Banker, Traitor, Scapegoat, Spy?: The Troublesome Case of Sir Edgar Speyer

Banker, Traitor, Scapegoat, Spy?: The Troublesome Case of Sir Edgar Speyer

Language: English

Pages: 220

ISBN: 1908323116

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Sir Edgar Speyer was a conspicuous figure in the financial, cultural, social and political life of Edwardian London. Head of the syndicate which financed the construction of the deep "tube lines" and "King of the Underground", he was also a connoisseur and active patron of the arts who rescued the "Prom" from collapse, enhanced the nation's musical and artistic life at his own expense and directed the funding of Captain Scott's Antarctic expeditions. Speyer and his wife, the concert violinist, Leonora Speyer lived in fabulously magnificent style. Early in the early summer of 1914 they stood at the peak of their success and celebrity in London society. Within weeks, on the outbreak of war, they became pariahs, objects of suspicion and aversion. Despite having been a naturalised British citizen for over 20 years and an ubiquitous public benefactor, Speyer found himself ostracised by society and mercilessly harried by the Northcliffe press. Under the Aliens Act of 1918, Speyer was summoned in 1921 before a judicial enquiry which found him guilty of disloyalty and disaffection and of communicating and trading with the enemy. He was stripped of his citizenship and membership of the Privy Council. Pilloried by The Times as a traitor, Speyer vehemently denied the charges, but he never returned to England thereafter and never forgot his ordeal.

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recommended a tightening of directors’ liability for negligence. No doubt it was his contribution to party funds at the landslide election of 1906 that helped to win him his baronetcy that year at Campbell-Bannerman’s instigation. In 1907 he was asked by Lloyd George, then President of the Board of Trade, to advise on the establishment of the Port of London authority. In 1909, on Asquith’s recommendation, he was made a Privy Councillor. He publicly supported Lloyd George’s controversial ‘People’s

Parliament in the second half of 1918, was the product of the public agitation that had raged throughout the war. Lord Charles Beresford, now raised to the peerage, was no less vocal a popular tribune in the Lords than in the Commons. ‘What the public really wants’, he declared, ‘is that all naturalised subjects of enemy origin should have their naturalisation papers revoked’.13 Ever alert to the demands of public opinion, Lloyd George, even at this critical juncture of the war, made it his

within the ambit of the new legislation? ‘The crucial question’, wrote Fisher Williams is whether or not after his arrival in America Sir Edgar Speyer so far took part in the pro-German activities of the New York house ... as to bring himself within the terms of Section 7 of the B[ritish] N[ationality] & S[tatus] of A[liens] Act as now amended as having either ‘shown himself by act or speech to be disaffected or disloyal’ or by having ‘unlawfully traded or communicated with the enemy or with

when others around were losing theirs. A sense of proportion, a measure of pluck, a determination to see it through, was missing. Haldane, though he continued to be hissed at in the streets and received more than 2. thousand abusive letters in a single day, endured his fall in stoical silence. He lived to fight another day, and returned to the woolsack in 1924. The student of this episode, the reader who has followed the thread of these events, confronts throughout the same fundamental question:

Helm, London: 1988), A J A Morris, The Scaremongers. The Advocacy of War and Rearmament 1896– 1914 (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London: 1986) and John A Hutcheson, Leopold Maxse and the National Review, 1893–1914: right-wing politics and journalism in the Edwardian era (Garland Publishing, New York: 1989). On the wartime press, see Stephen Koss, The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain, vol 2, The 20th Century (Hamish Hamilton, London: 1984) and J Lee Thompson, Politicians, the Press and

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