Herbert Henry Asquith had been Prime Minister for six years when the crisis of August 1914 turned him overnight into a war leader. At first Asquith's evident calm in the face of the gravest crisis drew admiration and support from much of the country, but with military deadlock and failure on new fronts such as the Dardanelles and Salonika, and the increasing cost in lives, his refusal to turn to drastic remedies began to be seen as a weakness. His private papers reveal the huge strains of responsibility. Asquith was never short of advice from political colleagues and opponents, and large and influential sections of the press conducted a relentless campaign of criticism. Crises, particularly over the shortage of shells and the failure in the Dardanelles expedition forced Asquith into coalition in May 1915. A personal crisis coincided with these political turmoils: Asquith's confidante Venetia Stanley broke off their relationship to marry Edwin Montagu, a member of Asquith's cabinet, in May 1915.
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MS. Eng. c. 7098, fols. 53v-54r Asquithâ€™s response to a letter from H.A. Gwynne, editor of the Morning Post, 22 April 1915
MS. Asquith 27, fol. 115r â€˜No hell could be so badâ€™ Asquith to Venetia Stanley, 14 May 1915
MS. Eng. c. 7098, fol. 169r