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Lloyd George
John Grigg
[1]: The Young Lloyd George. London: Penguin, 2002.
£9.99, 323 pages, ISBN 0140284249

[paperback—originally published: London : Eyre Methuen, 1973]
[2]: The People's Champion, 1902-1911. London: Penguin, 2002.
£9.99, 393 pages, ISBN 0140284257

[paperback—originally published: London : Eyre Methuen, 1978]
[3]: From Peace to War, 1912-1916. London: Penguin, 2002.
£10.99, 531 pages, ISBN 0140284265

[paperback—originally published: London : Eyre Methuen, 1985]
[4]: Lloyd George : War Leader, 1916-1918. London: Penguin, 2003.
£12.99, xv-670 pages, ISBN 0140284273

[paperback—originally published: London : Allen Lane, 2002]

Antoine Capet
Université de Rouen


The news of John Grigg's death on 31 December 2001 came as a blow to all those who were eagerly expecting the next volume in his massive biography of Lloyd George. As it is, one must be content with the four volumes which "only" reach to the end of the First World War1. The publication of the latest volume, covering 1916-1918, as a Penguin paperback gave that publisher an opportunity to reissue the four tomes in a uniform format, totaling over 1,900 pages2. We no doubt have to do here with a summa biographica, and the reader should not be fooled by Grigg's false modesty when he writes in his Note on Sources of Volume I: "Since this book is not a doctoral thesis, there is no need to pretend that the author's reading for it has been exhaustive." In fact Grigg's biography is based on extensive research, notably in the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, for its collection of Lloyd George family correspondence, and at the House of Lords Record Office, for its Lloyd George Papers (formerly deposited with the Beaverbrook Library). The Note on Sources of Volume II provides an excellent methodological "caveat" for doctoral students enthusiastic over the possibilities theoretically offered by using diaries and memoirs.

We should not be fooled either by his overly modest declaration of intent in the Preface to Volume III: "My aim in writing a multi-volume life of Lloyd George is not to supplant all the good books that have been written about him already, but merely to supplement them." It is obvious to anybody who casts even a cursory glance at the pages of his four volumes that they are no mere supplement to our knowledge of Lloyd George: not a "definitive" Life of Lloyd George, since Grigg is right to remind us that such a notion is meaningless for us poor mortals, but the nearest thing to it taking human limitations into account.

The first volume, The Young Lloyd George, is an almost verbatim reprint of the text first published in 1973, the only real updating being a 1997 addendum to the bibliography. A fascinating "Preface to the new paperback edition, 1997" explains Grigg's aims and philosophy. Looking back, Grigg is still proud of his work: "I dare to think that my book may have started the demythologising process without in any way diminishing Lloyd George's stature." The myths were (are?) to be found in six main fields:

-"The image of the cottage-bred man" (the myth "that his home background was utterly poor and underprivileged")—a subject dealt with in Chapter 1 of the book, "Not-so-humble Origins," whose opening sentence in fact largely dictates the general theme of the four volumes: "David Lloyd George was a privileged child, born not to rank or riches but to a special historic opportunity."

-His lifelong attachment to "Uncle Lloyd", his uncle and guardian. Grigg writes that:

The truth is that Lloyd George needed and greatly appreciated Uncle Lloyd's praise and moral support, on which he could always count, but soon outgrew his dependence on, or even interest in, the older man’s advice, though his affection remained strong. Earlier biographers piously accepted the notion of Uncle Lloyd as a sage counsellor to whom Lloyd George never ceased to defer; and some still do. In fact, he pretended to defer, out of affection, but went his own way.

-The idea that he was "a small-time politician whose horizons gradually expanded." Grigg argues that, on the contrary, "his ambition was from the first unlimited," a point developed in Chapter 2, "Fever of Renown." Grigg also argues that "the power he sought was imperial power" from the start, devoting his last chapter, "Imperialist with a Difference", to explaining how "Those who still believe that he was once a pacifist and a 'Little Englander' have misinterpreted his grounds for opposing the Boer War."

-The fact that he was not "scrupulous in financial matters." Grigg does not deny that Lloyd George was involved in corruption scandals (in fact he documents them in his Chapter 7, "Elusive Eldorado"), but he provides what he believes to be a satisfactory explanation3 for all these shady dealings:

Yet the motivation was, I suggest the same—emphatically not that of an ordinary crook, or of a man who was in politics for material gain. Nor should he be seen as an honest man led astray. For him the acquisition of money was always important, not as an end in itself but as a means to the fulfilment of his political purposes—which, it is fair to say, usually transcended his own self-interest. He was a political genius in whom the qualities of crusader, adventurer and rogue bewilderingly co-existed.

-His relationship with his first wife, Margaret Owen. Here again, Grigg, who reminds the reader that "his marriage to Margaret lasted for more than fifty years," warns against oversimplification:

The view that used to prevail, and is still quite often expressed, is that Lloyd George was a selfish philanderer, Margaret a selfless and devoted wife, and that what went wrong in their marriage was entirely his fault. This is altogether too simple; there were faults on both sides.

-His friendship with Churchill. As Grigg writes,

They...enjoyed each other's company and had a strong affinity of temperament. Yet to describe them (as many do) as wholehearted friends and allies is to ignore the underlying rivalry of which each was aware, and which did not escape the notice of some shrewd contemporaries.

Grigg's self-imposed task in his 1,900 pages is therefore to explain why, as he writes in his Preface to the new paperback edition of volume II, 1997, "Lloyd George was a born ruler." Three themes seem to dominate the Life of Lloyd George the politician: "Fever of Renown", apparent in his youth as already indicated in Volume I; "The People's Champion" (the title of Volume II) in the years from the Boer War to the Parliament Act of 1911; and the "War Leader" (the title of Volume III) from his accession to the Premiership to the end of the First World War. Lloyd George's formative years are given extensive treatment in the context of the Welsh revival from which he benefited as a prime actor. The old notion of the right man in the right place at the right time receives a perfect illustration in Grigg's passages on Lloyd George and Wales—or Wales and Lloyd George. Two points made by Grigg in this connection recur all through the four volumes: Lloyd George's perception of the Dominions can best be understood in the light of his perception of Anglo-Welsh relations, just as his support for Irish Home Rule can directly be traced to his Welshness; and his distrust of English elites in Wales goes a long way towards explaining his eventual conflict with the House of Lords. Grigg of course does not fail to quote the famous passage when, in answer to provocative attacks on "the Welshman", Lloyd George alluded to the Lords as "five hundred men, ordinary men chosen accidentally from the unemployed," with an excellent commentary on Lloyd George's scathing words.

In fact, the purple passages of Lloyd George's conflictual career—the conflict with the Lords, the conflict with Asquith ("Whatever their differences, the two men complemented each other and had accomplished much together. The ending of their partnership was a disaster for both, as well as for their party and country"), the conflict with the Allies (first France ["Friction with Clemenceau" is the sub-title of Chapter 29, Volume IV], and later the United States [Speaking of President Wilson's thoughts when the United States entered the war, he writes: "Least of all was he disposed to enter into a special relationship with a British prime minister of whose motives he was suspicious and whom he regarded as a potential threat to his own authority, even at home"])—all receive magnificent treatment.

The volumes are not intended for the hurried reader who wants to have a quick overview of Lloyd George's life and times. Grigg has a special taste for the arcane detail which can only be thoroughly enjoyed by the connoisseur, as when he usefully discusses Asquith's position vis-à-vis Lloyd George's coup of 1916 in the light of the Relugas Compact of 1905: Leventhal's Encyclopedia4 does not have an entry for it; in his Companion5 Ramsden, like Grigg, explains the nature of the plot (of which Asquith was a major actor)—but only Grigg gives the origin of the name: "(after the Highland fishing lodge where it originated)". So, few people will probably read Lloyd George as a novel, from end to end at one go (though, to use the phrasing of advertisers, many will find it both "unputdownable" and a "page-turner"), and most will use it as a reference work whenever they want to have the best information on such or such event in British social and political history (Volumes II, III, IV), together with foreign and military affairs (Volumes III, IV), on top of having the magnificent insights into Lloyd George's personality which pervade all four volumes, starting with Volume I on his youthful years.

The books also offer a good selection of caricatures, cartoons, photographs, maps of the Fronts in the First World War, with a useful Appendix in Volume II which reproduces "Mr Lloyd George's Memorandum on the Formation of a Coalition, 17 August 1910." Each volume also has an extensive Index (though there is no General Index to the four volumes, as in some other muti-volume editions). The footnotes are impeccable, as might be expected from somebody who laid such emphasis on the importance of their easy access. John Grigg was doubtless a strongly-opinionated man in this respect, and those of us who are impatient with end-of-chapter or (worse) end-of-book notes will no doubt concur with his cri de coeur in the Preface to Volume II:

I should say that I am impenitent about putting references at the foot of the page, because few habits in serious modern publishing irritate me more than that of bunching references at the end of chapters or at the end of a book. If readers wish to know the source of a quotation or the authority for a statement in the text, they should be able to refer to it easily and without wasting their time. If they are not interested in such matters, there is, after all, nothing to stop them reading on. A footnote reference is no more offensive or distracting to the eye than the page number or running title at the top of a page.

Grigg writes that "it is vital that a biographer should not confuse his function with that of a general historian,"6 but the reader is certainly grateful when he does lapse into that inevitable confusion, as it produces a great biography of a great man who lived through (and perhaps shaped) great events. The four volumes are unreservedly recommended for all University and Department Libraries.


1 In fact, he knew he would die before writing the final chapter and entrusted the task to Margaret MacMillan, who duly signs the Afterword to Volume IV. For the post-war Coalition Government, one can of course recommend Kenneth O. Morgan's study, Consensus and Disunity: The Lloyd George Coalition Government, 1918-1922. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979, xi-436 p. [Paperback reissue, 1986].

2 Unfortunately, contrary to an old Penguin tradition, no boxed set seems to be available. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, to revive sales?

3 The public's tacit acceptation (if such was still the case as late as 1997) that money can be acquired dishonestly to fill a party's coffers can no longer be put forward in defence of party leaders. Grigg would definitely have to find a new line of defence for Lloyd George today.

4 See:

5 See:

6 For aspects of that difficulty for historians who write biographies, see the discussions in Wm. Roger Louis, ed., Still more Adventures with Britannia: Personalities, Politics and Culture in Britain, London & New York: I.B. Tauris, 2003, x-390 p. Reviewed in Cercles:


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