Many are familiar with Bath’s associations with King Alfred and King Edgar but were you aware the city once hosted another rather famous king? An unusually humble one who has a seat named after him at the local cinema where he liked to watch newsreels, and who used to take a dip at a destination no more unlikely than the Tropicana Lido at neighbouring Weston-Super-Mare, where he stood in line chatting with other swimmers who were quite oblivious to the full extent of his regalness. This king was none other than Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, thought by many to descend directly from the line of David, and who rather surprisingly ended up living in the city as a high-profile refugee between 1936 and 1940.
On 27th October 2020 at 7.30pm (GMT) join Keith Bowers, author of Imperial Exile: 1936-40, in a live virtual talk celebrating and exploring not only Selassie’s unlikely enjoyment of his temporary home, Fairfield House, but the political and emotional turmoil he was bound to experience whilst living in it. Turmoil coming as a consequence of the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia by Mussolini in 1936, after Selassie’s unsuccessful speech to the League of Nations imploring them to intervene. ‘Is there another in history who has deserved more of fortune and has received less? A leading newspaper asked at the time and they may well have been right.
While in Bath, Selassie contended with political and personal realities that were almost unimaginable to those surrounding him; fearing not only for the Ethiopian people at large but losing several close family members as a result of the Italian invasion. Bath was not where the Emperor wanted to be, certainly, but Bathonians liked and respected his dignity in the face of such sorrow and they in turn earned a special place in his remembrance. Following repatriation to his homeland in 1941, the Emperor subsequently named one of his summer residences Fairfield and kept up with Somerset friends long after his departure from British shores. He even generously donated his Fairfield home in Bath to become a home for the elderly, which it remains to this day.
Haile Selassie’s residence in Bath and experience of exile is a story begging to be told. Speaker Keith Bowers now lives in Bath but taught for several years at Addis Ababa University, in the grounds of Haile Selassie’s former palace, and this unique insight into both worlds promises to make this a fascinating talk.
Join BRLSI for this online talk and be sure to bring your own insights and questions with you for our live Q&A afterwards, transmitted from the City that once played host to a rather unlikely but very welcome visitor!