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The Dilke-Crawford-Roskill Papers

Reference Code: GBR/0014/REND

Scope and Contents

Roskill-Dilke section:
The Roskill-Dilke section includes all AWD's surviving letters from Russia, most of which are addressed to his paternal grandmother Caroline Duncombe Chatfield - always referred to by him as 'Dear Dragon' - and to CWD. AWD also had much correspondence 1875-81 with Russian émigrés and political refugees living in Paris, including Lopatin and Ludwik Hartmann. This evidently deals with the trial of Hartmann; but as many of the letters are written in Russian we must await elucidation of them by a scholar in that language. There are also letters from AWD to his wife Margaret Mary (Maye) Smith and to his brother CWD, and several from the latter to his sister-in-law Maye as well. AWD's phenomenal energy may have been a symptom of the tuberculosis from which he died at Algiers in 1883 at the age of 33 or the disease may have been aggravated by the great hardship of his Slavonic travels.

Enthoven Section:
The Enthoven section includes letters of interest from many of the most famous artists, writers and politicians of the period (G F Watts, D G Rossetti, Sir George Otto Trevelyan, Robert Browning, Herbert Spencer, George Meredith, Joseph Chamberlain, etc). They are addressed to Mrs Eustace Smith when she and her family were living at 52 Prince's Gate, London, as well as at their Northumberland seat Gosforth Park. The remains of that house, most of which was destroyed by fire, have now been incorporated into the grandstand of Newcastle City race course, which covers the park in which it stood.

The Enthoven Section also includes typed copies of letters which passed between the Eustace Smith sisters Olive (Mrs Thomas Barron, Maye and Helen (Mrs Robert Harrison) in 1876 and letters from AWD to Olive 1877-8; also Helen's account of Maye's betrothal to AWD. It is not clear when or why these copies were made, but their preservation by VMC is a fortunate chance. Taken together the letters in the Enthoven Section throw much interesting light on the society in which VMC grew up as a young girl, and emphasise the force of the disaster which struck her family in 18864. There are also many bundles of VMC's own writings of later life on a wide variety of religious, social and political topics - which make plain that she was possessed of exceptional intelligence and character.

As to CWD's side of the story, it will be for a future biographer to take account of all the material available - including the transcript of the evidence at the second trial, in which the oddities of the law placed him in a most unfavourable situation. Account should also be taken of the fact that, whereas VMC was not thoroughly cross-examined, CWD had to face the very rigorous cross-examination by Henry Mathews, one of the leading advocates of the time. Apart from the extreme pro-Dilke faction (such as his private secretary J E C Bodley and Gertrude Tuckwell), the immediate and unwavering loyalty of his second wife, the widow of Mark Pattison, Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, must be taken into account. Betty Askwith's biography Lady Dilke (London, 1969) is a valuable source on both her marriages. To preserve a balance, mention should also be made of Susan Lowndes (Ed.), Diaries and Letters of Marie Belloc Lowndes 1911-1946 (Chatto and Windus, 1963) and Robert Rhodes James, Rosebery. A Biography of Archibald Philip, Fifth Earl of Rosebery (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971), both of which touch on the divorce case. In contrast to those works, which are strongly anti-Dilke, it should be mentioned that there are a number of very intelligent and well-informed persons such as Sir Shane Leslie, Bart, and Miss Violet Markham, CH (Mrs James Carruthers) who remained convinced of CWD's innocence and always held that he was the victim of a monstrous conspiracy. Letters from them will be found in my own papers. What is known is that, on CWD's own admission, he and VMC's mother were lovers in 1868 and again for a short period in 1874-57. The effect that this knowledge (or perhaps its discovery) may have had on VMC, and the effect which it may have had on Mrs Eustace Smith with regard to VMC's affair (or alleged affair) with CWD have remained hotly debated issues which could merit study by a psychologist, rather than by a historian.


  • Creation: 1787 - 1980


Biographical / Historical

The introduction to the papers was written by Stephen Roskill in March 1974.

Charles Wentworth Dilke (CWD) and Virginia Mary Crawford (VMC): The purpose of this archive is to bring together in convenient form papers concerning the two chief actors in perhaps the most notorious politico-social drama of the 19th century - namely the two law suits involving Right Hon Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, Bart, MP (1843-1911) and Mrs Virginia Mary Crawford (1863-1948) the wife of Donald Crawford, MP. The first of the two cases was Crawford's petition for divorce from Virginia Crawford, in which he cited Charles WD as co-respondent. For reasons given by CWD's counsel, which now seem ill-advised, he did not go into the witness box at this trial. The second, and more sensational trial took place when, at CWD's request, the Queen's Proctor intervened to show reason why the divorce decree granted to Crawford should not be made absolute. This trial took place in an atmosphere already poisoned against CWD by W T Stead and others, and in it CWD was denied legal representation. He was subjected to a very rigorous cross-examination by Henry Mathews, appearing for Crawford, and proved an extremely bad witness. The intervention by the Queen's Proctor was unsuccessful, and so CWD's name was not cleared - as had been his object.

The political interest in the above cases lies chiefly in the fact that, but for the success of Donald Crawford in obtaining a divorce from VMC and the subsequent failure of CWD to establish his innocence, CWD could well have succeeded Gladstone as leader of the Liberal Party, and would then have been likely to become Prime Minister instead of Campbell-Bannerman in 1905.

But the divorce cases also provide the background for an interesting study in late 19th century social history and mores; and it is partly for this reason that it has been thought worth while to bring these papers together. It should however be made plain that, although the papers throw interesting light on the background, upbringing and character of both CWD and VMC, the student who may hope to find here the long-sought answer to the question 'Which was the guilty (or guiltier) party?' will be disappointed.

It is possible that, sooner or later, another attempt will be made to produce a balanced biography of CWD with an accurate and unbiased account of the divorce case. In fact, as recently as 1973, it seemed probable that such a project would be undertaken, but it fell through on account of pressure of other work on the would-be biographer. It is chiefly in the hope that this collection will be useful to a future biographer's understanding of both CWD and VMC, of their families and circumstances, and of the society in which they moved that this collection has been assembled. It must of course be regarded as supplementary to the main collection of CWD's papers (such of them as survived the holocaust in which he indulged in 1910), which are now lodged in the British Museum.

Ashton Wentworth Dilke: AWD was a remarkable man in his own right - MP (Liberal), Newspaper Proprietor (Weekly Despatch, at whose offices he printed several other journals), extensive traveller in European Russia and in Siberia at a time when this was far from easy, co-author with CWD of a book on Russia published by Murray, and friend of many Russian intellectuals and writers, including Turgeniev. When living at Algiers he produced what The Times described as 'an excellent translation' of one of Turgeniev's works 'for amusement [and] in the absence of any dictionaries and published without revision'.

Thomas Eustace Smith: Here we must turn to the family of Thomas Eustace Smith, MP (1831-1903), son of the founder of Smith's Docks of North Shields, Newcastle and Middlesborough. He is reputed to have been a man of great wealth and of even greater extravagance. In 1855 Eustace Smith married Mary Martha Dalrymple by whom he had 10 children (6 daughters and 4 sons). The eldest daughter was Maye (1856-1914), the wife of AWD and maternal grandmother of the Roskill brothers, and the fourth was Virginia Mary ('Nia') the VMC referred to above. Thus the Roskill brothers are in the singular position of being great-nephews of both the respondent and co-respondent in the divorce case of 1886.

Enthoven: The Enthoven Section (Section 12) was given to the Archives Centre of Mr Roderick Enthoven and his sister Mrs Marion Rawson (hereafter RE and MR). Their mother was Linda, the youngest daughter of the Eustace Smith family, who married Ernest Enthoven. They are therefore first cousins once removed of the Roskill brothers. During the latter part of VMC's long life, she devoted her energies to the Roman Catholic Church, to Local Government politics in the Labour Party interest in London (she was a Councillor of the Borough of St Marylebone) and to anti-Fascist causes in Spain and Italy. She was prepared for the Roman Catholic Church by Cardinal Manning and received into the Church by Father Robert Butler on 4 February 1889. During this period no-one knew her better than RE and MR, and she appointed the former as her residuary legatee and Literary Executor.

It is not intended here to enter into the question of the relative 'guilt' or 'innocence' of either party in the divorce case. Only three persons probably knew the whole truth - CWD, VMC and Father Butler. The first spent a great part of his last 25 years trying to establish his innocence in the eyes of posterity; the second never spoke openly about her part in the case, though she did at various times drop what may be significant hints to RE and MR. Those hints will be found in my file of correspondence and papers about the case which I have added to the Enthoven Section. Finally, Father Butler's lips were of course sealed by the secrecy of the confessional. It is noteworthy that CWD was on friendly terms with Manning from the time of his first wife's death in 18745, and that the second Lady Dilke was a frequent correspondent with the Cardinal - well after the divorce case6.

Though the author of this Foreword wishes to maintain a strict neutrality as between CWD and VMC, it is perhaps permissible to draw attention to two interesting items in the Enthoven Section. One is a photograph of CWD dated 'April 1883' in VMC's hand; which provokes the question why should she have preserved a photograph of her sister's brother-in-law and carefully dated it to some 3 years before the story of her alleged misconduct with CWD became public. The second is two letters dated after the divorce case addressed to VMC from the Captain Henry Forster who, almost certainly, was her lover. Forster obviously wanted VMC back, and may perhaps have been the man she really cared for. Why else should she have preserved those letters?


1 collection

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

A brief explanation of the provenance of this collection is necessary. The Roskill-Dilke collection was lodged in the Churchill Archives Centre by Sir Ashton Roskill, QC. The documents came into Roskill possession as the result of Mrs John Roskill (1879-1931), the mother of Sir Ashton Roskill, of the writer of this foreword [Captain Stephen Roskill], of Mr Oliver Roskill and of Lord Justice Roskill, being the only daughter of CWD's brother Ashton Wentworth Dilke, MP (1850-83), henceforth referred to as AWD.

The historian or biographer of the future may also wish to take notice of CWD's extraordinary habit of mutilating his own papers, quite irrespective of the possible importance or significance of their contents. Apart from the state of his diaries in the British Museum collection, this habit is apparent in various notebooks and papers in the Roskill-Dilke section. Whatever deductions such habits may encourage, and whatever the implications adverse to CWD, which Henry Mathews sought to draw therefrom in the second case, it is not intended here to pass any judgement. Rather it is hoped that the assembly of these papers in one place, and their careful preservation, will prove of some value to the next writer on the Dilke case, and to students of nineteenth century social history as well.

The Enthoven section (Section 12) was a gift to the Archives Centre by Mr Roderick Enthoven and his sister Mrs Marion Rawson.


There have been two full length biographies of CWD, and what may be called a biographical study as well. These are:-

(1) The Life of the Right Hon Sir Charles W Dilke, Bart, MP, by Stephen Gwynn, MP and Gertrude M Tuckwell (2 vols Murray, 1917. Abridged 1 Vol Ed 1925). (2) Sir Charles Dilke, by Roy Jenkins (Collins, 1958). (3) The Tangled Web, by Hon Betty E Askwith (London, 1960). In addition, a play entitled The Right Honourable Gentleman by M Bradley-Dyne, with Anthony Quayle playing the part of CWD and Anna Massey that of VMC, enjoyed a long run at His Majesty's Theatre, St James's in 1964-5. There have also been numerous newspaper articles, too many to list here, about a case which never seems to lose interest in the public eye.

It is my view that none of the works mentioned above is satisfactory as history or biography. The Gwynn-Tuckwell volumes are useful for their detailed account of political affairs, notably within the Liberal Party, for the periods of Gladstone's Premierships 1868-74, 1880-85 and (briefly) 1886. But the biographers' handling of the divorce case, to which they devote only one short chapter (XLIII) of two long volumes, is inadequate to the point of absurdity. Too obviously were they concerned to clear CWD's name. The Jenkins biography is much better as regards the divorce case, but is marred by factual inaccuracies about VMC (some of which are corrected in the second edition), and by the author not spreading his research widely enough and so developing a strong prejudice against her. Betty Askwith's work is entertaining reading, but can hardly be regarded as a serious contribution to history; while the Bradley-Dyne play, though 'good theatre', introduced innumerable distortions both of fact and of character.

Quite independent of those two items, the most valuable accounts of VMC's side of the story are to be found in MR's 'Note on Virginia's character' of August 1973 and in my 'Notes on a talk about Virginia Crawford' with MR and RE on 8 July 1973 (REND 13/3), and any future writer on the case would do well to pay attention to those carefully considered documents in my file.

Physical Description



Roskill, Stephen Wentworth, 1903-1982, naval historian

2001-10-11 13:09:16+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Churchill Archives Centre Repository

Churchill Archives Centre
Churchill College
Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB3 0DS United Kingdom
+44 (0)1223 336087