Juliet Gardiner

At Squiffy’s Side

Margot at War: Love and Betrayal in Downing Street, 1912–1916


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 376pp £20 order from our bookshop

Alice Emma Margaret (always known as Margot) Tennant was the clever, high-spirited, outspoken, unconventional, irascible daughter of Sir Charles Tennant, a Glasgow industrialist whose chemical works dominated the cityscape. He was immensely wealthy, a man of ‘new money’, and on several occasions passed on considerable sums to his generous and extravagant daughter (one of the twelve children he had with his wife, Emma). Part of the reason that Margot, who had broken her nose in a riding accident as an adolescent, was extravagant was, not being beautiful like her older sister Charlotte (Charty), nor even softly pretty like her younger sister Laura, to whom she was devoted, she was determined instead to be stylish by dressing in the newest fashions. What Margot (‘The t is silent as Harlow,’ she witheringly corrected the film star Jean Harlow) might have been lacking in looks, she amply compensated for in her lively, vivacious – though sometimes ill-judged – forays into aristocratic and political society. She would throw lavish dinner parties that gathered together fellow ‘Souls’ – young, intellectual men and women, including the up and coming politicians Arthur Balfour and George Curzon, intent on exploring the spiritual issues of the age. 

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