Violet Bonham Carter at Chartwell

Helen Violet Bonham Carter, Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury, ©National Portrait Gallery Helen Violet Bonham Carter, Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury ©National Portrait Gallery
A black and white photograph of Violet Bonham Carter

Helen Violet Bonham Carter, Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury, DBE (15 April 1887 – 19 February 1969), known until her marriage as Violet Asquith, was a British politician and diarist.

Daughter of H. H. Asquith, Prime Minister from 1908–1916, Violet Bonham Carter later became active in Liberal politics herself, being a leading opponent of appeasement, standing for Parliament and being made a life peer. She was also involved in arts and literature.

Her illuminating diaries cover her father's premiership before and during the First World War and continue until the 1960s. She was Sir Winston Churchill's closest female friend, apart from his wife, and her grandchildren include the actress Helena Bonham Carter.

Violet Asquith grew up in a heavily political environment, living in 10 Downing Street at the time her father occupied it and socialising with the key political figures of her day. She was educated at home by governesses and later sent to Paris and Dresden to improve her languages. Her mother, Helen Kelsall Melland, died of typhoid fever when Violet was only four. Her stepmother was Margot Tennant.

Violet married her father's Principal Private Secretary, Sir Maurice "Bongie" Bonham Carter, in 1915 and they had four children together.

Her best friend when she was young was Venetia Stanley. She was particularly close to Winston Churchill, a leading member of her father's (and later Lloyd George's) administration, and whom she (successfully) urged her father to promote to the Cabinet in 1908. She was dismayed at his engagement that year to Clementine Hozier, whom Violet thought 'as stupid as an owl'.

Lady Violet lived in an age when women were uncommon in frontline British politics. She was nonetheless active as President of the Women's Liberal Federation (1923–25, 1939–45) and was the first woman to serve as President of the Liberal Party (1945–47). In the 1953 Coronation Honours she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE).

In the 1945 general election she stood for Wells, coming third, while in 1951 she stood for the winnable seat of Colne Valley. As an old friend, Churchill arranged for the Conservatives to refrain from nominating a candidate for the constituency, giving her a clear run against Labour. She was, however, narrowly defeated.

Afterwards, she continued to be a popular and charismatic speaker for Liberal candidates, including for her son-in-law Jo Grimond, her son Mark, and the then-rising star Jeremy Thorpe. She was also a frequent broadcaster on current affairs programmes on radio and television.

Perhaps her greatest contribution, however, was as a much-esteemed orator and perceptive thinker on politics and policy issues, dedicated to classic Liberal politics in the mould of her father. She spoke on many platforms throughout the 1920s and 1930s, and along with Winston Churchill (and others), she very early on saw the dangers of European fascism.

On 21 December 1964, she was created a life peer as Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury in the County of Wiltshire, one of the first new Liberal peers in several decades. She continued to be extremely active in the House of Lords. Her previous title, Lady Violet, was a courtesy title from her father's elevation to the peerage as Earl of Oxford and Asquith in 1925, and her husband was a knight of the realm. She and her husband were one of the few couples who both held titles in their own right.

She wrote ‘Winston Churchill As I Knew Him’.