Lloyd George knew my wife - and daughter
"Is it a lady?" one of the children asked.
"Oh yes!" "Is it someone you kiss?" asked his son Dick. "Well, yes," said Lloyd George, chuckling. "Is it Mrs Timothy Davies?" burst out his little daughter Olwen. There was a long, horrified silence. The pen was never mentioned again.
Even by the standards of Edwardian politics, which was ripe with hypocrisy and adultery, David Lloyd George was an inveterate rake. The Goat, as he was known, cheated on his wife Maggie within months of their marriage, getting a Liberal activist known only as "Mrs J" pregnant, and continued in the same vein well into old age. A few years later he seems to have impregnated a Welsh doctor's wife, and throughout his life he was variously blackmailed and harassed by women who either had already had an affair with him, or hoped to start one.
His most famous mistress was his secretary, Frances Stevenson, who gave herself to him despite being 25 years his junior, and had two abortions before having a daughter whose paternity remains mysterious. But his most shocking conquest, much to the horror of his family, was his son Dick's troubled wife Roberta — and this when he was well into his sixties.
Of course there was much more to Lloyd George than a superhuman sex drive, but Ffion Hague's new book leaves the politics very much in the background.
Well-researched and thoughtfully written, it aims to tell the story of the three main women in LG's life: his wife Maggie, his lover Frances, and his spoiled youngest daughter, Megan. But as is so often the way with books on political wives, it is the man who dominates the story.
What made so many women go for Lloyd George, and what allowed him to get away with it, was that he was so devilishly charismatic, and one half-suspects that Hague, too, has fallen for his charm. She is at pains to point out that few Edwardian politicians were models of constancy: at some Cabinet meetings, both the Prime Minister HH Asquith and one of his ministers would be scribbling love notes to the same woman. But Lloyd George was in a monstrously selfish class of his own, telling his wife that her purpose was to shut up and "soothe" him, while asking his mistress to consider killing herself when he died, despite the fact that she was only 28.
While Hague is surely a bit too generous to a man who makes Bill Clinton look like a model of marital fidelity, she tells the story ably and entertainingly, quoting liberally from letters and diaries and including plenty of juicy anecdotes.
She does not, however, break new ground, covering exactly the same territory as John Campbell's book two years ago, down to the same sources and quotations.
Evidently publishers think we are crazed with curiosity about the details of politicians' sex lives, which is probably true enough. But it is still a shame that while there is space on the shelves for two big books on Lloyd George the lover, most people would struggle to tell you what he achieved as Prime Minister.
The People's Champion could never have imagined that he would be remembered not for his social reforms or his conduct of the First World War but for his sexual misdemeanours — something that tells you as much about us as it does about him..