Last Try to Avoid Hell, 1914

Last Try to Avoid Hell, 1914

Screen shot 2016-01-22 at 11.20.57 AM“Sav­ing the Nations from Hell”: The “King­ly Con­fer­ence,” 1914 (Excerpt)

(Read more at Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project)

Churchill’s faith in per­son­al diplomacy—solving intractable prob­lems by meet­ings at the high­est level—was famous­ly expressed dur­ing World War II.

Less wide­ly known is Churchill’s 1914 pro­pos­al for a con­fer­ence of heads of state (includ­ing, it seems, French Pres­i­dent Ray­mond Poin­caré) in an effort to head-off World War I. The scheme failed, but not for Churchill’s lack of trying.

There is lit­tle on Churchill’s “king­ly con­fer­ence” in the lit­er­a­ture. There is no ref­er­ence in Churchill’s The World Cri­sis, Asquith’s mem­oirs, or biogra­phies by Man­ches­ter, Jenk­ins, Rose, Charm­ley and Birken­head, though Sir Mar­tin Gilbert includes in the offi­cial biog­ra­phy an excerpt from a cab­i­net mem­ber which records Churchill’s words in the cab­i­net of July 27th:

Churchill said we were now in a bet­ter than aver­age con­di­tion, & the fleet was at war strength….Churchill, how­ev­er, added: it was an appalling calami­ty for civilised nations to con­tem­plate & thought pos­si­bly sov­er­eigns could be brought togeth­er for sake of Peace. [1]

Although there is evi­dence that the prin­ci­pal pow­ers were will­ing to par­tic­i­pate, Churchill’s pro­pos­al was dashed. On July 28th he wrote his wife Clemen­tine from the Admi­ral­ty, express­ing his con­tin­ued wish for peace:

I can­not feel that we in this island are in any seri­ous degree respon­si­ble for the wave of mad­ness which has swept the mind of Chris­ten­dom. No one can mea­sure the con­se­quences. I won­dered whether those stu­pid Kings and Emper­ors could not assem­ble togeth­er and reviv­i­fy king­ship by sav­ing the nations from hell but we all drift on in a kind of dull catalep­tic trance. As if it was some­body else’s oper­a­tion! [2]


1. Mar­tin Gilbert, ed., Win­ston S. Churchill, vol­ume 3, The Chal­lenge of War, 1914-1916 (Hills­dale, Michi­gan: Hills­dale Col­lege Press, 1971), 10.

2. WSC to his wife (CSC Papers), Tues­day, 28 July 1914, in Ran­dolph S. Churchill, ed., Win­ston S. Churchill, Doc­u­ment Vol­ume 5, At the Admi­ral­ty 1911-1914 (Hills­dale, Mich.: Hills­dale Col­lege Press, 2007), 1989-90.

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