A series of biographies of the women connected to Cliveden, the house made famous in the Profumo affair.
The first, Anna Maria (1642-1702), was widowed when her lover, the Duke of Buckingham, killed her husband in a duel in 1668. Scandal was a way of life in Restoration England, and Anna Maria eventually moved into Buckingham’s London home—with him and his wife. By the time Cliveden was completed, they had separated. Elizabeth Villiers, a cousin to Buckingham, was educated with two of James II’s daughters, Mary and Anne. Elizabeth accompanied Mary when she married William of Orange and promptly had an affair with him. After Queen Mary’s death, William granted Irish estates to Elizabeth that made her the richest woman in England, which made for a convenient marriage to the Earl of Orkney and life at Cliveden. Orkney’s heir leased the property to Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his successful marriage to Augusta of Saxe Gotha proved to be a contrast to the rigidity of the court. Harriet, raised at Castle Howard and a great friend of Queen Victoria, married the even wealthier Duke of Sutherland. Together, they created a calm retreat at Cliveden where Victoria often came for walks on the grounds. Harriet was also a prolific political and social campaigner, and she fought against slavery in the United States. Throughout its history, Cliveden was a haven for great minds, and famous guests were the norm for all the women of Cliveden. Nancy Astor (1879-1964) was an acerbic, quick-tempered woman. Like her predecessors, she changed conceptions of female power and served as a member of Parliament for 25 years. She made Cliveden a symbol of highly politicized forms of power, class and ideology. In her debut book, Livingstone ably avoids tabloidlike gossip to profile five remarkable women, and she provides a helpful cast of characters at the beginning of the story.
Readers who enjoy English history will be happy to have this in their libraries.