The Lord of Lord’sMartin Chandler |
Author: Thompson, Mike
Publisher: Christopher Saunders Publishing
Rating: 3.5 stars
Lord Frederick Beauclerk died as long ago as 1850 at the, in those days, grand old age of 77. For anyone who has ever taken more than a passing interest in the development of the game his is a name they will have read or heard about occasionally. There is a good deal of received wisdom about his Lordship. Descended from royalty he was a cleric, and also a very good cricketer. More interestingly despite his Christian beliefs he is also invariably portrayed as a thoroughly unpleasant man with, it would seem, no redeeming features at all.
Mike Thompson deals with this question in his introduction, and most vividly by quoting the late Benny Green. The history of the game that Green published back in the 1980s and which Thompson quotes is not one I have read, but I do recall Green. He was primarily a jazz saxophonist, but was also a writer and broadcaster with, naturally, a deep love of cricket. Above all I remember him as an avuncular raconteur with a ready wit, my favourite story being one in which he would describe Denis Compton as one of his main musical influences. He was not so benevolent to Lord Frederick however, writing;
Cricket history has no more unmitigated scoundrel than the Reverend Lord Frederick Beauclerk ……. Lord Frederick’s misdemeanours, his sharp practice, his oafish contempt for any sort of compassion, his utter lack of charity, his persistent bullying and belittling of rivals.
Beauclerk never published any memoirs, reminiscences or anything else autobiographical so we are left with the impressions of the few, repeated down the years by the many and which are now treated as fact reinforced by unhelpful generalisations like Green’s. But if an impartial overview is what is required can there be anything new to be discovered two centuries later? Mike Thompson has spent twenty years looking, so did he find anything to justify a reappraisal?
The frustrating news is that Thompson found no living descendants of Beauclerk, although that disappointment is tempered by the fact he did at least manage to establish there were no surviving family members to find. Genealogy is one of those things, like reverse swing, that I find fascinating yet seem to understand less about the more I am told. Thankfully there are two very helpful family trees in The Lord of Lord’s, one going back in time to King Charles II and Nell Gwynn, and one moving forward. The latter shows that of Beauclerk’s four children only one had offspring, his second son Charles. But then Charles in turn had seven children, four of whom produced a next generation of thirteen yet, remarkably to my mind the line died out in the second half of the twentieth century. When, however, I mentioned this to a good friend who does take a keen interest in such matters, she was not so surprised. I remain somewhat perplexed nonetheless.
For most things there is, in my experience, a quid pro quo. Whilst there may therefore be no remaining family members Beauclerk’s connections to the Dukedom of St Albans, and the existence of its family archive, made sure there was plenty to find. In particular Thompson found the unpublished manuscript of a previous biographer, Gerald Martineau. Wisely he decided to use that as a cross referencing tool after he had done his own research rather than as a primary source, but it must have been an exciting discovery.
Having read and thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of Mike Thompson’s labours I have decided, after much thought, that for once in reviewing the biography of a cricketer it would not be right for me to provide any sort of information or opinion here as to how the story develops and what Thompson’s views were on Benny Green’s words once he had completed his research. So I will not produce any spoilers and will say no more than that The Lord of Lord’s is well worth a read, and is certainly a book I would recommend to anyone whose interest is piqued by Benny Green’s comments, or indeed anything else they have read about Beauclerk in the past.
In terms of buying the book that can be done through the publisher’s website. It is a nicely produced book, as Mr Saunders’ publications always are, and as well as the very reasonably priced soft back edition there is also a cloth bound, slip cased limited edition of 63 copies, numbered and signed by the author and the current Duke of St Albans – ‘tis a very nice job indeed, although at £85 plus postage most definitely an extravagance.