Beatrice Venetia Stanley Montagu (August 22 1887 – August 3 1948) was a British aristocrat and socialite best known for the many letters that Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith wrote to her between 1910 and 1915. The youngest daughter of Edward Lyulph Stanley, 4th Baron Sheffield and Stanley of Alderley, Venetia was a namesake and collateral descendant of Venetia Stanley (1600–1633) who was renowned for her racy beauty and mysterious death.
Venetia met Asquith through her close friendship with his daughter, Violet. Asquith, who enjoyed writing letters to women in high society, began his correspondence with Venetia in 1910. However, Venetia was just one of several women who received Asquith's letters until 1912, when she went on a trip to Sicily with Asquith, Violet and Edwin Samuel Montagu, a Liberal MP who was one of Asquith's protégés. It seems that on this trip, both Asquith and Montagu fell in love with Venetia.
During the next three years, Asquith wrote more and more frequently to Venetia, even during Cabinet meetings. Venetia seems to have written to Asquith almost as often, but Asquith apparently destroyed Venetia's letters on a regular basis to maintain confidentiality. At the same time, Montagu was attempting to court Venetia and unsuccessfully proposed marriage to her in 1913. Venetia liked Montagu but did not reciprocate his love. Also, Montagu had to marry within his Jewish faith in order to keep his inheritance. Although Venetia was from a freethinking family and was not a devout Anglican, conversion to Judaism seemed too great a barrier.
Asquith's epistolary obsession with Venetia (by early 1915, he was writing to her between one to three times a day) was not just an emotional dependence. He also sought her advice on how to deal with his political colleagues and even on questions of military strategy in World War I. Although Venetia was intelligent, well-read and keenly interested in politics, she apparently felt overwhelmed by Asquith's demands. As a result, she finally accepted Montagu's proposal on April 28 1915 and wrote to Asquith of her decision on May 12. After converting to Judaism, Venetia married Montagu on July 26 1915.
Venetia's marriage to Montagu lasted nine years until his premature death in 1924. Despite the birth of a daughter in 1923, Venetia was unhappy in her marriage. She had affairs with Lord Beaverbrook and others. After Montagu's death, Venetia renewed her friendship with Asquith. Asquith's final excursion before his death in 1928 was a visit with Venetia. In 1928, the Liberal Party invited Venetia to stand as a parliamentary candidate for South Norfolk, where she had inherited Montagu's country house in Attleborough, but she declined the offer.
Venetia Stanley Montagu died of cancer in 1948, shortly before her 61st birthday.