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The Chamberlain Litany

The Chamberlains were the most controversial dynasty in British public life for more than sixty years. They were a close-knit family, and they treasured that solidarity throughout their lives. Bereft of a mother and with a largely absent father, the children of Joseph Chamberlain clung to each other as they grew up; and they kept in lifelong touch by letter. Based on those family letters, this book explores the account that the Chamberlain children gave each other about what they were doing. The two sons, Austen and Neville, followed their father into the highest echelons of British public life; and Neville eclipsed his father in fame. Their story is told here as the sisters saw it. Hilda, the youngest of the surviving children, discovered that a pattern was repeated in the lives of all three men, a pattern which she recited in a kind of litany echoed by the family. Hilda’s litany spoke of the way in which the Chamberlain men secured victory for each other over their adversaries. Her song reached its climax when Neville met Hitler at Munich on the brink of war and managed to preserve the peace. But Hilda had reckoned without the last and greatest adversary of the Chamberlains: Churchill. Churchill’s achievement first in winning the war that Neville had failed to avert and then in writing a history of that war which damned Neville for its outbreak forced Hilda to change her interpretation of the Chamberlains’ story from a hymn of praise to a lament.

Peter T. Marsh is the author of several major works of historical biography, including 'Joseph Chamberlain: Entrepreneur in Politics'

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