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Maxwell Chris

Christian (Chris) Maxwell

Born in 1910, Christian Maxwell was the sister of Gavin Maxwell (whose best known work is 'A Ring of Bright Water').

Their father was Lt. Col. Sir Aymer Maxwell of the Monreith Maxwells, Baronets since 1681. Her mother was Lady Mary Percy of the Percys of Northumbria (Perci), who were the most powerful noble family in Northern England for much of the Middle Ages. The heirs of the Percys were ultimately made Duke of Northumberland in 1766; Chris’ grandfather was the 7th Duke.

She did an economics degree at the London School of Economics from 1933 to 1936, where she seemed about to marry a fellow student from the LSE circle to which she belonged. This was Erwin Rothbarth, and the group included Jean McDonald and Peter Floud, both Communist Party members who married each other in 1938. 

Rothbarth, a social democratic émigré economist and statistician who worked for J M Keynes introduced Chris to his parents in a way that led them to think the couple were going to get married, though in fact Rothbarth later married Myfanwy C Charles, also a Party member, in 1940. He himself was killed in on active service towards the end of 1944 in the Netherlands, having adopted the Anglicised name of Rivers. After he was killed, Myfanwy, who was pregnant at the time, and their young son were taken to Monreith by Christian to stayed there with Lady Mary Maxwell over Christmas. Chris became godmother to the baby girl.

But it was Geordie Dickie (see separate entry and note aka Jack Brent) who is claimed by his family to have had a relationship with Christian, who went by the name Chris in Communist circles. It is believed that she and Geordie were living together in London with Party comrades before Geordie’s involvement in Spain, when Chris was already an active Communist.

Gavin Maxwell described her as “his mad Bolshevik sister” (though he himself is alleged to have suffered bipolar disorder!) and there was some expected family estrangement for some time for Chris. Although, she would later visit her mother in her house in Eaton Square house, which was, naturally, serviced by a butler and servants.

Chris Maxwell was a talented artist and designed a campaign poster used during the Spanish Civil War. In the later 1930s, Chris worked with Noreen Branson at the LRD. Like Branson, she appears to have made numerous clandestine trips abroad, in Maxwell’s case to Prague.

Chris Maxwell, who remained loyal to the Communist Party until her death, lived in Battersea for a time, though towards the end of her life she lived in Baron's Court. in an artist's studio flat. It was Myfanwy who cleared up her belongings after her death, which appears to have been in 1980.

Main source: John Dickie, Tom Rivers, and other material