I have been researching for some items I need for my next article. And as it often happens, I have discovered another story as interesting as the original. Getting off the track is almost a certainty.
In this case it concerns an organization that no longer exists, and a peerage which is now extinct, and me quite possibly the only person still alive who could tell the tale. The organization in question was the Primrose League founded in 1883.
The Primrose League was a Conservative organization that met monthly in the House of Lords. Each month a well-known, usually aspiring politician came in black tie with a fulsome dinner speech in his pocket. The result was sure to be a rollicking evening and an illustration of why the British talk about being drunk as a lord for the good supply of that on hand.
I was the only American to be a member and never missed a monthly dinner or my chance to meet any number of peers and MPs. The members befriended me and overlooked the fact that I was a student at Harvard on the route of where Paul Revere galloped towards Concord. Let bygones be bygones.
One of the people I knew best was John Buchan, second Lord Tweedsmuir. His father had written the best-selling book, Thirty Nine Steps in 1915 and became Canada’s first Governor General in 1935.
Johnnie was born in 1911 and had a distinguished career. He was a colonial administrator and naturalist, but also a true-life adventurer. He has been described as a “brilliant fisherman and naturalist, a gallant soldier and fine writer of English, an explorer, colonial administrator and man of business.”
Dinners with him were always fun. The whiskeys flowed and so did the stories. I think he liked me because I had the mandatory awe-struck glint in my eye that Americans retain for members of the Royal family and glamorous peers of the realm. As a trustee of the Primrose League, he was expected to attend all the meetings and events sponsored by the organization and to make appropriate remarks.
This included an outing we made annually to Benjamin Disraeli’s home, Hughenden Manor where we placed a wreath of Primroses festooned with these three words, “His Favorite Flower.”
I knew a secret about this wreath that I learned in Windsor Castle where I was then working in the Royal Archives. Even Lord Tweedsmuir didn’t know. It was generally thought that the wreath and flowers were placed by Queen Victoria in memory of her favorite Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. However, they were actually placed in honor of her husband Prince Albert. Hence “His Favorite Flower.” How could it be anyone but Albert?
Tweedsmuir laughed, gave me a swig of whiskey and laughed again. He didn’t mind the inaccuracy so long he didn’t have to talk about it in public. He minded that quite a lot because our excursions to Disraeli’s home were 99% women who liked to fuss over him, after all he was a Lord of the Realm. I was a good shield.
The Primrose League exists no longer and there are no more dinner in House of Lords no matter how much they love the UK. Started by Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston Churchill’s mother, it was kept going largely because of Evelyn Hawley, CBE. She worked hard for this decoration and she wore it daily. Then after 45 years of loyalty, she stopped and the Primrose League did too.
Now it is all gone, all except for me. I miss the comradery, the deep belly laughs that came so often, and the chance to meet even the highest Cabinet members and quiz them affably.
Johnie is gone, and there is no heir. Who places the wreath at Hughenden now?