Sunday 10 April 2016

The Archbishop of Canterbury learns he is illegitimate: how very attractive 1955 seems now

A strange story, worthy of a nineteenth century novel, was broken yesterday by, of all people, Charles Moore. Mr. Moore is the former editor of the Daily Telegraph, the Young Fogey's Young Fogey and himself a comfortingly nineteenth century figure, not someone I think of as a sleuth reporter, but on this occasion he has scooped the world.

It seems that, as a result of Mr Moore's investigations, the Archbishop of Canterbury took a DNA test to disprove the rumours about his paternity. He found to his surprise that they were true and that he is the illegitimate son of Sir Winston Churchill's last private secretary, Sir Anthony Montague Browne.

Since Dr. Welby was born almost exactly nine months after his mother's wedding to the
man he and his mother supposed, until a couple of days ago, to be his father, the conception must have happened three or four days before the wedding in 1955.

A non-story really, but it does make me nostalgic for the early 1950s, the class system, propriety etc - before the 1960s and Americanisation. In the early 1950s this sort of behaviour hardly happened except among the upper class, the lower working class and a few middle-class bohemians, mostly in Fitzrovia. 

Churchill's return to office and the Queen's accession to the throne made the English believe for a short moment that they could return to the 1930s. This was the era of Anna Neagle and the New Edwardians. But by 1956 there was Suez, the Angry Young Men, Elvis Presley. Then strikes, mass immigration and decolonisation.

What seems to me very bizarre is that until the 1950s a law prohibited a man born illegitimately from being validly ordained a bishop. This legal provision dated from 1604. Why? Was it a Protestant invention or did it copy a provision of pre-Reformation Catholic canon law?

Andrew Roberts, whom I know slightly, is lucky to know or have known all these people and writes about them behind the pay wall in the Sunday Times. His article ends poignantly:
To illustrate how close the Churchills were to Montague Browne, he was the only non-family member invited to mourn alongside them at the private ceremony at St Martin’s church in Bladon, Oxfordshire. The occasion brought on in him “black melancholy thoughts of the decline and decay of so much of what Churchill had stood for. Well might the nation mourn him.” As if to underline this moral decay, when he got back to London he discovered his flat had been burgled.
I can well imagine such black thoughts in 1965. England was no longer the centre of the world but felt powerless and impoverished. The 1960s social revolution was in full swing, the Beatles were in the charts and Harold Wilson was in Downing St.

What a shock for the Archbishop's mother who is now Lady Williams of Elvel, but she can be forgiven. No one cares any more (except a young British Pakistani friend, who finds her behaviour disgusting). Everything can be forgiven (except despair). In any case, the lady was charming and beautiful.

In fact, I really cannot see why people admire the Archbishop for forgiving his mother. First, since he's an archbishop, forgiveness is his metier (as Heine said of God), secondly she's his mother and thirdly, and most importantly, if she hadn't sinned he wouldn't exist.

1 comment:

  1. I am entirely with the "young British Pakistani friend".