Scope and Contents
- 1876 - 1945
Conditions Governing Access
Conditions Governing Use
Biographical / Historical
In the last decades of the 19th century, lack of money made the prospects for Godfrey and his other brother and four sisters appear unpromising, so his parents sent him to Stubbington School near Portsmouth, which specialised in preparing boys for entry into the Royal Navy. At the age of 14 he passed successfully though without distinction into the training ship HMS Britannia, the precursor of the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. It was while he was training in the Britannia that Godfrey made the friendship which was to affect the entire course of his life - with Prince George, the future King George V, who was slightly junior to him as a cadet.
Godfrey went to sea in 1879 in the steam corvette Dido (1,760 tons) which was fully rigged for sail and appears rarely to have used her primitive engines. His 'Watchbill' which has survived (BGGF 1/5) contains notes for every conceivable sailing manoeuvre. Although the juvenilia preserved from his time at Stubbington and in the Britannia reveal his systematic character in the recording of the minutiae of his life, such as every expenditure incurred, it was while serving in the Dido that his beautifully kept Midshipman's Logs (BGGF 1/12 and 13) reveal the gift of compulsive diarist which was to continue throughout his life.
The Dido took Godfrey to West Africa and the Cape Station, and gave him the first taste of the delights of foreign service in the period when the Royal Navy was preserving the Pax Britannica all over the world. His log gives an interesting example of how this was accomplished in the case of tribal wars in Nigeria. The Dido narrowly missed playing a part in the Zulu War of 1879, but on the outbreak of the first Boer War in the following year she hurried back from St. Helena to Table Bay to add her contingent to the Naval Brigade being organised. A visit to the Caribbean Islands followed, and it was while in these waters that Godfrey, after three years' service in the Dido and various adventures in other ships, transferred to the cruiser Northampton, flagship of Admiral Sir Francis McLintock, the famous Arctic explorer, who was the commander of the North Atlantic Station. After an enjoyable trip up the St. Lawrence River the Northampton paid off at Antigua and Godfrey, now aged 19, returned home. His academic accomplishments had so far been very meagre, but he had shown great interest and skill in all sports, especially riding, shooting and fishing, and was obviously a well liked companion or shipmate, endowed with outstanding social gifts.
His next appointment was to the ironclad Sultan of the Channel Squadron, in which he made two life-long friends, Charles Cust, who was to become a courtier, and Rosslyn Wemyss, a future 1st Sea Lord. In 1883 Godfrey qualified in seamanship, was promoted Acting Sub-Lieutenant and then went to the RN College, Greenwich, for a year's academic work - during which he evidently gave more attention to the delights of London than to his studies. Then he moved to the RN College, Portsmouth, for the technical courses which had to be passed before he could be promoted Lieutenant.
After a brief period in command of the sailing brig Nautilus, employed on training cadets in the moribund art of working sails, Godfrey got himself appointed to the turret ship Agamemnon which, although destined for the Mediterranean, was at the time in the Far East. He took passage in a troopship to join her at Singapore from where she returned to her proper station. The Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean then was Admiral HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, second son of Queen Victoria, in whose flagship Prince George was serving. Thus Godfrey was able to renew the friendship which had begun some ten years earlier in the Britannia. It was during the long periods in Malta that he, perhaps encouraged by the Prince, took up the game of polo. At this time he met a midshipman called David Beatty who was serving in the flagship, and who was also to play an important part in his life. Godfrey's Journal for this period is mostly an account of gaieties in Malta and on the French Riviera, punctuated by the recurrent financial crises to which as a young man he was always prone.
In June 1887 Godfrey was promoted Lieutenant and transferred to the sloop, Dolphin, initially in the Adriatic but later ordered to the Red Sea to take part in the first Sudan War. Godfrey, however, fell seriously ill at Port Said and was sent first to Malta hospital suffering from a fever, which seems never to have been successfully diagnosed. The Edinburghs kindly invited him to convalesce at San Antonio, their lovely country palace outside Valletta, and there he, like David Beatty, made friends of their three lively daughters Marie, Victoria and Sandra (later respectively Queen of Romania, Grand Duchess Cyril of Russia and Princess Alexandra of Hohenlohe-Langenburg). Godfrey was still very unwell and was finally invalided home.
After about a year in the doctors' hands Godfrey managed to get himself appointed to the ironclad Bellerophon, flagship of Admiral George Watson, Commander of the North America and West Indies Station, on which he spent the next three years very enjoyably. In August 1890 he met Prince George, who was in command of the gunboat Thrush, at Halifax, and accepted the invitation to become his unofficial aide de camp during his forthcoming visits to Quebec and Montreal. This was his first experience as a courtier, and although he made some embarrassing gaffes, his friendship with the Prince was strengthened. In 1892 he returned home after a thoroughly enjoyable commission - mostly devoted to sport and social activities but punctuated by incidents such as dealing with a revolution in Haiti.
On the sudden death of his elder brother, the Duke of Clarence, in 1892 Prince George became Duke of York, and at first it seemed that his promise to take Godfrey to his next command would not be fulfilled. However, on receiving a telegram ordering him to join the cruiser Melampus, he quickly ascertained that the Duke had been as good as his word. She commissioned at Portsmouth and after cruising in the Irish Sea she took part in the large scale naval manoeuvres that year, after which Godfrey transferred to the battleship Hawke. On 3 November 1892 she struck an uncharted or wrongly charted rock entering Ferrol harbour and became a total loss. Godfrey's Journal gives a full account of the accident and of the inevitable Courts Martial which followed. He next returned briefly to the training ship Britannia as an instructor, after which his desire to join the new cruiser Royal Arthur was fulfilled in February 1893. She was to be the flagship of the colourful and idiosyncratic Admiral Sir Henry Stephenson, on the Pacific Station, and Godfrey undoubtedly owed the appointment as his Flag Lieutenant to the good offices of Prince George.
The Royal Arthur sailed for Esquimault on Vancouver Island, her principal base, by way of the Straits of Magellan, taking nearly three months to complete the voyage, and there they celebrated the wedding of Prince George to Princess Mary of Teck on 6 July. Godfrey sent the bridegroom a long letter of congratulation and the postage stamps he had been instructed to buy for the Prince's collection at all his ship's ports of call. Though Stephenson did not prove an easy man to serve, Godfrey's time with him was on the whole both interesting and enjoyable - including adventurous trips far inland in the Rocky Mountains of Canada and in the South American Andes. Naturally he had to organise all the formalities and entertainments which formed such a large part of a C-in-C's work up and down the whole west coast of the American continent.
In June 1896 the Royal Arthur sailed for England. Godfrey had now been a Lieutenant for nine years, and was naturally thinking about his chances of promotion. Having missed the Sudan campaigns, which had brought special promotion to two of his friends and near contemporaries - Cecil Colville and David Beatty - his chances did not seem good; but appointment to the lesser of the two Royal Yachts then in commission, the Osborne, brightened them - though to Godfrey's amusement, a critic described it in Modern Society as 'This courtly dawdling billet'. After serving as a floating hotel for minor royalties who visited England, in the spring of 1897 the Admiralty decided, to the distinct alarm of Godfrey who doubted the seaworthiness of a paddle steamer built in 1873, that she should carry Princess Victoria and Princess Maude (daughters of the future King Edward VII) to Copenhagen for the marriage of the latter to Prince Charles of Denmark (later King Haakon VII of Norway). A very rough passage confirmed his fears, but she did reach the Elbe in safety and then passed through the Kiel Canal to her destination, where their welcome was very warm and the proceedings very royal (BGGF 1/39).
Though Godfrey enjoyed this trip, which brought him the friendship of the future Queen Alexandra, the appointment held little appeal for him and he was delighted to transfer to the new battleship Caesar as First Lieutenant at the end of 1897. The era of spit and polish being then in full swing - before 'Jacky' Fisher had started to modernise the navy and shake it out of its 19th century torpor - Godfrey was much concerned to find that he was expected to pay for the paint and the adornments considered necessary for the ship - which he could ill afford. Unfortunately her gun trials proved a fiasco and she had to return to Portsmouth to have her armament made serviceable. She then went out to the Mediterranean under Godfrey's former chief, Admiral Stephenson. The most exciting incident in which the Caesar was involved was to deal with the serious riots and violence which erupted in Turkish-ruled Crete in 1898; while the Fashoda crisis seemed at one time likely to bring war with France over who should dominate the Sudan and produced warlike preparations in the fleet. A visit by the Kaiser to Godfrey's ship when in Malta that year opened his eyes to the German Emperor's naval ambitions. On 13 July 1899 he was promoted Commander - at the age of 36. If he owed it in part to the interest of Royalty he had shown himself to be a keen and competent executive officer.
On returning to England Godfrey became engaged to Anne, daughter of Admiral Samuel Long; but she was still a minor, and although her family approved the match she was unsure, and after a period of hesitation suffered a nervous breakdown and broke off the engagement. To Godfrey the shock was evidently severe, and he at once did his best to get back to sea. In October 1899 he was appointed Commander of the new small cruiser Gladiator - again on the Mediterranean station - but this time under the redoubtable 'Jacky' Fisher. However his time in that ship was short, since a letter from Prince George invited him to serve as his aide, during his forthcoming visits to the Dominions. Godfrey accepted without hesitation, his sea-going career thus came to an end, and he took the road which was to make him a courtier for the rest of his active life.
On the conclusion of the Duke and Duchess of York's visits to Australia, South Africa and Canada in 1901, the Duke was created Prince of Wales and offered Godfrey the appointment of Equerry-in-Ordinary. After some hesitation, chiefly because the salary was only 400 pounds per annum and he had little private means, he accepted and in that capacity he accompanied the Prince and Princess of Wales during their visit to India of 1905-6. The formalities endured and the recreations enjoyed during all these arduous royal voyages are fully described in Godfrey's Journals. Among the more interesting events in which he took part was the rounding up and corralling of a herd of wild elephants in Mysore - about which he wrote an article for the Royal Magazine - which to his annoyance, only paid him 5 pounds for it. Godfrey was promoted Captain and placed on the Admiralty's Retired List on 31 October 1906.
By the end of that year Godfrey had fallen in love with, and was determined to marry, Eugénie Fanny Eveline, daughter of William Humble Dudley Ward, a kinsman of the Earl of Dudley. She was descended from a remarkable Alsatian woman born Fanny Kreilssamner, who first married Louis Mayer and bore him four daughters. Louis then conveniently disappeared, and Fanny married secondly Colonel John Gurwood, who had fought with distinction in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo, and was selected by the Duke of Wellington to edit his despatches. It was thanks to Gurwood that Fanny was introduced to and accepted by London and Paris society; but in 1845 he suffered a nervous breakdown and committed suicide. Fortunately by that time the position of Fanny and her children was secure. One of those girls was called Eugénie, and married William Baliol Brett, a former Master of the Rolls and 1st Viscount Esher. One son, and one daughter was born of that marriage, and the daughter was the mother of the girl who became Bryan Godfrey-Faussett' s wife on 11 April 1907. She was a very beautiful woman with long golden hair and was at once accepted by the Prince and Princess of Wales into the Court circle. Two sons were born to Godfrey and Eugénie (who was always known as ‘Babs’ to her intimates) - George Bryan (1909-79) who served in the Welsh Guards with distinction in World War II, and David Frederick (born 1913) who joined the navy, and specialised as a Fleet Air Arm pilot. It was almost certainly he who, flying from the Ark Royal scored the torpedo hit on 26 May 1941 which proved fatal to the giant German battleship Bismarck but in the following year he was killed in a flying accident.
Soon after their marriage Godfrey and Eugénie bought The Mill House, Dersingham, Norfolk, but in 1913 they were offered the grace and favour residence called Ranger's Lodge which stands just north of the Serpentine in Hyde Park. As they could not afford to run both houses they sold The Mill House, and for the rest of their married life Ranger's Lodge became their headquarters. After Godfrey's death Eugénie was given a grace and favour apartment at Hampton Court.
To revert to Godfrey's service as Equerry, he returned to India with King George V and Queen Mary for their coronation as Emperor and Empress of India at the Delhi Durbar on 12 December 1911. That experience enabled him to see a good deal of the sub-continent under the most favourable circumstances possible, and to record them all in his Journal. He took part in the royal tiger shoots in Nepal (killing one himself) and in other exciting and dangerous sports - which he evidently greatly relished.
On the outbreak of war in 1914 Godfrey offered his services to the Admiralty and with the King's approval was given command of the yacht commissioned as HMS Thistle, one of the many minor vessels forming the Auxiliary Patrol on the east coast. However, the King's duties in wartime necessitated the service of a naval Equerry, and in 1915 Godfrey returned to that duty and accompanied the King on his visits to France and Flanders, to the fleet and so on. In 1917 he served for a short time in the Admiralty's Paravane Department, but otherwise his service as Equerry was little interrupted.
It was during the 1914-18 war that Eugénie fell in love with David Beatty when he was C-in-C Grand Fleet; and she preserved all the letters he wrote to her (now archived in the Leslie Papers, SLGF 14/1 and 15/1). They remained lovers, from about 1917 to 1924 - a fact of which Godfrey remained completely unaware, since had the truth been known he would certainly have had to resign his office. From about 1924 until his death in 1936 Eugénie and Beatty remained devoted friends but were no longer lovers.
Godfrey continued as Equerry-in-Ordinary to George V until he died on 20 January 1936 - a little under two months before David Beatty passed away. Then, much to his surprise he was appointed to the same office during the brief reign of King Edward VIII. Finally he served as an Extra Equerry to King George VI until his own death on 20 September 1945.
49 archive box(es)
Other Finding Aids
Immediate Source of Acquisition
- 2005-01-07 16:10:13+00:00
- Language of description
- Script of description