Thursday 8 December 2011

My Dad’s More Famous than Your Dad!

Today we celebrate two Richards whose fathers are much more famous than they are. I’m sure, though, that being featured on this blog is a fabulous consolation prize.

Our first Richard is Richard Horatio Blair, born in either May or June 1944. At first glance he sounds pretty not famous, but his father is none other than Eric Arthur Blair – better known as George Orwell.

[A quick side note: I owe this entry to the vast knowledge of my very erudite friend studying literature. She got me out of the house and down to Portobello Road in London, whereupon we saw a blue plaque proudly proclaiming, “George Orwell lived here!” (According to Wikipedia, he lived there in 1927, before he decided to be “Down and Out.”) We took some photos and moved on with our lives, although we later had a conversation about Orwell. I hadn’t realized he had died so young, so I asked my friend if he had any children (I mean, somebody must be keeping track of his estate, right?). She coolly answered, like it wasn’t even a thing, “Yes, I think he had a son named Richard.” I looked at her, “you have got to be kidding me” written all over my face. “Seriously?” I asked. “Richard?” Remembering my love of Dicks, she laughed and said she was pretty sure Orwell’s son was named Richard. I told her I was on it. I investigated, and lo and behold, she was right! Diggity dank. Thank you, my erudite Canadian friend. This one’s for you.]

Anyway, back to the Dick at hand. Richard Horatio Blair is the son of George Orwell and his first wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy. Eileen and George met in 1935 and married in 1936, but they were apparently unable to have children. In June 1944, the couple adopted Richard, who was then three weeks old. As mentioned before, they named him Richard Horatio. Baby Richard might have been named after his grandfather, Richard Blair (who – and I did not make this up – worked in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service) or Sir Richard Rees, a buddy of George’s who owned and edited a magazine. My friend thought the baby was named after Richard Rees, and I’m inclined to go with that as well; Richard Blair sounds like a rather dull guy. In addition, he was absent for a large part of George’s childhood, his wife and children being in England while he continued to work in India. But who knows. My friend also thought she had read somewhere that Orwell had an admiral ancestor named Horatio (maybe Horatio Hornblower?). Whatever the reason, the baby was named Richard Horatio.
            Poor little Richard had some bad luck, though. His parents were already ill when he was adopted, and his mother Eileen died in March 1945 when he was not even a year old. Some stories say she died under anesthesia while having a hysterectomy, but the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography claims she died of cancer; the anesthesia story was a tale spread by Orwell himself (for whatever reason). Richard was largely cared for by the housekeeper or his aunt (George’s sister). Orwell wanted very much to remarry (both for his own sake and for Richard’s sake), but his suits were not accepted until 1949. In October 1949, he married Sonia Brownell (whom he had pursued before) at University College Hospital in London. Although both Sonia and George knew he had tuberculosis, neither fully understood (or had been properly told) how grave his condition truly was. George Orwell died on 21 January 1950; he was 46 and his little son was just five.
            After George’s death, Richard was raised by an aunt, while his stepmother Sonia took care of Orwell’s literary estate. Richard became an agricultural agent for the British government, and inherited his father’s estate in 1980 when Sonia died. Presumably, he is still in charge of the estate today. Richard Blair is a private person who keeps a low profile, so there isn’t much more to say.
            Please do check out the links, though: George Orwell and Eileen O’Shaughnessy are fascinating people.

Look up George Orwell in the ODNB if you have access to that resource

Richard Cromwell (1626-1712)

            Richard Cromwell was the son of Oliver Cromwell, the famous Lord Protector of England. To be brief, Cromwell was the leader of an army opposed to Charles I, King of England, and Cromwell won the civil war. Charles I was executed in 1649, England ceased to be a monarchy, and Oliver Cromwell was head of state (hence his title of Lord Protector). Cromwell ran the country until his death in 1658, after which Richard succeeded his father as Protector.
            Up to this point, Richard had mainly lived the life of a county gentleman. Although he served in the occasional Parliament, Richard had mainly focused on his wife, growing family (the couple had nine children although only four lived to adulthood), and managing his estate in Hampshire. He was not entirely prepared to lead the country. The Protectorate was already having difficulties before Richard inherited the position, and the army (a major supporter of his father) didn’t trust Richard (mainly because he was a civilian). Long story short, Richard was eventually put under a sort of house arrest by the army, and he officially resigned the protectorate in May 1659.
            Richard returned home to his wife and children, but his familial bliss was not to last. Despite not having served in the civil war or had any hand in the execution of Charles I, Richard was apprehensive for his own safety when the monarchy was restored in 1660. He went into “semi-voluntary” exile in July 1660, leaving behind his very-pregnant wife (their youngest daughter was born the following month) and children.
            Richard stayed on the continent (mostly in Paris) from 1660 until 1680 or 1681. He lived under various aliases and changed his residence often. Although he wrote letter to his family, he did not return to England during his wife’s final illness. She died in 1676; the two had not seen each other in sixteen years.
            With his wife dead and Richard in exile, his son took over management of the estate. Consequently, when Richard returned to England in either 1680 or 1681 he took to living in boarding houses. He visited his children at the family home, but never lived there with them, presumably to keep the estate free from risk of confiscation by the crown. Interestingly, he was given an allowance from the profits of the estate, effectively reversing roles with his children. He died in 1712 at the ripe old age of 86 and was buried beside his wife in their local church.
            Richard Cromwell seems to have been a good guy, which is probably why he failed to succeed in politics. According to the ODNB, most friends and opponents found he had few personal faults, so pundits (or the seventeenth-century equivalent thereof) “portrayed him as too gentle and a little too naïve for his own good.” One of his nicknames was ‘Queen Dick” (preserved forever by the tract Fourty Four Queries to the Life of Queen Dick), which is itself a fascinating commentary on early-modern ideas about gender. (I’ll spare you all the disquisition, though).

Source: Peter Gaunt, ‘Cromwell, Richard (1626–1712)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008 [ /view/article/6768, accessed 7 Dec 2011]


  1. Hey,

    The curious cat that I am, I came across your blog trying to find out more about Richard Horatio Blair. I am sure the man can't be that private. I think he should be traceable somehow, maybe he uses a pen name like his adoptive father. Also, since you live in London, can't you do a lil' snooping around.

    Just so that you know, there's absolutely nothing in it for me, I am just curious.

    Nice blog btw :)

    1. I've met Richard Horatio Blair. Low profile doesn't come into into it. He's a bit of a loud mouth who doesn't like people disagreeing with his opinions. Rather arrogant and self important IMHO. Just my point of view of course - you will have gathered we didn't get on!

      Dick by name, dick by nature...

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