|Born||10 May 1893|
Harrow, London, UK.
James Lonsdale-Bryans was born in Harrow, north London in 1893. He was the eldest child of Herbert William Bryans and his wife Louisa Bryans née Richardson. He had a younger sister, Katherine, born in 1895, and a younger brother, George, born in 1896.
Attempts at diplomacy
Ulrich von Hassell, a German diplomat who served as ambassador to Italy 1932-38, had emerged as one of the leaders of the conservative opposition to the Nazi regime. During the Phoney War, Hassell sought an "assurance" from Britain that an "honorable peace" would be obtainable for a post-Nazi German government. Lonsdale-Bryans, described to Hassell as "an English associate of Lord Halifax", was prominent in the high society of Rome, and had let it be known he was willing to serve as an amateur diplomat. Lonsdale-Bryans had moved to Rome in October 1939, and in November 1939 first met Count Detalmo Biroli. In his 1951 book The Blind Victory, Lonsdale-Bryans wrote of his "self-appointed mission" as "winning the peace" and "saving millions of lives", but the German historian Gregor Schöllgen described Lonsdale-Bryans's real motives as seeking fame and money via his "often eccentric" attempts to play diplomat. The Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had invested much hope that German conservatives would persuade the Wehrmacht to overthrow Hitler before the fighting started in western Europe.
Biroli was an Italian aristocrat who knew Lonsdale-Bryans through several mutual friends in Rome and had married Hassell's daughter Fey in 1939. On 28 December 1939, Biroli gave Lonsdale-Bryans an unsigned letter speaking of the "peace terms" sought by the conservative opposition in Germany. After meeting Biroli and his wife Fey at least 40 times, in January 1940, Lonsdale-Bryans went to London to meet Lord Halifax. Initially, Lord Halifax refused to see him, but Lonsdale-Bryans's patron, Lord Brocket, was able to arrange a meeting at the Foreign Office on 8 January 1940. It was agreed that Lonsdale-Bryans would meet Hassell and carry back a written message from him to London. Lord Halifax agreed to the mission provided that his name was not mentioned and instructed Sir Percy Loraine, the British ambassador in Rome, to assist Lonsdale-Bryans through in the same cable he wrote Lonsdale-Bryans "is clearly a lightweight and has, not of course, been sent on any mission by me".
Upon returning to Rome, he contacted Biroli to set up a meeting with Hassell, which turned out to be difficult as Hassell was paranoid that the Gestapo and/or the OVRA would be following him if he met Lonsdale-Bryans in Rome. In 1940, Lonsdale-Bryans travelled to Switzerland to meet Ulrich von Hassell, the former German ambassador to Italy. On 22 February 1940, Lonsdale-Bryans met Hassell in Arosa. Despite what Lord Halifax had said that Londsdale-Bryans was not present himself as a representative of the British government, Lonsdale-Bryans introduced himself to Hassell as the "English Envoy Extraordinary (if not plenipotentiary) of the First Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for His Britannic Majesty". Hassell believed that Lonsdale-Bryans had more authority than what he actually did.
Hassell refused to name whom he was speaking for, but promised that any message from Lord Halifax would reach the "right people" in Germany. Hassell told Lonsdale-Bryans that much of the Wehrmacht Generalität was willing to revolt against Hitler provided that Britain would make "assurances" for a "honorable peace". Hassell also stated that Britain should not publicly call for Hitler's overthrow, saying it was imperative that the call for a "change of regime" in Germany must not be seen to come from "non-German sources". Hassell argued that most Germans had bad memories of what happened in 1918 when the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had made it clear that the United States would never sign an armistice with the Emperor Wilhelm II, which led to what Hassell called the terrible situation in Germany "after the Kaiser was sacrificed". The conservative monarchist Hassell stated the restoration of the monarchy in Germany was "very desirable, but only a question at the secondary stage". Much of what Hassell had to say concerned his fear that "a Bolshevistion of Europe is rapidly growing", citing the Soviet aggression against Poland, the Baltic states and Finland to such an extent that Lonsdale-Bryans believed that Hassell feared the Communists more much than the Nazis.
Hassell gave Lonsdale-Bryans a letter in English stating the sorts of "assurances" he sought. The terms that Hassell wanted for "a permanent pacification and re-establishment of Europe on a solid basis and a security against a renewal of war-like tendencies" called for the Reich to keep Austria and the Sudetenland while the German-Polish border should be "more or less identical with the German frontier of 1914". Hassell was willing to accept Polish and Czech independence being restored, though he made it clear that he viewed Eastern Europe as Germany's exclusive sphere of influence and was willing to accept Alsace-Lorraine as part of France. The rest of Hassell's letter contained a number of generalities about how after Hitler was overthrown henceforward Europe should be guided by leaders committed to Christian values who would uphold human rights and social welfare. Lonsdale-Bryans' idea was "that the world ought to be divided into two parts. That Germany should be given a free hand in Europe and that the British Empire should run the rest of the world."
Upon his return to Britain, the Foreign Office first learned that Lonsdale-Bryans expected generous financial compensation for his work. On 17 March 1940, Lonsdale-Bryan's patron, Lord Brocket wrote to Alexander Cadogan, the Permanent Undersecretary at the Foreign Office, explaining that Lonsdale-Bryans was deeply in debt and had a massive bank overdraft, and as such he wanted lavish financial rewards for his work as an amateur diplomat. Cadogan wrote on the margin next to the part in Lord Brocket's letter about Lonsdale-Bryans's need for money "enlightening". The American historian Gerhard Weinberg called Lonsdale-Bryans a "rather dubious character" whose actions were motivated entirely by greed. Besides for Cadogan, Lonsdale-Bryans also met with Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, both of whom were sympathetic towards Hassell, through not to Lonsdale-Bryans. Lord Halifax made it clear he wanted a professional diplomat to deal with Hassell, and told Lonsdale-Bryans that he already sent "assurances" to Hassell via "another channel". Nonetheless, Lonsdale-Bryans returned to Arosa to meet Hassell again on 14 April 1940, offering little more than words of encouragement. The fact that fighting had begun five days earlier with the German invasion of Norway, leading to the British historian Sir John Wheeler-Bennett to note "the discussion of a negotiated peace was purely academic" by this point as despite Hassell's claims that the Wehrmacht generals were deeply opposed to Hitler, they were fighting fiercely against British, French and Polish troops in Norway.
Lonsdale-Bryans then returned to Italy, where he continued his amateur diplomatic work until June 1940 when Italy entered the war. Afterwards he moved to Portugal, where he continued on much as he done in Italy. Lonsdale-Bryans "wrote to the then Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax with his plans.... MI5 was unsure as to how much backing Mr Lonsdale-Bryans had from Lord Halifax." A handwritten note by the MI5 stated: "He went to Italy with the knowledge of the Foreign Office in order to develop his contacts. He greatly exceeded his instructions." In October 1940, Lonsdale-Bryans continued his amateur diplomatic work by trying to set up a meeting with Adolf Hitler in Switzerland to discuss peace terms. Lonsdale-Bryans sent a letter from Portugal to the director of the Schwarzhäupter publishing house in Leipzig whom before the war had agreed to translate his book The Curve of Fate into German, saying he willing to meet Hitler in Switzerland to discuss Anglo-German peace terms, for which he again demanded generous monetary rewards. In January 1941, the Foreign Office sent a message to the British Embassy in Lisbon telling them to find a way to ensure that "this undesirable and untrustworthy individual" return to Britain at once before he did something that would cause Britain much embarrassment. Lonsdale-Bryans finally did return to Britain in 1941, much to the relief of the Foreign Office. British officials had a low opinion of Lonsdale-Bryans. On 11 February 1941, Cadogan called Lonsdale-Bryans in a memo "an idiot and something of a crook".
A 1941 letter from an official in the Foreign Office said: "Although there seems to be a good deal to be said for locking him up to prevent him airing his views to all and sundry, I understand that if this is done it will inevitably involve his bringing up the question of his contacts with the Foreign Office and the facilities afforded him to go to Italy". Another memo described Lonsdale-Bryans as "a talkative and indiscreet fellow who is in possession of a story which he delights in telling and which if told publicly would be likely to cause embarrassment to the Foreign Office". Right up to 1943, Lonsdale-Bryans continued to seek money from the Foreign Office, despite their statements that they wanted nothing to do with him.
When Winston Churchill succeeded Chamberlain as Prime Minister, Lord Halifax remained as Foreign Secretary until, in January 1941, he was sent to Washington as British Ambassador. Lonsdale-Bryans's political influence therefore disappeared. However, Lonsdale-Bryans "tried to discuss his plans with senior American officials, including Dwight D. Eisenhower", and British General Bernard Montgomery. This caused the British government to assure the Americans that Lonsdale-Bryans was "unreliable, though not disloyal." As late as 20 September 1943, Lonsdale-Bryans was able to see Cadogan's private secretary to ask for a meeting with Cadogan, whom stated in reply that the permanent undersecretary did not wish to see him, and warned him that if continued with his unauthorised contacts with "German nationals", he was leaving himself open to prosecution for treason, as his work was not in "the national interest".
Lonsdale-Bryans was homosexual. In the 1930s he maintained a relationship with a baronet, living in London and an Italian country estate.
In 1941, he published The Curve of Fate, and in 1951,The Blind Victory: Secret communications, Halifax-Hassell recounting his wartime career. A number of references to him feature in the memoirs of the travel writer Robin Bryans ( Robert Harbinson).
Suffering from osteoporosis and dementia, he died aged 87.
Lonsdale-Bryans was a contemporary at Eton College of Hon. Evan Frederic Morgan, 2nd Viscount Tredegar (1893–1949).
- National Archives: catalogue reference KV/2/2839 - Image 5
- "Person Page - 52453", The Peerage
- Brit's WWII Nazi Deal Plan Unveiled, Sky News, 31 August 2008, archived from the original on 24 November 2009
- 1901 Census of Great Britain
- Wheeler-Bennett 1967, p. 488.
- Schollgen 1991, p. 79.
- Schollgen 1991, p. 80.
- Wheeler-Bennett 1967, p. 488-489.
- Wheeler-Bennett 1967, p. 489.
- Papers in the National Archives quoted in Associated Press (30 August 2008), "WWII diplomat proposed Britain, Germany split world", CNN, archived from the original on 2 September 2008
- Weinberg 2004, p. 961.
- Weinberg 2004, p. 94.
- Wheeler-Bennett 1967, p. 490.
- Schollgen 1991, p. 85.
- "Amateur diplomat sought Nazi pact", BBC News, 30 August 2008
- Weinberg 2004, p. 996.
- Paul, Jonny (2 September 2008), "UK diplomat sought deal with Nazis. Newly revealed MI5 files tell tale of amateur diplomat who wanted to divide world between UK, Germany.", Jerusalem Post
- National Archives: catalogue reference KV/2/2839 - Image 4
- Bryans, Robin Blackmail And Whitewash: An Autobiographical Sequence,Honeyford P, London 1996, pp58-59
- Vickers, Hugo The Kiss: the story of an obsession, H. Hamilton, London 1997,p225.
- Bryans, Robin Blackmail And Whitewash: An Autobiographical Sequence,Honeyford P, London 1996, pp62-63
- Schollgen, Gregor A Conservative Against Hitler: Ulrich Von Hassell Diplomat in Imperial Germany, the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich, 1881–1944 Berlin: Springer, 1991, ISBN 1349217573.
- Weinberg, Gerhard A World At Arms A Global History of World War II, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
- Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power The German Army In Politics 1918-1945, London: Macmillan, 1967.