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Correspondence and papers of Lady Violet Bonham Carter, 1892-1969, and other family papers, 1852-2000


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The papers of the Bonham Carter family consist of the correspondence and papers of Violet Bonham Carter, correspondence and papers of Helen Kelsall Asquith née Melland, H.H. Asquith, Margot Asquith, née Tennant, Laura Lyttelton, née Tennant, Maurice Bonham Carter, Mark Bonham Carter and Raymond Bonham Carter. A key presented to H.H. Asquith by the Liberal Club Keighly, 22 October 1898, and subsequently given to Mark Bonham Carter by Sir Leonard Costello, is now Janitor's List of Library Objects and Portraits, no. 758.


  • Creation: 1852-2000, n.d.


90.86 Linear metres (826 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Conditions Governing Access

Some material is closed.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. Bonham Carter 1, fols. 1-2].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Bonham Carter 1-803; Photogr. b. 31-32; c. 132-145; d. 31, d. 35, d. 37; e. 12-15

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 11397


Correspondence and papers, 1892-1969 of Lady Violet Bonham Carter, Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury (1887-1969), Liberal political figure, with correspondence and papers of other members of her family, 1852-2000.

Biographical / Historical

Helen Violet Bonham Carter, Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury (1887-1969) was born in Hampstead, London, the fourth of five children, and the only daughter of Herbert Henry Asquith, later 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, and his first wife Helen Kesall Asquith née Melland. Her mother died of typhoid fever in 1891, while on holiday in Scotland, when Violet was only four years old. In 1894 Asquith married his second wife, Emma Alice Margaret (Margot) Tennant and the family moved to 20 Cavendish Square, a wedding present from her father, Sir Charles Tennant. Margot and Henry, as she preferred him to be called, had two further children, Elizabeth and Anthony.

Unlike her brothers Violet had no formal school education but was educated by governesses, later spending time in both Dresden and Paris perfecting her languages. During her early life Violet suffered from ill health and was away from home on the continent, when her father, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, became Prime Minister. She had from an early age always discussed politics with him and was now to be a member of the family at the very centre of affairs of state.

In 1909 one of her dearest friends, Archie Gordon, had a tragic and ultimately fatal motoring accident, and while he was in Winchester hospital Violet agreed to his request that they become engaged to be married. This event coloured her life for the next few years, and in 1910, with money raised for a living memorial to Archie from their many friends, she with Maurice Bonham Carter, her father's principal private secretary, founded a boys' club (the Archie Gordon Club) in Hoxton, a deprived area of East London.

In 1915 Violet married Maurice, later Sir Maurice, and they had four children, two girls and two boys. Even with her family commitments she continued to accompany and support her father on the election platform, most notably in the Paisley by-election of 1920, when he was returned to Parliament after losing his East Fife seat in 1918. Lady Violet Bonham Carter, as she was now known, subsequently went on to fight two elections in her own right, Wells, Somerset in 1945 and Colne Valley, Yorkshire in 1951, losing on both occasions. Her upbringing made her ideally suited to hold the position of President of the Women's Liberal Federation, an office she held twice, from 1923-1925 and again 1939-1945. In 1945 she was invited to become President of the Liberal Party Organization, the first woman to do so, holding office until 1947. During this period she was appointed a governor of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), resigning briefly from the board to fight the Wells seat in 1945, but was reappointed on her defeat and served until 1946. Lady Violet was also a member of the Royal Commission on the press from 1947-1949, a governor of the Old Vic from 1945, and a trustee of the Glyndebourne Arts Trust from 1955.

Throughout her life she spoke in public, addressing all kinds of audiences on many varied subjects. In 1963 she became the first woman to give the Romanes lecture at the University of Oxford, speaking on 'The Impact of Personality on Politics'. Again in 1967 she was the first woman to speak at a Royal Academy dinner. As well as public speaking she appeared regularly on the radio, primarily as one of the panel on The Brains Trust, and on television, most notably in 'As I Remember' an interview with Kenneth Harris in 1967. She also wrote articles for magazines, mainly for women, and letters to newspapers on national and international causes. A great defender of her father's reputation, she would not let criticism of him in print (no matter how minor) go unchallenged. She was in later life pursuaded to use her writing talents to write a biography of her lifelong friend Winston Churchill, her only book. The first volume of Churchill as I Knew Him was published in 1965, the year of his death, but unfortunately the second volume was never completed.

Lady Violet, after a lifetime immersed in politics, was awarded a life peerage in 1964 and took the title Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury. Sir Winston Churchill died on 24 January 1965 and on 25 January her maiden speech in the House of Lords took the form of a eulogy on her departed friend. She continued to attend the House as an active member until her death in 1969. During her lifetime she witnessed the continuation of the Liberal traditions of her family. Her daughter Laura married Jo Grimond, who later became the Leader of the Liberal Party and her son Mark, standing as a Liberal, won Torrington, Devon at a by-election in 1958.

Custodial History

The papers were housed at Nuffield College and Wolfson College, Oxford, during the Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury Project (the editing of the diaries and letters of Lady Violet Bonham Carter for publication). Volume I, Lantern Slides. The Diaries and Letters of Violet Bonham Carter 1904-14 (London, 1996), edited by Mark Bonham Carter and Mark Pottle; Volume II, Champion Redoubtable. The Diaries and Letters of Violet Bonham Carter 1914-1945 (London, 1998), edited by Mark Pottle; Volume III, Daring to Hope. The Diaries and Letters of Violet Bonham Carter 1946-1969 (London, 2000), edited by Mark Pottle.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were given to the Bodleian Library by the Trustees of the late Lord Bonham Carter in April and June 2000, Raymond Bonham Carter, Nov. 2002 and Mrs Marigold Honey, Nov. 2001.

Catalogue of the correspondence and papers of Lady Violet Bonham Carter, 1896-1969 and other family members
Elizabeth Turner
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom