The Peerage in Mourning: 1915

The World in Crape, 1914 From The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The World in Crape, 1914 From The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day. Mrs Daffodil will share an article to-day and tomorrow on loss and mourning in the Great War.




A striking feature on the opening day of the meeting of the House of Lords was the dress of the peeresses in the side galleries (writes Sir Henry Lucy in the “Sydney Morning Herald”). On ordinary field nights these ladies come down in their gayest garments, garlanding the galleries with rich variety of colour. On this occasion, they were with a single exception bonneted and frocked in black. The exception was a lady whose mourning was relieved by a lofty tuft of white feathers, an apparition startling among the prevailing gloom. Among the British aristocracy there are few homes where German shot or shell has not created a vacant place. With occasional divagation among American heiresses, or stars of the London stage, the peerage habitually intermarry, in ordinary times the record of a death in a noble house places half a dozen others in mourning. When not a week passes without news of the death at the front of the heir to a peerage or a younger son; the prevalence is naturally extended.

The case of the aged Duke of Atholl is peculiarly sad. At the outbreak of the war, two of his sons went to the front. In the first fortnight the elder disappeared. His name figured among the long list of wounded and missing, and he has not since been heard of. Shortly after the second son was wounded, but, escaping capture, he was invalided home. As soon as he recovered he went but to the war again. He had not been there a fortnight when he was reported among the missing. Last week the sorrowing family were cheered by receipt of a note in which he reported himself a prisoner unwounded. After one of the daily fights at close quarters he was attempting to make his way back to his regiment, walked into a German trench and was straightaway pastured.

Nor does this complete the sad story of a single home. A daughter of the house is married to a distinguished officer, who holds the post of commandant at the Hythe School of Musketry, one of the prizes of army service. When the war broke out he went out on active service. Within a fortnight of assuming command of his regiment, it was, whilst gallantly advancing to repel an assault by the Germans, almost annihilated by shell-fire. A shrapnel exploding behind the colonel hit him in the back; crippling both arms. After lying for a month in the hospital he was, with infinite care, brought to London, where he now lies in a nursing home in all probability maimed for life, his active career in the profession he loves and adorns closed. This is a single instance of the shattering of a family circle typical of the multitudinous score–mounting up against the man responsible for this stupendous war.

Press, 5 March 1915: p. 8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Of course, the “man responsible,” Kaiser Wilhelm, was also a member of a rather elite family circle: his grandmother was Queen Victoria. One can scarcely find a more salient example of intermarrying, given that The Grandmother of Europe spread not only her family influence to all the royal houses of Europe, but the haemophiliac gene to the Russian Imperial House, where, arguably, it led to the fall of the Tsar over the “healer” Rasputin’s influence.

An article published in The New York Evening Post of 7 August 1915, entitled “War’s Toll Upon Famous Families,” listed the bede-roll of notable houses throughout Europe with impeccable impartiality—this was before America entered the War. This, from the introduction, suggests the scope:

The dreadful slaughter has fallen with especial heaviness on the upper and wealthy classes, and the names of hundreds of people prominent in all walks of life are being continually added to the growing casualty lists. Death knows no distinctions, and in taking victims has leveled all classes, from Prince to pauper. The bluest blood of Germany, England, and France has been poured out in battle. So great has been the loss in British officers in particular, that quite a number of heirs of great wealth among them have passed their entailed fortunes on to babies. Germany has had to give of her foremost families of the ancient nobility, of high Government officials who were serving as volunteers or reserves, of college professors, authors, scientists, newspaper men, artists, actors, musical virtuosi, sportsmen, and other prominent men of business or public life. A similar loss has been borne by France, Austria-Hungary, England, Russia, and all the belligerent countries.

This Remembrance Day has brought to the papers the mention of the loss of Her Majesty the Queen’s own Uncle, Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon, killed in action at the Battle of Loos in September of 1915. In the chaos, his body was not recovered, causing much pain to his family. Only recently has a named headstone for the Black Watch Captain been erected in Quarry Cemetery, Vermelles. Captain Bowes-Lyon was the beloved elder brother of the Queen Mother and it is thought that when Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon married Prince Albert, Duke of York at Westminster Abbey, she was remembering her lost brother when she laid her bridal bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.





5 thoughts on “The Peerage in Mourning: 1915

  1. mortimermonk

    This really does bring home the indiscriminate nature of war, and is as pertinent today as of yesteryear. We need only consider what is happening across the Middle East and other places to realise its true import.


    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Alas, the human race seems unable to learn the lessons of history and, so, to paraphrase the well-known saying, are doomed to repeat the tragedies of the past.
      We may don poppies and lay wreaths and observe the two-minute silence, yet nothing changes….

      “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
      To children ardent for some desperate glory,
      The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
      Pro patria mori.
      Wilfred Owen


  2. Pingback: Alternatives for Mourning during the Great War: 1914-1918 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

  3. Pingback: Encore: Alternatives for Mourning During the Great War: 1914-1918 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

  4. Pingback: Alternatives for Mourning During the Great War: 1914-1918 – The Victorian Book of the Dead

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