Connection to Russian Revolutionaries and Villa Cimbrone in Ravello
1914 - WWI Archive British Noble - Bolshevik Sympathizer
Lieu-Col. Ralph W. E. Beckett - 3rd Baron Grimthorpe Yorkshire Hussars
[ 1914 - 1917 ]
Italy, Russia, France, 1914-1917. Archive of British peer Ralph William Ernest Beckett, 3rd Baron Grimthorpe, at the time serving in France as an officer of the Yorkshire Hussars, comprising 30 manuscript letters, 3 postcards, several receipts, 1 expense journal, and 5 photographs. Letters are all addressed to Beckett and penned by various family and friends, several from his wife, largely pertaining to the First World War and his father's exquisite estate in Italy, and features one letter with excellent content of his sister's Russian connections and participation in the Revolution. Most letters are accompanied by the original covers, most are 8vo. double-leafs. A large portrait photograph of Beckett taken circa 1914, shows him in formal Yorkshire Hussars uniform, the photo measuring 13,5 x 19,5 cm and mounted on thick cardstock. Also including two original photographs of Russian Prince and painter Pierre Troubetzkoy (1864-1936), who was in London in 1914 and who was most certainly affiliated with Ralph's sister the revolutionary enthusiast.
Ralph William Ernest Beckett, 3rd Baron Grimthorpe (1891-1963), was best known as Captain Lord Grimthorpe, and was attached to the Yorkshire Hussars, having joined the regiment on 11 January 1914. With British Expeditionary Force 17th Crops, he was sent to France to fight in the Great War, earning the rank of Lieutenant. He was Lieutenant-Colonel of the Yorkshire Hussars from 1936 and 1940, and also fought in World War II, being mentioned in despatches. He held the office of Deputy Lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Having inherited Villa Cimbrone in Italy, in 1917, he made it available to No. 1 Special Force as a rest and relaxation center during the Second World War. Ralph was later a banker and managed the firm Beckett & Co in Leeds, a private bank which issued its own notes, and which would later become part of the Westminster Bank. He also managed the aeronautical firm Airspeed Ltd. A well-known breeder of racehorses, his Fortina won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1947 and Fragrant Mac won the Scottish Grand National in 1952.
With the rank of Captain, Ralph Beckett, known as Lord Grinthorpe, participated in Allied campaigns in France with the British Expeditionary Force 17th Corps. There he received letters replete with commentary on the First World War as events unfolded in all parts of the globe, from his wife Mary, sister Lucille, other sympathetic relatives and friends.
From the perspective of British nobility, this letter archive presents real imagery pf harsh sufferings and loss inflicted to individuals and communities by a war, oddly juxtaposed against the "sans souci" life of the privileged upper-class. On one hand reporting of bombings and tragedy, on the other pre-occupied with exquisite drapery and furnishings for a grand villa... some occasions sympathetic to those losing family and home, other occasions blind patriotism denying the possibility of national defeat... together the writers create a most unusual and somewhat paradoxical picture of wartime in Europe.
Letters from his sister Lucille prove to be especially interesting as she was quite preoccupied with Russia and most enthusiastic to work alongside her Revolutionary Russian friends. In 1917 she was "in the know" of secret plans being conjured by radical youths; she was actively involved in promoting a propaganda magazine in Italy; she was invigorated by the revolutionary campaigns and envisioned her future in Russia endorsing change.
Sir Winston Churchill was a guest at the Beckett's Italian villa and provided some good information regarding Italian law when Ralph inherited the historic property from his father, the latter being mentioned in a letter from Ralph's wife in 1917.
Photographs of friends or acquaintances are presumably taken at Villa Cimbrone, identified as Captain Shaw-Kennedy [of the Coldstream Guards], Mrs. Menzies, Mr. Bertie Sheriffe, and the Ruissian Prince and artist Pierre Troubetzkoy.
Beckett's receipts reveal some of his personal interests and commitments, such as horse racing and fine cigars, as well as the required accoutrements of a colonial mounted infantry.
His sister Lucille Katherine Beckett wrote him in 1917, from Rome and from Tuscany, four letters and one postcard. One of the letters reveals her connection to Russian Revolutionaries and her personal involvement in the movement. Her correspondence largely discusses matters of their father's estate, in particular the Villa Cimbrone, lawyers in Salerno addressing Italian laws, issues of a cistern to water the gardens, a tennis court, beautiful Chinese furniture, Russian books, and other assets contained within it. She speaks of her Russian connections, likely through her husband Count Otto Czernin von und zu Chudenitz, whom she married in 1903, thus becoming a member of an ancient Bohemian noble family of Czechoslovakia. A scant few references to the war appear in her correspondence, including encouragement for her younger brother Ralph. Lucille further discusses her fascination for Russia, her revolutionary participation in spreading propaganda following the February Revolution (March 1917) and abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, and her zeal for continued involvement in the cause.
Excerpts from Lucille's letter dated 25 April 1917:
"How splendid the offensive has been in the West, the Boches must be beginning to feel fairly sick, if we go on this way we will have them... they will have to draw back... though judging the way they have been treating the towns of France which they evacuate... it is rather hoped that they will be forced to one for peace before evacuating Belgium... It would be ghastly if they treated Brussels, Liege, Antwerp etc as they are treating French towns. They are perfectly capable of it..."
"Heaven knows where I shall live after this war. I think it is a question of Italy or Russia... Russia tempts me tremendously especially now, since the Revolution it's the most interesting country in the world... I have several friends there who are in with all the Revolutionaries, and who will certainly play a prominent rôle, so one would be right in the midst of things and find plenty of work to do."
"I simply horrify Aunt Kitty with all this, she says I am a Revolutionary and will come to a bad end, and don't think people ought to accumulate wealth, but in spite of Aunt Kitty's horror..."
"I am getting to know some the Italians who are really working and doing something for the country and who are in the midst of the young foreward movement... I hear what they are doing, their plans for the future, and I see Italy from an entirely new point of view."
"... I know those Czechs and hear about the Slavs movement and what their aims and ideals are for their nations, both in Poland, Bohemia, and the Balkans, and I've been able to do my small bit in the way of helping. Then I am trying to push a magazine, a sort of artistic and literary one, and I have plans for things that may be done at Ravello, so you see life is deeply interesting."
"... I am far too strong and energetic to lead an idle society life... Of course the only regular work I do at present is the Red Cross and Lady Rodd's shop..."
Thirteen (13) letters and two (2) postcards are from his first wife Mary Alice Archdale and contain details of their personal life, including their interest in his late father's Italian residence, Villa Cimbrone at Ravello, now a famous and prestigious hotel. One of her letters mentions Sir Winston Churchill, who is known to have visited the Becketts at their villa. Naturally, she reports on war news, bombings in London, and the like. When writing the earliest letters Mary was still his fiancé, living at Bushey House in the Hertsmere borough of Hertfordshire. She frequently signs, "your devoted and loving Tiny M." or simply M. They couple married on 3 September 1914. [Mary was the daughter of Colonel Mervyn Henry Archdale, Irish soldier, High Sheriff, MP for Fermanagh, Freemason, and inheritor of Castle Archdale. Her mother was Mary de Bathe born into baronetcy.]
Excerpts from the letters written by Beckett's wife Mary:
"Pemberton seemed a little surprised you had not written or given me verbal instructions as to your intentions with regard to Ravello... having heard at length from Mr. Churchill in the matter of Italian Law which demands you saying whether or no you intend taking Cimbrone with the obligations attached..."
"Cowans... here for dinner... unpleasant remarks... 'The Italians will certainly take Trieste... The French will take the Plateau'... However he was most optimistic and fully expecting the Germans to crack up ere long..."
"I hear the Nicke de Bathe has given up his job on the staff and went into the Flying Corps to France..."
"... they have been suffering in America... it already has been proved of Germany, evil determination to force a war on the world, one which let's hope will teach her a hard lesson and make it impossible to repeat the crime again......"
"For the moment the news looks fairly grim. Russia is so depressing... movements in France... moonlight raids are so awful the damage they do, when I went to London on Wednesday ... smashed and shattered houses... also dropped a bomb on Charing X & hospital and the little theatre"
"... Cowans is coming over for tea, he goes to Paris I fancy tomorrow to have a jolly with the Duchess of R. [Russia?] who is there for more than one reason I believe..."
[The Mr. Cowans mentioned in the above letters may be General Sir John Stephen Cowans (1862-1921), Quartermaster-General to the Forces, who in 1919 received the highest order of Greece.]
Further correspondence came from a variety of army friends and other family members, with encouraging words and informative news of family and war. His "Aunt Queenie" seems to be acquainted with the Yorkshire Hussars, perhaps through her husband.
Excerpts from a letter written by "Aunt Queenie":
"I was awfully glad too to get news of the dear old Regiment. I quite understand how you must wish to get... in the forefront of the battle, but the war is not over yet alas! and the occasion may yet arise when the Y.H.'s may be called upon to save a situation... the Germans are getting fretful internally and I pray that the seeds of Revolution will grow and thrive."
"... I am very busy with the hospital and 'on duty' all this month."
Ralph William Ernest Beckett, 3rd Baron Grimthorpe (1891-1963) was the son of British banker and Conservative politician Ernest William Beckett, 2nd Baron Grimthorpe (1856-1917) and his first wife Lucy Tracy Lee (1864-1891). Ernest Beckett sat in the House of Commons as Member of Parliament for Whitby from 1885 until 1905 when he inherited the Grimthorpe peerage. He later became a partner in the banking firm of Beckett & Co, of Leeds, owned by his father. He was also a captain in the Yorkshire Hussars Yeomanry Cavalry. Ralph would succeed him at the bank and also join the Yorkshire Hussars regiment.
In 1904, Ernest Beckett bought a ruined farmhouse outside Ravello, on the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy. He expanded it and transformed it into a fortified palatial residence with towers, battlements and a mixture of Arabic, Venetian and Gothic details. He called it Villa Cimbrone. Between the house and the cliff edge he redevelopped the garden, high above the Gulf of Salerno. The garden is an eccentric mixture of formal, English rose beds, Moorish tea houses, picturesque grottoes and classical temples. After Earnest Beckett's death in 1917, the villa passed to his son Ralph. Ernest Beckett's daughter Lucy (Lucille Katherine Beckett, 1884-1979) also lived at the villa, where she was a keen gardener and breeder of roses, including the "Rose of Ravello" in the thirties. Ralph made Villa Cimbrone available to No. 1 Special Force as a rest and relaxation center during the Second World War. Many famous visitors came to the villa during the Beckett family's ownership including Sir Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, E. M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, and Lytton Strachey, D. H. Lawrence, Vita Sackville-West, Edward James, Diana Mosley, Henry Moore, T. S. Eliot, Jean Piaget, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, Greta Garbo and her then-lover Leopold Stokowski.
The villa was sold in 1960 to the Vuilleumier family, who used it first as a private family home, and for the past few years as a hotel. Around the time of the Second World War the villa began to see decline. Marco Vuilleumier decided to undertake the task of recovering, conserving and protecting the cultural heritage site. It has indeed been restored to its former standing as a prestigious historical site and botanical garden. For centuries an aristocratic residence, Villa Cimbrone is now an exclusive, refined Hotel de Charme overlooking the Bay of Sorrento. The villa is now composed of many salvaged architectural elements from other parts of Italy and elsewhere. Little of the original structure remains visible.
The first reliable mentions of Villa Cimbrone can be found around the 11th century, intermingling with those of Ravello's golden era. The origins of its name come from the rocky outcrop on which it stands: this was part of a large estate with lush vegetation covering over eight hectares that was known as "Cimbronium". It initially belonged to the aristocratic Acconciajoco family. In the mid 1300s it passed into the hands of the powerful and wealthy Fuscos, a noble family from Ravello who were related to the Pitti family in Florence and the D'Angiò family from Naples.
Ralph's mother is an American heiress Lucy Tracy Lee (1864-1891), who died after birthing him. Known to her friends as Luie. She and Ernest Beckett, 2nd Baron Grimthorpe, married on 4 October 1883. Their marriage was announced in Vanity Fair. They had 3 children: Lucy Katherine Beckett (born 1884), Helen Muriel Beckett (born 1886), and Ralph William Ernest Beckett (born 1891). Luie died after bearing him their son and heir, Ralph William Ernest Beckett.
[Ernest also fathered a son, Lancelot, and a daughter, Violet, with Mrs Alice Keppel, the mistress of the Prince of Wales and great-grandmother of the present Duchess of Cornwall. Both children were illegitimate. Ralph therefore, was a half-brother to Violet Trefusis (née Keppel), daughter of royal mistress Alice Keppel.]
Ralph's great uncle Edmund Beckett, 1st Baron Grimthorpe, an architect and horologist, designed the clock mechanism of Big Ben.
Yorkshire Hussars in the First World War:
In May 1916 it was decided that the static nature of the war required a rethink of the cavalry role and that the cavalry regiments were to work as units within a Corps, and that the Corps Commander would control their movements. On 10th May 1916 the Yorkshire Hussars were reunited as a regiment under 17th Corps, at Gouy-en-Ternois. On 1st June there was a new Commanding Officer, Lt-Col W Pepys of 13th Hussars. They later moved to Berles, between Arras and St Pol, where they remained for more than a year. The initial delight at being a united regiment with the prospect of cavalry action began to wear off as winter approached and the new year produced no more hope. In Nov 1916 their Commanding Officer left and was replaced by newly promoted Lt-Col Eley. They spent the winter at Warne and then moved to Berles and Habarcq. Here, on 14th Aug 1917, they were given the sad news that the regiment was to be broken up and used as reinforcements to various infantry battalions.
Russian Prince and painter Pietro (Pierre) Troubetzkoy (1864-1936) was from a cosmopolitan family, his father being a politician. Pietro made painting his career, although he also sculpted. He studied under Daniele Ranzoni and Achille Tominetti. He travelled to England as a youth of only eighteen and received commissions from a number of society figures, being elected to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1891. It is testament to his juvenile talent that among these was the English Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone (the portrait is now in the collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh). From England he went to New York and Washington, taking commissions and exhibiting his paintings at all the principle shows.
In 1896 Prince Troubetzkoy married American novelist and playwright Amélie Louise Rives, the couple having met at a party hosted by the famous Irish playwright Oscar Wilde. Amelie learned everything she could about her new husband, including his life as a painter of portraits for members of the aristocracy. Together they travelled extensively, and made a trip to London in 1914. They lived in America and also in Europe. In 1914 novel, Amelie published a novel titled "World's End" which was reputed to be the best seller in New York City at the time. Pietro died in Virginia in 1936.
Among his more acclaimed commissions were portraits of the American judge, John Marshall Harlan (collection of the Supreme Court of the United States), of Anna Maria Gallina and Giacinto Gallina, of his own brothers Luigi and Paolo, of the Contessa Cassini, Conte Giuseppe della Gherardesca, Miss Bessie Abbott, General George A. Gariestone, Viscountess Castlereagh, Mrs Benjamin Guinness and the acclaimed American artist James Jebusa Shannon (exhibited, Society Portraits, Colnagi and Clarendon Galleries, 1985, no. 65). His style owed something to the work of John Singer Sargent and the present work is typical of the artist's broad handling of paint, with highlights applied with a somewhat dry brush. Today his works are represented in many private collections, and in the Galleria d'Arte moderna in Milan.
Pietro's younger brother Paolo became internationally acclaimed as a sculptor. Pietro's father, Prince Troubetskoy, was a Russian diplomat and general, and was sometime Governor of Smolensk. On a diplomatic mission to Italy in the 1860s the Prince met a well known American singer by the name of Ada Winans in Florence, and together they set up home at Ghiffa on Lake Maggiore. He was already married to a Russian at the time, and it was not until 1870 that he divorced his first wife and was able to recognise the three children born of Ada; the eldest of these, who subsequently inherited the title, was Pietro, who was born in Milan in 1864. An interest in botany led the Prince to create spectacular gardens at their home, Villa Ada, where he and his wife entertained many well-known bohemian figures of the day.
[Pietro Troubetzkoy's papers are held at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. The papers of the Rives family 1822-1945 are also held there.]
The lot in very good condition.