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Elizabeth did marry her Prince in the end, but this did not preclude infatuations with other men. The recipient of the Asquith volume was the literary critic, Christian socialist, pacifist and poet John Middleton Murry. Now remembered mainly as the apostle of D.H. Lawrence, Murry was as passionate about women as his hero — notoriously, he had an affair with Lawrence’s wife Frieda von Richthofen. He also had four marriages of his own. Murry had come into the orbit of the Asquith family partly by association with Lawrence. Lady Cynthia was attracted to, even ecstatic about Lawrence — “He is a Pentecost to one . . . I have never known such an X-ray psychologist” — but she disliked “that little sneak Murry”. Elizabeth, by contrast, seems to have found Murry much the more dashing of the literary duo. The inscription reads as follows:

For John Middleton Murry —
Elizabeth 1920.
“She could not believe . . .
that there had been a time
before they knew one another”
“There was no parting, all
Those days were lies.”

These verses are by Middleton Murry himself, first published in his Poems 1917-18, privately printed in 1919 by his own Heron Press in a small edition of only 120 copies. Perhaps he had presented one of them to Elizabeth Asquith and she was thus quoting his own words back to him. Were these words originally meant for her? And what message did she mean her inscription to convey? We do not know, but clearly the Princess and the Poet were enjoying an unusually intense relationship at the time. They may or may not have crossed the line into adultery, but for a married man in his early thirties to have received such a suggestive gift from a married woman in her early twenties would suffice to arouse suspicion — at any rate on his wife’s part.

In 1920, when Elizabeth presented him with her father’s book, Murry had been married for two years to a writer from New Zealand, Katherine Mansfield, after a stormy relationship that had begun nine years earlier. She was a year older than Murry and he was her second husband, though the first marriage to George Bowden was never consummated. Like him, she believed in free love, having suffered a miscarriage after becoming pregnant by another lover before meeting Murry, and her bisexuality had caused her mother to cut her out of her will. In 1917, Katherine was diagnosed with the tuberculosis that would eventually kill her. That year, for the second time, she broke off her relationship with Murry and resumed her long-standing lesbian relationship with the writer Ida Baker. Her divorce from Bowden enabled her to marry Murry, but they lived together only intermittently until her death in 1923. Katherine struggled to support herself; she did, however, benefit from Murry’s editorship of the Athenaeum, contributing more than a hundred reviews, which helped to finance her brief but brilliant writing career. Her final years were spent mainly in Italy and France, seeking spiritual and physical cures from such dubious gurus as the theosophists Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Alfred Orage. Murry was, though, her constant correspondent, came to the rescue when summoned, and after her death edited, published and promoted the posthumous works on which her fame chiefly rests.

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