No. 543 NAI DFA 19/1B

Confidential Report from Charles Bewley to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Vatican City, 16 April 1931

In continuation of my minute of April 41 I propose to deal with my relations with the British representatives in Rome, both to the Holy See and to the Quirinal.

It is somewhat difficult to reduce to writing matters which depend very largely on imponderabilia and which must inevitably to a certain extent be coloured by the personal element. I have however formed quite definite conclusions as to the attitude adopted by the British representatives to myself and the South African Minister to the Quirinal. At the same time, I should like to emphasize that such conclusions do not depend merely upon the particular events or incidents referred to, many of which are extremely trivial, but on an atmosphere which cannot possibly be conveyed.

It would, in my opinion, be fair to say that the English representatives here intensely dislike the presence of Ministers for Ireland and South Africa. It would however be a confession of defeat on their part to admit such dislike in public. Accordingly, the official attitude is to welcome the newcomers as colleagues in a somewhat subordinate capacity, and treat them in public in a friendly though slightly patronizing manner, as if they were extra attachés. Every effort is made to identify them as part of the British colony; and definite hostility is reserved only for such manifestations of independence as may be regarded as 'disloyal'.

This may be exemplified by the case of the Minister for South Africa, who has since his arrival been treated by the British with almost open hostility. On his arrival, the British Ambassador, who had been doyen of the Quirinal Diplomatic Corps before the appointment of a Nuncio, wrote to him asking if he would care to visit him before presenting his credentials, in case he could be of help. The Minister replied that he could not visit any member of the diplomatic corps before presenting his credentials. He also sent the Ambassador the usual formal letter in French asking when he could visit him. Both these communications were intensely resented in British circles, as the former secretary to the Embassy informed me. I gather that social relations between the Ambassador and the Minister do not exist; and on my mentioning one day at lunch to the Ambassador's private secretary that I was going to the South Africa Legation that afternoon, he remarked that he had not been invited and would not go even if he had been.

I have myself always endeavoured to keep on as friendly terms as possible, with both the British Embassy to the Quirinal and the British Legation to the Holy See. At the same time it is necessary to demonstrate at times that the Irish Legation is not a mere appendage of the British, and I think it certain in particular that both my introduction of the Australian Prime Minister to the Pope and the reception of the Governor General at the Vatican have given offence.

On my arrival here, I called on the British Ambassador, who left a card in return. Since then, I have been asked to a garden party in the British Embassy on the King's Birthday, but have never otherwise met the Ambassador except at dinners in other persons' houses. I have never been introduced to Lady Sybil Graham. Of the rest of the Embassy, only the Counsellor, one Secretary and the press Attaché have left cards, although I have met nearly all the personnel at lunches or dinners. Of course, they are not under any duty to leave cards on me; but, in fact, secretaries to other Legations or Embassies to the Quirinal, whom I meet, almost invariably do so. On the other hand, when it has so happened that a member of the British Embassy has had occasion to introduce me to anyone, he has done so as 'our Minister for the Irish Free State'.

When I went to the station to meet Mr. Scullin, Mr. Osborne, the British Counsellor, at first did not appear to notice my presence, and then did his utmost to exclude me from the conversation, even by force of elbow, and it required an actual physical effort on my part to welcome the Prime Minister. I have already reported on the press accounts of Mr. Scullin's visit, and need not do so again.

I feel that the matters above detailed are rather trivial, but I do not think it possible to give any kind of accurate picture of the attitude taken up by the British Embassy without going into them. In the circumstances, it will be seen that my relations are not very cordial, and in fact I meet the Quirinal representatives of France, America, Germany, Czechoslovakia and other countries more often than the British, who appear to frequent British rather than cosmopolitan society in Rome. The only member with whom I exchange hospitality is the Press Attaché, and of late I have not seen much of him.

With the British representatives to the Holy See I naturally come in much closer contact. As long as Sir Henry Chilton was Minister and Mr. Randall secretary, I was on the best possible terms with them, and saw a good deal of them. With Mr. Ogilvie Forbes, the present Chargé d'Affaires, the position is a little more difficult, as he obviously regards me as a sort of extra secretary and wishes to treat me accordingly.

Two or three trifling incidents will make my meaning clear. On one occasion, Mr. Forbes offered me a seat in his car from some function: he drove to his own house, got out, and told the chauffeur to drive me on. I do not believe for a minute that he would have behaved with such rudeness to any other Minister, though I think it possible that he did not intend to be insulting. When I dined with Mr. Forbes, I was placed at the left hand side of the hostess, who had the Archbishop of Birmingham on her right: while I have not the slightest objection to yielding precedence to an Archbishop, I do not believe that any other Minister would have been treated in quite the same manner; an English cameriere segreto commented on it to me afterwards.

During the visit of the Governor General, Mr. Forbes, who had been introduced to His Excellency at a dinner given by Sir John O'Connell, wrote him a letter addressing him as 'Dear Mr. McNeill' and inviting him to a private dinner to meet the British Ambassador and his wife. His Excellency was doubtful of the propriety of the form of invitation under the circumstances, and declined on the ground that he was leaving Rome before the day suggested. I only mention the matter to show the general attitude of Mr. Forbes. In any event, I thought it much wiser, and so advised His Excellency, that the invitation should not be accepted, as it would have been reported in the British and Irish press as the culminating moment of Their Excellencies' stay in Rome, and might have provoked unfavourable comment in Ireland. Their Excellencies on consideration expressed their agreement.

In the circumstances, I do not see much of Mr. Ogilvie Forbes, though I have, of course, invited him on various occasions to lunch and dinner in the Legation. Mrs. Ogilvie Forbes is afflicted with poor health, bad manners, and dislike of foreigners, and does not go out except in purely English society and to such functions as she cannot possibly avoid, where she maintains a somewhat forbidding silence. She incidentally dislikes the Irish and, as I am told, says so.

I endeavour, so far as possible, to keep in touch with English Catholic circles, both clerical and lay, through such persons as Count von Cutsem, other English camerieri segreti and some of the English priests. The Rectors of the Beda, English and Scotch colleges are very friendly, but since Mr. Chilton's departure show a certain delicacy in inviting me to their colleges on feast-days - presumably because I would have to be given precedence over Mr. Forbes. I of course quite understand and cannot take any exception to their attitude.

As regards the non-Catholic English colony in Rome, I see very little of it, and have not joined any of the British clubs or associations which exist here. It would obviously be undesirable that I should make myself more accessible than Mr. Chilton did when he was here, and in any case I have little in common with them.

At the same time, I do not want to give the impression that I show myself or am considered in any way anti-English. In fact I nearly always meet the more important English people who come to Rome, Lord Melchett, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, Sir Martin Conway and a number of others in the last months. I can only endeavour, so far as possible, to reconcile friendliness with independence.

[signed] C. Bewley

1 Not printed.

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