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 Thursday, 2 January, 2003, 23:05 GMT
Macmillan's royal confession
Harold Macmillan
Macmillan was on good terms with the Queen

In a series of amusing and colourful letters to the Queen in 1958-59, the then British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan told her that during one summit meeting, he fell asleep in a lecture on anti-communism from the West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

It was at a meeting of the United States, Britain, France and West Germany at the French chateau of Rambouillet and, crucially it seems, it was after lunch.

We managed to keep our relations with America... unimpaired and at the same time made a good step forward to the re-establishment of the old entente with France

Harold Macmillan


He wrote to the Queen: "After lunch, which was extremely good, Dr Adenauer delivered for nearly an hour a lecture on the dangers of communism and the best way to deal with it in the schools, in the factories and in the homes. I regret to inform Your Majesty that I fell asleep during the latter part of this oration."

Macmillan's letters have just been released by the Public Record Office after being under extended closure.

They demonstrate the confidence and wit of a master political operator hidden beneath the image of an old buffer.

He was writing at a time when Britain still had a seat at "big power" conferences and he was clearly confident of his close relations with the Queen.

France 'the key'

At the summit in question, he remarked of the French President, General Charles de Gaulle, that "he has a great and attractive simplicity - he is proud but not vain".

He identified de Gaulle as the centre of power in Europe: "In the present state of Europe, so long as de Gaulle remains in power, the French are the key."

So it proved when Britain wanted to join the European Common Market, forerunner of the European Union. De Gaulle said no.

General de Gaulle
De Gaulle impressed Harold Macmillan

As for the American President, General Dwight Eisenhower, Macmillan was a bit waspish.

"There was something very queer in the contrast between the stately French which de Gaulle speaks and the strange and sometimes unintelligible Americanisms of the president. It was very much the Old World and the New."

One such "Americanism" he mentioned came when he reported that Eisenhower said he would "clean his schedule" to make way for a meeting. Macmillan remarked that the French interpreter found this phrase "somewhat obscure".

But he also praised Ike for being "as friendly and genial as ever" and for having "nobility of character".

Then, as now, Britain was balancing its interests between Europe and the United States. Macmillan was determined not to be "disloyal" to the Americans yet had to keep in with the other Europeans.

He claimed success.

"We managed to keep our relations with America and the president absolutely unimpaired and at the same time clearly made a good step forward to the reestablishment of the old entente with France."

Not much changes, it seems.

Macmillan was not above buttering up the Queen with a personal remark or two at the end of most letters.

In one he wrote to her while she was on tour abroad: "I hope Your Majesty has enjoyed the weekend at Pennask Lake, the more especially so as Your Majesty was able to stay at a house which is not on the telephone."

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