web Archive, alongside the five other legal deposit libraries for the UK (the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, Cambridge University Library, and the library of Trinity College Dublin). We do this by selecting sites to be archived and deciding how often snapshots of their content should be taken, which ranges from weekly to annually to just a one-off interactive picture of the site. The Bodleian has ensured the World Wide Web’s recording of significant global happenings has been captured by curating collections on the Ebola epidemic and Typhoon Haiyan. As well as this, the Bodleian contributes to collections managed by all the legal deposit libraries, such as the UK General Election and the Scottish Independence Referendum, and offers input into what sites should be considered key sites and crawled regularly. These cover a broad range of subjects, from news sites to governmental sites to sports sites, to ensure the strongest representation of society today is preserved.

As well as this initiative, the Bodleian has been developing its own web archive, which seeks to archive sites which relate to the University of Oxford, and to the Bodleian’s archival holdings. We are working hard to capture the websites of the various colleges, departments and sub-divisions which make up the university, as well as building web archive collections around the subjects of Arts and Humanities; International; Science, Medicine and Technology and Social Sciences to complement and strengthen our physical holdings. Sites include those relating to J.R.R. Tolkien, the Conservative Party and research sites on colonialism and the British Empire. We welcome public nominations for sites you deem worthy of perpetual preservation, and also invite the public to consult our current web archives. You can find links to both here.

Websites crawled in the UK Web Archive are produced in the United Kingdom and so can be crawled under the E-Legal deposit act. The Bodleian’s Web Archive, on the other hand, relies on gaining permission from the website owner to capture the website. If permission is granted, we add it to our collections, and set it to a One-Time, Monthly, Bi-monthly, Quarterly, Semiannual or Annual crawl, and the captures are available online after each time they are produced. The work does not stop there though, as websites are constantly updated, which means we need to check collection-crawls at determined intervals to make sure we are still preserving accessible content.

Since beginning the web archive in March 2011, we have captured a broad range of websites, and have accessible archives of content that is no longer available, such as the webpages for the Conservative Women’s Organisation for Yorkshire and the South West.

As well as preserving valuable transitory content, the web archive charts the development of websites. A screenshot of the Bodleian Libraries’ homepage captured in October 2011 in contrast to that taken in October 2015 demonstrates how much websites transform visually and aesthetically, as well as documenting their content changing.

eya blog pic 1

(capture of www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk, October 2011)

eya blog pic 3

(capture of www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk, October 2015)

If you would like to learn more about using web archives as scholarly resources, there will be a free public lecture on the subject on the 11th December 2015. You can reserve tickets here.

Explore your Archive

Next week the Bodleian Libraries will be participating in the Explore Your Archive campaign. Now it in its third year, Explore Your Archive is an annual campaign deliverd by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association to promote the UK archives sector.

From Monday 16 November through to Friday 20 November the Archives and Manuscripts blog will feature daily posts on some of our current work and items from our collections selected by staff.

Search and Searchability, or Desperately Seeking Susan’s Husband: an anonymous Regency diarist revealed

The diaries in question comprise three small volumes, written on three separate excursions to the South coast in the summers of 1813, 1821 and 1822. They were purchased in late 2012 as anonymous holiday diaries.

John Cox diary 1813-cover

The path to discovery is so convoluted that I thought it would be worth recording the steps by which authorship was established. The story illustrates the power of the Internet, not necessarily in the data it contains (though there is much of great use), but more in its ability to establish links between isolated snippets of information which themselves may lead nowhere, but together provide enough pieces to complete the jigsaw.

Before I outline the steps to discovery, I will make a short digression on the subject of Fawcett Road, Southsea. When my grandmother died in 1989 we found her birth certificate among her papers, and discovered that her mother’s maiden name was Lesar. She was born in South Africa, and I was keen to discover who the Lesars were. I knew absolutely nothing about the family, and that is the way it remained for many years. However, as the internet grew and there was more and more family history activity, I found quite a lot of information about the name Lesar. It is a Sephardic Jewish name; or it is a French Huguenot name. Or a German name. Or Croatian perhaps. You can find all these facts out there, but I was getting no nearer to establishing who my Lesars were. I did however find a passenger list recording the voyage of my South African family to England in 1923. The address they gave as their destination was Fawcett Road, Southsea.

1280px-VOC-schip_'Slot_Ter_Hooge'_op_de_rede_van_Rammakens

Dutch East India Company ship

I searched the Internet for the actual address, and to my astonishment found the exact address on a family history website that linked up many families including my great grandfather’s family from Nottinghamshire.The owner of the website had lost track of my great grandfather and his brother because she was unaware that the reason they disappear from British records is that they had emigrated to South Africa. The Fawcett Road address, however, established that their sister lived in Southsea. From this one piece of information I have reconstructed the family history, established links with a double cousin (the two emigrant brothers married two Lesar sisters in South Africa), and found that the Lesars in the Cape originated with a ship’s boy, Isaac Lesar or Leser, a German in service with the Dutch East India Company, who arrived in Cape Town in 1787.

So what has this got to do with our seaside journals? I mention it because the whole process of discovery illustrates the point about what can be done with the tiniest scrap of information when there are means to link it to data elsewhere. So the first thing needed to identify our author was belief that it would be possible and not a complete waste of time. Fortunately the diaries are quite short, and so I set myself to read through them as quickly as possible to pick up any references to names or places that might give the slightest lead. Let me list the scraps of information in the order I found them.

James_Pollard_-_North_Country_Mails_at_the_Peacock,_Islington_-_Google_Art_Project

Mail coaches at the Peacock, Islington, 1821 [Wikimedia Commons]

 i) The author was certainly from London, where he began his coach journey, and appeared to be from Islington. In the 1822 diary he begins by telling us that he wished himself 1000 times back in Pleasant Row – apparently he always began his holidays in a gloomy mood. Pleasant Row was certainly the name of a street in early 19th-century Islington (now Pleasant Place) as I was able to establish from the digitised version of the Victoria County History for Middlesex.

ii) The author was on holiday with his wife, whom he refers to as Mrs C. This suggested that his own surname began with C.

Cox sketches

Sketch of the Govers near Hastings, 1813

iii) The author knew someone by the name of Mr Basire. In the 1813 volume he tells us that having gone out sketching with his camera lucida, and dined on duck, he wrote to Basire and Mr Barnett. The combination of the unusual name of Basire and the camera lucida gave me grounds for optimism that he might have something to do with the well- known dynasty of engravers, James Basire, and his son James Basire II.

iv) The author received a letter from William Tite to tell him that William’s mother was going to join the author on holiday. William Tite was also sufficiently uncommon a name to try searching, and I immediately found a William Tite born in 1798 who was in the Dictionary of National Biography as a noted architect. This seemed too good to be true. However, I had seen a pencilled note at the end of the 1822 volume which I took to read ‘S Elgar artillery cottage Brighton’. I noticed in the DNB entry for WilliamTite that his mother was one Sarah Elgie, and on returning to the inscription later, realised that it did indeed read ‘Elgie’. But that is jumping a little ahead.

Cox sketch

Sketch of ‘Sumpting’ (Sompting) church, 1822

v) Mrs Tite joined our author and his wife on holiday. The author, Mrs C and Mrs Tite went for a walk, and the ‘two sisters’ fell twice on the slippery grass. So now I had established a relationship with the Tite family, but I still had no surnames as I hadn’t picked up the significance of the name Elgie at this point. The author also refers to ‘Susan’, and from the context it was apparent that Susan was one and the same as Mrs C.

vi) On 17 August our author records that he received a letter from Mr Basire and another from Benj. Cox. The name Cox interested me given that our author was Mr C. So I searched James Basire together with Cox, and found that James Basire II had married a Mary Cox. Now I returned to the previous entry mentioning Basire and Mr Barnett, and searched Cox, Basire and Barnett. This landed me on Exeter Working Papers in Book History: London 1775-1800 which showed me that Basire, Barnett and Cox were all engravers or printers, and that there was a company Cox, son, and Barnett, copper plate printers, 6, Bream’s Buildings, Chancery Lane. I then contacted Julian Pooley, an expert on John Nichols, editor of the Gentleman’s Magazine,  and his family of printers and antiquaries, whose archives are a major source for the study of the book trade. He confirmed that Nichols corresponded with Cox and Barnett, and that the company was employed in producing plates for the Gentleman’s Magazine.

vii) The final piece of the jigsaw was established with the author’s entry for 25 August 1813. Having visited a dripping well and eaten a fine custard pudding, he recorded that ‘I wrote on Tuesday last to Mr Basire to ask the favour of Mary to come with Mr and Mrs Moore should they come here – or if Mr and Mrs B thought proper to let James and Mary come – should like much to shew my dear Mary the delightful scenes rural, Romantic & grand …’.

John Cox diary 1813-Basire

“I wrote on Tuesday last to Mr Basire”

 This ‘dear Mary’ was clearly intimate with the author; furthermore she was dependent on James Basire, and linked with another James. Surely this must be Mary Cox, wife of James Basire II? And this evidence suggested that the author was most probably her brother.

But I still did not know his name. So I tried searching for Susan Cox Islington, and when this proved fruitless, I tried Susannah as I believed I had seen the name so written though I had not noted it. ‘Susannah Cox Islington’ revealed the existence of a will in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury records in the National Archives, dated 1831. To view this required a subscription, but fortunately a colleague’s mother had the necessary memberships, and soon I had the information I needed. To my delight I found that Susannah Cox, widow, lived at 4 Pleasant Row. She left her worldly goods to various Basires and Elgies. She even left a copy of Hannah More’s Practical Piety which Mr Cox mentioned in his diary as his companion on a lonely walk one day. But I still did not know her husband’s name though he was now established as Mr Cox, brother-in-law of James Basire II.

The camera lucida in action [Wikimedia Commons]

The camera lucida in action [Wikimedia Commons]

Surely, since I knew now that Mr Cox must have died between 1822 and 1831, it must be possible to find his will too. A search for Cox Islington turned up one or two post-1831 wills. But then I remembered that on one occasion Mr Cox mentions his wife’s birthday, her age and the length of time they had been married, which in 1822 was thirty-one years. So now I tried a new tack, looking for the marriage of Mr Cox and Susannah Elgie in London in 1791. And quite quickly I found it in a digitised copy of The Register Book of Marriages belonging to the Parish of St George Hanover Square. John Cox married Susannah Elgie on 15 February 1791.

With all this information it was now easy to find John Cox’s will in the PCC records. He did not have an Islington address, but instead used his business address – Bream’s Buildings, Chancery Lane, the location of Cox, son and Barnett. His obituary was in the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1825, a rather poignant recollection of the man which fitted well with what I had come to know of him in his short diaries kept in just three summers of his life – his religion, his interest in music, and above all his fascination with medieval churches which he sketched with his camera lucida.

Gent Mag Cox obit

 

Marks of Genius and Waterloo 200: The MP for Banbury meets Napoleon in 1814

The current Bodleian exhibition, Marks of Genius, asks us to consider the meaning and context of the concept of genius. In this 200th anniversary year of the battle of Waterloo, it seems appropriate to kill two birds with one blog, and consider a contemporary attitude to Napoleon whom many, even his opponents, regarded as a genius.

Opnamedatum: 22-08-2008Frederick Sylvester North Douglas (1791-1819). Print from an original sketch by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Rome 1815 [Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, ref. RP-P-1972-6]

 

Frederick Sylvester North Douglas (1791-1819), MP for Banbury, classical scholar and admirer of Byron, was on the Grand Tour from 1814 to 1816. This necessary part of the education of a gentleman had been denied to Britons during the almost continuous wars with France from 1793 to 1814. But now, with Napoleon defeated and exiled to the tiny island of Elba, the once invincible Emperor himself had become part of the tour. There are at least three accounts of visits to him on Elba in the manuscript collections of the Bodleian Libraries.

Elba_Bay_-_PortoferraioPortoferraio, Elba

 In November 1814 Frederick Douglas was in the north of Italy, and resolved to arrange a visit to Bonaparte to see for himself what the conqueror of much of Europe was really like. He booked himself a passage with Captain Adye on HMS Partridge, a small warship which plied between Elba and the mainland and patrolled the Elba station. Douglas wrote in his journal [MS. Eng. misc. c. 815] on Monday 14 November:

When we awoke after a very quiet night we found ourselves entering Porto Ferraio one of the safest as well as most beautiful in the Mediterranean.… The town itself tho very steep is prettily situated in an amphitheatre upon the port. … The house in which Napoleon has fixed his residence is in the upper part of the town with a fine view of the sea & of every vessel that goes out or in. It is in itself a very simple & I should suppose a small house with nothing to mark the imperial residence.

The British agent informed Douglas that the best way to meet Napoleon was to stand at the Porta di Terra, and sure enough, after they had waited some time, Napoleon ‘appeared in a barouche drawn by four indifferent grey horses & two green postillions.’ Douglas believed he might be able to spot a genius from his outward appearance:

All was extremely simple if not shabby but he was followed by four or five officers & two Polish lancers upon wretched post hacks who were joined by two miserable looking Mamalukes one a black & the other a French man. He was sitting with his hat on but accompanied by an aide de camp who remained all the time uncovered. When Buonaparte saw us he moved his hat & made a bow which Captain Adye thought formal. Buonaparte is not so fat as I expected. He is short & full in the face with a remarkably healthy look. At the same time we saw him he was sulky but his eye was full & clear & there was look [sic] of great sense & intelligence more than of remarkable genius in his countenance. I might I think pass him in the street without looking round. None of the persons I have heard considered as like him are like him at all, Alfred Harris, Lord Wellesley etc, & none of the prints. But the best is that which has the inscription, Adieu Malmaison, particularly in manner. His complexion is brown, but he looks younger than his age. However growing fat must have altered him extremely.

Alfred Harris would appear to be Revd the hon. [Thomas] Alfred Harris (son of James Harris 1st earl of Malmesbury) who, like Douglas, was an alumnus of Christ Church, Oxford.

 

P1030676Corsica and Elba, from the Carta Amministrativa del Regno D’Italia (1806). The Kingdom of Italy was created by Napoleon in 1805, with himself as its first king.

 

Later, Douglas commented on Napoleon’s villa, and was filled with

surprize admiration & compassion to see the simplicity of his tastes … . His retirement & his amusements are certainly those of a great man & an hero.

There followed an incident with an officious member of Napoleon’s staff who wished to clear the crowds away from Napoleon’s residence and threatened to use the Polish lancers to do it. Douglas’s military companions took offence, and acting as interpreter Douglas was asked to find out the officer’s name which he eventually gave reluctantly and rudely as ‘Roule’. This must be the Major Roule who had a reputation for officiousness and is mentioned in The journal of Sir Neil Campbell, published as Napoleon at Fontainebleau and Elba (London, 1869).

On the next day an opportunity to visit Napoleon was missed, but

we again saw Buonaparte who was going out in his carriage & who bowed to us with much more civility & with a smile which had something very gracious & attractive in it. His countenance continues to give me what is the idea I had formed of his character, more that of great sense than of genius, of calculation than of greatness. I see no marks of want of amiability in his features but much the look & manner of a gentleman.

At last, on Wednesday 16 November Douglas was granted an interview with the great man. He immediately wrote up what he could remember of his conversation in a breathless stream of unpunctuated text, interrupting his usual journal ‘in order to put down Buonaparte’s conversation fresh as it came to my recollection’.

FSND-journal-16-Nov-1814“I am just returned from a conversation of near an hour with Buonaparte”

The interview seems to have been rather one-sided, with Napoleon apparently asking all the questions. Douglas seems to have been a little disappointed at his ignorance of British affairs. I have added punctuation:

I am just returned from a conversation of near an hour with Buonaparte. He first asked me where I came from, where I was going, what place I represented, whether it was a family borough, how the election was conducted, what my father’s name was, whether he was chief of my family, who was, how many Scotch peers there were … . He talked of Milan, asked whether the Milanese were not tired of the Austrians … . Asked who were the principal people in the Ministry & opposition, but seemed to know very little about them. Asked what had become of Lord Sidmouth, whether Grey & Holland were not the head of the Opposition & Burdett. Asked a great deal about our seigniorial rights & did not know they had been all abolished. Wished to know when territorial slavery was abolished & seemed surprized to find it so early. Talked about the Puritans whom he seemed to confound with the Presbyterians. His voice is disagreable & his manner of speaking thick & unintelligible. His manner was however agreable & his look expressed the utmost kindness & civility. He asked the name of our chief families in Scotland & England, wanted to know whether there were not some boroughs in which there was no election – how many nobles, by which he meant landholders, in the house of Commons, how many connexions of the house of peers, talked much about Ireland, & said they had very absurd tenets as Catholics, seemed to wish to change the subject when I had changed it to his wife. Talked much about our way of marrying. Tried to find out [if] we were discontented in Scotland, asked about the dress, knew the 42nd & 94th. … He asked a great deal about Oxford, Cambridge & Edinburgh but seemed perfectly ignorant of everything about either [sic].

Douglas was the son of the Scottish peer and politician, Sylvester Douglas, baron Glenbervie (1743-1823),  which explains the Scottish interest. The 42nd and 94th were Scottish regiments. The former, the famous ‘Black Watch’, had fought throughout the Peninsular War, and faced Napoleon again only seven months after this interview. In February 1815 Napoleon made his escape from Elba and began the ‘Hundred Days’ that culminated at Waterloo on 18 June.

Douglas was only twenty-three years of age in 1814, but Napoleon thought he was much older:

He said I was not forty yet? He said vous buvez beaucoup [do you drink a lot]? I answered, thinking he meant the Scotch, oui mais pas qu’ autre fois. Le taxe sur le vin l’empeche mais ici vous pouvez boire sans taxe [yes, but not as much as in former times. The tax on wine prevents it, but here you can drink without tax]; when I found he meant me.

An interesting perspective on the interview with Napoleon is provided in a letter from Lady Mackintosh to John Whishaw, 22 December 1814, published in The “Pope” of Holland House: Selections from the correspondence of John Whishaw and his friends 1813-1840 (London, 1906).