By Colum Kenny
ABSTRACT: The interpretation of certain events in London on the weekend of 12–13 November 1921 is central to any understanding of the negotiations that resulted the following month in an agreement for a treaty leading to the foundation of the Irish Free State. This article examines those uncertain events with particular reference to a draft proposal for a boundary commission to delimit the area of Northern Ireland. It considers the memorandum that then contained that proposal, a copy of some text of which Lloyd George dramatically flourished during the final stages of negotiation on 5–6 December when he reportedly claimed that Arthur Griffith had agreed to its contents. The article challenges a dominant interpretation of what occurred, rejecting in particular Frank Pakenham’s version in his 1935 book Peace by Ordeal which has been highly influential and which relied for its authority on a conversation with the former Tory leader Austen Chamberlain. The article will refute suggestions that Griffith signed or agreed unconditionally to the proposal when it was shown to him in November, and that he thus prejudiced or weakened the Irish negotiating position. It will posit a more sanguine interpretation of what occurred, paying close attention to the detail of contemporary sources in doing so.
A key document in the historiography and mythology of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and Irish Civil War was laid on the table at Downing Street on the last night of negotiations for a treaty agreement, 5–6 December 1921. In what Erskine Childers next day called a ‘strange episode’, Prime Minister Lloyd George placed it there and, in doing so, appears to have confused the Irish delegates. The location of that document today is unknown.
However, its text–as transcribed then by the Irish delegate Robert Barton TD–has recently been identified by the present author as being verbatim that on the last page of an extant memorandum found among the Lloyd George papers in the Parliamentary Archives at Westminster. The present article examines the significance of that text and its use in 1921, and challenges what the author believes is a dominant but deeply flawed historical narrative of the Anglo-Irish Treaty talks. It will make crucial distinctions between references to that memo and what was purported to be a ‘letter’, and between relevant ‘assurances’ that have been conflated.
The dominant narrative of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, from a nationalist perspective, hinges on a negative interpretation of Griffith’s response to Lloyd George on the weekend of 12-13 November 1921. Central to that narrative, whether explicitly referenced or not in many later renditions, has been Frank Pakenham’s book Peace by Ordeal (1935). According to this spectrum of interpretation, the British seduced Griffith into betraying Irish republican ambitions by assenting to a scheme that copperfastened partition and somehow bound or bamboozled his colleagues. As a man of honour–so this version goes–Griffith was unable to undo a broad assurance allegedly given by him on 12–13 November when he was later confronted with it on the last night of Treaty talks.
So pervasive is the narrative that it is easy to forget that Pakenham himself conceded that his account of the vital events of that weekend was both speculative and centrally informed verbally by the former Tory leader Austen Chamberlain. Pakenham was working for the Conservative Party when he undertook to write his book, and had close family connections with both Chamberlain and Lord Birkenhead.
In the present article, the author will propose an alternative and less conspiratorial narrative, one that is at least as plausible as the former. Supported by precise referencing and analysis, it is this: Griffith was quiet and considered–taking Lloyd George by surprise at the opening session by the brevity and restraint of his contribution, for example.
Assurances that he is known to have given in the course of negotiations, and that were described in Irish communications as assurances, were carefully qualified and should be clearly distinguished from any ‘assurance’ that he gave on 12–13 November. Circumspect, as shall be demonstrated, he appears to have rebuffed that week a number of efforts by the British to get him to approve the substance or text of a proposal for a boundary commission that they said they were about to put to the government of Northern Ireland.
From an Irish nationalist perspective, that British proposal remained tentative and conditional until the very end. The British soon enshrined it formally in a draft or suggested treaty forwarded to Dublin. The idea was not a secret that Griffith kept from other delegates in London, or from de Valera or the rest of the Irish inner Cabinet, although Erskine Childers–a secretary to the negotatiors in London and critical of their chairman Griffith– complained in his diary at this time that Griffith was not reporting in sufficient details conversations that Griffith and Collins were having with British negotiators.
Collins and Griffith believed that a boundary commission could deliver counties Fermanagh and Tyrone and other areas of Northern Ireland into the Irish Free State, and from the outset wanted an indication of how the government of Northern Ireland regarded the proposal before responding to it as a possible part of a peace settlement. In that respect John Chartres, another of the secretaries to the Irish team, stated in 1924 that he thought that their expectations had been reasonably founded on statements by Lloyd George.
The recent Brexit negotiations, with all of their carping and assertions of bad faith, have been an instructive reminder of the difficulties of completing an international deal and of the frequent need to fudge issues to achieve a result–notwithstanding that such fudges leave some problems to fester. The willingness of Griffith and Collins to entertain the idea of a boundary commission was a breakthrough that allowed negotiations to proceed to completion.
They made no secret arrangements and gave no essential or irrevocable assurances in respect to such a boundary commission. In the event, as many historians have pointed out, Ulster itself was not a matter of the greatest–or even great–concern to critics of the agreement and was not to feature prominently in the Dáil’s Treaty debates, where the principal bones of contention were Ireland’s membership of the Empire or Commonwealth and the oath of fidelity to the king.
Arthur Griffith and Lloyd George sat down in London with one overarching purpose, which was to reach an agreement. Each man had spent his life immersed in politics, and each believed strongly that his respective national electorate wanted a result other than further warfare. Each was assailed by demands for irreconcilable objectives. It is too easily forgotten in Ireland that Lloyd George headed a fragile coalition, in which his Liberal Party was the minority partner with the Conservatives–and in relation to which Tory ‘diehards’ were crying betrayal–while unionists on both sides of the Irish Sea were up in arms. Townshend’s reference to the boundary commission proposal as a ‘ploy’ seems to pass negative judgment on what may also be seen as a useful strategic idea that did not have to end as the actual Boundary Commission did in practice.
Arthur Griffith, under pressure from militant republicans, had yielded the presidency of Sinn Féin to de Valera in 1917 but now found himself despatched by the Dáil to lead its team in London. De Valera remained at home, insisting from a distance that the British permit part of Ireland to become a republic (or to have ‘external association’ with the Empire as he put it). Both Griffith and Lloyd George needed to be somewhat flexible; otherwise no deal would have been possible and the manifest purpose of the peace conference vitiated. Flexibility ought not to be confused with weakness.
When it became clear that Northern Ireland could not be forced into a united Ireland, the two leaders developed an alternative strategy that included the proposed provision of a boundary commission to delimit the existing border in an already divided Ireland–an idea that was familiar at the time within the context of the Treaty of Versailles that had established commissions to delimit national boundaries after World War I in ways that were still being given effect.
The term ‘delimit’ does not mean simply limit or ‘reduce’ but rather, as the Oxford English Dictionary indicates, the marking or determination of a boundary. Griffith was a keen chess player and in his dealings with the British moved deliberately, with an eye to the endgame. Whatever the ultimate shortcomings of the Boundary Commission enshrined in the Treaty, his decision not to reject it out of hand in November 1921 made possible a deal on other matters and saved Ireland from a continuation and escalation of the War of Independence.
At the request of Arthur Griffith, on 6–7 December 1921 his fellow plenipotentiary Robert Barton made notes of the proceedings of the last sessions of the peace conference on 5–6 December. In his notes Barton included what purported to be a transcription of the key document under consideration here, described by him then as a ‘memorandum’.
Barton’s transcription corresponds verbatim or exactly to the text on a sheet of paper that is among surviving papers of Lloyd George. The Parliamentary Archives today identify that sheet of paper in their care as the last page of a typed memorandum prepared by Lionel Curtis in early November 1921. A handwritten note at the foot of that last page, signed by the then acting UK Cabinet Secretary Thomas Jones, states ‘Retyped. Copy shown A.G. Sunday 13.xi.21 [i.e. 13 November 1921]’. The initials ‘A.G.’ presumably signify Arthur Griffith, chairman of the Irish plenipotentiaries. It is not known if the document that Lloyd George laid on the table in Downing Street was the very sheet in the Parliamentary Archives today or a different sheet with the same words typed on it.
In a footnote in the published version of Thomas Jones’s diary, its editor in 1971 insisted boldly that ‘there is no doubt that Griffith approved’ this document which Griffith was ostensibly shown by Jones on Sunday 13 November.
The present author rejects that assertion and there are strong grounds for doing so. That editor in his footnote and elsewhere has explicitly, like many other writers, relied solely on Pakenham’s version of the treaty negotiations published in London in 1935. It is one of the more egregious examples of how Pakenham’s version has fueled a narrative by a succession of writers who represent Griffith as ‘approving’ or even ‘signing’ the document or ‘proposition’, or ‘secretly’ assenting to it or even writing a ‘letter’ of assent or assurance to Lloyd George concerning the specific proposal in the text reportedly shown to Griffith by Jones.
The narrative lends itself to the polemics of those who opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty or disliked Griffith, and is liable to distort public understanding of what occurred and what the plenipotentiaries achieved. In attempting to identify exactly what is known about the document and its content, and in distinguishing this from potent interpretations of it, it will be necessary to quote at some length from some relevant contemporary sources that are glossed over at the historian’s peril.
The entire typed wording on the sheet in the Parliamentary Archives, which also comprises the entire transcription by Robert Barton, is laid out line by line as follows:
If Ulster did not see her way to accept
immediately the principle of a Parliament of
All-Ireland–coupled with the retention by the
Parliament of Northern Ireland of the powers conferred upon it by the Act of 1920
and such other
safeguards as have already been suggested in my letter
of 10th November–we should then propose to create
such Parliament for All-Ireland but to allow Ulster
the right within a specified time on an address to the
Throne carried in both houses of the Ulster Parliament
to elect to remain subject to the Imperial Parliament
for all the reserved services. In this case she
would continue to exercise through her own Parliament
all her present rights; she would continue to be
represented in the British Parliament and she would
continue subject to British taxation except in so far
as already modified by the Act of 1920. In this case
however it would be necessary to revise the boundary
of Northern Ireland. This might be done by a Boundary
Commission which would be directed to adjust the line
both by inclusion and exclusion so as to make the
Boundary conform as closely as possible to the wishes
of the population.
This wording set the scene for how the existing Irish border ‘might’ (last sentence) be altered by a boundary commission. The Anglo-Irish Treaty was to include provision for such a commission.
Sinn Féin comfortably secured a majority of parliamentary seats in Ireland in the United Kingdom general election of December 1918. Its MPs thereupon declined to sit at Westminster and established instead in Ireland the representative assembly known as Dáil Éireann. A guerrilla war of independence ensued until 1921.
During 1920, the UK Government of Ireland Act was passed in London. This partitioned Ireland by creating a new border between six northern counties (‘Northern Ireland’) in which a majority of voters favoured remaining in the United Kingdom and the remaining twenty-six counties on the island. The nationalist majority of Irish voters regarded the 1920 statute as an illegitimate imposition. Northern Ireland now had its own government. Its new local parliament met for the first time on 7 June 1921, with a cabinet appointed under Sir James Craig.
In July 1921 a truce was agreed between the British government and Sinn Féin. During the following months the parties to the truce agreed that a peace conference would be held in London with a view to–in the words of what Lloyd George dubbed ‘the Inverness formula’–ascertaining ‘how the association of Ireland with the community of Nations known as the British Empire may best be reconciled with Irish national aspirations.’
The peace conference began in London on 11 October and ended in the early hours of 6 December 1921. Dáil Éireann had chosen five of its members as plenipotentiaries to negotiate for it, these being Arthur Griffith TD (chairman and minister for foreign affairs), Michael Collins TD (minister for finance), Robert Barton TD (minister for economic affairs), Éamonn Duggan TD and George Gavan Duffy TD. For reasons that are still debated and disputed, the Dáil’s president Éamon de Valera decided not to be one of the negotiators in London.
Under duress from Lloyd George, who at the final sessions on 5–6 December threatened to break off talks and immediately resume military hostilities in Ireland, the negotiators signed articles of agreement for a treaty. However, these articles were not binding but were conditional on approval by elected representatives in Dublin and London. They were to be approved in both assemblies, although a large minority in Dáil Éireann voted against them in January 1922. Anti-Treaty candidates received less than 30% of first-preference votes in the general election to Dáil Éireann in June 1922.
Negotiations having commenced in London on 11 October, Ulster unionist intransigence loomed large by the first week of November. The Northern Ireland government was not party to the bilateral talks but was never far offstage. From time to time Lloyd George consulted Sir James Craig, the premier of Northern Ireland, and was now facing a difficult meeting with conservatives and unionists at Liverpool on Thursday 17 November 1921. There were considerable internal political strains in the British coalition, caused not least by backbenchers known as ‘diehards’, and these strains are very evident from even a cursory reading of British political correspondence and newspapers of the time. Close to midnight on 13 November, Tory leader Austen Chamberlain wrote to his wife that,
Over all hangs the cloud of Thursday’s speech– in Liverpool, the stronghold of English Orange feeling–and of the afternoon Conference which the Die-hards are working tooth and nail to capture. It will be a very critical meeting and how it will go I cannot foresee. Much depends on how much we can say by that time and one of the horrors of the moment is that I cannot really prepare my speech because the position changes from day to day and almost from hour to hour. Things are moving and I am hopeful. The country wants peace. They are tired of Ireland and more tired of Ulster …. I think that the next few days will see the crisis and I hope an accepted peace…. I have staked my political life for what I believe to be right. If we succeed, all men will bless us sooner or later. If we fail, my career will be at an end and many hard things will be said which you will not find easy to hear.
Breathing down the necks of Chamberlain and his fellow Tory treaty negotiator F.E. Smith (Lord Birkenhead) was the former Tory leader Bonar Law, poised to return to active politics after a period of recuperation and threatening to play ‘the Orange card’. While Sinn Féin TDs in Ireland feared that Lloyd George, who was already nicknamed in Britain ‘the Welsh wizard’, might outsmart the Irish delegates, Conservatives MPs in England had a corresponding concern. Chamberlain was told that very week in early November that Bonar Law wanted him
to know that ‘if you found that the P.M. was tricking and broke away he [Bonar Law] would serve under you’. Whatever about the likelihood of the promise of service being fulfilled, the former part of that destabilizing message reflects the febrile atmosphere then.
The British were insisting that Ireland must remain in the British Empire (an association of countries dominated by Britain but gradually becoming known as the Commonwealth). The Irish negotiators were seeking not only an independent state but both an adjustment of the Irish border that had been created by the UK Government of Ireland Act 1920 and recognition of the ‘essential’ unity of Ireland by way of some form of all-Ireland arrangement in which Northern Ireland would participate.
The British were contemplating a scenario in which Northern Ireland would retain within a unified but independent constitutional arrangement on the island of Ireland considerable powers of devolved government similar to those it might have if it remained within the United Kingdom. For his part the president of Sinn Féin and of Dáil Éireann Éamon de Valera had already made a remarkable and seldom noted concession at a private session of Dáil Éireann when he told its deputies
They had not the power, and some of them had not the inclination, to use force with Ulster. He did not think that policy would be successful. They would be making the same mistake with that section as England had made with Ireland. He would not be responsible for such a policy. Ulster’s present position was that she claimed the Six Counties as a constitutional right given to her constitutionally through the Realm and did not want to be under the domination of the rest of Ireland whose sentiments, ideals and religion were different. They said they would not give away their established rights and that they were prepared to die for them. The question was how they were to deal with Ulster—peace or war conditions. At the present the [Dáil’s] Ministry proposed to act as they had done before under war conditions. He could not definitely say further than that their object at present was to get in contact to see what exactly Ulster wanted. The moment contact was established they were up against a big difficulty. Ulster would say she was as devotedly attached to the Empire as they were to their independence and that she would fight for one as much as they would do for the other. In case of coercion she would get sympathy and help from her friends all over the world…. For his part, if the Republic were recognised, he would be in favour of giving each county power to vote itself out of the Republic if it so wished. Otherwise they would be compelled to use force.
His words did not mean that Sinn Féin accepted the existing border as a basis for any final settlement. For it was clear from the general election of 1918 that both Tyrone and Fermanagh had nationalist majorities. The plenipotentiaries in London wanted these two counties to be included ultimately in any independent Irish state.
Lloyd George was surprised that de Valera had not pressed the issue of Ulster when the two men had met in London in July 1921 for talks about possible peace negotiations. Lloyd George told his Cabinet, ‘I was greatly relieved to go through the conversations with him without Tyrone and Fermanagh being raised. He was an unskillful negotiator but you cannot always count on his being maladroit.’ The prime minister added that if Britain were to give in and yield too much then ‘It will give the impression that we have lost our grip, that the Empire has no further force and will have an effect in India and throughout Europe.’ He thought that ‘without acceptance of Throne and Empire you march into the bog’. He predicted how a conversation might go at future peace talks (assuming then that de Valera personally would attend them):
He says–“What about Tyrone and Fermanagh?”
Shall I say–“Tyrone and Fermanagh are already in the Northern area?”
De Valera says–“What about your representative principle?”
De Valera will talk about Tyrone and Fermanagh and the break will come on forcing these two counties against their will. Men will die for the Throne and Empire. I do not know who will die for Tyrone and Fermanagh. The feeling for Ulster is not as strong as in 1913/14. Lots feel a bit annoyed about Ulster, think them unreasonable, narrow. You will divide the nation […] you may get a majority against you.
In saying that ‘lots’ of people ‘feel a bit annoyed about Ulster, think them unreasonable and narrow’, Lloyd George was expressing a frustration that–according to Jones–was soon to be echoed within the Cabinet itself by the Tory leader Austen Chamberlain, as Ulster unionists made further demands.
On 8 November 1921 Lionel Curtis, a United Kingdom secretary to the Anglo-Irish Peace Conference and a key figure in the Treaty’s development, sent Lloyd George a draft of ‘proposals to Ulster’. In a cover note, Curtis told Lloyd George that the draft ‘has been hastily written as a basis for further instructions’. It had been discussed with Thomas Jones and Sir Edward Grigg, ‘and the result of these discussions is shewn in the written corrections and marginal notes’.
The first thirteen pages of the memorandum are numbered, with handwritten corrections or observations on most of those pages. The last page of the memorandum is unnumbered, and includes the note signed by Jones stating that he showed it to Griffith on 13 November.
This page contained the proposal that included the possibility of a boundary commission. It is not clear when this page was ‘retyped’, or to what extent it may differ from an earlier version–a version that may have been marked with similar ‘written corrections and marginal notes’. Nor is it known when the retyped page was added to the original memo. It is assumed that Jones’s note refers only to the page on which it is written.
On the day that Curtis sent his memorandum to Lloyd George, and again later that week, the prospects of a Boundary Commission were discussed in some depth with three members of the Irish negotiating team. The idea of a commission had only been mentioned in broad terms earlier in the negotiations.
It is important to note in the present context that Arthur Griffith responded by repeatedly putting it on record that he had said to the British that the proposal in the memorandum was a British one and that he would not be a party to it. He so recorded this in letters to de Valera that survive. That it was actually his attitude is corroborated by the UK Cabinet Secretary Thomas Jones in contemporary entries in his diary that remained unpublished for fifty years.
Moreover, the note by Jones on the last page of the memo does not assert that Griffith had agreed or assented to anything, and the page is neither signed not initialled by Griffith. It seems likely that Jones would have noted on the page or in his diary any assent by Griffith to the proposal in the memo. The fact that Griffith did not write to tell de Valera of being (reportedly) shown this text/memo does not indicate that he ‘unwittingly assented’ to it. Griffith certainly communicated to de Valera the British ideas within it.
On 8 November Griffith reported to de Valera that the British were proposing a boundary commission ‘to delimit “Ulster”, confining this Ulster to its existing powers. This would give us most of Tyrone, Fermanagh, and part of Armagh, Down, etc.’ Griffith added, ‘We did not give any definite opinion on the matter. It is their look-out for the moment.’ That remained his position on subsequent days that week.
On 9 November, accompanied by Éamonn Duggan TD, Griffith again told Jones, ‘It is not our proposal, but if the Prime Minister cares to make it we would not make his position impossible. We cannot give him a pledge but we will not turn him down on it. We are not going to queer his pitch. We would prefer a plebiscite [where people could simply vote by district or county to join the Free State], but in essentials a Boundary Commission is very much the same. It would have to be not for Tyrone and Fermanagh only but for the six counties.’ On the evening of 9 November 1921 Griffith again wrote to de Valera, briefing him: ‘Lloyd George proposes … that a Boundary Commission to delimit the six-county area be established so as to give us the districts in which we are a majority’.
[Jones] ‘asked us did we think the “Ulstermen” would accept this proposal. We said we were quite sure they would not. He said that was his own opinion. The move was a tactical one to deprive “Ulster” of support in England by showing it was utterly unreasonable in insisting to coerce areas that wished to get out. He asked us would we stand behind such a proposal. We said that it would be their proposal – not ours, and we would not, therefore, be bound by it but we realised the value as a tactical manoeuvre and if Lloyd George made it we would not queer his position. He was satisfied with this.’
Griffith and Collins hoped that the proposal would induce Northern Ireland to negotiate a united Ireland. They thought that if it did not, then at least Northern Ireland would be reduced in size and might before long prove to be unviable outside a united Ireland.
On the evening of 9 November, according to Jones himself, Lloyd George told Jones, that a boundary commission would in fact be for the nine counties of Ulster. This meant that it could also permit some unionist districts of the proposed Irish Free State to opt into Northern Ireland. Jones added: ‘I told him that I certainly had not made that clear. That I had spoken of six counties.’ It was an important distinction.
De Valera had been slow to respond to recent developments, and now bundled his reaction to some of Griffith’s updates into one very short memo of 9 November, in which he acknowledged receipt of the last six of Griffith’s letters (dated 27 and 31 October, 1, 3, 5 and 8 November). He went on in the same memo to compliment the delegation on ‘admirably’ managing to focus attention on Ulster intransigence rather than the questions of Ireland’s continuing relationship to Empire and Crown. However, he cautioned somewhat ambiguously that, ‘The danger now is that we should be tempted, in order to put them more hopelessly in the wrong, to make further advances on our side. I think, as far as the ‘Crown and Empire connection’ is concerned, we should not budge a single inch from the point where the negotiations have now led us.’
It is difficult to discern de Valera’s precise meaning, but this could be read as his being willing to budge an inch on Ulster, in respect to which it should be remembered that he had in Dáil Éireann on 22 August 1921 eschewed violence and stated that he favoured ‘giving each county power to vote itself out of Republic if it so wishes’. So why did he make no explicit reference to the boundary commission idea when he replied to Griffith on 9 November? Pakenham holds Griffith responsible, because (thinks Pakenham) Griffith ‘made this issue seem secondary’, and–‘the slowest of us can see it now’–Lloyd George ‘rammed home a tiny advantage’ for which Jones opened the door during the previous week. Not only was Griffith duped, he had in turn misled de Valera. It’s obvious to Pakenham.
On the following day (10 November), about noon, Jones told Éamonn Duggan to tell Griffith that in the Prime Minister’s mind ‘a Boundary Commission should apply not to the 6 Counties only but to the 9 Counties of Ulster.’ It is not known if Duggan did so.
It was also on 10 November that Lloyd George wrote formally and significantly to James Craig, setting out the nature of ‘the settlement towards which His Majesty’s Ministers have been working’ and which he said was ‘closely based’ on the proposals made to de Valera on 20 July 1921, comprising the following main principles: Ireland would give her allegiance to the Crown and be a member of the Empire; provision would be made for UK naval security; Northern Ireland would retain all of its devolved powers (and its parliament) under the Government of Ireland Act 1920–but ‘the unity of Ireland would be recognised by the establishment of an all-Ireland Parliament’ and it would be under that parliament rather than Westminster that Northern Ireland would henceforth enjoy its devolved powers.
On the afternoon of Friday 11 November Griffith met Jones, at the latter’s request, at the Grosvenor Hotel. Jones showed him a brief reply from Craig that had just been received. It ruled out discussing the British proposals so long as the suggestion of an all-Ireland Parliament remained on the table. A more detailed response was expected. Griffith wrote a report for de Valera stating that Lloyd George evidently believed that ‘the Ulsterites are being gingered up’ to the end that at the meeting of the National Conservative Association scheduled to take place in Liverpool on the following Thursday (17 November) the government’s strategy would be rejected. Griffith concluded, ‘The “Ulster” crowd are in the pit they digged for us, and if we keep them there, we’ll have England and the Dominions out against them in the next week or two.’
Later on 11 November Craig wrote a longer reply to Lloyd George. It was a comprehensive rebuff, and added to Lloyd George’s difficulties–not least in respect to the upcoming meeting in Liverpool, Craig expressed ‘considerable concern’ that the area of Northern Ireland is being treated as open to possible revision. He rejected, out of hand ‘under existing circumstances’, participation in an all–Ireland Parliament and demanded that the proposal be withdrawn. And in a suggestion that irritated many British ministers he proposed that Northern Ireland itself might become a Dominion, even if that meant losing representation in the UK parliament. It might also reduce the burden of taxation in Northern Ireland, at a cost to the UK exchequer and at no benefit to Lloyd George’s efforts to reach an Irish settlement.
At 9.45 a.m. on Saturday 12 November Thomas Jones sent out by taxi to British negotiators Craig’s full reply. Less than an hour later Jones took a taxi to 22 Hans Place, headquarters of the Irish delegation,
‘where I saw Arthur Griffith alone, showed him a copy of Craig’s reply, drawing his special attention to the closing pages. He was pleased to see that the cloven hoof of Ulster’s sordidness had shown itself in their willingness to forego representation at Westminster for the sake of lower income tax. I said that if Sinn Féin cooperated with the P.M. we might have Ulster in before many months had passed.’
Jones then proceeded to a meeting of British ministers at 10 Downing Street, where even the Tory leader Chamberlain (according to Jones) was now impatient with the Ulster unionists.
The latter reportedly said, ‘If the correspondence were published… there would be a great revulsion of feeling against Ulster. Hitherto they had always wanted to be full members of the U.K. They now actually ask for Dominion status. This will come as a shock to those accustomed to receive their passionate assurances of union. They have put themselves very much in the wrong. The P.M. agreed that the Reply was a fatal document for Ulster…” The entry in Jones’s published diary for this particular date ends with Churchill standing by a fireplace in Downing Street, where ‘he soliloquized aloud about mediaeval hatreds and barbarous passions which brought men to the stake, still rampant in Ulster.’ The next diary entry will be dated Monday 14 November.
However, after that meeting ended on 12 November, Lloyd George went to meet Arthur Griffith for a late lunch at the fine London house of Sir Philip Sassoon, member of parliament for Hythe in Kent and a parliamentary private secretary to the prime minister. Precisely how that day and the next unfolded is unclear, but it is at the nub of the dominant narrative of events.
According to Griffith himself, he now gave Lloyd George an assurance. However, it is very important to be clear that Griffith said his assurance on 12 November was simply that he would not repudiate publicly the outline proposal on a boundary commission that Lloyd George was about to put to the unionists of Northern Ireland, responding to Craig’s rebuff. Griffith thus acknowledged the existing fact of partition but not its principle, just as de Valera himself had already done in the Dáil.
There is no evidence that Griffith gave any other assurance that day, and in a vital letter he himself informed de Valera immediately after the meeting that he had scrupulously avoided doing so. Griffith wrote as follows, in a letter marked ‘very secret’:
He showed me the letter the British Cabinet sent to the ‘Ulster’ Ministers [see 10 Nov. above] and their reply [see 11 Nov. above].
The British letter was to the effect that as they considered they could arrange with us on the points of difference (this is not the phrasing; I had only a hurried reading of it, but the effect) Ulster should come in under an All-Ireland Parliament, their present powers as a subordinate legislature being retained – (the area was left open for a possible reconsideration). In the alternative the Ulstermen were told that if they refused this and insisted on being represented in the British Parliament, their area would be delimited and the part that desired to remain in the British Parliament would have to bear the same taxation as England.
The ‘Ulster’ reply was a voluminous one – 4 pages about Loyalty, the Crown, the Empire and representation in the British Parliament – things they would never give up, and never under any consideration come under an All-Ireland Parliament. Then – the climax. They proposed ‘Ulster’ should be formed into a Dominion and pay none except a voluntary contribution to England.
This reply has simply astounded all the principal members of the Cabinet, except Lloyd George. Even Bonar Law, they say, is a bit knocked out by it. Lord Derby on the ground of this reply offers to go to Liverpool to the Unionist Conference to speak against the Ulster crowd if they don’t retract.
This meeting on Thursday is a critical one for the Unionist leaders – as it will be a fight between the Die-hards and themselves, who are mustering all their forces for the occasion.
Lloyd George and his colleagues are sending a further reply to the Ulstermen – refusing their Dominion proposal, but offering to create an All-Ireland Parliament, Ulster to have the right to vote itself out within 12 months, but if it does a Boundary Commission to be set up to delimit the area, and the part that remains after the Commission has acted to be subject to equal financial burdens with England.
Lloyd George intimated this would be their last word to Ulster. If they refused, as he believed they would, he would fight, summon Parliament, appeal to it against Ulster, dissolve, or pass an Act establishing the All-Ireland Parliament.
I told him it was his proposal, not ours. He agreed, but he said that when they were fighting next Thursday with the Die-hards and ‘Ulster’ in front, they were lost if we cut the ground away behind them by repudiating the proposal.
I said we would not do that, if he meant that he thought we would come out in public decrying it. It was his own proposal. If the Ulstermen accepted it, we would have to discuss it with him in the privacy of the Conference. I could not guarantee its acceptance, as, of course, my colleagues knew nothing of it yet. But I would guarantee that while he was fighting the ‘Ulster’ crowd we would not help them by repudiating him.
This satisfied him. They are to send this letter on Monday 14 Nov.]. Birkenhead, Chamberlain, and Derby will go to the Liverpool Unionist Convention, and if the ‘Ulstermen’ refuse, start in on ‘Ulster’. Until after that there is not likely to be much development.
Before I left I told him that as I was helping him over the ‘Ulster’ difficulty, he should help us over ‘the Crown and Empire’, when it came up.
He is most anxious it should not be known that we met, for the reason that the ‘Ulster’ crowd and the Morning Post would, before the Thursday meeting, raise the cry that he was ‘conspiring’ with me against ‘Ulster’. So please confine this strictly to the Inner Cabinet.
It appears that while Griffith was meeting David Lloyd George that day, Frances Stevenson waited upstairs. She was Lloyd George’s secretary and lover. She wrote in her diary,
D [David]. & I went down to Trent for the weekend. But D. first of all went to Philip Sassoon’s house in Park Lane for lunch, & got Arthur Griffith along to have a serious talk with him so that he might know exactly where he was. The Ulster people had definitely refused the terms in the morning–refusing even to come into a discussion so long as it involved a question of an All I. P. [All Ireland Parliament]. D, therefore wanted to decide on his next move, for he is determined to pull this thing through. I do not think I have ever seen D so excited about anything before. He talked to A.G. [Griffith] for a long time, & D came up from below very jubilant–but very excited & said that A.G. would agree to his new scheme, & that the Ulster people would be ‘done in’. Then F.E. [F.E. Smith, Lord Birkenhead] & Chamberlain came along & they talked over the form in which it was to be drafted, and eventually we went off to Trent, arriving in time for dinner…. D says that if the Ulster men accept they will do so in the hope that the S.F.s [Sinn Féiners] would refuse it. They (the Ulstermen) are quite ignorant of the fact that the S.F.s have already agreed. It is a very subtle plan & I hope it will not have any hitch.
What exactly happened after Griffith left Lloyd George that weekend is unclear, but Frank Pakenham was to suggest in 1935 that it involved a successful conspiracy to entrap Griffith into a concession. However, a letter that Chamberlain sent to his wife in Madrid that same day is more ambiguous than what he ostensibly indicated to Pakenham over a decade later.
Ulster has point blank refused even to meet us in conference on any plans for definitely and finally including her in an all-Ireland Parliament. We have an alternative which fulfills our pledges, which Ulster must I believe accept and– most important of all–which we have reason to know S.F. [Sinn Féin] will accept. But this last fact is at this moment known only to the P.M. [Prime Minister], F.E. and me. … And so we move forward secretly whilst the storm rages all around us and F.E. [Smith, Lord Birkenhead] and I are denounced as traitors and call all the hard names in the language…. I think that the next few days will see the crisis and I hope an accepted peace…. Griffith realises that we are staking everything on our attempt to make peace and I have by now an assured confidence that he will do his part and not let us down on that side.
Thus, Stevenson here writes that Lloyd George came upstairs from the meeting and ‘said that A.G. would agree to his new scheme’, while Chamberlain writes that he and Birkenhead ‘have reason to know S.F. will accept’ the alternative proposal–presumably that of a boundary commisison (emphasis on ‘will’ added here). Neither indicates that Griffith had actually agreed to the scheme, still less agreed unconditionally without reference to what the Irish demanded on Crown and Empire. And there is ample evidence that the British were subsequently frustrated a number of times in pinning down any of the Irish delegates, a clear indication that no final deal had been done. For example, Chamberlain wrote to his wife on 23 November: ‘we have been on the verge of a break with S.F. [Sinn Féin]. They are not very clever and some of them are very stupid. I think we shall yet pull it off, but heaven save me from such another negotiation.’ He later wrote that even on the last day of negotiations ‘we seemed as far from agreement as ever; indeed the prospect of an agreement seemed to have receded since we last met. All the old questions were reopened; the Irish delegates appeared to have gone back on the decisions already reached’.
Thomas Jones wrote that he met Arthur Griffith on 13 November (the day after Lloyd George met Griffith on his own in Philip Sassoon’s house) and showed him the document that now constitutes the fourteenth page of the Curtis memo dated 8 November 1921. Some historians suggest that Griffith merely glanced at the document, but there is no evidence of how much attention he paid to its contents. Jones nowhere suggests that Griffith assented to any proposal in the memo or initialled or signed it. The simplest explanation for Jones letting Griffith see it was that he wished to avoid any misunderstanding about what Lloyd George was proposing.
Sometime on 12–14 November officials prepared two drafts of Lloyd George’s planned next letter to Craig. Each version included the text concerning a boundary commission that Jones stated he showed Griffith on 13 November. However, the actual letter sent to Craig on 14 November did not include it. In a letter to de Valera on 15 November Griffith wrote that ‘M [Michael Collins] and myself met Lloyd George this evening.
The answer he sent Craig was not as he first arranged. It was that the British Government would not consent to setting up “Ulster” as a Dominion, but that it was willing to meet the Ulstermen in Conference. The second part of their reply they are keeping until after Thursday’s meeting. To put it up then as an ultimatum to “Ulster”.’ Gallagher represents Lloyd George as thus omitting the text on a boundary commission ‘as it might stiffen that meeting [in Liverpool] against a settlement’. It is a fair supposition, although unsupported by Griffith’s letter.
The general proposal in the text that Jones showed Griffith on 13 November, that for a boundary commission, was soon firmed up as part of the British draft for a treaty. That draft was debated by the Irish Cabinet in Dublin on 3 December and by the two sides in London on 5–6 December. This did not mean that the Irish were bound to accept it.
In fact, with de Valera pressing Griffith to reiterate in various forms the absolute Sinn Féin desire for a republic, for a state only ‘externally’ connected to the Commonwealth and having no direct link to the Crown, the British felt blocked. On 22 November Jones went to Hans Place, where he met Griffith and Collins and claimed that Lloyd George was ‘in despair’ about Sinn Féin’s attitude. Griffith reported to de Valera:
In the course of the conversation I suggested the British Government was trying to get a blank cheque from us – a thing that would play Craig’s game. Jones was taken aback at this view which he denied. It is really not my view, however, that they are doing so. They hoped to meet Craig on Thursday under an agreement with us that would enable them to defy him and his backers. Owing to the crux over the Crown and Empire, they feel their position weakened if not gone.
Here Griffith is explicitly pointing to the conditionality of any arrangement of Ulster, which for him was dependent on a deal over Crown and Empire. He continued,
Mr. Collins, Mr. Barton, and myself have arranged to meet Lloyd George and Birkenhead and possibly Chamberlain at 10, Downing Street to-morrow [23 November]. We shall argue the acceptability of the arrangement re Association we have proposed [i.e. that Ireland not be in the Empire/Commonwealth but still somehow externally associated with it], but I have little hope of any good result. If the conversation fails, I presume Lloyd George will send a letter terminating the negotiations, and to this we shall reply, and then leave London for home, unless you think the time has come for you to cross over here.
After his meeting with Griffith and Collins on 22 November, Jones remarked on ‘their fear that if they put down all they were prepared to do in black and white in advance, it would be tantamount to giving the P.M. a blank cheque. The P.M. would then go to Craig, tell Craig all that Sinn Féin was prepared to do, Craig would say nothing, yield nothing, but go back to Ulster and announce to all Ireland that the Sinn Féin leaders had sold their followers. Over and over again in the past Irish negotiators had been let down in this way by British statesmen.’
On 23 November Griffith, Collins and Barton met Lloyd George, Chamberlain, and Birkenhead at Downing Street as planned. It is important to note that Lloyd George had still not put the boundary commission proposal to Craig (in the form shown to Griffith on 13 November). Later that day Griffith reported as follows to de Valera:
On Ulster, Lloyd George declared that I had assured him I would not let him down, if he put up the proposals subsequently embodied in their memorandum to Craig, and we had not embodied them in our [recent] memorandum. I said I had given him that assurance and I now repeated it, but I told him at the time it was his proposal – not ours. Therefore, it did not appear in our document. Our proposal was, in our opinion, better but it was different.
He was satisfied. He had misunderstood us in this instance and said as much. He would put his proposal to Craig from himself only. He would like to consult privately with his colleagues for a few minutes.
They then retired and consulted for a time. On their return Lloyd George said that before he met Craig, he must know where he stood on the fundamentals. If he had to fight on fundamentals, there was no help for it, but it would be a tragedy if we broke up on any verbal or technical misunderstandings. He suggested, therefore, that as myself and Mr. Collins had seen Lord Birkenhead before I wrote the letter on which they had been acting, we should do so again, and go over the document with him.
Lord Birkenhead suggested that we should bring a constitutional lawyer with us. We have arranged to meet him to-morrow at 10.30 and bring Mr. Chartres with us. Lloyd-George has postponed his interview with Craig until 5 in the evening to await the result, if any, of the meeting.
That ‘letter’ on which Lloyd George on 23 November said the British ‘had been acting’ earlier was one sent by Griffith to the prime minister on 2 November 1921. It had included certain assurances to which all the Irish plenipotentiaries had eventually consented, following debate amongst themselves. Griffith drafted it in consultation with the British who wanted such a letter, but carefully hedged his assurances by conditions and sent it only in the form of a ‘personal assurance’, albeit on official notepaper. Griffith and Collins had met Birkenhead alone at the House of Lords on the morning of 2 November to discuss the draft of that letter, and later that same day had met Chamberlain with Birkenhead.
The final draft was discussed on the following day (3 November) by Griffith and Collins with Lloyd George, Chamberlain and Birkenhead at Downing Street, and thereafter sent. That the letter on which Lloyd George said the British ‘had been acting’ was that of 2–3 November and explicitly not the document Jones is said to have shown Griffith at the Grosvenor Hotel on 13 November is confirmed by Jones himself.
It is necessary for clarity to distinguish Griffith’s formal assurances in the official letter he sent the British on 2 November from his further use of the term ‘personal assurances’ to refer to a different matter in his letters of 23 November and 4 December to de Valera. On the latter dates he used it to refer back to (and only to) the particular promise he made on 12 November to Lloyd George not to oppose publicly for the time being the British government’s idea of a boundary commission.
The text reportedly shown to Arthur Griffith on 13 November was flourished unexpectedly by Lloyd George at Downing Street on the last day of negotiations in December 1921. This made a dramatic impact, according to his fellow delegate Robert Barton. Barton wrote next day that Lloyd George claimed that he had shown the piece of paper to Griffith at Philip Sassoon’s house (where they had met on 12 November) and that Griffith had ‘agreed to its contents’. Yet Chamberlain’s version to Pakenham has the Tory leader composing that text only after Lloyd George and Griffith left. One must be circumspect in reading Barton’s official notes of the meeting, notes that Pakenham also used to bolster his theory. They are far from entirely lucid and certainly not comprehensive, and Barton was labouring under great personal stress.
He was to claim in 1954 that Griffith, Collins and Duggan said ‘the most terrible things’ to get him to sign the agreement that night. He did not reveal then that his close cousin Erskine Childers, who had grown up with him and who was a secretary to the delegation, had also applied pressure on him by invoking his own wife’s sentiments to stiffen Barton against signing. Paradoxically, this was counterproductive, as Childers himself wrote on the day the agreement was signed: ‘Privately today R.C.B. [Robert Childers Barton] said that my allusion to Molly’s support for refusal to sign last night made him sign–deciding element–because her name reminded him of thousands of homes to be ransacked.’
Griffith himself also wrote a report on the sessions of 5–6 December, earlier and shorter than Barton’s. This has received little attention and, remarkably, is not included in the first volume of Documents on Irish Foreign Policy–now a key reference point for researchers. Childers at the time dismissed Griffith’s account as ‘brief and jejune [i.e. superficial]’ but it is not devoid of significance.
There are no formal minutes, agreed or otherwise, of the crucial final two sessions of the Peace Conference on 5–6 December. The Irish had decided at the outset in October to dispense with an exact record of proceedings. The penultimate session lasted from approximately 3.00 p.m. until 8.00 p.m. on Monday 5 December and the last one from 11.15 p.m. on that Monday until 2.20 a.m. on Tuesday 6 December–a combined duration, albeit with some breaks, of about eight hours. Griffith’s official notes are just 450 words long, and Barton’s 2,500 words (taking less than five minutes and twenty minutes respectively to read). Both sides by early December were tired and strained, and the final sessions were fraught.
Griffith’s note of the meetings begins: ‘Things were so strenuous and exhausting that the sequence of conversation is not in many cases clear in my mind today […] The Conference opened with the British Delegates in a bad mood. They had a full Cabinet meeting previously and apparently had had a rough time.’ Barton’s note informed de Valera that Lloyd George soon got excited, ‘He shook his papers in the air, declared that we were trying deliberately to bring about a break on Ulster because our people in Ireland had refused to come within the Empire and that Arthur Griffith was letting him down where he had promised not to do so.’ Notably, Griffith’s own notes states,
Lloyd George began by suggesting we had let him down over the Ulster proposals.
We denied this and argued we must have a reply from Craig refusing or accepting these proposals before we proceeded.
The others [i.e. the British] pointed out that as they were prepared to go ahead with their proposals irrespective of Craig there was no ground for our contention. We went on this line of argument for a while when Lloyd George declared we were trying to bring about a break on Ulster.
Barton writes that Lloyd George’s opening gambit was to declare that he must know once and for all exactly where the Irish stood as regards the Ulster proposals. He wrote that Lloyd George claimed that the Ulster proposals that the British had sent to the Irish in a draft agreement the previous week, and that had been discussed on Saturday in Dublin, ‘were exactly those to which Arthur Griffith had agreed and on which he had undertaken not to let him down.’ According to Barton, Griffith replied ‘that he had not let him down and did not intend to do so, but that before he gave a decision on the earlier articles in the document he must have a reply from Craig either accepting or refusing the unity of Ireland.’ Collins backed him on this.
Griffith had sought such clarification of Ulster’s response to the boundary commission idea from the outset, as well as repeating the basic Sinn Féin call for unionists to recognize the ‘essential’ unity of Ireland in some form. Both Chamberlain and Lloyd George, wrote Barton, argued strongly that the demand for a unionist commitment at this stage was ‘inadmissible, unreasonable and contrary to the undertaking not to let Lloyd George down’.
Barton wrote that Chamberlain claimed ‘it was due to the confidence they had in our undertaking that they would not be let down by us that his colleagues and he had adopted the attitude they did […] and staked thereon their political future.’ Had Lloyd George actually convinced the Tory negotiators that Griffith gave a more definitive response on the weekend of 12–13 November than was the case? This had been Bonar Law’s fear, as was seen above.
However, the official ‘personal assurances’ that Griffith sent Lloyd George with the knowledge of other delegates and de Valera, on 2 November, and his undertaking of 12 November not to dismiss the boundary commission idea before Craig replied had all been (as seen earlier above) conditional and not absolute. Lloyd George never did secure the response from Craig that Griffith sought, and the failure to make Northern Ireland party to the boundary commission proposal was ultimately one of the reasons why that body failed, becoming mired in Privy Council litigation among other set-backs.
In his own official notes Griffith made no reference to Lloyd George placing the text of the Curtis memo on the table, but Barton, in the account that he wrote at Griffith’s request, noted that Lloyd George:
produced a paper from an envelope, stated that he had shown it to Arthur Griffith at __’s [Philip Sassoon’s] house and that Arthur Griffith had agreed to its contents. Lloyd George referred to this document as a letter and thereby mystified me and appeared to mystify Michael Collins. I could not recollect the existence of any letter on this subject other than the one Arthur Griffith wrote to Lloyd George on November 2nd after consultation with the other members of the Delegation. The paper was then passed across the table. It proved to be a memorandum, not a letter [Barton then quotes it, verbatim as given above].
Did Barton not identify the memo’s date or nature because he was only seeing one page of it, the last page as retyped before being shown to Griffith on 13 November?
As the session unfolded on 5 December, the British assailed the Irish with references to assurances by Griffith, without Barton recording–or perhaps knowing– what exactly were the specific assurances if any that they had in mind. In the absence of clarity, and given what was about to happen at the meeting, the British delegates appear to have been intent on overwhelming the Irish.
Griffith said now that he personally would dispense with a reply from Craig but that his colleagues were in a different position and had not been involved in the November discussion with Lloyd George about the proposal, and that ‘it was not fair to demand acceptance or refusal from them before Craig replied.’ It is a common negotiating ploy that the chairman of one side appears flexible while regretting that the other side must still convince colleagues who need more concessions in order to be persuaded.
Lloyd George did not respond kindly. According to Barton, the prime minister said ‘he had always taken it that Arthur Griffith spoke for the Delegation.’ If so, there was no basis for such an assumption in respect to a boundary commission, for Griffith had explicitly told Jones this was not the case. The Prime Minister also delivered his infamous ultimatum. The Prime Minister argued that ‘we were all plenipotentiaries and that it was now a matter of peace or war and we must each of us make up our minds.’
Gallagher appears to regret this rather mild and factual version by Barton of Lloyd George’s words, for he claims that Barton in what was his almost contemporary account does not quote the prime minister’s words ‘so exactly as he, Barton, did in his speech in the Dáil before the vote on the Treaty’ a fortnight later. Chamberlain subsequently wrote in a memoir that in December 1921 Lloyd George threatened war within three days if the Irish did not sign. Both the anti-Treaty Gallagher and the Tory Chamberlain had their own reasons for favouring versions that had the British government strongly facing down the Irish who signed the agreement.
According to C.P. Scott, newspaperman and confidante of Lloyd George, the prime minister was personally claiming credit for outsmarting Griffith. He had asked to see Scott on the morning of 5 December 1921. When they met Lloyd George was ‘excited and angry’ at the Irish. However, when Scott saw the prime minister again on the next day–about ten hours after the agreement for a treaty had been signed–Lloyd George ‘was of course in great spirits’. Scott wrote in his diary that Lloyd George had told him of putting it to Griffith ‘whether he could sign on behalf of all the Sinn Féin plenipotentiaries. Griffith said he could not. “Then”, said Lloyd George, “I must put it to you individually”. He put it to Collins. Collins hesitated and declined. The others declined. There was a moment when Griffith stood alone.’ Scott continues,
It was then that Lloyd George played his last card. Some days before (before the debate in the House [of Commons or Lords] on the previous Monday, Lloyd George told me) he had seen Griffith alone–‘not here’ said Lloyd George with a twinkle, ‘some way from here’–and had come to a general, informal agreement with him as to the terms on which Griffith would be prepared to settle, and it was only after he had made sure of his ground in this way that George challenged a division in the House. Before they parted George said to Griffith for clearness’ sake this had better be put into writing and that was done. George now at the critical moment produced the document. ‘You signed this’, George said, ‘and, knowing you to be the man you are, I am sure you communicated it afterwards to Mr Collins. He therefore is also a party to it. I have fulfilled my part of the bargain. I took the risk of breaking my party. You in Ireland often bring against us in England the charge of breach of faith.’ (Griffith, said Lloyd George, seemed a little surprised when the terms were read. So evidently he had not kept a copy himself). That settled it. An extraordinary example of skill and foresight in negotiation. The words I have quoted stuck in my mind. I think they are almost exact. All signed [the agreement for a treaty].
There are a number of problems with Scott’s version. For one thing, the UK parliament did not sit between 10 November 1921 (when the King’s speech was delivered) and 14 December 1921. Thus, this reference by Scott in his published diary entry for 5 December, cannot be to the ‘previous Monday’ or any Monday that month other than 7 November. The meeting between Lloyd George and Griffith to which it refers may well have been that which took place on Sunday 30 October at Winston Churchill’s (not Philip Sassoon’s) house and which Lloyd George is said to have described as ‘much the most satisfactory’. The prime minster spoke next day (Monday 31 October) in a major debate in parliament that the government won by 439 votes to 43.
Furthermore, there is no evidence that Griffith signed the document produced by Lloyd George, and he certainly did not sign the extant copy among Lloyd George’s papers of the document shown him by Jones on 13 November 1921. Moreover, even had Griffith ‘communicated’ to Collins the document (of which from Scott’s account he ‘evidently’ had not kept a copy himself), such a communication to any person would not bind or make that person a party to its terms. Moreover, Lloyd George had not included the text shown to Griffith by Jones on 13 November in the prime minister’s subsequent letter to Craig of 14 November–or otherwise published that proposal–and so did not risk a break on it.
It is unclear how soon after his conversation with Lloyd George Scott wrote his entries for 5–6 December. The editor of his diary notes a lack of clarity elsewhere in Scott’s account of his two discussions with Lloyd George on those days and remarks that Scott was apparently ‘carried away by the drama of the events into unwonted obscurity.’ Scott’s version has recently been relied on in a dramatic reconstruction of the 1921 negotiations, which includes a fictional scene in which Griffith signs the memorandum brought to him by Jones.
Griffith may well have been ‘a little surprised’ that night in Downing Street when the ‘terms’ of the memorandum were read and represented as they were by Lloyd George, but why would Lloyd George have wanted to say this to Scott? If Griffith was ‘surprised’ by what appears to have been a farrago of inaccurate assertions, Lloyd George was eager to keep his government together by representing himself as having cleverly achieved the best deal for Britain.
Having observed solemnly that without the meeting of 12 November there might have been no Treaty, Pakenham bluntly writes ‘This makes it the more unfortunate that for once our material is not quite satisfying, so that we are forced to introduce into our narrative an element of speculative reconstruction.’ The ‘speculative reconstruction’ in which he engaged has been highly influential.
Pakenham’s narrative is one of a hapless Griffith outmanoeuvred by the British. He purports to reconcile Griffith’s contemporary account of the meeting with an account given to Pakenham orally by Chamberlain, and to do so in a manner that ‘renders intelligible the consequences of what happened that day [12 Nov. 1921]’. Acknowledging that Griffith had made reports to de Valera and accepting that people might conclude from these that Griffith had made no great concession that day, Pakenham asserts nevertheless that when we turn to Chamberlain’s version ‘we shall suspect at once that the break on Ulster was from November 12th onwards closed to Sinn Féin’. Pakenham appears to accept uncritically Chamberlain’s ‘understanding’ that ‘Griffith’s promise [which was not to decry publicly Lloyd George’s proposal to the unionists, while reserving the Sinn Féin position on it subject to the outcome of the talks generally] excluded any further possibility of a break coming on the Ulster head.’
Pakenham seems to treat as indisputable fact Chamberlain’s version of what happened after Griffith left Philip Sassoon’s house. He wrote that ‘Lloyd George had given instructions to Tom Jones to draw up a rough summary of the agreement reached.’ But,
Lloyd George himself was in a hurry to leave for the week-end. Would Chamberlain mind checking the document when Tom Jones had drawn it up? The precaution was wise, for Jones, sharpest of secretaries to trap and render into formal draft exact shades of loosely expressed compromise, this once had missed perfection. However, with Chamberlain’s help, the plan to which Griffith had become committed passed into memorandum form. Sometime about 7 p.m. the next day, Sunday, November 13th, Jones showed Griffith the paper. Griffith briefly indicated his assent to its proposals.
There is no evidence to support Pakenham’s assertion that Griffith, on the weekend of 12–13 November, made ‘a solemn promise’ that precluded him from bringing about a break in the negotiations based on Ulster.
The only certain ‘agreement reached’, or commitment made, on 12 November consisted of Griffith undertaking not to decry publicly the proposal that Lloyd George had indicated to him British ministers intended to put to Ulster unionists before the meeting of conservatives and unionists in Liverpool due on Thursday. The typed document or sheet that Jones later stated he showed Griffith the following day did not refer to that or to any other undertaking by Griffith but was entirely devoted to spelling out the options to be set before the unionists.
There is no evidence that Griffith ‘indicated his assent’–briefly or otherwise– to any such options or proposals on the Sunday. Jones’s note on the document he stated he showed Griffith does not suggest this, as it surely would have had Griffith agreed to its content. The fact that Griffith did not report to de Valera that he was shown the text on 13 November (if he was) does not support Pakenham’s assertion of his giving ‘secret assent’ to it, for Griffith had briefed de Valera on the substance of the proposal and his reaction to it and likewise, subsequently, on Lloyd George’s failure to include it explicitly in his next letter to Craig. Pakenham does not mention the fact that, according to Frances Stevenson at any rate, Birkenhead also arrived after the Griffith/Lloyd George meeting and was part of a discussion about what would happen next.
Having given Chamberlain’s self-aggrandising account in such a manner and without question, Pakenham goes on to weave a theory based on it, claiming for example that ‘There is no conflict therefore over the nature [Pakenham’s emphasis] of the terms in which Griffith in some sense acquiesced’. ‘In some sense’? What ‘terms’ exactly? Then we have ‘It seems certain (from what happened on the last day of the Conference [5-6 December]) that on November 12th Griffith did in fact acquiesce in some sense in written proposals.’ There’s that same qualifier again, ‘in some sense’. Yet, until that last day, Griffith was demanding Craig’s response before committing himself to any final agreement–a final agreement that he insisted had to be satisfactory to Sinn Féin on Crown and Empire.
Regarding what happened on the last day of the Conference (5–6 December), Pakenham appears to have relied on Chamberlain and on Barton’s notes, which are far from entirely clear and who–by the time Pakenham wrote–was firmly in de Valera’s camp. In fairness to Pakenham, he does admit that other explanations of what happened are possible, giving two in a footnote–in which he immediately also affirms his own theory as seeming ‘far more likely to be true.’
The author is relentless, going on to claim that ‘the plan of accepting the Boundary Commission as a tactical manoeuvre only … was finally stultified by Griffith’s acceptance of the document of November 12th’. Griffith actually ‘accepted’ neither. Whether Griffith did not condemn the idea out of hand because he thought that the Ulster unionists would reject it (which they would eventually) and thus look bad; or simply because he did not want to cut the ground from under Lloyd George by a public utterance or leak prior to the meeting in Liverpool a few days later; or because he thought it might actually be worth floating the idea given de Valera’s acceptance in Dáil Éireann in August 1921 that some counties of Northern Ireland would remain in the United Kingdom; or a bit of all three of the above, his response cannot be reasonably construed as some kind of ‘assent’ to the proposal itself.
To construe it so, in fact, would require rejecting the contemporary statements of both himself and the British Cabinet Secretary Thomas Jones that Griffith explicitly and repeatedly refused to accept or agree to it. Pakenham overcomes this problem by suggesting that Griffith somehow gave binding assent implicitly or logically without wishing to do so, or without realizing that he had done so. Clearly then, for those such as Pakenham, Griffith was responsible for frustrating the claim to a united Ireland, rather than the claim being defeated by the weight of circumstances that de Valera had recognised when he told the Dáil that the counties of Northern Ireland could or would not be compelled to be part of an Irish republic.
Nowhere does Pakenham query or criticise the decision by de Valera not to answer each individual letter from Griffith in the week leading up to 12 November, or to be more involved in developments when, as far as de Valera knew from Griffith, Lloyd George might be about to depart as prime minister and be replaced by someone more supportive of the Ulster unionists. While he asserts the bona fides of Griffith, Pakenham is regarded as having become close to de Valera and one is reminded of what in 1922 Griffith told the Dáil: ‘When I was going to London Mr. de Valera said to me, ‘There may have to be scapegoats’ […] [Michael] Collins and myself were willing to be scapegoats.’
Pakenham concludes what he has described as his ‘speculative reconstruction’, one based on some broad assumptions, with a hammer blow. Griffith’s ‘acceptance’ of the document of 12 November, and it alone when the crisis came, prevented the Irish delegates from ‘justifiably’ denying that they were committed to a boundary commission, regardless of whether or not Craig’s consent to it had been secured.
Here, it should be repeated that Griffith had explicitly distanced himself personally from the proposal in the document he reportedly saw on 13 November and had explicitly stated that he would not commit himself and could not bind the others in advance, and had asked to be informed of Craig’s reaction to the idea. The boundary commission proposal never became one of the major bones of contention, either at the last full Cabinet meeting in Dublin a few days before the agreement for a Treaty was signed, nor at the last fraught session of the Peace Conference itself on 5–6 December (where Empire and Crown dominated).
Moreover, had it been the crucial issue then nothing precluded any delegate from rejecting it–not least because Lloyd George never did get Craig to respond formally to it. It soon became clear that the unionists did not accept the idea. Pakenham asks his readers ‘not to entertain for an instant an idea…that the story told here in any way reflects discredit on the memory of two Irishmen now dead, Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins’, but his version of the events of 12–13 November does so, fairly or unfairly. 
Pakenham’s book in general is very thin on explicit sources, although he has clearly drawn on some official records. Sources that he clearly identified in the present context, besides Chamberlain, were some of Griffith’s correspondence with de Valera (which works against his theory) and Barton’s notes of the last night (which are far from being a transcript of proceedings). And where did Pakenhan find the ‘personal recollection’ or ‘account’ of events by Sir Austen Chamberlain that he mentions on pages 214 and 216 respectively? It seems that one must turn back to the second page of Pakenham’s introduction where one reads this: ‘I have discussed the events of this period in some detail with Sir Austen Chamberlain. Sir Austen Chamberlain, though feeling unable to give me the use of his papers, has read me his contemporary notes of the crucial meetings. On this material I have formed my own judgement…’.
More than a decide after the event Chamberlain, who already by mid-December 1921 had delivered in parliament a contentious account of the boundary commission article in the agreement for a treaty, gave Pakenham an interview during which he purportedly relied on notes that he refused to show the interviewer. It is remarkable that so many historians, including the editor of the diary of Thomas Jones, have relied heavily on Pakenham’s book as if it were the definitive authority on the Treaty (including by their citation of other works whose authors themselves rely only on Pakenham). The present author himself admits to having on one occasion, under the influence of Pakenham, referred to Griffith ‘assenting’ in some way to a substantive proposal on the weekend of 12–13 November. It was a mistake to do so.
In hindsight we know that the Boundary Commission that was actually established did not achieve what Griffith and Collins, before their early deaths in 1922, had hoped it might. For one thing the Irish Civil War intervened.
One may take the view that the Irish were naïve, and that such a commission was never likely to yield as much as the result of county or local plebiscites in Northern Ireland would have. Collins and Griffith also appear to have assumed throughout that a delimiting boundary commission would in practice only limit Northern Ireland to a smaller portion of its six counties–consistent with the wishes of people living there – and never acknowledged even to themselves the possibility that unionist districts in Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal might successfully opt into Northern Ireland, as Lloyd George did.
Yet adjustments to the border envisaged in a British draft memo for presentation to the Northern Ireland parliament as early as 10 November 1921 clearly referenced nine counties. And Collins revealed his inexperience when he reported on a vital personal meeting with Lloyd George on the morning before the agreement was signed in December. He noted then that Lloyd George ‘remarked that I myself pointed out on a previous occasion that the North would be forced economically to come in. I assented…’ This was a reference to the Irish belief that if the voters of Tyrone and Fermanagh were allowed to choose they would join the Irish Free State, and that the remaining four counties of Northern Ireland would then not be a viable unit. However, Lloyd George had not endorsed that view but merely quoted Collins, and Collins had thus in effect ‘assented’ only to having said it and not to a proposition from Lloyd George.
The plenipotentiaries were working under very stressful circumstances, against highly skilled adversaries, and at times may have let their guard down or engaged in wishful thinking. Yet there is no evidence that their Cabinet colleagues in Dublin ever proposed a better wording for the treaty article that eventually enshrined the Boundary Commission. Bitter disagreement then or later about other aspects of the agreement should not be allowed to colour our understanding of what happened in London on the weekend of 12-13 November 1921, when Griffith and Lloyd George mutually found a pragmatic way to avoid the imminent breakdown of negotiations without either committing himself to a final outcome.
 Diary of Erskine Childers, 7 Dec. 1921 (Trinity College Dublin MS 7813, f. 103).
 Colum Kenny, Midnight in London: The Anglo-Irish Treaty Crisis 1921 (Dublin, 2021), pp 110–18 where the document is reproduced.
 Colum Kenny, ‘Redeeming Dev, Damning Griffith: Pakenham’s Peace by Ordeal’, History Ireland, July/Aug. 2022, pp. 14–15.
 Thomas Jones, Whitehall Diary, Vol. 3: Ireland 1918–1925, ed. Keith Middlemas (London, 1971), p. 120; Austen Chamberlain, Down the Years (London, 1935), p. 143; J.O. Hannay (‘George A. Birmingham’), Pleasant Places (London, 1934), pp 187–8 for a characteristic example of references by acquaintances to Griffith’s tendency towards silence.
 ‘Tentative suggestions’ for a Treaty presented by Thomas Jones to Arthur Griffith, 16 Nov. 1921 (NAI DE 2/304/1), where Article 11, states ‘a Commission shall be appointed to determine in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants the boundaries between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland’; Griffith to de Valera, 18 Nov. 1921 (NAI DE 2/304/1).
 Diary of Erskine Childers, 15 and 16 Nov. 1921, f. 55, f. 59.
 Chartres to Richard Mulcahy, 1924, quoted at Kevin Matthews, Fatal Influence: The Impact of Ireland on British Politics, 1920–1925 (Dublin, 2004), pp 53–4. The words ‘boundary commission’ will only be given upper case initials where they refer to the actual commission set up when the treaty was agreed, or where they already have them in quotations. Similarly, ‘treaty’ will have an uppercase initial only where it refers to the actual text agreed on 6 December and approved by Dáil Éireann.
 See, for example, Mícheál Ó Fathartaigh & Liam Weeks (eds), Birth of a State: The Anglo-Irish Treaty (Newbridge, Co. Kildate, 2021), pp 119–21, 186–91; Paul Murray, The Irish Boundary Commission and Its Origins 1886–1925 (Dublin, 2011), pp. 78–9.
 N.C. Fleming, ‘The Conservative Right, Ulster Unionism and the Partition of Ireland’ in N.C. Fleming and J.H. Murphy (eds), Ireland and Partition: Contexts and Consequences (Clemson, SC, 2021), pp 283–303.
 Charles Townshend, The Partition: Ireland Divided, 1885–1925 (London, 1921), pp 202–4.
 A.R.H., ‘Boundary Delimitations in the Treaty of Versailles’, Geographical Journal, liv, no. 2 (Aug., 1919), pp. 103–13.
 Notes by Robert Barton of two sub-conferences held on 5–6 December 1921 at 10 Downing St. (National Archives of Ireland DE 2/304/1, also in Doc. Ir. Foreign Policy, i, online). Childers also then referred to it as a ‘memo’ (Diary of Erskine Childers, 7 Dec. 1921, f. 103).
 Kenny, Midnight in London, p. 113.
 Jones, Whitehall Diary, Vol. 3, p. 164. The editorial footnote actually concerns only the content of one of the editorial passages interposed by the editor in Jones’s diary as published, an interposition that itself entirely relies on Pakenham and is unsupported by any entry in the diary and is–as shall be seen –quite confused in a number if way. The editor also does not distinguish between the full Curtis memorandum and the last retyped page of it, stating that ‘The memorandum is printed in Pakenham’ when in fact Packenham merely quotes Barton’s transcription of the last page of the memorandum.
 Lionel Curtis, UK Secretary to Peace Conference, to Prime Minister Lloyd George, ‘Proposals to Ulster’, memorandum dated 8 November 1921, page 14, at Parliamentary Archives, Houses of Parliament, London, LG/F/181/4/1.
 Michael Laffan, The Partition of Ireland 1911–1925 (Dundalk, 1983), p. 123.
 The words quoted were first articulated by Lloyd George in a letter from Inverness to de Valera, 7 September 1921 (Dáil Éireann Debates, 14 Sept. 1921), but with the word ‘can’ instead of ‘may’ then being used; Lloyd George to De Valera, 29 Sept. 1921 and De Valera to Lloyd George, 30 Sept. 1921 (Doc. Ir. Foreign Policy, i, online) for de Valera’s acceptance of the formula; Irish Independent and Irish Times, 5 Oct. 1921.
 Austen to Ivy Chamberlain, dated 13 Nov. 1921, but postmarked 12.45 a.m. on 14 Nov. (University of Birmingham, Chamberlain Papers, AC 6/1/463).
 Dáil Éireann deb., S, no. 4, 22 Aug. 1921 (https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/1921-08-22/2/).
 Jones, Whitehall Diary, Vol. 3, p. 110 (7 Sept. 1921).
 idem, p. 163 (12 Nov. 1921).
 Parliamentary Archives, Lloyd George Papers P/181/4/1. For Curtis see John McColgan, ‘Implementing the 1921 Treaty: Lionel Curtis and constitutional procedure’, in Irish Historical Studies, 20, no. 79 (March 1977), 312–333.
 Reproduced at Kenny, Midnight in London, p. 113.
 Jones, Whitehall Diary, Vol. 3, pp 127–32.
 Griffith to de Valera, 8, 9 and 12 Nov. (University College Dublin Archives, de Valera Papers P150/1914) and 15 Nov. 1921 (NAI DE 2/304/1). These four letters are reproduced in DIFP.
 Jones, Whitehall Diary, Vol. 3, pp. 154–62.
 Frank Gallagher, The Anglo-Irish Treaty, ed. T.P. O’Nell (London, 1965), p. 118.
 Griffith to de Valera, 3 and 15 Nov. (NAI DE 2/304/1), 8, 9 and 12 Nov. (De Valera papers, UCD Archive P150/1914) and De Valera to Griffith, 9 Nov. (NAI DE 2/304/1), all also in Doc. Ir. Foreign Policy, i; Jones, Whitehall Diary, Vol. 3, pp. 154–64.
 Jones, Whitehall Diary, Vol. 3, p. 157.
 Griffith to de Valera, 12 Nov. 1921 (UCDA P150/1914) and
De Valera to Griffith, 9 Nov. 1921 (NAI DE 2/304/1), also in Doc. Ir. Foreign Policy, i.
 Pakenham, Peace by Ordeal, p. 205.
 Jones, Whitehall Diary, Vol. 3, p. 158.
 Townshend, Partition, p. 202 appears to assume that he did.
 Lloyd George to James Craig, 10 Nov. 1921. Arthur Griffith’s copy of this letter, headed and stamped “secret”–and also carrying the stamp of the Irish Delegation of Plenipotentiaries”–is at NAI DE/2/304/8/2. Also see Correspondence Between His Majesty’s Government and the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Relating to the Proposal for an Irish Settlement (HMSO, 1921) for this and what follows.
 Griffith to de Valera, 11 Nov. 1921 (NAI DE/2/304/8/2). This letter is not published in Doc. Ir. Foreign Policy.
 Craig to Lloyd George. Copy at NAI DE/2/304/8/2.
 Jones, Whitehall Diary, Vol. 3, pp. 162–3.
 The reference in this context is to ‘the area’ within the special jurisdiction of Northern Ireland should it participate in an all-Ireland parliament, as raised by Lloyd George in his letter of 10 November to Craig.
 In fact Lloyd George had not yet made this explicit on writing to Craig, his letter of 10 November to Craig only hinting at the possibility when referring to problems caused by the ‘jagged line’ of the existing border.
 Griffith to de Valera (12 Nov. 1921), Copies at NAI DE/2/304/8/2 and UCD Archives, De Valera papers P150. The Irish ‘inner cabinet’ then consisted of de Valera, Griffith, Collins, Barton, W.T. Cosgrave, Cathal Brugha and Austin Stack. Sassoon’s house, at what was then number 25 Park Lane, has been demolished.
 Frances Stevenson, Lloyd George: A Diary, ed. A.J.P. Taylor (London, 1971), p. 237 (14 Nov. 1921). Stevenson earlier noted on 14 July (p. 227) that ‘I have never seen D. so excited as he was before De Valera arrived, at 4.30’, just days after the truce in Ireland was declared, for talks alone with Lloyd George in London about a possible peace conference. Trent Park in Enfield, north of London, was the location of one of Philip Sassoon’s lavishly decorated properties where he liked to play host to members of the British royal family and others. He was an art collector and a second-cousin of the poet Siegfried Sassoon.
 Austen to Ivy Chamberlain, 13 Nov. 1921 (University of Birmingham, Chamberlain Papers, AC 6/1/463).
 Austen to Ivy Chamberlain, 23 Nov. 1921 (University of Birmingham, Chamberlain Papers, AC 6/1/470).
 Chamberlain, Down the Years, p. 148.
 Lloyd George to Craig, drafts (National Archives, CAB/2/4. ff. 147–9). A very few words were changed when incorporating the text into the Craig drafts.
 Griffith to de Valera, 15 Nov. 1921 (NAI DE 2/304/1); Gallagher, Anglo-Irish Treaty, p. 119.
 NAI DE 2/304/1 and NAI DE/2/304/8/2
 Jones, Whitehall Diary, Vol.3, p. 171
 Griffith to de Valera, 23 Nov. 1921. NAI DE 2/304/1 (as published in DIFP). There is also an extract from this at DE/2/304/8/2. For lawyers involved as delegates or advisors on both sides during the Treaty negotiations see C. Kenny, ‘“It is notorious that a lawyer cannot draft his own will clearly”: framing the boundary commission in the Anglo-Irish Treaty 1921’, Irish Jurist, 68 (2022).
 Griffith to Lloyd George, 2 Nov. 1921 (UCDA P150/1914, also in Doc. Ir. Foreign Policy, i)
 Jones, Whitehall Diary, Vol. 3, pp 151–4.
 Idem, pp. 170-3.
 Notes by Robert Barton. See n.11 above.
 Childers diary, TCD MS, f. 88v, f. 102; Statement by witness Robert C. Barton (Bureau of Military History, WS 979), pp 41–2. Barton’s statement (p. 42) that ‘Childers was active all the time, but he took no part in the final dispute’ is difficult to square with Childers’ diary entry unless the words ‘final dispute’ refer narrowly to the final pause in negotiations when the team returned to Hans Place for three hours on the night of 5–6 December.
 Childers diary, TCD MS, 7 Dec. 1921, f. 103.
 Thomas Mohr, Guardian of the Treaty: The Privy Council Appeal and Irish Sovereignty (Dublin, 2016), pp 51–4.
 Gallagher, Anglo-Irish Treaty, p. 162. On 19 December1921 Barton told the Dáil that during negotiations on the evening of 5 December, ‘Speaking for himself and his colleagues, the English Prime Minister with all the solemnity and the power of conviction that he alone, of all men I met, can impart by word and gesture–the vehicles by which the mind of one man oppresses and impresses the mind of another–declared that the signature and recommendation of every member of our delegation was necessary or war would follow immediately. He gave us until 10 o’clock to make up our minds, and it was then about 8.30.’
 Chamberlain, Down the Years, p. 149.
 C.P. Scott, The Political Diaries 1911–1928, ed. Trevor Wilson (London: Collins, 1970), p. 412.
 Jones, Whitehall Diary, Vol. 3, pp. 151-2; ‘Premier’s triumph. Sweeping Majority for Peace. Conference Policy Vindicated’, Irish Times, 1 Nov. 1921. Hansard online does not have the full day’s debates.
 Scott, The Political Diaries, p. 411 n. 21.
 Colin Murphy, author of The Treaty (2021), email of 19 Oct. 2021.
 Pakenham, Peace by Ordeal, p. 213.
 Idem, pp 214–9.
 Idem, p. 222.
 Dáil Éireann deb., S2, no. 5 (27 April 1922) (https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/1922-04-27/3/)
 Pakenham, Peace by Ordeal, p. xii.
 Hansard 5 (Commons), cxlix, cc 351–60 (16 Dec. 1921).
 I have not found corresponding contemporary notes of the 1921 negotiations among Chamberlain’s papers in the University of Birmingham.
 UK National Archives, CAB 43/2/4/102/
 Memorandum of an interview between Michael Collins and David Lloyd George, 5 Dec. 1921 (copy) (NAI DE 2/304/1. Also in Doc. Ir. Foreign Policy, i).