Despite never holding an academic post Dame Cicely Veronica Wedgwood was a well known and respected historian and public intellectual. “The King’s War” and “The King’s Peace”, published in the 1950s, were widely read by the general public introducing many to the history of the English Civil War. LSE Archivist, Sue Donnelly, investigates Wedgwood’s time as a PhD student at LSE.
(Cicely) Veronica Wedgwood was born on 20 July 1910 into the sprawling and influential Wedgwood family (one of her cousins was the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams). After attending Norland Place preparatory school in Kensington from the age of twelve she studied at home with governesses. From an early age she travelled widely in Europe accompanying her father, Sir Ralph Wedgwood, Chief Officer of London and North Eastern Railways, on business and enjoying holidays with her maternal grandfather Albert Henry Pawson and became fluent in French and German, and was able to read Dutch, Italian, Spanish and Swedish.
In 1928 Wedgwood entered Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford to study history. Oxford had granted full membership of the university to women in 1920 and in 1931 Wedgwood graduated with a first-class degree in modern history and was commended for her Gladstone Prize Essay on the economic history of Scotland in the twelfth century.
A year after leaving Oxford Wedgwood enrolled at LSE for a PhD in economic history with Professor R H Tawney as her supervisor. On 21 June 1932 she was accepted as a PhD candidate in the University of London and on 1 October the University of London accepted the title of her thesis on the economic effects of the Thirty Years War 1618-1948 focussing on the German states.
Tawney was enthusiastic about Wedgwood’s work noting in his report on her first year of research:
Miss Wedgwood’s work is quite first-rate. If she can keep up her historical work, she should achieve real distinction. She may desire slightly to modify the scope of her thesis, but at my suggestion has postponed a final decision on this point till next term.
Wedgwood’s own report for the year noted that she had been working on secondary sources based in the British Museum Library and the British Library of Political and Economics Science at LSE. She also notes that many of the primary sources she wishes to use are also available in printed editions in Britain.
At the end of June 1933 Wegwood asked to interrupt her studies for the academic year 1933-1934. In a letter to the University of London the School Secretary Jessy Mair said this was due to family illness and because Wedgwood had “been asked to undertake a special piece of research not strictly on the lines of her thesis, which she would have to complete before October 1934”. Tawney indicated that this was a piece of work on the personnel of Parliament in the seventeenth century. She returned to her studies for 1934-1935.
Early in 1935 she began to attend the seminar held by Tawney and A V Judges at the Institute for Historical Research and in May 1935 she gave notice that she wished to change the title of her thesis and extend her PhD registration for a further three years. The new title would be The Central Organisation of the Civil Service under James I and Charles I. She had given up her previous topic as “The material is however so huge & the results hitherto obtained so inconclusive that I am about to apply for permission to alter the subject”. The change of subject was accepted by the University in July 1935.
However, the publication of Wedgwood’s first book, Strafford, 1593–1641, a biography of the English statesman, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, indicates that she had been undertaking another research project alongside her PhD. The historian George Trevelyan (1875-1962) encouraged Wedgwood to pursue this work rather than continue her “dry as dust” economic study with Tawney. Some accounts claim that this was the point when she gave up her PhD, but the file indicates that she signed up for further work in the academic year 1935-1936.
In February 1936 Wedgwood requested a further interruption to her studies on medical grounds:
I found myself bound to drop MS [manuscript] research on account of my eyes – particularly as it would be difficult to name an exact date at which I could resume my work. Never the less I do very much wish to resume the work in course of time, & Professor Tawney is willing that I should.
The Registrar, Eve Evans, told Wedgwood to get back in touch when she was ready to resume her research. Wedgwood never returned to LSE and her PhD remained uncompleted.
The lack of a PhD did not prevent Wedgwood publishing many significant works on seventeenth century history. The Thirty Years War appeared in 1938 and during the Second World War she worked as a literary advisor to the publishers Jonathan Cape and the literary editor of Time and Tide. In 1955 she published The King’s Peace followed in 1958 by The King’s War followed by a further work on the trial and execution of Charles I. She never held an academic post but served on many public bodies including being a member of the Historical Manuscripts Commission, a trustee of the National Gallery, and a member of the Arts Council. She was made a Dame in 1968. She died in 1997 having suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for several years.
At Lady Margaret Hall Wedgwood met Jacqueline Hope-Wallace and they were to sustain a partnership of 70 years sharing a house near Polegate in Sussex enjoying cooking and gardening. Hope-Wallace worked at the Ministry of Labour and was under-secretary at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. For some years they shared a house in St John’s Wood with Hope Wallace’s brother, Philip, a music and theatre journalist. Jacqueline Hope-Wallace lived to be over 100 dying in 2011.