Anthony Rhodes: the Catholic Historian

A sample of the pictures in our collection taken by Anthony Rhodes during his time in India.

A sample of the pictures in our collection taken by Anthony Rhodes during his time in India.

This is the first post in a series detailing the many British Catholic Author Collections of the Burns Library.

Anthony Rhodes was born in Plymouth, England on September 24, 1916 to Colonel George E. Rhodes and his wife Dorothy Rhodes. Soon after, his family moved across the globe to India. He spent his early years in Lucknow and Delhi, where his father, a colonel in the Indian Army, was stationed.  Rhodes attended Rugby School in Warwickshire from 1930-1935 and then the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich from 1935-1937 before moving on to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1939 where he obtained a degree in Mechanical Sciences. Upon completion of his degree, he entered the Royal Engineers to please his father.

Pages from Anthony Rhodes' war diary recounting the Evacuation at Dunkirk.

Pages from Anthony Rhodes’ war diary recounting the Evacuation at Dunkirk. Anthony Rhodes Collection, MS2006-51, Box 7, Folder 2, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

During World War II, Rhodes was sent to France as a sapper with the 3rd Division of the British Expeditionary Force under the command of General Bernard Montgomery. During his time in France he kept detailed journals of his experiences, some of which are now in our collection.  In these journals he recorded his day-to-day life during the war, including the Evacuation at Dunkirk. Many of his journal entries eventually went into his first book, Sword of Bone (1942). Described as an honest account of the evacuation, the book walks the line between a dry report and epic adventure. As his obituary in The Independent describes it, “the account conveys not so much the drama of the affair as its manifestations of human folly.” This gentlemanly balance of truth and fiction, fact and melodrama, would come to characterize many of Rhodes later works.

Some pages from one of the many notebooks that we have in our collection.

Some pages of language exercises in one of the many of Rhodes’ notebooks that we have in our collection. Anthony Rhodes Collection, MS2006-51, Box 6, Folder 1, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

After his time in France, Rhodes received a promotion to Captain and went to Canada as a camouflage officer.  There he met his first wife, Lisel Ashkenazi, whom he married in 1944; their marriage dissolved eight years later, in 1952.  Following the end of World War II in 1945, Rhodes left the army to pursue his literary interest. He became a lecturer on English Literature at Geneva University, where he also earned his licence en lettres for Romance Languages. Beyond providing Rhodes time to work on his first novel The Uniform (1949), the time he spent in Geneva also gave him the opportunity to travel the continent; among his destinations were France, Italy, and Yugoslavia.

In 1951 he returned to England and taught French, Italian, and German at Eton for two years.  While in England he met Rosaleen “Rosie” Forbes.  They married in 1954 and became well-known for their literary parties, frequented by guests such as Rose Macaulay and Arthur Koestler. Their travels to Iran and Italy provided fodder for his novel The Prophet’s Carpet  (1961) and his biography of the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, The Poet As Superman (1959).

In 1956, when the Hungarian revolution broke out, Rhodes left Italy for Budapest in a hurry. He reportedly only packed an umbrella. There Hungarian patriots welcomed him and he reported on the Hungarian uprising. Writing articles for the Daily Telegraph, he also provided information to British intelligence. While there he acquired an ear from one of the destroyed Stalin statues as a souvenir before his ultimate imprisonment and deportation to Vienna.

Ever the one for adventure, Rhodes later translated the memoirs of King Hassan II of Morocco from French to English, and became close friends with the King. He served as the King’s “cultural adviser on English matters” for seventeen years. He traveled with the king on numerous state visits, including one to the United States, and even attended a game hunting expedition in Kenya.

In his later years Rhodes penned what has become his best known work, the three-volume history of the Vatican, The Power of Rome in the Twentieth Century.  He spent five years researching in the Vatican and Bonn, and published the first volume, The Vatican in the Age of Dictators 1922-1945, in 1974. He followed that book with The Vatican in the Age of Liberal Democracies, 1870-1922 in 1983 and The Vatican in the Age of the Cold War, 1945-1980 in 1992. As thanks for the endeavor he was given papal knighthood.

Anthony Rhodes meeting Pope Saint John Paul II.

Anthony Rhodes meeting Pope Saint John Paul II. Anthony Rhodes Collection, MS2006-51, Box 6, Folder 47, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Rhodes converted to Roman Catholicism in 1992, after the receipt of his papal knighthood. He spent the last years of his life in a residential nursing home, cared for by the Daughters of the Cross.

Rhodes died on August 23, 2004 in London, England, at the age of 87.

The Anthony Rhodes Collection documents the personal and professional activities of British Catholic author, Anthony Rhodes.  The materials date from 1911 through 2004 with the bulk of the material dating from 1939 through 1967.  The collection contains correspondence, diaries, manuscripts, newspaper clippings, photographs, research notes, and translations. The collection also includes materials related to Rhodes’ interest in dictatorship and worldly power. The collection’s digital finding aid is available online at:

  • David E. Horn, Special Projects Librarian, Burns Library, Boston College
  • Edited and revised by Chad M. Landrum, M.A. student in the History Department & Burns Library Summer Reading Room Assistant


“Anthony (Richard Ewart) Rhodes.” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2005. Web. July 6, 2015.

“Anthony (Richard Ewart) Rhodes.” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2005. Biography in Context. Web. July 6, 2015.

“Anthony Rhodes.” News.Telegraph: London.  September 2004. Web. July 6, 2015.

“Anthony Rhodes.” The Independent: London. August 2004. Web. July 6, 2015.

“Anthony Rhodes.” The Times: London. September 2004. Web. July 6, 2015.

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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