At the end of a long, relatively uneventful Edwardian summer, the papers were suddenly full of dire news about the 21-year-old daughter of the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith.
The headlines were shocking: ‘Premier’s daughter missing’, said one; ‘Miss Asquith’s peril’, warned another. She had been reported missing at Cruden Bay on the Scottish coast, where the family had been spending their holiday in September 1908 at a rented fortress with the ominous name of Slains Castle.
After a dangerous search lasting half the night, Violet Asquith was finally discovered lying in wet grass on a rocky ledge above the sea — uninjured but apparently barely conscious.
A doctor was summoned and she quickly revived. But rumours continued to swirl: had she fallen by accident or had there been foul play? Some even whispered that she might have been intentionally trying to harm herself.
The Prime Minister moved swiftly to quiet any speculation by offering an innocent tale about his daughter stumbling in the dark. But no one could explain why Violet had remained missing for so many hours. It took several days of determined stonewalling before the Press stopped asking questions.
What happened that night has long remained a mystery — but buried in the Asquith family papers, now at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, I have discovered an astonishing revelation: the story of Violet Asquith’s brush with death is inextricably linked with her doomed love for a rising young star in her father’s Liberal cabinet — Winston Churchill.Well, I suppose it was bound to come out sooner or later.
As one who was also staying at Cruden Bay that summer, I can confirm that Violet Asquith did indeed carry a torch for Churchill and threw herself off the cliff when he made it clear that he preferred his darling Clementine.
What the Mail does not record, however, is the reason that Violet Asquith survived her plunge.
It happened that I was walking along the beach composing a speech on Chinese Labour at just the time that she went over the edge.
The Asquith were always sporty, healthy girls, and if she had scored a bull’s eye on my crumpet her father might well have had to find a candidate to fight a by-election in Rutland South-West.
As it turned out, she caught me a glancing blow. This broke her fall sufficiently to save her from serious harm, but I still get a pain in my shoulder in wet weather.