Chapter One: The Great War, Diplomacy and Poetry
In Hungary, as in Britain, the outbreak of war was greeted with an outburst of patriotic enthusiasm, though Austro-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia was the first declaration to be made on 28 July, 1914, and the escalation of a regional war into a world war came almost a two weeks later with the fall of Belgium and Britain’s subsequent entry into the war, together with the British Empire. The Hungarians could not have known, or even predicted, the events on the western front as they marched on Belgrade. The opposition parties in the Hungarian Parliament, including the Social Democrats, supported the war effort, hoping to win democratic concessions in return. The only one among the leading politicians to foresee the dangers of an early entry into war was István Tisza, then serving as Prime Minister for a second time, but even he, despite his vision and determination to uphold the interests of the Hungarian nation, just as he had reforged the monarchy, was only able to delay the declaration for two weeks. The leaders of the national minorities also fell into line, issuing declarations of loyalty. A few emigrated, possibly to Britain, but contacts between Hungarians and the British, either friendly or hostile, were otherwise few and far between throughout the next four years, especially since the respective armies were fighting on different fronts.
As the war progressed, so too did the confidence of the young British diplomat, Harold Nicolson. He was the grandson of an admiral in the Crimean War who had been axed from the Navy for a colossal ‘error of judgement’. The ‘crusty old sea dog’ lived in a gloomy, neglected house in Knightsbridge with ‘a tart’ who was addicted to the bottle, and dined on partridges and champagne at his London club. His father, Arthur, who had been neglected and even ignored by his father and step-mothers, had lacked confidence at Rugby school, which he left as ‘a complete failure’, and did no better at Brasenose College, where his tutors found him ‘indolent, undisciplined and untidy’. He left Oxford without taking his degree. Eventually, Arthur found refuge from the adversities at home in the relative calm of the Foreign Office. He proved to be ‘a late starter’, and applying himself to his studies, became fluent in German and French and passed out first in the Foreign Office examinations with 772 marks out of a possible 930. He entered the Foreign Office in 1870, spent thirty-five years abroad, returned in 1910 to head the Office, and retired six years later. He was effective as a diplomat ‘in the field’, but ‘too easy-going’ to run an office. Harold had the greatest respect for his father, despite his flaws, and, when he came to write a filial biography of Sir Arthur Nicolson, he described him as ‘an old-style diplomat’ who was neither imaginative nor intellectual: he was merely intelligent, honest, sensible, high-minded and fair. Arthur had succeeded to the title of baronet on the death of his father in 1899, but the ancient Scottish-Norwegian family had never risen above the level of provincial dignitaries. So it was that Harold was born to Mary Catherine Rowan Hamilton, who had far greater aristocratic connections, in 1886, during his father’s first three-year posting to the British legation in Tehran. He was the third of three brothers, both born in the early eighties, and his sister was born a decade later. After his spell in Tehran, Arthur, ‘Katy’ and family moved to Hungary, to a flat in Andrássy Utca (Street). Arthur Nicolson had been made Consul-General there. One of his brothers must have been at boarding school in Britain by this time, but Harold found the small flat very cramped. Children of the British aristocracy customarily regarded their parents from afar. Although Harold later wrote that ‘we were always strangers to our parents’, he was very close to his mother, who hovered constantly in the background even when his German nurse was in charge of him. Every evening he said his prayers in German as well as English. The cramped conditions of the cramped accommodation in Andrássy Street robbed it ‘of stately ease’ as in his young mind he graded the various apartments he lived in according to the magnificence of their dining rooms. Arthur was next posted to Constantinople as Secretary of the Embassy there, working with Sir Richard Burton, who terrified the young Harold by thrusting his dark, bearded face into the little boy’s face, barking ‘Hello, little Tehran!’ Despite this incident, which Harold remembered for the rest of his days, he preferred the grander apartment they moved into in Constantinople, where napkins in rows like bishop’s mitres… and the soft Bosphorus sunset slid across the white dinner table in slatted shafts of orange and blue. After that Arthur was posted to Sofia, Tangier and Madrid, and Harold continued to accompany them, although not to St Petersburg, where Arthur was British Ambassador. By the time he encountered the palatial splendour of the embassy there, he was himself a junior clerk at the Foreign Office.
Harold must have lived in the Andrássy Street apartment until he was five or six. Then, after being educated by a governess for some years, Harold went to the Grange, a preparatory school near Folkestone, from the age of nine to thirteen. Bullying was rife in the school, from the Headmaster down, and Harold was seen as something of an ‘oddball’, especially for defending Dreyfus from abuse and taking up the cause of the Boers, defying the jingoism of the time. From the Grange, Harold went on to Wellington College in Berkshire, where he arrived in January 1900. Although an enthusiastic and successful Classical scholar, he was not sorry to leave. The school happened to be ‘a stone’s throw’ from Broadmoor, a top security prison for the criminally insane. Nicolson was probably thinking of this connection when he said that leaving Wellington College would be like leaving prison. He was, by this time, very much an individual young man with a mind of his own, and Wellington was an institution steeped in the military code of ‘esprit de corps’ above all else. From Wellington he went ‘up’ to Oxford for Michaelmas 1904, where he read Classics at Balliol College. Given his father’s service, it was taken for granted that Harold would seek a diplomatic career. His vacations were spent visiting his parents, in Madrid, where his father was ambassador. He also developed his linguistic skills by travelling across Europe and staying with French, Italian and German families. In August 1906 he visited his parents at the Embassy in St Petersburg, just at the time of the attempted revolution and the first attack on Stolypin. Nicolson saw the barbaric and bloody aftermath of the attack on the house, and from this retained impressions of Russia which stayed with him for the remainder of his life. Unlike his father, ‘who loved the Russians and their fickle ways’, Nicolson regarded them as barely European. The Slav character, earthy, emotional, gloomy, confused him.
In October 1909, after a further series of examinations, Harold Nicolson, aged twenty-three, received a note instructing him to take up his duties at the Foreign Office. When he joined the Diplomatic Service a Liberal government had been in power for three years. In foreign policy there was a striking degree of continuity with the previous conservative administration. The so-called New Course in British policy was by now firmly rooted, with the Anglo-French and Anglo-Russian Ententes at its core. In June 1910 Harold was transferred to the Eastern (Europe) Department at the Foreign Office, then sent to Madrid in February 1911. However, he fell ill and was recalled to London where, by the end of 1911 he passed an examination in international law. In 1910 he had met Victoria (‘Vita’) Sackville-West, and in October 1913 they were married in the chapel of Knole House in Kent, The Sackville-Wests’ family seat.
Much of allied war-time diplomacy centred on the future of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires: how to control the emergence of new national entities in central Europe; how to reconcile conflicting national claims among the Balkan territories; how to avoid or approve the break-up of Turkey itself; and how to resolve the clash of rival allied demands with local nationalist movements in the Arab East. There was also the problem of the disintegrating Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Czechs, riding high on a wave of national fervour, were claiming German-speaking Bohemia, for strategic and economic reasons, and Slovakia, on ethnic grounds. Leo Amery, Political Secretary to the War Cabinet, had suggested that, at the end of the war, the Entente powers should try to create a large non-national superstate… a federated Austria-Hungary in federation with Germany. Lord Robert Cecil, Balfour’s deputy as Assistant Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs showed considerable sympathy for Amery’s plan for avoiding the Balkanisation of Central Europe. He added, somewhat prophetically, that unless we can induce the smaller states to move along these lines, the last state of Europe may well be worse than the first. He called upon the skilled technical assistance of the Political Intelligence of the Foreign Office to examine Amery’s sheme. Lewis Namier, a member of this PID, and an expert on the national question in central and eastern Europe, assisted by Harold Nicolson, put the scheme under the microscope and concluded that nothing could be done to arrest the drive for Yugoslav or Romanian unity into sovereign states. Yugoslavia would replace Serbia and Transylvania would form part of a Greater Romania. Neither would constitute a new problem for the future. Added to which, the Germans would dominate the Federation, which would then merely increase the difficulties in relation to Russia’s collapse. Both Namier and Nicolson held firmly that the Old Empire was doomed. To reverse what was taking place on the ground would be to allow Germany to absorb the whole of German Bohemia and to help the Magyars in maintaining their oppressive domination of the Slovaks. In both Hungary and Bohemia the situation was so confused that Nicolson felt that it would be wiser for us to form no settled policy, or even opinion, as regards the future status of these countries. However, they did recognise that the incorporation of the German-speaking Sudetenland into a new Czecho-Slovak state would be a weakness in the future. They were proved right twenty years later when the Munich Agreement to hand the former Austrian territory to Germany brought the whole pack of cards crashing down, and with it, as they had rightly predicted, the entire strategy of creating states on the basis of national or pan-Slavic self-determination.
When the Emperor Franz Josef died in November 1916, his successor, his grand-nephew, Karl put out feelers for a separate peace between the crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Allies. Harold, apparently a lone voice in the Office, was in favour. I suggested peace with Austria against everybody’s views, he told Vita. However, Balfour completely misread the situation and, although the first stage of negotiations dragged on until late August 1917, but eventually broke down due to the Italians insisting that the Treaty of London (1915) be upheld, including its demands for Trieste, a claim the Austro-Hungarians were unwilling to concede. Later, as the Empire continued to collapse, Harold proposed that the United States should handle the negotiations, since it was not committed to any agreements with Italy and could tempt Vienna with financial aid. Added to these factors, there was also the personal one of Wilson’s immense prestige, resting on a more solid and more spiritual base than that of the other belligerents. The Foreign Office view moved towards Harold’s, favouring concessions to Austria-Hungary in exchange for the weakening of her role in the Triple Alliance. Nicolson also spoke of an ‘Austrian solution’ in Poland, of the recovery of non-Polish Silesia. However, none of this came to fruition, as in September 1919, at St Germain near Paris, a treaty of extreme severity was imposed upon Austria, reducing it to a rump state, dependent for its survival on massive allied aid. Hungary’s turn came next.
The most striking similarity occurs in the parallel experiences of the soldiers in trench warfare on both fronts, and in the way it produced some of the finest poetry ever written, both in English, by Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Edward Thomas, and in Hungarian, by Endre Ady, abstractly and from a distance (rather like Kipling, especially since Ady was already feted as the greatest poet of the pre-war generation in Hungary), and Géza Gyóni, from up-close in the trenches. Artists like Baron László Mednyánszky also painted (see his painting of a battlefield scene below) in order that those not suffering at the fronts would wake up to the brutality of this war of total attrition, with its futile battles. The purpose of these artists and poets, on both sides, was to reveal, as Owen stated, the pity of war…the poetry is in the pity.
Capter Two: Left, Right – Revolution, Revenge and Revisionism 1918-28
By any reckoning Harold Nicolson had served the Foreign Office with great distinction during the war. Balfour and Lloyd George were alerted to his gifts. Three days before the Armistice, he was told that he would be going to Paris, as a member of the British Delegation to the peace conference. He was only thirty-two, still only a third secretary, but with a brilliant diplomatic career ahead of him. Three weeks later Harold left for Paris. The Conference opened officially on 18 January 1919 at the Quai d’Orsay, where Raymond Poincaré, the French President, greeted the delegates, but Georges Clemenceau soon took command, in typical high-handed fashion.
At first, Nicolson was absorbed with the minutiae of the territorial commission’s deliberations. However, other matters soon seized his attention, explaining to Balfour why the Italians should not be awarded Fiume, a judgement upheld by Wilson and Lloyd George. He was impressed by Benes, the Czech Foreign Minister, whom he described as altogether an intelligent, young, plausible, little man with broad views, who based his case not so much on securing national rights as on sustaining the stability of central Europe. Harold, brimming with confidence and easily charmed it seems, by the younger statesmen, therefore reported to the Supreme Council as follows:
Bohemia and Moravia, historical frontier justified, in spite of the fact that many Germans would be included. Teschen, Silesia, Oderburg justified… Hungarian Ruthenes justified and desirable.
Of course, none of these ‘inclusions’ were justified by subsequent events and Benes was understandable flexible, as Nicolson had hoped, on the question of national self-determination. Although Czechoslovakia did provide much needed political stability and economic progress at the heart of Europe, its fundamental creation as a multi-national state was thereby fundamentally flawed. Nicolson was too optimistic on this issue.
Meanwhile, the streets in the Hungarian capital belonged to the political left. The new heroes of the disaffected masses were the Communists, organised as a party on 24 November, 1918. by Béla Kun, a former journalist and trade union activist, recently returned from captivity in Russia. Within a few weeks, effective propaganda promising equality and an end to to exploitation through the nationalisation of property, earned the Communist Party a membership forty thousand strong, with several times this number ready to launch a revolution. By January 1919, a wave of strikes had swept across Hungary, in which factories and communication installations were occupied. In addition, there were land seizure and attempts to collectivise agriculture. These in turn led to the demand for the eradication of all forms of feudalism and a call for a Hungarian Soviet Republic. with a foreign policy seeking friendship with Soviet Russia rather than the Entente powers. The main government party were the Social Democrats, who now gravitated towards the communists. The Károlyi government attempted, belatedly, to counter the forces threatening the regime from both sides. After a Communist-organised demonstration culminated in shooting, thirty-two prominent Communists including Kun were arrested on 21 February. At the same time, Károlyi decided to exert more vigorous policies to save what could still be saved of the country’s territory. Hungarian diplomats established contacts with those of the western Allies at Vienna and Bern and tried to convince them that an acceptable settlement of the border question was vital if a communist takeover was to be avoided. At home, Károlyi assured the public that he would not sign a peace treaty dismembering the country. However, he did not have the chance to see the peace terms. On 20 March, the government received a memorandum which communicated the decision of 26 February made by the peace conference, authorising the Romanian troops to advance further and to establish a neutral zone to include major Hungarian cities like Debrecen and Szeged. Károlyi suspected that this territorial incursion would form the basis of the final settlement and therefore rejected it. He planned to proclaim national resistance, and appealed to the Social Democrats to assume sole government responsibility. On 21 March they accepted this call, and formed a new government , the Revolutionary Governing Council, presided over by a Social Democrat but in effect led by Béla Kun, with the declared aim of establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat.
On April Fools’ Day, Harold Nicolson left Paris on a special mission headed by General Jan Smuts, the South African member of the Imperial War Cabinet. They were bound for Budapest where their assignment was to investigate the ramifications of the Communist takeover for the Peace Conference. For the world’s leaders gathered in Paris, the spectre of Boshevism was truly haunting Europe: it threatened widespread starvation, social chaos, economic ruin , anarchy and a shocking end to the old order. Harold wrote to Vita that the Germans will go Bolshevist the moment they feel it is impossible to get good terms. This was one of the main themes of Lloyd George’s cogently argued Fontainebleau Memorandum. It was therefore understandable that Béla Kun’s short-lived revolution triggered many anxious moments for the Supreme Council.
Smut’s specially prepared train stopped over in Vienna to warn Kun of their imminent arrival and to ensure safe passage. Harold was sent to the Hungarian Bolshevik’s HQ there to make an initial contact. The commissar-in-charge, a Chicago-educated Galician Jew agreed to accompany them to translate, as Kun spoke only Magyar and, having left Budapest at the age of four or five, Nicolson would have forgotten most of the words he might have picked up. The next morning, 2 April, he woke up in the vaguely familiar surroundings of the Keleti (Eastern) Station in Budapest, but with the unfamiliar sight of Red Guards with fixed bayonets and scarlet brassards. Smuts insisted on conducting the negotiations from the wagon, as to have done otherwise would have implied recognition of the new regime. Harold went to meet Kun, a little man about thirty: puffy white face and loose wet lips: shaven head. impression of red hair: shifty, suspicious eyes: he has the face of an uncertain criminal.
It rained continuously, pattering on the roof and glistening on the carriage window panes in the light of the candles. There was also an energy crisis, with supplies of gas and electricity at a premium. The negotiations centred on whether or not the Bolsheviks would accept the Allies’ armistice proposals, lines that would compel them to accept considerable territorial losses, particularly to the Romanians. They hesitated all day. In the interval Harold decided to explore Budapest, a city he had lived in as a young child, in Andrássy Street, and had last visited in 1912. He found the whole place wretched, sad, unkempt. He took tea in the Hungaria Hotel. Although ‘communised’, it flew a huge Union Flag and Tricolour, a gesture of goodwill. Red Guards with bayonets patrolled the hall, but in the foyer what remained of Budapest society huddled sadly together with anxious eyes and in complete, ghastly silence, … while the band played.
Later that evening, Béla Kun returned to the train’s dining-car, accompanied by his senior ministers, and handed Smuts his answer. Smuts read it twice, then handed it to Harold who studied it and shook his head. Smuts responded: No, Gentlemen, this is a note I cannot accept: There must be no reservations. Although prepared to offer minor concessions, Smuts’ terms of reference were uncompromising. Béla Kun had first to agree to the occupation by allied forces of a neutral zone separating the Bolshevik forces from the Romanian army; if he complied, the Allies would be prepared to raise their blockade strangling his regime. Bela Kun desperately needed allied recognition of his government, but he inserted a clause to Smuts’ draft agreement that the Romanian forces should withdraw to a line east of the neutral zone, in effect to evacuate Transylvania. Smuts would not countenance such a deal. He made a final appeal to reason. But the Bolsheviks remained ‘silent and sullen’. Smuts, his patience exhausted, but still behaving with ‘exquisite courtesy’, brought the pointless exchanges to an end, having already concluded that Béla Kun is just an incident and not worth taking seriously. ‘Well, gentlemen,’ he said, ‘I must bid you goodbye.’ However, the translator had problems with his over-polite British colonial speech, apparently, and Kun did not understand that he intended to depart immediately:
with whistles already blowing… our special glided out into the night, leaving Béla Kun and company bewildered. Stranded on the platform, they looked up at the departing train in blank astonishment.
Smuts’ impression that Béla Kun was just ‘an incident’ proved to be only too true, of course. On 10 April, a day after Harold wrote his account to Vita, a provisional government was established in Budapest that reflected the old ruling Hungarian cliques: Count Gyula Karolyi, Count István Bethlen and Admiral Miklós Horthy de Nagybanya. On 1 August, Kun fled the capital in the face of invading Romanian armies. Some months later, in February 1920, after the Romanians had retreated, taking everything they could carry with them, Horthy was appointed Regent, head of state. Béla Kun ended his days in Russia, where he died in 1936, probably a victim of one of Stalin’s purges.
The Hungarian Soviet Republic survived for four months, and scored some temporary successes on the national issue. It collapsed , not because of internal counter-revolution, but when its military position against the allies of the Entente in the region became untenable. The communist take-over brought to the surface the disagreements between the western powers at Paris: the Americans and the British interpreted it as the outcome of a situation created by the violation of Hungarian interests, resulting from the extravagant claims of the French on behalf of its protégés in the region. Kun had requested negotiations, hence the visit by Jan Smuts and Harold Nicolson to Budapest, mainly to acquire reliable information about the situation there. Despite his low opinion of Kun himself, Smuts seemed inclined to reduce the neutral zone in eastern Hungary, and in the report he submitted in Paris he even supported the Hungarian counter-proposal for a meeting of all those concerned, including the losing countries, to discuss border issues. However, he also concluded that the Hungarian government was of a truly Bolshevik character, which gave weight to Clemenceau’s already mooted idea of suppressing German revanchist designs as well as the spread of the Russian disease into Western Europe by a cordon sanitaire, to be established through the new states of central Europe. The Social democratic government which took power on 1 August was forced to resign less than a week later, as the Romanian Army supported a counter-revolutionary coup which brought to power a government which persecuted the intellectual élite of the country, including Bartok and Kodály.
The Hungarian delegation finally arrived in Paris on 6 January, 1920, led by Count Albert Apponyi. They had produced and now presented a great variety of historical, ethnographic, economic and strategic arguments against the terms that had been worked out the previous spring, following the visit of Smuts and Nicolson to Budapest. The Hungarian delegates demanded the alteration of some of the borders suggested,and proposed plebiscites in disputed areas. The earlier differences between the great powers were reawakened. The Americans and the British had initially intended to leave most of the overwhelmingly Hungarian-inhabited pale immediately across the border in Hungarian hands, and Lloyd George again warned that peace would be precarious in Central Europe with one-third of all ethnic Hungarians surrendered to the neighbouring states. Finally, however, the British PM was sidelined and the arbiters left the treaty unaltered, refusing only the most extreme demands, such as the Czechoslovak claim to the Miskolc industrial region and the Romanian claim to the Debrecen area. Harold Nicolson remained in Paris until the end of 1919, putting the final touches to the treaty with Hungary, among others.
By the time that Apponyi’s delegation arrived in Paris, President Wilson had left. Therefore, the Hungarian response to the terms, which was summarised in a long speech by Apponyi on 16th January, mainly in French, but with some passages in English and Italian, was heard by Clemenceau and Lloyd George. The latter now showed an inconsistency in his attitude, perhaps to justify the already favourable terms granted to the Austrians, which had even rewarded them with the Hungarian-speaking Burgenland. He claimed that Hungary was more to blame for the outbreak of the war than the Austrians, which was a complete and deliberate reversal of the truth. He now seemed anti-Hungarian in attitude.
He may have been partly prejudiced by the aristocratic appearance of Apponyi and other members of the Hungarian delegation, which nevertheless contained more progressive thinkers, like Pál Teleki, the great geographer. However, Teleki was not yet Prime Minister, nor leader of the delegation. A more modern-looking and sounding delegation, showing greater flexibility on the question of national self-determination, may have helped to mitigate the loss of territory which even then came as a shock to the delegates, but it is doubtful if the overall outcome would have been greatly different. The problem with the stance taken by the delegation, wholly prepared in Budapest, was that it was inflexibly based on the restoration of Hungary’s so-called pre-1914 borders (in fact, these had never existed independently from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Dual Monarchy). This would have returned ten million non-Hungarians to as yet unstable rule from Budapest, something the allies were not likely to accept. To them, it seemed that the domination of forty million Slavs in the successor states would provide a better guarantee of stability in Central Europe. However, there was some hope that Hungary might get fairer treatment when their case was referred to the meeting of the great powers in London in early March. Both Lloyd George and Francesco Nitti, the new Italian PM were more sympathetic and free from the dominating presence of Clemenceau, who had been replaced by Millerand as French PM. Both Lloyd George and Nitti agreed that the terms of the treaty were nonsensical and the British PM added the caveat that the Treaty would need to be ‘supervised’. However, Nitti’s view was overturned by his ambassadors, who saw Romania as their traditional ally in the East, and Lloyd George was reminded by Carson, a leading Foreign Office diplomat, that he had already signed his name to these terms less than a year previously. When Arthur Balfour took over the premiership in 1922. he was able to express an unequivocal view before Parliament that the terms of the treaty were unfair to Hungary. For the time being, the Foreign Office remained divided on the issue, so nothing was done to amend the Treaty. With great reluctance, the whole Hungarian government accepted that the Treaty had to be signed, but made it clear that this was being done under duress by choosing representatives who were seeking to retire from public service as doers of the despicable deed.
So it was that the Treaty of Trianon, signed on the 4 June 1920, deprived Hungary of two-thirds of its former territory, not including Croatia, and nearly sixty per cent of its population, including thirty per cent of all ethnic Hungarians. The outcome of the Paris Peace Conference for Hungary shocked even those who had been the sharpest critics of the pre-1914 political regime in Hungary and the policy towards the nationalities. It was all the more shocking for them because they came from the progressive camp of Hungarian politics, who were well disposed towards the western liberal democracies, but whose future on the political scene was destroyed by the terms of the Trianon Treaty. The true tragedy of Trianon consisted in the fact that it contributed to the survival of those political tendencies which had steered the country into the war and its consequences, in the first place. Hungarian national consciousness was resigned to the reality of a medium-sized state of twenty million inhabitants in which Magyar primacy would be based not on the vulgar principles of majority rule and racial superiority but on historical and political achievement; it was bewildered by being forced into the small confines of a country with a population of eight million. The flaws in the settlement lent justification to the general spirit of outrage and revenge, compressed in the slogan, ‘No, no, never!’ (above), and no political force entertaining hopes of success in Hungary could afford to ignore or neglect the issue of revision in the inter-war period.
The deposed Emperor and King of Hungary, Charles (Károly) IV, who had fled to Switzerland at the end of the war, twice entered Hungary at the invitation of the monarchists to claim the throne which Horthy had reinstituted. His second attempt is noteworthy because it was the first hijacking of a plane in the world! Loyal supporters, former pilots, stole a plane and took him to Hungarian soil from Switzerland. At the head of an army joining him from Transdanubia, Charles IV reached the city limits of Budapest, where Horthy stopped him with a small army consisting mainly of hastily armed university students. The Entente powers backed him and an English war vessel steaming up the Danube took him aboard and into exile on the island of Madeira, where he died soon after, leaving Otto Hapsburg as his heir.
During the first half of the twenties, when the scope for Hungarian Foreign Policy was very limited, the Hungarian government pinned its hopes on obtaining better terms from the victors. As France threw all its in favour of the Little Entente countries, Britain was the only potential ally for them in this modest venture. However, by the middle of the decade the British government had lost most of the interest it formerly had in the affairs of Central Europe. Nevertheless, they could not be entirely ignored, as Hungary was admitted to the League of Nations in 1922, and applied for a loan which was backed by the United States and Great Britain in 1924.
The Hungarian cause did find one influential and steadfast British supporter in the person of the press magnate Harold Sidney Harmsworth, Lord Rothermere, who, partly under the charms of a Hungarian aristocratic lady, published an article entitled Hungary’s Place under the Sun in The Daily Mail in June 1927. Rothermere’s proposal was that both in the interests of peace in Central Europe and the more effective containment of Bolshevism, the predominantly Hungarian inhabited borderland areas of other successor states should be restored to Hungary itself. On the one hand, the initiative to awaken the conscience of the world which was being pursued far less effectively by Hungarian propaganda, was hailed, and inspired the foundation of the Hungarian Revisionist League of several hundred economic and social organisations and corporate bodies. On the other hand, an ethnically based revision of the Treaty of Trianon seemed less than satisfactory for many in official circles and was fully acceptable only for the social democratic and liberal opposition. The publication of Rothermere’s article coincided with two developments: growing and well-founded disillusionment with schemes for peaceful revision, and the recovery of some of Hungary’s scope for independent action through the departure of both the foreign financial and military commissioners by early 1927. During 1927 and 1928, instead of the self-denial required by the circumstances, Bethlen was able to emphasise the need for new borders with increasing frequency.
A Postscript: Hungarian Exiles in the United Kingdom between the wars
These political upheavals and the repression of the Hungarian Jews, about which I have written at length elsewhere, led to successive waves of refugees and emigrants. The nature of each upheaval dictated the composition of each emigrant groups: capitalists, small business people and intellectuals fleeing from the 1919 Republic; left-wingers escaping from the regency, along with Jews, rich and poor, from the early pogroms after the first war to the flight from the pro-Fascist Hungarian governments of 1936 to 1944; Jewish survivors of the concentration camps, élite army officers, landowners and capitalists fleeing from future persecution from either communists or fascists, or both, as the Soviets occupied most of eastern Hungary including Pest by the end of 1944.
Due to the lack of reliable quantitative sources the UK, we do not know how many Hungarians emigrated to Britain, exactly when they arrived in the host country, or where they settled. There are references to Hungarians to Hungarians in London and Manchester in the 1930s, but whether these were Jews or Christians, landless peasants, unskilled workers, craftsmen, professionals or entrepreneurs, we do not know. We can speculate that ‘religious’ Jewish immigrants might have settled in Manchester, where there were already well-established communities worshipping in synagogues with large congregations, partly due to traditional Jewish involvement in the textile and tailoring trades, which had also been expanding in Hungary before the first war. However, this is speculation based on vague traces in qualitative source material, which do not inform us of whether they arrived on their own, or with families. Nor, in the context of a re-enlarged Hungary from 1938 to 1944, can we be sure that they were mother-tongue Magyar, or members of persecuted ethnic minorities. There is more data available for the second half of the twentieth century, both quantitative and qualitative, which will be dealt with in later postings.
Norman Rose (2005), Harold Nicolson. London: Jonathan Cape.
László Kontler (2009), A History of Hungary. Budapest: Atlantisz.
Marika Sherwood, (1991), The Hungarian speech community in Safder Alladina & Viv Edwards, Multilingualism in the British Isles. Harlow: Longman.
Balázs Ablonczy, Margaret MacMillan, et. al. (2006), A Trianon Szindróma (The Trianon Syndrome). Budapest: Mokép Pannonia DVD (mostly in Hungarian with English subtitles).
Recovery and Compromise, 1849-1867
G I Whyte-Melville (1821-78) passed through Hungary on his way to the Crimea to join the British Army as a volunteer. He described social conditions in Hungary in his Interpreter (1858). He was not the first English novelist to study Hungarian life and cultural character. George Borrow had published Lavengro in 1851 and Romany Rye in 1857, and was much impressed by the romantic history of Hungary as well as the conditions prevailing in this period. Whyte- Melville’s Interpreter contains a characteristic and , at times, strikingly realistic picture of life after the War of Independence. He saw the despair as well as the hatred of the Austrian government that followed the war. The peasants hated their Austrian master. At the mention of his name, the peasants’ voices shook with fury, their faces convulsed with rage… If ever they do get the upper hand, woe to the oppressor! Two soldiers just returned from Italy refused to accept the gifts offered them by Haynau. With a wild curse and malediction they dashed his money to the ground.
Stein, the secret agent of the Austrian Government, was treated with due contempt by Melville, whose British instincts for justice and fair play alienated him from so hateful a character. By contrast, he expresses his deep sympathy with Colonel Türr and the martyrs of Arad, and for their patriotic fervour of the grieving Hungarian nation. Writing of their horror at the flogging of a Hungarian noblewoman, both Melville and Borrow (in his appendix to Romany Rye) express their utter contempt for the ‘marshal’ who carried this out against a lady for no other crime than devotion to her country and its tall and heroic sons (Borrow). In his Travels in European Turkey, published in two volumes in 1851, Edmund Spencer expressed, in energetic terms, his support for the Hungarian cause and his contempt for the tyrannical foe. In his writings, he complained about the Austrian system of espionage, to which he himself nearly fell victim. He wrote with admiration of the valiant six millions, defending their liberty against two emperors and at the same time against nationalities. He pointed out that the Hungarians were not revolutionaries, much less socialists, but noble patriots defending their lives and properties from the attacks of those let loose on them from every Slavic country under the control of Austrian and Ottoman Empires. He claimed that these were provoked by paid agents of the Austrian government in its attempt to subvert the constitution and liberties of the Hungarian peoples. He was revolted by the horrible scenes that took place in Hungary… perfidy and cruelty marked every movement of the Austrian cabinet. Austria and Russia were allowed to arrest the march of civilisation.
Spencer attacked both the British and French Cabinets for their neglect of Hungary. He ridicules the uselessness of debates held at Peace Congresses, wishing that the British government would exert all the influence in keeping out of the market all foreign loans required by any aggressive Powers. Finally, he wrote of Austrian bureaucracy, martial law, multiplied taxes, and all the harassing chicanery of a host of needy German policemen. He praised the Hungarian women, who even outvie the men in their patriotic enthusiasm. Another visitor to Hungary in the aftermath of the War of Independence was D. T. Ansted seems to have felt a peculiar fascination for Hungary, and its superb scenery. He too had a warm feeling for the Hungarian people, struggling to retain an honorable position among more powerful nations pressing them in on all sides. He wrote indignantly about Haynau, the infamous tyrant who was afterwards reminded in the streets of London of the estimation in which he was held by a free people…
Here Ansted was referring to an incident when the Austrian general arrived in the London dockyards some years after the War and his forced retirement from Imperial service, apparently travelling incognito, dressed as an ordinary sailor. However, he was recognised by some of the East End dockers and had to be rescued from a severe beating.
Despite the rapturous reception to Kossuth given by the people of Birmingham, following his speeches on arrival in Southampton and at the Guildhall, the British government was far more reticent in the respect it showed to the exiled Protector of the first, short-lived Hungarian Republic. In the prevailing international
situation, relations between Britain and Russia were strained in the period leading to the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1853, and Britain needed the support of Austria in its anti-Russian policy. The Viennese Court asserted that the Hungarian Revolution had been a rebellion in a ‘province’ of the Austrian Empire, and induced the British government to follow its natural inclination to reserve, restraint and even rejection in its dealings with the eloquent leader of the late insurrection against a legitimately ordained monarch. Among the members of the aristocratic and reactionary Cabinet, Lord Palmerston, its Foreign Minister, was the only minister to show any sympathy for Kossuth and his cause. This helped to provoke a serious crisis in Lord Russell’s cabinet and for the next two years Kossuth sought refuge and support in the United States, where he was given more official support, though not unequivocal, as well as with revolutionary élan in the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’.
After his triumphal tour of America, when Kossuth returned to England in July 1852, he could not help but feel the growth of reactionary attitudes and a change in public opinion. In a letter to the Times, Greville wrote:
We are great hero-worshippers and there is something romantic and impressive in the Hungarian war, but as with many similar things, the fever soon abates, and Kossuth will be forgotten in a week after his departure…
This prophecy only partially came true, however, for Kossuth, together with the other Hungarian exiles, avoided all publicity during what became a long stay in Britain and shunned all attempts to recreate the cult status he had enjoyed on his first visit. Certainly, he had many close friends and admirers in Britain who made his years of exile easier for him and his associates, and no Hungarian was as well-known in Britain as Kossuth for a further century. In addition, the cause of freedom in Hungary continued to have many friends among liberals in Britain as the century progressed. However, no matter how sympathetic public opinion remained, he was unable to breach the wall of indifference thrown up by the British establishment in response to the Hapsburg demands for their government to shun all approaches from the exiled champion of liberty. In the higher echelons of British society and the English Court, little had changed since the days of Queen Anne, who had not dared to face a storm of Austrian protest by receiving Ferenc Rákóczi II. The Americans were able to act more independently, and sometimes did so, but, even then, only in very limited diplomatic areas (see my other blogs on US-Hungarian relations). Whatever its sympathies, the British government could not afford to sacrifice its foreign policy over Russia by offending Vienna. This paid off for London when the Emperor Franz Joseph rewarded the Tsar for his help in crushing the Hungarian Army in 1849, by choosing to remain neutral in the Crimean War of 1854, thus enabling Turkey to defeat Russia, with the aid of Britain and France. This, in turn, helped the French and Italians (Piedmont) to defeat the Austrians in 1859, with the Hungarian National Directory formed as a government-in-exile under Kossuth poised to lead another bid for Hungarian Independence. This came to nothing, since Napoleon III was concerned that the decisive victory in the bloodiest battle of the century at Solferino would lead quickly to the formation of a powerful, united Italy. Nevertheless, the crushing of the Imperial Army and Austria’s humiliation in the war was what led to its Compromise with Hungary in 1867.
Scottish Connections: Wallace and the Chain Bridge
In the Wallace Tower of the romantic town of Stirling there is a letter written by Kossuth, from his exile in Italy, in memory of the great Scottish national hero. The letter is found among a collection from men of world/wide fame, actors in the great National Movements which have engaged the attention of the world during the present generation. Kossuth!s letter is placed between those of Garibaldi and Mazzini, and was written from Turin on 12 May 1868. It expresses Kossuth’s sincere admiration for the valiant struggles of the Scottish commoner turned warrior. The most interesting passage from the point of Magyar-British relations is that in which Kossuth alludes to his own fate:
Doomed myself to the long agony of a sorrowful exile for a cause similar to that for which Wallace laid down his life; akin to him, not in merit, but in purpose, motive and determination, I feel honoured by being allowed to have my modest share in the tribute of veneration to the memory of the bravest champion of the independence of that Scotland which, with untiring generosity, has cast such rays of consolation on the dreary path of my desolated life as made me love and honour her, to my dying hour, like a second home’.
Few Hungarians will have had the opportunity of reading these lines, and few Scots who have will have realised their full significance. However, most Hungarians and many Scots will have heard of the best-known British resident of Budapest during the period between the War of Independence and the Compromise of 1867. He was Adam Clark, the Edinburgh engineer (born August 14, 1811), who supervised the building of the Szechényi Chain Bridge connecting Buda with Pest across the Danube, the first of the several bridges which span the river today, connecting the two banks of the capital. He died in Buda on July 23, 1866. He also designed the Buda Tunnel at the Buda bridgehead, opened in 1857. The square between the bridge and the tunnel is named after him and is the official point of origin of the country’s road network, with a sculptured “zero kilometre stone” in the centre. Adam Clark Square, which is actually a roundabout, also the first of its kind in Hungary, is probably the best-known landmark in the country. The bridge was opened at the beginning of the Hungarian Uprising and the Army of the newly declared Republic were among the first to use it en route to Vienna. Clark also twice saved the Chain Bridge from destruction, in person: first, from the Austrian general who, during the War of Independence of 1849, wanted to blow up the bridge and, second, from the commander of the Hungarian army, who gave orders to destroy it as his troops retreated from Vienna. Following the completion of the Buda Tunnel in 1857, Clark worked on several smaller commissions.
There is also a legendary story about Adam Clark opening the bridge in 1848 with the promise that if anyone could spot any imperfection in the bridge, he would throw himself into the Danube from the bridge. When a little boy, attending with his father, had been looking up at the lions marking the entrance to the bridge from Pest, he had noticed that the sculptor had omitted to sculpt tongues for them. Clark had not inspected inside the lion’s mouths, and, surprised and shamed (!) by this revelation, proceeded to remove his top hat, tie and tails. He kept his promise, diving into the cold waters below, where he was picked up by a fishing boat, which just happened to be passing! Whether his action was entirely spontaneous, we can never know, but it made a magnificent publicity stunt which is remembered to this day!
After the War of Independence, there followed a period of political emigration, during which individual connections became very frequent. Apart from the temporary or permanent migrations of refugees there were continuing exchanges and connections between British people and Hungarians of the nature already described above. The Hungary of István Szechényi’s time had endeavoured to get to know Britain through wide open windows, but after the restoration of relationships between Budapest and Vienna following the Compromise of 1867 with Austria, those windows were partially closed. Britain’s economic and intellectual life became somewhat blurred once again in the focus of Hungarian public consciousness, which continued to gaze over to the other side of the Atlantic, if indeed it was drawn to anything beyond the confines of central Europe itself. As a consequence, Hungary also became less well-known again in Britain and more merged in public consciousness with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its policy of expansion into the Balkans with the decline of the Ottoman Empire, Disraeli’s ‘sick man of Europe’.
Gothic Constructions and German Culture, 1867-1914
However, there were a considerable number of English books published which dealt with Hungary following the 1867 Compromise and the rise of Ferenc Deák (below right), especially travelogues by those captivated by the rhapsodies which they found in Hungarian life. Some of these visitors continued to settle in Hungary and created lasting relationships between the two countries. Arthur Patterson came to Hungary during this period and later became Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Budapest. As such, he spread English literary knowledge systematically among his students. However, as the Hungarians became more integrated into the Germanic culture of the Empire, the times were not yet ripe for the widespread extension of English language and culture, which only came with the partial recovery from the dissolution of that Empire following the First World War and the Treaty of Trianon. It was then that the teaching of English was first introduced into secondary schools in Hungary. In the meantime, the Hungarian Parliament Building, built between 1885 and 1904 may have owed much in design to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, but Imre Steindl modelled it just as much on the Gothic architecture of Cologne Cathedral. One respect in which Budapest followed London more specifically, both in time and fashion, was in the building of an underground railway, opened in 1896, the first of its type on the continent (pictured below, together with another British custom which became established at that time- driving on the left!).
When, after the suppression of the Hungarian War of Independence, Lajos Kossuth displayed his brilliant eloquence in English in front of British audiences, Hungary became for a large number of Britons, for a time at least, more than simply a geographical expression on a map. Kossuth’s words, depicting his country’s troubled past and present struggles, were received by the British public with understanding, sympathy and even enthusiastic ardour, the same as displayed by Blackwell, the British diplomat in Hungary (1843-51) who called the Britons ‘Magyars of the West’ and the Hungarians ‘Britons of the East’. This serves as proof in part of the extent of the exchanges of Anglophilia and Magyarmania which affected relations in and between the two countries in the mid-nineteenth century. The resonance of these contacts were still strong enough to influence the development of a counter-culture of resistance to a new authoritarianism in the highest circles of Hungarian government and society in the period between the Treaty of Trianon and the tragic death of the Transylvanian Count, Anglophile academic and Prime Minister, Pál Teleki (below), in 1941.
The Hungarian Independence Movement which Teleki founded as a formal organisation in 1936, consciously drew its identity from the Revolution and War of Independence of 1848-9, as a reminder of how the ideal of Hungarian sovereignty could, in times of crisis, bridge huge differences and activate tremendous popular energies. In doing so, it also attempted to balance the growing domination of Germanophile sentiments in Hungary with Hungary’s established links with liberal Anglo-Saxon cultures.
In a recent article which appeared in The Hungarian Review (2013), James C Bennett and Michael J Lotus have also pointed out that, even before the First World War, there was a strong streak of liberalism in Hungarian society, as the Dual Monarchy worked its way towards a liberal solution to the ethno-religious problems which became so apparent in 1848-9. The civilization of the Dual Monarchy was one of the twin poles of progress in Western civilization, with important advances in art, music, theatre, science and technology radiating out from Budapest and Prague as well as from Vienna. That pole of progress was tragically fractured and truncated by the Great War and the emergence of dictatorial governments in central Europe, but its continuity was not entirely lost. Hungarians were, at that time, and still are, fond of finding symbolic parallels between the constitutional development of Hungary and that of Britain, or in this case England, going all the way back to 1215 and Magna Carta, which preceded Andrew II’s Golden Bull by only seven years. This had been a popularly held linking myth since the end of the eighteenth century. However, as the Hungarian historian László Kontler has recently written, if Hungary’s constitutional liberty resembled that of Britain during the premiership of Kálmán Tisza (right) from 1875 to 1890, it mainly resembled the ‘whig oligarchy’ of Robert Walpole’s Hanoverian premiership a century and a half earlier. However, since the Hungarian parliament was largely independent in its dealings with the crown, Hungary’s constitution was at least ‘more free’ than any east of the Rhine. Nevertheless, within the country, political power after the Compromise remained in the hands of the traditional land-owning elite, with roughly eighty per cent of MPs permanently dawn from the ranks of the aristocracy and the gentry classes. The franchise still only extended to six per cent of the population, by the turn of the century grossly anachronistic by comparison with any European country. At all levels, the system continued to operate o the basis of patronage, at a time when Britain had, by the second Reform Act, extended its franchise to the majority of the male population, albeit still with a property qualification. If this was Hungarian liberalism in action, it was still decades behind both Britain and Germany at the end of the century, and Kontler argues convincingly that the constitution produced by the Compromise was essentially conservative, checking whatever emancipationist momentum the revolutionary Hungarian liberalism of the 1840s still had. This may not have been Deák’s view at the time, but it was certainly close to that held by Kossuth and his ‘party’ in Hungary, and even Deák admitted that he didn’t know which ‘party’ had the upper hand in the new Parliament, his or that of the exiled leader, who eventually died in Turin in 1894.
In the years leading up to the First World War, Hungary was rapidly becoming an industrial country as well as an agricultural one. Whereas Hungarian industry consisted of a few hundred joint-stock companies and private firms employing less than a hundred thousand workers at the time of the Compromise, by 1914 there were about five and a half thousand industrial plants or factories, employing a labour force of well over half a million. The power of the machinery they operated increased from nine thousand horsepower to nine hundred thousand, a hundredfold increase. The Hungarian textile industry was the main vehicle of industrialisation, following the model provided by the British Isles. Nonetheless, it remained quite insignificant in scale compared with its Austrian and Czech counterparts.
Sándor Fest (2000), Skóciai Szent Margittól A Walesi Bárdokig: Anglo-Hungarian Historical and Literary Contacts. Budapest: Universitas Kiadó.
László Kontler (2009), A History of Hungary. Budapest: Atlantisz.
Gyula Kodolányi (ed.), The Hungarian Review, November 2013, Vol IV, No. 6. Budapest: Granásztói