The life of Henry Richard, Apostle of Peace

A review of: Gwyn Griffiths (2012), Henry Richard,

Apostle of Peace and Welsh Patriot, London: Francis Boutle (£14.99)

Gwyn Griffiths has produced a fascinating biography of Henry Richard (1812-1888).  He came from Tregaron, where his statue still stands.  He was a man of many parts: a Welsh-speaking Welshman, who spent much of his life in London; long-term Secretary of the Peace Society; Member of Parliament for Merthyr and Aberdare; absolute pacifist, because of his Christian beliefs; organiser of international peace conferences and proponent of arbitration in place of war; calculator of the costs of war and the maintenance of standing armies, in terms of human misery and financial costs; supporter of improvements to the provision of education to the people of Wales (including University education); ordained Congregationalist minister, defender of Nonconformity and of the civil rights of Nonconformists; advocate for the Welsh language and the right of Welsh-speakers to use their language in their own country.  He was nicknamed the Apostle of Peace and the Member for Wales.  He had many admirers, among ordinary people, but also many detractors, among people with power and influence.

Through the lens of Gwyn Griffiths’ biography, we see the hierarchical, unequal nature of society in England and Wales in the nineteenth century.  The privileged defended their privileges vigorously.  The Church of England, though a minority denomination in Wales, had a stranglehold over many official appointments in Wales, eg teachers in Church schools; bishops, moreover, were mostly from England, as were judges.  The Welsh language had no official status, though the majority of the people of Wales spoke it; and it was depreciated by many commentators in England.

Henry Richard was a steadfast campaigner for peace and for the use of independent arbitration to resolve disputes between nation-states.  When this method was used, it was very successful.  In this period, however, there were many wars throughout the world, and imperialistic Britain was involved in many of them.  If British citizens abroad felt that they had been slighted by the natives, then “gunboat diplomacy” was employed by the Government: enormous destruction was done to lives and property in the offending country; and the Empire was enlarged.  Wars were, indeed, often started by the Government without reference to Parliament.  In Parliament, in 1879, Henry Richard pointed out that, since 1816, Britain had been engaged in 73 wars – 73 wars in 63 years!  (See page 254.)

Henry Richard worked tirelessly, building alliances with absolute pacifists (including Quakers) and conditional pacifists (whose support sometimes waned when Britain was engaged in yet another war).  He negotiated with all sorts of people, at home and abroad – with people who had power and with people of good will.  At the end of his life, he knew that his work was not finished but that it was a long-term process.  We can see now that there has been progress in some areas but that wars and armies are still with us.  The man himself remains an example and an inspiration to us all.

 

David R Harries, 2012    

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