Under a plum tree on the quad at Balliol a solemn Scots undergraduate was entertaining his parents to tea when another undergraduate who had been hiding in the branches 'fell' with a clatter among the tea-cups, explaining that he had dropped because he was ripe. As Belloc said: 'God be with you, Balliol men!' Was Aubrey Herbert, this human plum, ever ripe enough to be king of Albania, a country which twice offered him the throne? After finishing Margaret FitzHerbert's excellent book the reader may be in two minds; at least King Aubrey would have wielded the sceptre with more panache than Lord Rothermere on the throne of Hungary. Herbert was the son of the fourth Earl of Carnarvon. His half-brother, the fifth Earl, was the co-finder of Tutankhamen's tomb. His nephew, the sixth Earl, once kept him under observation of a sort, in Constantinople, for British Intelligence. Of Herbert's generation Margaret FitzHerbert says that their inheritance from the Empire-builders was 'an ease around the world, and an infinite self-confidence. Following their knightly imaginations, wandering across the face of the earth, they had no axe to grind. Theirs was, briefly, an age of chivalry, soon to be laid at rest in the trenches ...'
LRB 20 October 1983 | PDF Download