F. E. Smith

I’ve been reading the book Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age, by Arthur Herman, and was taken by this description of Churchill’s close friend F. E. Smith, the 1st Earl of Birkenhead, and Secretary of State for India from 1924 to 1928:

“F.E. to his friends, his tall ungainly frame and sallow mournful face hid a mordant wit and restless appetite for power (as well as for alcohol, which eventually killed him.”

I’d never really thought much about Birkenhead before — he was really little more to me than a name I’d seen from time to time in books by and about Churchill — so I thought I’d have a closer look.

Here’s that “sallow and mournful face”:

And as for the “mordant wit”:

A 1924 entry in Evelyn Waugh’s diary states that an English High Court judge presiding in a sodomy case sought advice on sentencing from Lord Birkenhead. “Could you tell me,” he asked, “what do you think one ought to give a man who allows himself to be buggered?” Birkenhead replied without hesitation, “Oh, thirty shillings or two pounds; whatever you happen to have on you.”

That quote is taken from Birkenhead’s Wikipedia entry, which, if you’d like to learn more about the life of this unusual man, you can find here.

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  1. Roisin Heritage says

    This amazing man is my great grandfather! My wonderful grandfather was his illegitimate son.

    Posted November 21, 2010 at 11:38 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Glad you dropped by, Roisin! He seems to have been quite a remarkable person indeed.

    Posted November 21, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink
  3. G STAPLETON says

    I am most interested in your comment about FE Smith. I have very strong reason to believe that my grandfather also was his illegitimate son! Please be in touch if you would like to correspond.

    Posted March 23, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink