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Robert Erskine Childers

Robert Erskine Childers Robert Erskine Childers[1†]

Robert Erskine Childers DSC (25 June 1870 – 24 November 1922), usually known as Erskine Childers, was an English-born Irish nationalist who established himself as a writer with accounts of the Second Boer War, the novel The Riddle of the Sands about German preparations for a sea-borne invasion of England, and proposals for achieving Irish independence[1†][2†][3†].

Childers was born in Mayfair, London, England, and died in Beggars Bush Barracks, Dublin, Ireland[1†]. He was a soldier, journalist, politician, and novelist[1†]. He is known for being the author of The Riddle of the Sands and an Irish nationalist executed by the Provisional Government of Ireland for the illegal possession of a pistol[1†].

Early Years and Education

Robert Erskine Childers was born on June 25, 1870, in Mayfair, London, England[1†]. He was the son of Robert Caesar Childers, a distinguished oriental scholar[1†][4†]. Tragically, his father died when he was just six years old[1†][5†].

After his father’s death, Childers and his four siblings were sent to Ireland, to Glendalough House, County Wicklow, to live with their mother’s family, the Bartons[1†][6†]. The Bartons were wealthy Anglo-Irish Protestant landowners with Irish Nationalist leanings[1†][6†]. This early exposure to Irish culture and nationalism would later play a significant role in shaping Childers’ political beliefs and actions.

Childers received his early education at Haileybury, an independent school in Hertfordshire, England[1†][5†][4†]. After completing his schooling, he went on to attend Trinity College, Cambridge[1†][5†][4†], where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1893[1†][4†].

These formative years, marked by personal loss, relocation, and rigorous education, laid the foundation for Childers’ diverse career as a soldier, journalist, politician, and novelist[1†]. His experiences during this time also sparked his interest in adventure and exploration, themes that would later feature prominently in his writing[1†][5†].

Career Development and Achievements

Childers’ career was as diverse as it was impactful, spanning various roles including soldier, journalist, politician, and novelist[1†].

Childers began his professional journey as a clerk in the House of Commons, a position he held from 1895 to 1910[1†][2†]. However, his passion for adventure led him to volunteer for service in the Second Boer War in South Africa[1†][7†]. His experiences in the war began a gradual process of disillusionment with British imperialism[1†]. He documented his experiences in a popular account, marking the beginning of his writing career[1†][7†].

Despite his growing disillusionment with British rule, Childers served the British in World War I as an intelligence and aerial reconnaissance officer[1†][2†][8†]. His most significant work as an author, the novel The Riddle of the Sands, was published eleven years before the start of the First World War[1†]. Its depiction of a secret German invasion fleet directed against England influenced Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, into strengthening the Home Fleet of the Royal Navy[1†]. On the outbreak of the First World War, Churchill was instrumental in calling Childers for service in the Royal Navy, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross[1†].

In the realm of politics, Childers was adopted as a candidate in British parliamentary elections, standing for the Liberal Party at a time when the party supported a treaty to establish Irish home rule[1†]. However, his political views evolved over time, and he later became an advocate of Irish republicanism and the severance of all ties with Britain[1†]. In July 1914, at Howth, north of Dublin, he landed a cargo of rifles from his own yacht that he had purchased in Germany for the revolutionary Irish Volunteers[1†][2†].

Childers played a significant role in the negotiations between Ireland and Britain that culminated in the Anglo-Irish Treaty[1†]. Despite his involvement in the treaty negotiations, he was elected as an anti-Treaty member of the first Irish parliament[1†]. He sought an active role in the Irish Civil War (over the acceptance of the terms of the treaty) that followed and was executed by the Irish Free State[1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Robert Erskine Childers was not only a significant figure in Irish history but also an accomplished author. His works, which often reflected his experiences and beliefs, have had a lasting impact.

These works not only provide insight into Childers’ experiences and beliefs but also had a significant impact on their respective fields[1†][9†][10†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Robert Erskine Childers’ works, particularly his novel “The Riddle of the Sands”, have had a significant impact on literature and society[11†][12†].

“The Riddle of the Sands” is often considered the first modern spy novel[11†][12†]. Its blend of fiction with verifiable details made it a precursor to the work of espionage writers later in the twentieth century, including Graham Greene, Ian Fleming, and Len Deighton[11†]. The novel’s premise, that a German invasion of the British Isles was imminent, made it highly topical, placing it at the center of a national debate about Britain’s international position and its imperial decline[11†].

Childers’ choice of the adventure-story genre was a deliberate one. He believed it to be a more effective means to influence public opinion than the more uninspired prose of conventional political policy treatises[11†][12†]. This approach has remained an underlying purpose of many subsequent espionage adventure novelists[11†][12†].

However, one criticism of Childers’ work is that it is compartmental. He wrote about his interests at sea and at war[11†][13†]. Despite this, his works have left a lasting legacy and have paved the way for many future authors in the genre[11†][12†].

Personal Life

Robert Erskine Childers was born in London, England, on June 25, 1870[1†]. His parents, who were both scholars, died from tuberculosis when he was a child[1†][7†][5†]. He was brought up at his mother’s family home in Ireland[1†][7†].

Childers was married to Mary Alden Osgood, and they had three children, including Erskine Hamilton Childers, who would later become the fourth president of Ireland[1†]. He was also the cousin of British politician Hugh Childers and of Irish nationalist Robert Barton[1†]. His grandchildren include the writer and diplomat Erskine Barton Childers and the former MEP Nessa Childers[1†].

Childers had a passion for sailing, which he pursued in his spare time[1†][7†]. This passion would later inspire his novel, The Riddle of the Sands[1†].

Childers was executed by firing squad during the Irish Civil War in 1922[1†][13†]. His legacy continues through his family and his significant contributions to Irish nationalism[1†][2†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Robert Erskine Childers, an English-born Irish nationalist, left a significant legacy in both literature and politics[2†][1†]. His novel, The Riddle of the Sands, published eleven years before the start of the First World War, was influential in its depiction of a secret German invasion fleet directed against England[2†][1†]. This work influenced Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, into strengthening the Home Fleet of the Royal Navy[2†][1†].

Childers’ political legacy is equally significant. Despite his initial belief in the British Empire, his experiences in the Second Boer War led to a gradual disillusionment with British imperialism[2†][1†]. He became an advocate of Irish republicanism and the severance of all ties with Britain[2†][1†]. His efforts in smuggling guns into Ireland for the Irish Volunteers were instrumental in the Easter Rebellion[2†][1†].

Childers played a significant role in the negotiations between Ireland and Britain that culminated in the Anglo-Irish Treaty[2†][1†]. However, he opposed the concessions made by Irish leaders Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins in signing the treaty[2†]. His opposition led him to support the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the ensuing civil war[2†]. He was captured by Free State forces, court-martialed, and executed by firing squad[2†][1†][7†].

Childers’ legacy continues through his family and his significant contributions to Irish nationalism[2†][1†]. His son, Erskine Hamilton Childers, became the fourth president of Ireland[2†][1†]. His grandchildren include the writer and diplomat Erskine Barton Childers and the former MEP Nessa Childers[2†][1†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Erskine Childers (author) [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Robert Erskine Childers: Irish writer and nationalist [website] - link
  3. Wikiwand - Erskine Childers (author) - Wikiwand [website] - link
  4. Trinity College, Cambridge - Catalogue Of Modern Manuscripts - Papers of Erskine Childers [website] - link
  5. Encyclopedia.com - Childers, Robert Erskine [website] - link
  6. Raidió Teilifís Éireann - Sunday Miscellany remembers Robert Erskine Childers, 100 years on [website] - link
  7. Macmillan Publishers US - Erskine Childers [website] - link
  8. IMDb - Erskine Childers - Biography [website] - link
  9. Wikisource (English) - Robert Erskine Childers [website] - link
  10. Prabook - Erskine Childers (June 25, 1870 — November 24, 1922), British writer [website] - link
  11. Springer Link - 100 British Crime Writers - Chapter: Erskine Childers (1870–1922), 1903: [website] - link
  12. eNotes - Erskine Childers Analysis [website] - link
  13. AskAboutIreland - Erskine Childers [website] - link
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