I return to my recent communication (note 296) in response to a particular query from Miss P of Harlaxton who asks what grounds I have for supposing that the Dukes of Rutland drew their sense of themselves from the deep, and probably imagined, past.
By way of response I need only refer her again to Diana Cooper’s autobiography and only a couple of pages further on:
‘When we reached home, a large crowd of tourists would have collected on each side of the last hundred yards of the approach, and my grandfather would uncover his head and bow very slightly with a look of pleasure and welcome on his delicate old face. He loved his tourists. They represented to him England and liberty and the feudal system, and were a link between the nobility and the people. The house was open to them three times a week and on all bank holidays. They would arrive in four-in-hand charabancs from all over the country. Bedrooms and one drawing-room, one study and a dining room were excluded from their tour. Otherwise, for morning to dark, armies of sightseers tramped through that welcoming house. No efforts were made to improve it for them. There were no signed photographs of royalty or of the family, no special flowers or Coronation robes draped casually over a chair, coronet to hand, no tables laid or crumpled newspapers. Nor could they have any idea of how we really lived. In the summer my mother arranged for us children to picnic out and not to return until the hordes had departed, for in truth the atmosphere – the smell – was asphyxiating. Not that one could get away with one’s picnic – they all brought picnics too and were encouraged to eat and sleep and take their boots off and comb their hair in the garden, on the terraces, all about and everywhere…’
This is the mediaeval England of ‘Whig History’, wherein the barons and the great monasteries kept open house for their people and for all travellers, and fealty was due to a feudal lord, but rarely to a king. Robert Tombs refers to the pamphleteer John Oldmixon who described this history in 1726 as ‘The laws and customs delivered down to us from our British and Saxon fathers, justified the practices of those brave Brittish heroes’ (by ‘heroes’ he meant those who had fought against James II to bring in William of Orange). For David Hume and Adam Smith on the other hand, the Crown was a better protection for the people than a crowd of unruly Barons and Lairds, though both men would have said that true liberty would inevitably follow the growth of commerce and towns and the thriving of a mercantile class.