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The Versailles Letters

 

As Lloyd George’s personal secretary, Frances Stevenson accompanied him to the Versailles Peace Conference where the terms for the formal ending of the Great War would be negotiated and agreed. Frances was in Versailles between April and June 1919 and wrote a number of letters to her family in which she describes the progress of the talks as well as describing life at the conference and making social arrangements. The letters give a fascinating insight into her views of the talks; she felt that the French were vindictive and unreasonable, but that this was due to their experience in the War of 1871.

The letters also show the difference in opinion between Frances and Lloyd George on the terms of the treaty. Lloyd George had attempted to ensure that Germany wasn’t treated too harshly as he feared this would cause further problems. In April Frances wrote of her expectation that ‘it will be a good peace, not one that will cause another war in 10 or 20 years’ time.’ However, as the talks progressed Lloyd George grew unhappy with the way the treaty developed. Frances noted that he had described the treaty as a ‘terrible document’ adding that ‘no such treaty presented to any nation since Carthage’. In the same letter, sent in May 1919 Frances however described the treaty as creating ‘a just peace, stern but not vindictive’.

Despite her initial optimism, as the months drew on Frances too became concerned at the length of time the talks were taking. In a letter sent at the start of June 1919, she described having dinner with a General who was posted in Berlin who explained that the situation in Germany was desperate. She described her concerns that the delay in signing a treaty could put the whole process at risk, noting ‘Everything is at a standstill until the people know that the Peace is signed, and if Germany goes Bolshevik there will be no one to sign the Treaty with’.

Frances’s concern over the long timetable was not unfounded. Although the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28th 1919, if was only the first in a series of treaties to setting the issues raised by the Great War. The final treaty was signed in 1923.