The Herberts and Waugh

Aubrey Herbert

Aubrey Nigel Henry Molyneux Herbert was the second son of Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon, a wealthy landowner, British cabinet minister and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and his second wife, Elizabeth Howard of Greystoke Castle, Cumberland. Aubrey was afflicted with eye problems that left him nearly blind from early childhood, losing all his sight towards the end of his life. He was educated at Eton and Oxford, where he obtained a first class degree in modern history.

Aubrey became a linguist who spoke fluent French, Italian, German, Turkish, Arabic, Greek and Albanian. A renowned traveller, especially in the Middle East, his trips included voyages through Japan, Yemen, Anatolia and Albania. He often dressed as a tramp on these travels. During the period 1902-04 he was an honorary attaché in Tokyo, then in Constantinople during 1904-05. He was a very independent Conservative Member of Parliament for the Yeovil division of Somerset from 1911 to his death. Always an advocate of the rights of smaller nations, he opposed the British Government's Irish policy.

Despite his poor eyesight, Aubrey joined the Irish Guards at the outbreak of the First World War. He did this by purchasing a uniform and boarding a troopship bound for France. During the Battle of Mons he was wounded, taken prisoner, and escaped. In December 1914 he joined the Intelligence Bureau in Cairo. He was attached to the Australia-New Zealand Division, the 'Anzacs', during the Gallipoli Campaign, where his Turkish-speaking ability was to prove useful. Later he worked with T.E. Lawrence, making an unsuccessful attempt to bribe a Turkish officer to allow the escape of British troops surrounded at Kut-al-Amara. He ended the war as head of the British mission to the Italian army in Albania. Aubrey was active in the Balkans during the breakup of the Ottoman empire. He had a considerable influence on Albania's obtaining independence and was twice offered the kingdom of Albania, once before the First World War. The Albanian ruling family, the Wieds, moved back to their native Germany during the First World War. The Albanians wished to replace them with a non-German family and were looking for a well-connected person with an income in excess of £10,000 per annum. Aubrey declined a second offer and the kingship was then offered to British cricketer CB Fry. Albania decided, however, to become a republic. Its first Prime Minister became President and then pronounced himself King Zog. He was king from 1928-1939. During the war he became exiled in Britain and he and his son were never allowed to resume their monarchy.

Aubrey’s mother gave him both a country estate at Pixton Park near Dulverton with 5,000 acres of land, and a substantial villa on the Gulf of Genoa at Portofino. His attachment to his Exmoor estate was one of the reasons why he turned down the throne of Albania. Aubrey married Mary, daughter of the 4th Viscount de Vesci, a member of the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. Lord de Vesci converted, along with his wife, to Roman Catholicism and raised their children accordingly. Aubrey and Mary Herbert had four children, one of whom, Laura, married the novelist Evelyn Waugh. They loved Pixton Park, where a biographer said: “the Herberts were unaware of appearances and indifferent to physical comfort" and lived in "a homely shabbiness." The children gradually followed their mother into the Catholic fold, partly under the influence of Aubrey's one-time tutor and friend, author and poet Hilaire Belloc. Belloc was a frequent guest at Pixton. There is a story that he set his bed on fire one night from smoking in bed. Aubrey was also a close friend of novelist John Buchan and is thought to be the inspiration for the character, Sandy Arbuthnot, a hero in several of Buchan’s novels including Greenmantle. Aubrey’s biography by his granddaughter, Margaret Fitzherbert was entitled "The man who was Greenmantle".

Herbert is the family name of the Lords Porchester and Earls of Carnarvon of Highclere Castle in Berkshire. Aubrey was half brother to the Earl of Carvarvon who discovered Tutankhamun's tomb. The two half brothers died within a few months of one another and are reputed to have succumbed to the ‘mummy’s curse’, both dying of septicaemia. Towards the end of his life, Aubrey became totally blind. He was given bad advice to the effect that having all his teeth extracted would restore his sight. The dental operation resulted in the blood poisoning from which he died in 1923. When Aubrey died, it is said that his dog wailed even though some distance from him at the time of death. A similar story is told of his half brother’s dog. Aubrey is buried in the Lutyens chapel at Brushford Church, his sword hanging over the tomb.

Aubrey’s son, Auberon Herbert (1922-1974), inherited the Pixton estate at the age of one. He was an advocate of Eastern European causes after World War Two. He opposed the marriage of Evelyn Waugh to his sister, Laura and Evelyn never forgave him for this, although he later named his son after him. Evelyn was not at first welcome in the Herbert family because of his failed marriage to Evelyn Gardner, who was one of their cousins. He did, however, enjoy a close friendship with Laura’s sister, Bridget.

Evelyn Waugh

Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh was born in 1903, the son of noted editor and publisher Arthur Waugh. He was brought up in upper middle class circumstances in Hampstead. His only sibling was his older brother Alec, who also became a writer. Evelyn was educated at Lancing College then Hertford College, Oxford as a history scholar. There he neglected academic work and was known as much for his artwork as for his writing. His social life at Oxford influenced his personal transformation into something of a snob and provided the background for some of his most characteristic later writing. His heavy drinking led to numerous disreputable exploits and he left Oxford in 1924 without taking his degree. In 1928 he published his first novel, Decline and Fall, a witty account of the career of the harmless Paul Pennyfeather, a student of divinity, who is accidentally expelled from Oxford for indecency.

Evelyn entered into a brief, unsuccessful marriage in 1928 to the Hon. Evelyn Gardner. Her infidelity provided the background for his novel A Handful of Dust. The marriage ended in divorce in 1930. Evelyn converted to Catholicism and, after his marriage was declared null by the Church, he married Laura Herbert, Aubrey Herbert's daughter. The marriage was successful, lasting the rest of his life and producing seven children. It was at Pixton Park that he courted Laura.

Waugh's fame continued to grow between the wars, based on his satires of contemporary upper class English society. His conversion to Roman Catholicism was a watershed in his life and his writing. Aspects of his faith can be found in all of his later work. The period between the wars also saw extensive travels around the Mediterranean and Red Sea, Spitsbergen, Africa and South America and he is considered amongst the best travel writers.

Evelyn followed the example of his father-in-law in enlisting in wartime. Though 36 years old and with poor eyesight, he was commissioned in the Royal Marines in 1940. Promoted to captain, he found life in the Marines dull and joined a commando unit, with which he showed conspicuous bravery in action in North Africa and Crete. Later, he was placed on extended leave for several years and reassigned to the Royal Horse Guards. During this period he begged three months leave to write Brideshead Revisited. The novel painted a rich picture of upper class life in pre-war England and the pressures within a traditional Catholic family. He started work on it at Pixton Park but wrote most in a hotel at Chagford on Dartmoor. He was recalled for a military/diplomatic mission to Yugoslavia in 1944. Much of Evelyn’s war experience is reflected in the Sword of Honour trilogy, consisting of three novels, Men at Arms (1952), Officers and Gentlemen (1955) and Unconditional Surrender (1961), which loosely parallel his wartime experiences.

Evelyn's works were very successful with the reading public and he was widely admired by critics as a humorist and prose stylist, being described by one critic as "the greatest English novelist of the century." However, his later, more overtly religious works have attracted controversy.

After the war Evelyn lived with his family in the West Country at his country homes, Piers Court and, from 1956 onwards, at Combe Florey between Exmoor and the Quantocks, where he lived as a country gentleman and continued to write. There he wrote Helen (1953), which he regarded as his best work, and The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957). He put on much weight late in life, and the sleeping draughts he continued to take, combined with a heavy intake of alcohol, cigars and little exercise, weakened his health. His writing productivity gradually ran down, and the quality of his fiction dropped, although he continued to produce valuable journalism. He died, aged 62, in 1966, on returning home from Mass on Easter Sunday and is buried at Combe Florey. The house was left to Laura, who eventually sold it to Teresa, the wife of their son, Auberon.

Auberon Waugh

Auberon Alexander Waugh said: "I was born just before midnight on 17 November 1939 at Pixton Park, Dulverton, Somerset, the home of my maternal grandmother, Mary Herbert..." He spent his first six years there and was known as ‘Bron’ by friends and family. He was the second child and first son of Evelyn and Laura Waugh. Born just as war broke out, he hardly saw his father until he was five. Laura Waugh was an emotionally distant mother who also spent little time with him during those early years. Pixton Park was run by his overbearing grandmother, Mary and inhabited by servants, elderly relatives and war evacuees. The roots of Auberon’s class hatred probably lie with the evacuees. They were restricted to the top floor of the house, so they would sit along the gallery above the entrance hall and spit on Bron when he walked by. He got his revenge by telling his grandmother that some of them had eaten rat poison: they were taken away and stomach-pumped. A similar story was told of his father’s education. He was educated at the Benedictine Downside School in Somerset before beginning a PPE degree at Christ Church, Oxford. However, he was rusticated (suspended for unsatisfactory performance) and chose to make an early start in journalism without returning to university.

During his National Service, he was commissioned into the Royal Horse Guards and served in Cyprus, where he was almost killed in a machine gun accident. While recuperating from the accident in Italy, he began his first novel, The Foxglove Saga. His other four novels were Path of Dalliance (1963), Who Are The Violets Now? (1965), Consider the Lilies (1968) and A Bed of Flowers (1972). Auberon began his journalistic career in 1960 as reporter on a social/gossip column in the Daily Telegraph. In the prolific career that followed he wrote for The Spectator, New Statesman, British Medicine and various newspapers (including theDaily Mirror, Daily Mail, Evening Standard and The Independent). From 1981 to 1990 he wrote a leader-page column for The Sunday Telegraph.

His work as political columnist on The Spectator coincided with the war in Biafra, a mainly Catholic province that had tried to secede from Nigeria. He was dismissed by the magazine for his strong stance against Harold Wilson's government in this matter and attacks on reforms in the Catholic Church. He returned to the Daily Telegraph, writing the paper's long-running Way of the World column three times a week. He remained a weekly columnist for The Sunday Telegraph until shortly before his death. Auberon was probably most famous for his Private Eye Diary, which ran from the early 1970s until 1985. Through this he made clear his dislike of the Labour government of the 1970s and in particular their campaign for comprehensive education. However, he also became dissatisfied with the economic policies of Margaret Thatcher’s government and its close links with the United States. From 1986 until his death he also edited the Literary Review magazine.

Auberon married, in 1961, Lady Teresa Onslow, daughter of the 6th Earl of Onslow. The couple — with their two sons and two daughters — eventually moved to his father's old house at Combe Florey. Like his parents, Laura who died at 57 and Evelyn who died at 62, Auberon Waugh died relatively young. Like his father, he enjoyed smoking and drinking wine and often spoke out against laws restricting such things. He died of heart disease at the age of 61and is buried at Combe Florey near his father.