When historical events are analysed from a distance and evaluated according to contemporary parameters and not according to the circumstances when they developed, it is easy to attain wrong conclusions, or at least, get a distorted view of the different attitudes of the participants and witnesses of those events.
A clear example is the controversy raised each time J.R.R. Tolkien's attitude during the Spanish Civil War is analyzed, culminating in his discreet moral support to the "Nationalist" side, the insurgents led by General Francisco Franco who toppled the Republican regime after three years of fratricidal struggle between 1936 and 1939.
A simplistic view of the matter could inspire a perverted syllogism: this support, combined with the character and nature of Franco's movement, implies that, in the political arena, Tolkien was a fascist camouflaged inside the walls of the colleges of Oxford. But this is a baseless reasoning and this paper will be focused on the question why Tolkien's position was not inspired by political motives neither from affinities with extreme right-wing ideas.
Additionally, the interest aroused in Tolkien by the Spanish War transcends mere curiosity and become a matter with a special personal significance. Priscilla Tolkien, the author's daughter, born in 1929, commented that the "whole period of the Civil War cast a great shadow over my father's life and is a powerful and lasting memory from my childhood."
Surely an essential aspect in these feelings was his sentimental link with Spain formed by his personal ties with his guardian Father Francis Morgan. Precisely Priscilla Tolkien also "remember him [her father] saying how terrible it would have been for Father Francis if he had been alive after de onset of he Spanish Civil War". He died in 1935, thirteen months before the war outbroke.
It is important to remember that Tolkien was received in Catholic Church when he was a child and his mother, instrumental to this conversion, died shortly after, leaving Father Morgan as his guardian. He thus became his main adult reference until Tolkien began his studies at Oxford and, after his coming of age, Morgan remained as an important figure in his life. He actually was a frequent visitor of the Tolkien family in Leeds (where Tolkien got his first job as professor) as well as in Oxford.
Morgan was born in Spain in 1857 in El Puerto de Santa Maria (Port St. Mary). In this andalusian town was the familiar home and most of their possessions. The Spaniards ancestors of his family came from his mother's side, Maria Manuela Osborne, eldest daughter of the leader of the firm Osborne (before called Duff-Gordon), a very significant company famous for its Sherry Wines and also, in present times, by the "Toro de Osborne", advertising developed in the middle of twentieth century.
He was sent to study in England at the Birmingham Oratory School led by the future Cardinal John Henry Newman. After leaving school, Francis Morgan briefly attended the Catholic University of Louvain, and then he returned to the Oratory where he was ordained in 1883. His pastoral life was spent in the service of the Community and the Parish of the Birmingham Oratory which allowed him to meet around 1902 the Tolkien family who had been received into the Roman Catholic Church several months ago.
Morgan passed his life in the United Kingdom but he travelled to Spain, where his family lived, almost every year until he was unable because of aging. He could not return when Augustus, his last brother alive, died in late 1932.Then, his second nephews from Osborne branch became his closest family in Spain and he kept a fluent correspondence (many of the letters are preserved in Osborne Archive) with one of them, Antonio Osborne. In addition to discussing matters related to the legacy of Augustus, Antonio provided him informations from Spain, currently suffering turbulent times.
Since the proclamation of the Second Republic in April 1931, Spain was unable to maintain any political stability and strikes, riots and episodes of violence against Catholic Church often took place. In October 1, 1931, the newspaper El Socialista summarized the position of the left-wing parties: "Roman Church, creator of our black legend, which has added to our history the stigma of a tradition of bigotry, intransigence and barbarity, must be destroyed."
A reflection of this situation is seen in a letter from January 10, 1933, written under the influence of several incidents happened a couple of days before, when churches and convents all over the country were burned.
Now, more than ever, I would make you a visit, but the things are not easy in poor Spain. The situation is getting worse! Thank God, we can not complain as neither the incendiaries of temples nor the great revolutionary strikes have been noticed in El Puerto de Santa Maria.
Morgan replied to his nephew and wrote him about many topics that worried him. No doubt his last years were marked by sadness in view of the news from Spain.
I think a lot in the poor Spain and every day I incessantly pray for her. I know the poor Queen has come to London for a short time. You are quite right about the elections were very bad conducted, as I read in a book called The Fall of a Throne.
In brief, he mentions the visit to London of exiled Spanish Queen, Victoria Eugenie, and his opinions regarding The Fall of a Throne. His affinity with this book, written by Alvaro Alcala Galiano, brings significant (indirect) information about his personal ideology and his intimate belief about how differently municipal elections (whose result implied the departure of King Alfonso XIII and the proclamation of the Republic) could have been managed.
But apart from these informations, his suffering for Spain, related with the political and social tensions builded up in the country in this time, should be emphasized. In fact, in his visits to Tolkien he surely shared his thoughts on Spain and many of their conversations necessarily turned on this topic, which would partially explain the above noted subsequent grief of Tolkien on the outbreak of the Civil War.
But, focusing again on Tolkien, his concern was also related with the very few supporters to the insurgents in Oxford. Even his close friend C.S. Lewis (despite his indifference to political life) was opposite to the uprising. In fact, Tolkien reproached years later his staunch opposition to Franco.
C.S.L.'s reactions were odd. Nothing is a greater tribute to Red propaganda than the fact that he (who knows they are in all other subjects liars and traducers) believes all that is said against Franco, and nothing that is said for him. Even Churchill's open speech in Parliament left him unshaken.
On the whole, after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War a widespread support to the Republican side aroused in Great Britain. It was a widely shared (and maybe rather simplistic) thought that the Republic represented the legal Government in a struggle against the obscurantism from the traditional Spain represented by landowners, the army, and the Catholic Church. However the Republican regime was overshadowed by the chaotic social situation in Spain, with a drift in its policies toward the extreme left and with an inappropriate response to violent situations against these traditional groups especially the Catholic Church.
Tolkien's support to the Franco movement rest precisely on his perception of him as the champion of the Catholic Church against communist menace. Hence, the positioning of Tolkien was a consequence of the close commitment to his Catholic status. Indeed, Catholics thought the insurgents vindicated the traditional values and defended the Catholic Church against the dangers of communism and secularism. In fact only they in Great Britain, on the other hand a marginal and socially rejected group, supported en masse Franco's movement.
Catholic religious leaders approached the issue in a similar way. In Oxford, for example, the distinguished Jesuit Martin D'Arcy or Ronald Knox, Chaplain to the Oxford University, publicly supported the Nacionalist. However, the clearest evidence of the official position of the British Catholic Church come from the statements of the highest Catholic authority in Great Britain at that time, the Archbishop of Westminster Arthur Hinsley, who in 1939 with the Spanish War in its last moments, wrote in a letter to Franco: "I look upon you as the great defender of the true Spain, the country of Catholic principles where Catholic social justice and charity will be applied for the common good under a firm peace-loving government."
The tone of this letter can give a wrong vision of his author. However, Arthur Hinsley, was called 'hammer of dictators' in World War II because his criticisms to Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany and he was admired by Winston Churchill who emphasized his ability to contact with British society during the most complex moments of the World War II.
These opinions reflected not only a philosophical issue about what principles should prevail in Spain but also the painful reality of a bloody religious persecution. Neutral British historians as Hugh Thomas or Stanley Payne pointed out this period as the historical era of greater hatred against the religion and described the persecution of the Catholic Church as the greatest ever happened in Europe.
British Catholics, harassed for centuries, considered almost as outrageous as the attack to the Spaniards religious, the attitude of his own compatriots. Tolkien was explicit on this regard:
But hatred of our church is after all the real only final foundation of the C of E – so deep laid that it remains even when all the superstructure seems removed (C.S.L. for instance reveres the Blessed Sacrament, and admires nuns!). Yet if a Lutheran is put in jail he is up in arms; but if Catholic priests are slaughtered – he disbelieves it (and I daresay really thinks they asked for it).
The support of British Catholics for the 'rebels' in Spain was not easy to understand. Certainly in those days it was difficult separate political convergences with Franco linked with fascism from the religious affinities and the shared fear of communism. The statement of the Catholic writer Ewelyn Waugh: "If I were a Spaniard I should be fighting for General Franco [...] I am not a fascist nor shall I become one unless it were the only alternative to Marxism" exemplifies how different are both approaches.
But certainly the support to the Franco movement often involves a rejection from the intellectual community as happened to the most active supporter of Franco in the environment of Tolkien family, the prestigious professor of Roman Law Francis de Zulueta, godfather of his daughter Priscilla. In all likelihood, he played a role comparable to that of Fr. Morgan (albeit without the same weight) as he also had direct contact with Spain because most of his family lived there.
Born in 1878, although naturalized British subject and living in Oxford for most of his life, he had Spanish-Irish ancestors. His father, Pedro de Zulueta, was son of the second Earl of Torre-Diaz, also called Pedro, a Basque businessman settled in London. His mother was Laura Sheil, daughter of the late governor of Persia, Sir Justin Sheil, and sister of Father Denis Sheil a priest of the Birmingham Oratory who Tolkien knew.
The only sister of Pedro de Zulueta married Rafael Merry del Val, nobleman diplomatic supporter of Alfonso XIII. They had four children (cousins, therefore, of Francis de Zulueta). The eldest son, Alfonso, was ambassador of Spain in London between 1913 and 1931 (until the Second Republic was established in Spain). His brother Rafael chose the ecclesiastical career and became the Cardinal Merry del Val, influential Secretary of Vatican State during the papacy of Pius X. The Cardinal died in 1930, but his brother Alfonso and especially his eldest son, Pablo, were very involved in the Franco uprising.
Francis de Zulueta, Regius Professor of Law at All Souls College between 1919 and 1948, was an academic symbol in Oxford. However, despite his undoubted prestige, lots of colleagues disapproved his support to the Nationalits during the Civil War (and, after the war, his support for the Franco regime). In fact, a black legend was developed around him, describing de Zulueta as a fascist aristocrat who considered his Oxford colleagues as plebeians. However, some facts contrast with this description, for example his help to several German Jewish professors persecuted by the Nazi regime, as Fritz Schulz and especially David Daube, who developed a deep friendship with Zulueta.
But the rejection and disdain affecting Zulueta are undoubtedly smaller than those who suffered other intellectuals like the poet Roy Campbell. Curiously the genuine ideas from Tolkien about the Spanish conflict are shown, like in any other place, in the account of his meeting with Campbell in 1944, recreated in a letter to his son Christopher. It is very enlightening to see how passionately Tolkien recreated his adventures in Spain and how he compared him with Trotter and talked about his main works.
Specifically Tolkien cites The Flaming Terrapin, published in 1924, which got Campbell immediate recognition in the British poetry scene and Flowering Rifle, published in 1939, with a very different reception among critics. Without any beating about the bush, the praises to the movement of Franco were detrimental for this book and even Campbell's own image was seriously damaged.
Campbell was born in 1901 in South Africa where he lived before going on to Europe with the aim to study at Oxford University in 1919. There he met people like T.S. Eliot, Aldus Huxley, Robert Graves and, after the success of The Flaming Terrapin, the Bloomsbury group led by Virginia Wolf. However, after a painful dispute with them he left England, going first to France and later to Spain, where he arrived several months before the onset of the Civil War.
In the mentioned letter, Tolkien confuses some information about him, saying for example that he became Catholic en Barcelona. Indeed Campbell lived in Barcelona, he after settled in Altea, a small town in the coast of Alicante. There, he was received into the Catholic Church. Several months later they had to move to Toledo (in mid-1935) and Campbell established a cordial relationship with the Discalced Carmelites of that town.
When the Civil War began, the monks secretly confided to Campbell several manuscripts from St John of the Cross kept in the library of the convent, probably thinking his status as foreigner gave him some immunity. It was a justified fear because only a month later all community members were killed and the library was burned.
The impact of these assassinations, added to his own ideas, led Campbell absolutely to support the cause of the insurgents and he tried to enlist in the army of Franco. However, he never fought nor belonged to any armed unit, although he toured Spain during the war. Pablo Merry del Val persuaded him to remain civilian because he was more valuable as a propagandist figure than as a combatant, the Nacionalist cause needed "pens, not swords."
His attitude of explicit support for Franco movement aroused suspicion, and the label of fascist was often applied to him. In fact, Tolkien seems compelled to explain the loyalty of the poet based on his later actions arguing: "he is a patriotic man, and has fought for the B. Army since."
Both, Tolkien and Campbell, had a declared animosity toward supporters of leftist ideas and Tolkien's sketch of Campbell concludes drawing a comparison with the red intellectuals which clearly reveals his dislike toward communism: "How unlike the Left – the 'corduroy panzers' who fled to America (Auden among them who with his friends got R.C.'s works 'banned' by the Birmingham T. Council!)."
In order to be detailed, this last statement could be useful to introduce the need to analyse what is known on the Tolkien's politic ideary. Certainly this is instrumental to clarify any kind of controversy about his thinking and basic to discard any suspicion of affinity with fascism or totalitarism.
Indeed his politic opinions were not very orthodox and perhaps too metaphysical. Tolkien sought to explain them to his son Christopher in a letter written during the World War II: "My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) – or to 'unconstitutional' Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State."
His aversion to the state control (and also the fact that communism was violently opposed to all religions, but particularly to the Catholic Church) led Tolkien to consider the communism as an terrible and harmful approach and even during World War II he described the Soviet leader Josef Stalin, at the time allied with Britain, as "a bloodthirsty old murderer." Moreover he declared "I am not a 'socialist' in any sense – being averse to 'planning' (as must be plain) most of all because the 'planners', when they acquire power, become so bad."
It is enlightenly to remark that the above quote is applicable to communism as well as to fascism, because both ideologies shared its zeal for control (fascism, for instance, rejects ideas so care to Tolkien such as freedom and individual rights) and evidently its thirst for state intervention and planning.
But, if not in the field of political theory, some could reductively argue that his imaginary world is connected with the "Nordic" basis of Nazi model because Tolkien recreates typical elements taken from North European tradicional culture. Tolkien explicitly denied it and he scorn the Nazi Nordic nonsense and its attitude "ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light".
However, critics of the second half of the twentieth century censured Tolkien, either directly or slantly, as did the socialist critic Fred Inglis, who wrote: "Tolkien is no Fascist, but that his great myth may be said, as Wagner's was, to prefigure the genuine ideals and nobilities of which Fascism is the dark negation."
Regarding these argumentations, we can only appeal to the many examples present in the cosmogony of Tolkien contradicting similar criticisms, because the archetypes in Tolkien's works differ from these parameters. At the same time, analyzing them focusedly we can arrive at the opposite conclusion:
Tolkien always denied that Mordor was intended as a representation of Nazi Germany, or Soviet Russia, but was quite aware of its "applicability" to the death camps and the gulags, to Fascism and Communism—as well as to other, more subtle or fragmentary manifestations of the same spirit.
Perhaps in the balance could lay the most appropiate view to define the genuine 'political Tolkien':
So Tolkien himself can be classed as an anarchist, libertarian, and/or conservative [...] In a consistently pre-modern way, Tolkien was neither liberal nor socialist, nor even necessarily democrat; but neither is there even a whiff of 'blood and soil' fascism.
Thus, whatever anarchist, libertarian or conservative (but not fascist) Tolkien was undoubtedly a man committed to his ideas, particularly with the religious beliefs he had acquired in his childhood, and obviously this background contributed to establish Tolkien's own ideology.
Even more, although Tolkien had strong individualistic ideas and opinions which were antithetical with Totalitarism, preciselly the religious persecution in Spain was crucial to his support to Franco movement. Maybe, at first sight, his attitude after the outbreak of Spanish War may produce disagreement but, in his historical and social context, it denotes coherence.
On the other hand, discussing a situation as complex as that in Spain during the thirties implies pay no regard to current ideas of political correctness and we have to take into account that it was not simply an issue of 'goods and evils'. In a private level Spanish Civil War greatly affected Tolkien and decidedly he behaved agreed with his own convictions. This should suffice.
1. From the author's correspondence with Priscilla Tolkien.
2. Antonio Osborne's letter to Francis Morgan (original in Spanish). January 10th, 1933. Osborne Archive.
3. Francis Morgan's letter to Antonio Osborne (original in Spanish). May 10th, 1933. Osborne Archive.
4. Related with the Spanish War, a student requested him for a donation to support the Republican cause and Lewis told him that he never donated money "to anything that had a directly political implication". West, John G. 1994. "Politics from the Shadowlands: C.S. Lewis on Earthly Government". In Policy Review 68: pp 68-70. p 68
5. In May 24, 1944 Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave a speech in the House of Commons supporting to the Franco regime, showing his gratitude for its neutrality in the World War II which he considered a great service to the Allies.
6, 10, 12, 14, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23. Tolkien, J.R.R. 1981. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. London: Allen & Unwin. p 96, p 96, p 95, p 96, p 96, p 96, p 63, p 65, p 235, p 56
7. Curiously the British fascist groups never were strong sympathizers of Franco's cause. Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, stated arrogantly: "No British blood should be shed on behalf Spain". Buchanan, Tom. 1997. Britain and the Spanish Civil War. Cambridge University Press. p 90
8. Tolkien had an additional link with Archbishop Hinsley. Hinsley appointed to David Mathew as Auxiliary Bishop, who was the brother of Tolkien's good friend Fr. Gervase Mathew, a Dominican scholar who lived in Oxford working in Blackfriars College. Both, Gervase and David had spent his childhood in Lyme Regis. In this town, Tolkien knew them while a visit with Fr. Morgan, who was a friend of the family, when all they were children.
9. Aspden, Kester. 2002. Fortress Church: The English Roman Catholic Bishops and Politics, 1903-63. Gracewing. p 89
11, 16. Pearce, Joseph. 2004.Unafraid of Virginia Woolf: The Friends and Enemies of Roy Campbell. ISI Books. p 257, p 271
13 Precisely C.S. Lewis made a merciless critic to Campbell (although Tolkien point to extraliterary arguments in order to justify the severity of his criticism afirmando que "there is a good deal of Ulster still left in C.S.L. if hidden from himself."). Tolkien, J.R.R. 1981. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. London: Allen & Unwin. p 95
15. Pablo Merry del Val, quoted above, was the son of Alfonso Merry del Val, cousin of Francis de Zulueta. In the Spanish War he served as head of press of the insurgents' government.
18. Tolkien refers to a group of poets flourished in the context of Oxford University in the early thirties, known as the Auden Generation. This group of young poets led by W.H. Auden and made up by Cecil Day Lewis, Stephen Spender and Louis MacNiece belonged to the first generation of British attracted to Marxism. Interestingly despite their different attitude towards Spanish war and considering the fact that Tolkien criticized the Auden's departure to America during World War II, they developed a cordial friendship several years later. On the other hand, their relationship breaks up with the myth of the Tolkien's intolerance because Auden was a leftist sympathizer and a declared homosexual.
24. Inglis, Fred. 1983. 'Gentility and powerlessness: Tolkien and the new class'. In This Far Land: J.R.R Tolkien. Robert Giddings ed, New York: Barnes and Noble, pp 24-45. p 40
25. Although several critics insist on a supposed apology of racial superiority in Tolkien (for example, because of his portraits of the Elves or the Mens of Númenor) there is an unquestionable sample closely linked to the background of this work: the Civil War in Gondor, in which a desire of racial purity leads to despotism and destruction.
26. Caldecott, Stratford. 2003. Secret Fire: The Spiritual Vision of JRR Tolkien. London: Darton, Longman & Todd. p 2
27. Curry, Patrick. 2004. Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien: Myth and Modernity. New York: Houghton Mifflin. p 38