Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Mistresses of Cliveden By Natalie Livingstone

Some months ago, while waiting in the checkout line I spotted The Mistresses of Cliveden  on the sale table, which is right by the checkout line. I am sure the store has placed this table near the checkout for a reason.    I rarely spot anything of interest in the books on the sale table, but this book caught my eye because I visited Cliveden in May 2018.

Only five miles from Windsor Castle,  Cliveden is a stately home and estate.  The home is now a five- star hotel and the estate is owned by the National Trust.  It is one of the most popular National Trust properties. 

Cliveden has been the home of several families and members of the royal family.  Natalie Livingtone, a Cambridge-educated journalist, is married to billionaire property developer, Ian Livingstone, whose  company owns Cliveden's hotel lease.

Cliveden's history during the reign of Charles II when the Duke of Buckingham had an affair with Anna Maria, the Countess of Shrewsbury.  Anna Maria was a former prostitute.  As one's cuckolded husband was wont to do,  Lord Shrewsbury challenged the Duke to a duel.  Lord Shrewsbury was killed.

There have been several houses on the estate. The present day house was built in 1851 after the previous mansion had been destroyed by fire.   In 1893, Cliveden was purchased by William Waldorf Astor, an American millionaire, who became a British citizen and created Viscount Astor.  He gave the estate to his son, Waldorf, on the occasion of his marriage to Nancy Langhorne.

Lord and Lady Astor gave the estate to the National Trust in 1942.  They remained in the house until 1968.

Anna Maria was the first mistress of Cliveden.  The other women, Elizabeth, the Countess of Orkney, who was the mistress of William III:  the Princess of Wales (Princess Augusta of Saxe-Coburg), the wife, then widow, of Frederick, the Prince of Wales (parents of George III), Harriet, the Duchess of Sutherland , who mixed society with her interest in politics; and Viscountess Astor, the American-born Nancy Langhorne.

Sex and politics were at the forefront of much of Cliveden's history.  In 1961, Christine Keeler was taking a swim in Cliveden's pool, as she was a guest at a summer party hosted by Lord Astor. Keeler was only 19-years-old and reported to be the mistress of a Russian spy.  It as at this party where she met John Profumo, the Conservative Secretary of State for War.  Profumo was a married man but that did not stop him from embarking on an affair with Keeler, who was also sleeping with a Soviet naval attache.

When I visited Cliveden, I saw an small exhibition on the Cliveden women.  I have been fascinating with Nancy Langhorne for many years as she is an American and she was born in Danville, Virginia.

 The Mistresses of Cliveden brings alive the stories of these women, all of whom played important  roles within their society's hierarchy.  And yes, several women used sex to achieve or advance their goals.  They made history as well. Nancy Astor was first woman to take her seat in the British Parliament.

I would describe this book as a well-researched, detailed bodice-ripper-cum-serious-social history.

The Mistresses of Cliveden was published in 2015, but copies (hardcover and paperback) are available.

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