FitzRoy Somerset, 4th Baron Raglan

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FitzRoy Somerset, Lord Raglan
Baron Raglan
Raglanlarge.jpg
Lord Raglan in front of Raglan Castle.
Spouse(s) Julia Hamilton

Issue

FitzRoy Somerset
Janetta Somerset
FitzRoy Somerset, 5th Baron Raglan
Geoffrey Somerset, 6th Baron Raglan
Cecily Somerset
Noble family House of Beaufort
Father George Somerset, 3rd Baron Raglan
Mother Ethel Jemima Ponsonby
Born 10 June 1885
Died 1964

Major FitzRoy Richard Somerset, 4th Baron Raglan (10 June 1885–1964) was a British soldier, beekeeper, farmer and independent scholar. He is best known for his book The Hero, in which he systematises hero myths.

Life[edit]

Raglan, the great-grandson of FitzRoy Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan of Crimean War fame, was educated at Eton and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, before entering the British Army. He joined the Grenadier Guards, serving in Hong Kong, North Africa and Palestine, and eventually rising to the rank of major.

From 1913 to 1918, he served in the Sudan, where he became interested in cultural anthropology, particularly that of the Lotuko people. An accomplished linguist, he became fluent in Arabic and produced the first Lotuko-English dictionary. A serious illness in 1914 prevented his assignment to the dangerous Western Front in the First World War; he remained instead in the Middle East.

Following the death of his father in 1921, he retired from the army and returned to his ancestral home, Cefntilla Court in Monmouthshire. He ran the estate as a working farm, and was a proficient carpenter, bricklayer, and beekeeper. He became active in local affairs and began studying and writing in areas as varied as anthropology, political science, and architecture.

Raglan published his first book, Jocasta's Crime, in 1933, and The Hero in 1936. He worked independently of the academic establishment, carrying out little original research but synthesizing existing scholarship into provocative new lines of reasoning. He corresponded widely with scholars and participated in many professional associations, although he never pursued nor was awarded any academic degree. He served as president of the Folklore Society, Section H of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Royal Anthropological Institute, and many other organizations.

Lady Raglan's lone foray into folklore was a notable success. In an article in the journal Folklore in 1939, she coined the term "Green Man" to describe the foliate heads found in English churches. Her theory on their origin is still debated.

Raglan's own outspokenness and relentless skepticism earned him both admirers and detractors. An aristocrat, he often stated that there was "no such thing as a Norman pedigree" and was fond of pointing out cherished local legends that could not be historically true. He believed Shakespeare was actually a syndicate of a half-dozen writers, with Shakespeare himself writing only the comic parts of the plays. In 1934, he created a stir at a British Association meeting by declaring that black and white Americans would eventually merge into one race. In 1959, he aroused the fury of the Welsh Nationalist Party by declaring Welsh "a moribund language" and accused nationalists of trying to create a "fictitious druidical past". He ignored ensuing calls for his resignation as Lord Lieutenant of Monmouthshire and president of the National Museum of Wales.

Until his death at 79 in 1964, Raglan remained an imposing figure, with a military bearing and gait. He was buried in the family plot in the Church of St John, Llandenny.

Family[edit]

On 9 April 1923 Raglan married Julia Hamilton, daughter of Lt.-Col. Robert Hamilton-Udny, 11th Lord Belhaven and Stenton by his marriage to Kathleen Gonville Bromhead. They had five children, the first of whom died a few days after birth.

The family seat is Cefntilla Court near Usk in Monmouthshire. An inscription over the porch dated 1858 reads: “This house with 238 acres of land was purchased by 1,623 of the friends, admirers and comrades in arms of the late Field Marshal Lord Raglan GCB and presented by them to his son and his heirs for ever in a lasting memorial of affectionate regard and respect”.

The Hero[edit]

Raglan's best-known work, The Hero, A Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama, was published in 1936. The book's central thesis is that hero figures of mythology had their origin in ritual drama, not historical fact. In the book's most influential chapter, he outlined 22 common traits of god-heroes which he called the "mythic hero archetype". The 22 traits are:

  • The hero's mother is a royal virgin;
  • His father is a king, and
  • Often a near relative of his mother, but
  • The circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
  • He is also reputed to be the son of a god.
  • At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grandfather, to kill him, but
  • He is spirited away, and
  • Reared by foster parents in a far country.
  • We are told nothing of his childhood, but
  • On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom.
  • After a victory over the king, and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast,
  • He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor, and
  • Becomes king.
  • For a time he reigns uneventfully, and
  • Prescribes laws, but
  • Later loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and
  • Is driven from the throne and city, after which
  • He meets a mysterious death,
  • Often at the top of a hill.
  • His children, if any, do not succeed him.
  • His body is not buried, but nevertheless
  • He has one or more holy sepulchers.[1]

Raglan then encapsulates the lives of several heroes and awards points (marks) for thematic elements for a possible score of 22. He dissects Oedipus, Theseus, Romulus, Heracles, Perseus, Jason, Bellerophon, Pelops, Asclepios, Dionysos, Apollo, Zeus, Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Watu Gunung, Nyikang, Sigurd or Siegfried, Llew Llawgyffes, Arthur, and Robin Hood. Oedipus earns the highest score with 21 marks.

Thus Raglan calculated the likelihood that these protagonists were actual historical figures. Unlike Joseph Campbell, who published The Hero with a Thousand Faces in 1943, Raglan was not interested in the psychological or personal aspects of hero myths, only their factual basis.

The Hero established Raglan as a leading proponent of the "myth-ritual" theory of the origin of religion, whose antecedents included Sir James Frazer and the Cambridge Ritualists. The myth-ritual theory had a profound influence on literature and subsequently on literary criticism, reaching its height in the 1960s. Because of its succinct presentation of the theory, Raglan's scale is still frequently used as a teaching tool in cultural anthropology and comparative literature.

Significantly, Raglan excludes Jesus from the study, even though he "is reputed to be the son of a god", returned to his future kingdom, and met a mysterious death on the top of a hill, and was not buried. Raglan later claimed to omit Jesus to avoid conflict with his original publisher. The idea of Jesus as a god-hero is sometimes used by both sides in the debate over the Christ myth theory vs. the historicity of Jesus.[2]

Politics[edit]

Though less well known today as a political commentator, Raglan applied the same deductive reasoning to political science as to anthropology, with similarly controversial results. In The Science of Peace (1933), he denounced nationalism as an artificial construct independent of linguistic, racial or economic divisions, and a leading cause of war. At the same time, he opposed disarmament and the League of Nations and believed imperialism was an effective antidote for rampant nationalism. He advocated the "civilization of women," including access to education, and believed that people of African descent were just as capable of developing advanced civilization as Europeans.

In 1934, publishing house Methuen invited a number of prominent intellectuals to write on what they would do if granted dictatorial power in England. In If I Were Dictator, Raglan responded in typically idiosyncratic and sometimes inflammatory style. The book was written as a thought exercise and not, as it has sometimes been represented, a descriptive or prescriptive formula for being a dictator.[3]

Quotations[edit]

  • "Culture is roughly everything we do and monkeys don't."
  • "It is often said that 'there is no smoke without fire.' What those who use this expression mean by it is that their wish to believe any story or part of a story makes it historically true. They never apply it to a story which they know to be historically untrue, however much 'smoke' it may have emitted." (Preface to The Hero)
  • "If, instead of saying that thieves will go to prison or liars will go to hell, we could make people think that stealing is as bad as going to a funeral in a coloured tie, or lying as bad as frying a sausage on the parlour fire, we should achieve a colossal reformation."
  • "I believe that before many centuries have elapsed, there will not be a single person in America without a certain portion of Negro blood."

Offices held[edit]

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sir Henry Mather-Jackson, Bt
Lord Lieutenant of Monmouthshire
1942–1964
Succeeded by
Edward Roderick Hill
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Fitzroy Henry Somerset
Baron Raglan
1921–1964
Succeeded by
FitzRoy Somerset

Bibliography[edit]

  • Jocasta's Crime, 1933
  • The Science of Peace, 1933
  • If I were Dictator, 1934 (contributor)
  • The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama, 1936, (reprint 2003: ISBN 0-486-42708-0)
  • How Came Civilisation?, 1939
  • Death and Rebirth, 1945
  • The Origins of Religion, 1949
  • Monmouthshire Houses, with Sir Cyril Fox, Vols. 1-III, ISBN 0-9520009-9-7
  • Temple & the House, 1964

References[edit]

  1. ^ Taken from The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama by Lord Raglan, Dover Publications edition.
  2. ^ Jesus life and Pagan "god-men"
  3. ^ The Left Coaster: Money For Nothin'
  • "Was It Good for Wales?". (2 June 1959). Western Mail.
  • "Death of Lord Raglan, Farmer-Peer". (14 September 1964). South Wales Argus.
  • "Lord Raglan, A Quotable Tart Talker". (15 September 1964). New York Herald-Tribune.
  • "Lord Raglan, Controversialist and Writer". (15 September 1964). The Times.
  • "Lord Raglan, 79, Dies in Wales; A Soldier, Author and Historian". (15 September 1964). The New York Times.

External links[edit]