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However exotic, and alien to the spirit of our time, the contents of Asquith’s Addresses were evidently of no interest to the owner: the pages are uncut. Yet the woman who gave the book and the author who wrote it are clearly connected: she was Asquith’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth, by his second wife, Margot. In 1920, she was 23, a famous beauty and, despite her lack of university education, an intellectual. That year she gave birth to Priscilla, who was to be her only child. The previous year she had married her Romanian lover Prince Antoine Bibesco at a grand society wedding at St Margaret’s, Westminster. Who was this Prince? He had been brought up in Paris among the politicians, diplomats and artists who frequented his mother’s salon at 69, Rue de Courcelles. Appointed First Secretary at the London embassy during a war in which Romania was an ally, his duties were light enough for him to enjoy an affair with Enid Bagnold, later author of National Velvet and The Chalk Garden, but after meeting Elizabeth Asquith he switched his attention to the Prime Minister’s precocious daughter. He felt at home with the Asquiths and, despite being more than 22 years Elizabeth’s senior, met with her mother’s approval. “What a gentleman he is,” the devoted but normally critical Margot cooed. We have vivid descriptions of Elizabeth and Antoine together in her sister-in-law Lady Cynthia Asquith’s Diaries 1915-18 (London 1968). Lady Cynthia found her “mental, physical, and moral archness beyond all description” and they seem to have played endless parlour games, “during which Bibesco lay on the floor cuddling Elizabeth’s feet”. Despite their embarrassingly public intimacy, her motives were mixed: “She told me he is going to leave the whole of his fortune to her.”

Yet Prince Bibesco was fickle, indeed a “bird of prey”, with his “strange obsession about statistics of virginity” and “leading questions about erotics”. A few months later Elizabeth confides in her sister-in-law that the affair is over, while over lunch with Cynthia, Antoine “took pains to convey the fact that he was cured of Elizabeth”. “I see he means to make love to me,” Cynthia records, but concludes: “I’m afraid I can’t oblige him.” According to their mutual friend Desmond MacCarthy, Elizabeth had told Bibesco: “You treat me half as a mistress and half as a nurse.”  She promptly fell in love with an American diplomat, Hugh Gibson, even announcing her engagement, but it ended unhappily. “She had had ten days bliss with her Gibson, who had then gone to his doctor and said he had absolutely prohibited his marrying and only given him a year to live.” Another sister-in-law, Betty, shocked the Asquiths by doubting the sincerity of Gibson’s excuse for breaking off the engagement; as he actually lived another three decades, she was probably right to do so.

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