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A Sunday Times bestseller, The Mistresses of Cliveden is the extraordinary story of how five women used their home to influence British society. From its dawn in the 1660s to its twilight in the 1960s, Cliveden was an emblem of elite misbehaviour and intrigue. Conceived by the Duke of Buckingham as a retreat for his scandalous affair with Anna-Maria, Countess of Shrewsbury A Sunday Times bestseller, The Mistresses of Cliveden is the extraordinary story of how five women used their home to influence British society. From its dawn in the 1660s to its twilight in the 1960s, Cliveden was an emblem of elite misbehaviour and intrigue. Conceived by the Duke of Buckingham as a retreat for his scandalous affair with Anna-Maria, Countess of Shrewsbury, the house later served as the backdrop for the Profumo Affair, which would bring down a government and change the course of British history. In the three hundred years between the Countess and Christine Keeler, the house was occupied by a dynasty of remarkable women: Elizabeth Villiers, an intellectual who brokered the rise and fall of governments; Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, a minor German royal who almost became queen of England; Harriet Duchess of Sutherland, the glittering society hostess turned political campaigner; and Nancy Astor, the consummate controversialist who became the first woman to take a seat in parliament. Under the direction of these women, Cliveden provided a stage for political plots and artistic premieres, hosted grieving monarchs and republican radicals, was idealised as a family home, and maligned as a threat to national security. The Mistresses of Cliveden is by turns a historical epic, a political thriller, a family drama, and an intimate history of the relationships between people and place. Above all, it is a story about sex and power, and the ways in which exceptional women have evaded, exploited, and confronted the expectations of their times.


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A Sunday Times bestseller, The Mistresses of Cliveden is the extraordinary story of how five women used their home to influence British society. From its dawn in the 1660s to its twilight in the 1960s, Cliveden was an emblem of elite misbehaviour and intrigue. Conceived by the Duke of Buckingham as a retreat for his scandalous affair with Anna-Maria, Countess of Shrewsbury A Sunday Times bestseller, The Mistresses of Cliveden is the extraordinary story of how five women used their home to influence British society. From its dawn in the 1660s to its twilight in the 1960s, Cliveden was an emblem of elite misbehaviour and intrigue. Conceived by the Duke of Buckingham as a retreat for his scandalous affair with Anna-Maria, Countess of Shrewsbury, the house later served as the backdrop for the Profumo Affair, which would bring down a government and change the course of British history. In the three hundred years between the Countess and Christine Keeler, the house was occupied by a dynasty of remarkable women: Elizabeth Villiers, an intellectual who brokered the rise and fall of governments; Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, a minor German royal who almost became queen of England; Harriet Duchess of Sutherland, the glittering society hostess turned political campaigner; and Nancy Astor, the consummate controversialist who became the first woman to take a seat in parliament. Under the direction of these women, Cliveden provided a stage for political plots and artistic premieres, hosted grieving monarchs and republican radicals, was idealised as a family home, and maligned as a threat to national security. The Mistresses of Cliveden is by turns a historical epic, a political thriller, a family drama, and an intimate history of the relationships between people and place. Above all, it is a story about sex and power, and the ways in which exceptional women have evaded, exploited, and confronted the expectations of their times.

30 review for The Mistresses of Cliveden: Three Centuries of Scandal, Power and Intrigue in an English Stately Home

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jen Campbell

    I'm chairing an event with Natalie on the 14th March at the V&A if you're in London and fancy coming along :) It's a fascinating book. https://shop.vam.ac.uk/whatson/index/... I'm chairing an event with Natalie on the 14th March at the V&A if you're in London and fancy coming along :) It's a fascinating book. https://shop.vam.ac.uk/whatson/index/...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Marguerite Kaye

    There's no getting away from it, I was disappointed by this book. I was hoping for a good history with Cliveden as the centre piece, but what I got felt like a very contrived link, some not very interesting history, and what felt, ultimately, like a puff piece by the current owner. I know that sounds harsh. Don't get me wrong, it was well-written, and if you knew nothing at all of the histories involved, then it probably was informative. But here's the thing - and it's a personal thing that I've There's no getting away from it, I was disappointed by this book. I was hoping for a good history with Cliveden as the centre piece, but what I got felt like a very contrived link, some not very interesting history, and what felt, ultimately, like a puff piece by the current owner. I know that sounds harsh. Don't get me wrong, it was well-written, and if you knew nothing at all of the histories involved, then it probably was informative. But here's the thing - and it's a personal thing that I've said over again with biography and history - I like people to be opinionated. I'm not interested in facts, I want discussion, analysis, hypothesis - whether I agree with it or not. I didn't get any of that here, save some rather spurious links between the various chatelaines of Cliveden which were 'scandalous'. What I also got was a lot of glossing over the history that was less than palatable, and an unwillingness to confront some of the less savoury links with the precious house. I was really looking forward to this book. Perhaps that's why I'm disappointed. But there's no getting away from it, I am.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Your reaction to this book is going to depend upon what you think it is going to be or what you want. Is it a history of Cliveden? Despite the title, nope. It is more a history of selection group of women (not all the women) who had control of the propertry. As such, it is good, if a bit long winded at times.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Extremely enjoyed reading this book! Fantastic location. We went there in 2016, walked the gardens and took some phenomenal pictures. What a location. Cliveden Manor is one of the greatest manors you'll ever come across! Extremely enjoyed reading this book! Fantastic location. We went there in 2016, walked the gardens and took some phenomenal pictures. What a location. Cliveden Manor is one of the greatest manors you'll ever come across!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Aishuu

    A very uneven read - some of the sections were fascinating, but others dragged. It's not really about the life at the house - it's about the people who lived there. Some of the mistresses had a ton of their pre-house life, while other histories were not as expansive. The beginning is a lot more compelling - it really gets weaker as the story progresses. I also don't trust the writer - she's definitely an apologist for most of the ladies more questionable actions. I suspect this is something that A very uneven read - some of the sections were fascinating, but others dragged. It's not really about the life at the house - it's about the people who lived there. Some of the mistresses had a ton of their pre-house life, while other histories were not as expansive. The beginning is a lot more compelling - it really gets weaker as the story progresses. I also don't trust the writer - she's definitely an apologist for most of the ladies more questionable actions. I suspect this is something that was written for the current Cliveden gift shop....

  6. 4 out of 5

    Gemma (Non Fic Books)

    A very enjoyably read about five women connected to Cliveden, definitely one for people who think non-fiction cannot be just as fluid to read as fiction. My only gripe is that the depth of research is rather varied across the women with interesting aspects skimmed over in some lives while comparatively irrelevant detail is discussed in others. But, the author has left me interested enough in four of these five women to search out more in-depth looks at their lives. Ideally this would be a 3.5* bo A very enjoyably read about five women connected to Cliveden, definitely one for people who think non-fiction cannot be just as fluid to read as fiction. My only gripe is that the depth of research is rather varied across the women with interesting aspects skimmed over in some lives while comparatively irrelevant detail is discussed in others. But, the author has left me interested enough in four of these five women to search out more in-depth looks at their lives. Ideally this would be a 3.5* book for me.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Helen Carolan

    this was a bit disappointing. Miss Livingstone's book was more about the house and gardens of Cliveden than it's mistresses. an o.k read but would have liked more written about the women this book was intended to be about. this was a bit disappointing. Miss Livingstone's book was more about the house and gardens of Cliveden than it's mistresses. an o.k read but would have liked more written about the women this book was intended to be about.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lolly's Library

    3.5 stars An entertaining romp through history, hinged around the singular, magnificent, and infamous Cliveden estate, from its beginnings as a luxurious pleasure palace built by the Duke of Buckingham in the Restoration reign of King Charles II to the Profumo Affair in the 1960s, the sex scandal which took down the British government. Though the writing is lively, making for an entertaining read, as others have pointed out, the title is misleading as the bulk of the writing really doesn't focus o 3.5 stars An entertaining romp through history, hinged around the singular, magnificent, and infamous Cliveden estate, from its beginnings as a luxurious pleasure palace built by the Duke of Buckingham in the Restoration reign of King Charles II to the Profumo Affair in the 1960s, the sex scandal which took down the British government. Though the writing is lively, making for an entertaining read, as others have pointed out, the title is misleading as the bulk of the writing really doesn't focus on the women who are ostensibly meant to be the subject. Instead, we see a great deal more of the men around whom these women's lives revolved, as we watch these men build, rebuild, expand, restore, and renovate the house and grounds of Cliveden through the centuries while the women, for the most part, are sort of added in as decoration. Now some might say the author has a conflict of interest writing this book as her husband is the current owner of Cliveden, but I think this simply gives an additional layer to the history she's written as the latest mistress of the house. There were a great many pictures sprinkled throughout the text, which I found wonderful (I love having lots of visual references), especially the gorgeous portraits which led off each part introducing a new mistress of Cliveden. As an architecture nut, about the only thing I wish would've been added are some floorplans of the house. Also, while a Cast of Characters is provided at the beginning of the book, again, personally I would've preferred having some kind of genealogical tree to show the relationships and descendants. As someone who enjoys both British history and architecture, this book provided the perfect combination of both. Thanks to The Random House Publishing Group and Goodreads giveaways for providing me a copy of this book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Diem

    Fantastic. I wasn't expecting this to do anything but entertain but I finished the book significantly better informed on a variety of topics. Centered around the manor house of Cliveden on the Thames, Livingstone tells the story of the home's mistresses. Using this format, you get an education in how the roles of women changed over the three centuries. True, the point of view is primarily of the aristocratic social strata but that bears our attention in the study of the advances of women. Nancy Fantastic. I wasn't expecting this to do anything but entertain but I finished the book significantly better informed on a variety of topics. Centered around the manor house of Cliveden on the Thames, Livingstone tells the story of the home's mistresses. Using this format, you get an education in how the roles of women changed over the three centuries. True, the point of view is primarily of the aristocratic social strata but that bears our attention in the study of the advances of women. Nancy Astor is a person that has lingered on the periphery of my awareness for many years without knowing anything about her beyond her wealth. What a fascinating woman. I feel like I must know more about her. I am going to London this spring and wish a trip to Cliveden were on the itinerary, alas, it is not. Double alas because I understand it to be a rather swank hotel now. The reader was excellent. Her American accent was more than passable. At first I thought it was a bit too Annie Oakley but Astor was of Southern extraction so it worked. Great audiobook.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    I really enjoyed this book. It could have been a dry read but wasn't. The author gave great info and kept it flowing. I really enjoyed this book. It could have been a dry read but wasn't. The author gave great info and kept it flowing.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bridget

    Although I wouldn’t describe this book as dry, as it is very readable. It is rather dull. I would have liked to lean more about the personalities of each “mistress” and their partners. It is very well researched and sheds a light on 5 not so well known women in history.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jodie

    Exciting title, but disappointing. Thoroughly researched but with an unfortunate lack of execution.

  13. 4 out of 5

    QOH

    This is the result of a Goodreads giveaway. Although I read a lot of English history, I probably wouldn't have picked this for myself. 3.5, rounded up to 4 because I would have gone for 3, but I'm cranky because it's hot out and I'm taking that into allowance. The title is poorly chosen. Sure, it's somewhat about the women who lived in (were the mistresses of) Cliveden and they are the scaffolding of the book, but look to the subtitle for what you'll find what's really here: centuries of powerful This is the result of a Goodreads giveaway. Although I read a lot of English history, I probably wouldn't have picked this for myself. 3.5, rounded up to 4 because I would have gone for 3, but I'm cranky because it's hot out and I'm taking that into allowance. The title is poorly chosen. Sure, it's somewhat about the women who lived in (were the mistresses of) Cliveden and they are the scaffolding of the book, but look to the subtitle for what you'll find what's really here: centuries of powerful men who lived there alongside the history of England while Cliveden was built, burned, rebuilt, burned, and rebuilt, then burned by scandal. Why wouldn't I have picked it on my own? I don't like the trend of women writing about stately homes (with the possible exception of the Duchess of Devonshire because she's a Mitford and Mitford girls get to break all the rules). It's like assuming Elizabeth only liked Darcy because she wanted Pemberley. Also, it's 2016. Women. Writing about homes. My grandmother subscribed me to Better Homes & Gardens when I married, and it seemed quaint then. Does anyone want to know my Wedgwood pattern? Sorry for the digression. Although most of the facts align well with what I already know, occasionally the author lets loose with a howler like 1852 being one generation removed from the American Revolution's end. (1781 or 1783, depending on your point of view.) You will not often find me saying a non-fiction book is too long, but this one is. Someone not familiar with 17th or 18th century history might get lost keeping track of the Annes, Marys, and Elizabeths. For all that, it ends abruptly, the author skipping over Cliveden's time leased by Stanford and then various hotel groups (including her husband's, and her way of hinting they just happened to luck into the place through elbow grease is charming but unbelievable). You can go back and re-read the introduction and timeline, but that only gives you a small picture of what happened after the 60s.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mell

    I've seen this book advertised with the phrase "for fans of Downton Abbey." This book is *nothing* like that PBS series. I want to clarify so that people aren't disappointed. Book begins in the mid 17th century (1660s) and is packed with historical and political minutia through the mid 20th century (1960s). In comparison, Downton covers just 1912 to 1922 and was lite on politics. Both are enjoyable in their own way but are not similar. Parts of The Mistresses of Clivedon were quite good, and oth I've seen this book advertised with the phrase "for fans of Downton Abbey." This book is *nothing* like that PBS series. I want to clarify so that people aren't disappointed. Book begins in the mid 17th century (1660s) and is packed with historical and political minutia through the mid 20th century (1960s). In comparison, Downton covers just 1912 to 1922 and was lite on politics. Both are enjoyable in their own way but are not similar. Parts of The Mistresses of Clivedon were quite good, and others jumped the tracks into tedious tangents. The author will reference an occasion or fact in one of the women's lives and then go on for pages about unnecessarily detailed points. I have a degree in history and even I found the book a bit tiresome at times. The chapters are lopsided, with the earlier women's lives less documented due to both number of years passed and the fact that women weren't independent persons but legal extensions of their husbands. I did enjoy the first 2/3 of the book. Nancy Astor's life is the most spotlighted, and she was such a nasty person that I had to force myself to finish. The book has a clumsy introduction and conclusion about the British sex scandal in the 1960s. They are poorly integrated, and read like bad bookends tacked on at the last minute.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    While some of the history presented was a review of things I’ve read elsewhere, overall – I found the organization of this book – around a single estate – to be enjoyable an effective. Spanning over 200 years, the book provides detailed history of the estate itself and the various homes built there over the years, the various “mistresses” of Cliveden and the overarching history of Britain. I was sort of disappointed at the final section – not so much because of the book as because I’ve always ra While some of the history presented was a review of things I’ve read elsewhere, overall – I found the organization of this book – around a single estate – to be enjoyable an effective. Spanning over 200 years, the book provides detailed history of the estate itself and the various homes built there over the years, the various “mistresses” of Cliveden and the overarching history of Britain. I was sort of disappointed at the final section – not so much because of the book as because I’ve always rather liked Nancy Astor and this book certainly captured some of her less endearing qualities and beliefs. Yikes!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kerry

    While I do have some complaints about the book, it's overall enjoyable, interesting, and readable, even if it doesn't quite succeed in what it sets out to do. The book is also well-researched, though I'm curious how the portraits of the mistresses can hang in the house when it was severely damaged by fire at least twice. How did the portraits survive, and if they weren't in the house, how did they make their way (back) to it? The book is framed within the tale of a 20th-century scandal, and while While I do have some complaints about the book, it's overall enjoyable, interesting, and readable, even if it doesn't quite succeed in what it sets out to do. The book is also well-researched, though I'm curious how the portraits of the mistresses can hang in the house when it was severely damaged by fire at least twice. How did the portraits survive, and if they weren't in the house, how did they make their way (back) to it? The book is framed within the tale of a 20th-century scandal, and while it may be a good hook, by the time you get to where it picks up again, you've forgotten who was who and what they did and why it was so terrible. And while the histories of the mistresses of Cliveden might have been interesting, the work is so heavily punctuated by the stories of their men that it doesn't concentrate sufficiently on the women to justify the title. So the house had some interesting owners--does it justify writing a book about them?

  17. 5 out of 5

    Carole (in Canada)

    "On a symbolic level, a 17th Century country house was an index of status and expressed the genealogy, political power, prestige and character of its owner." (quote from the book) This was a fascinating book encompassing 300 years of history on Cliveden and it's occupants. The political intrigue, scandal and escapades of it's owners provided history with great entertainment. The book highlights five of the most powerful and ambitious women and their lovers/husbands and families. Each provide nugg "On a symbolic level, a 17th Century country house was an index of status and expressed the genealogy, political power, prestige and character of its owner." (quote from the book) This was a fascinating book encompassing 300 years of history on Cliveden and it's occupants. The political intrigue, scandal and escapades of it's owners provided history with great entertainment. The book highlights five of the most powerful and ambitious women and their lovers/husbands and families. Each provide nuggets of historical information that give you a glimpse into the mindset and life style of the aristocracy in their time period. Each put their own stamp not only in the political arena but on the house and grounds. I was very interested in learning more about the Duchess Of Sutherland, but found each of the mistresses intriguing in their own way. Anna Maria 1642-1702: "...Anna Maria's name had become synonymous with the vices of lust and violence." (quote from the book) A pleasure-loving sixteen year old (picture Lydia Bennet of Pride & Prejudice being let loose at court) who was married to Francis Talbot, 11th Earl of Shrewsbury who was 36. When the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, George Villiers first saw her, he was smitten and they carried on an affair (though he too was married) that would eventually lead to a duel between the Duke and the Earl. The Earl would soon die of injuries and the Duke would continue his affair with Anna Maria. It is his love for her and his impression of Versailles, that would inspire him to build Cliveden. Anna Maria would also become known as the 'lost mistress' of Cliveden. Elizabeth Villiers 1657-1733: "Her year at Richmond equipped Elizabeth with two immensely important attributes - a strong female sensibility and a sense of ease in the company of royalty. These were skills that would serve her well in the next phase of her life." (quote from the book) The 2nd Duke of Buckingham was Elizabeth's second cousin once removed. Again political intrigue, religion and scandal abounded. Elizabeth carried on an affair with the Prince of Orange (William) even though he too was married. Elizabeth also provided counsel for William even after he became King of England. In thanks, he arranges a marriage for her to George, fifth son of the Scottish Duke and Duchess of Hamilton and ten years her junior. He is best known as Lord Orkney. In 1696, he obtains the deeds to Cliveden and Elizabeth becomes the next mistress. "Cliveden had been the vehicle in which Elizabeth could manage her progress from royal whore, spurned and vilified by one queen, to society hostess, entertaining another." (quote from the book) Augusta 1719-1772: "Augusta was undoubtedly an astute woman who had a firm grasp on the political realities of her time." (quote from the book) Augusta, eighteen, was chosen by King George II to marry his twenty-nine year old charming but wayward son, Prince Frederick. Frederick was very protective of her and helped her to deal with public attention and court life. He was hoping to increase his allowance as well. He also was very media savvy. During this time, newspaper production soared. "Events such as drawing-room functions were crucial opportunities for journalists to gather intelligence, and even international news was commonly prefaced with phrases such as 'it is whispered around the west end': clearly it was proximity to the court, rather than to the site of a newsworthy event, that made a report credible." (quote from the book) Seems like nothing has changed in over 300 years! They were able to lease Cliveden from the Villier family as Frederick was a close friend to the husband of Elizabeth Villier's daughter, Anne. Again, political intrigue was at the forefront. Unfortunately, Cliveden's fortunes would enter a period of neglect after the lease ended. Harriet 1806-1868: "Despite her tender age, she displayed a sense of serene self-assurance that would shape her life and future relationships." (quote from the book) In 1823 at the age of 16 Harriet made her debut and within one week was engaged to her cousin, George Granville Leveson-Gower, then Earl Gower. He was 36. This was a love match despite most believing otherwise. The political atmosphere of this time period was turbulent to say the least. It was not until Victoria became Queen that Harriet became Mistress of the Robes and a lifelong friendship would ensue. "For the next twenty years Cliveden would become Harriet's most rewarding project, her calm retreat and enduring legacy." (quote from the book) Nancy 1879-1964: "Forthright and fierce, with an acerbic wit, Nancy was to become one of the most powerful and compelling women of her era." (quote from the book) Nancy was a divorcee when she married Waldorf Astor. She had boundless energy that needed direction. She went from hosting balls to more serious political events. These would soon set her off on her own political career that would embroil her in her own political scandals. Cliveden was gifted to Waldorf and Nancy for their marriage in 1906 by his father, William Astor. By the beginning of the First World War, Cliveden would be used as a hospital by the Canadian Red Cross until the end of the war. Nancy had created a cemetery on the grounds of Cliveden for those men who died at the hospital; "42 inscribed stones marked the graves of her fallen soldiers". Nancy would also make other renovations to the property. Bill Astor, son of Waldorf and Nancy, would inherit Cliveden. One of his renovations to the property would be a swimming pool. This pool would bring down a government... Each of these women were shaped by their own upbringing, their religion, their marriages and their health. Each, in their own way, made a powerful impact not only in the political arena but on Cliveden. Yes, they are flawed...but aren't we all.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    A beautiful book in all senses of the word. Natalie Livingstone takes the lives of some of the female inhabitants of Cliveden as the premise. This is not really a history of the house as such, although this does play a part. It is more like a social history of a group of really interesting women through different ages. The reader learns about their changing positions and how they influenced the lives of the monarchy and the governments at the time. Although this could hardly be called a short bo A beautiful book in all senses of the word. Natalie Livingstone takes the lives of some of the female inhabitants of Cliveden as the premise. This is not really a history of the house as such, although this does play a part. It is more like a social history of a group of really interesting women through different ages. The reader learns about their changing positions and how they influenced the lives of the monarchy and the governments at the time. Although this could hardly be called a short book, it doesn't feel that long as there seems to be just enough about each of the women described. I thought it seemed well researched, engagingly written with well chosen illustrations.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Banks

    While the author of this book tried hard to "sex it up", adding snippets of insulting poetry and scandals, the end result was just too wordy for me. No, I don't need the names of all 16 sculptors who were commissioned to blah blah blah etc. There's some interesting and entertaining history here, but you need to dig to get at it. While the author of this book tried hard to "sex it up", adding snippets of insulting poetry and scandals, the end result was just too wordy for me. No, I don't need the names of all 16 sculptors who were commissioned to blah blah blah etc. There's some interesting and entertaining history here, but you need to dig to get at it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    24th- 26th July 2017 & 28th-30th July 2015 Excellently written. Love the history of the house as much as the fascinating strong females populating the book. There's always room in my life for these lesser known characters from history! 24th- 26th July 2017 & 28th-30th July 2015 Excellently written. Love the history of the house as much as the fascinating strong females populating the book. There's always room in my life for these lesser known characters from history!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bethwyn Badger

    4.5 stars. Really very interesting and so well-researched. I loved the idea of setting it out based on the mistresses who resided there rather than just a general history - this made it much easier to follow and much more interesting. A wonderful read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Juliahoney Kamenker

    it was good but it went off way too much on historical background and not as much about the house itself

  23. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Highly researched, niche history of Cliveden in England.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Girl with her Head in a Book

    For my full review: http://girlwithherheadinabook.co.uk/2... Cliveden is a house that is synonymous with intrigue, from its purchase in the Restoration all the way to the Profumo affair in the 1950s where 'good-time girl' Christine Keeler hit it off with government minister John Profumo while playing around in Cliveden's swimming pool. So many of the stories associated with it are truly stranger than fiction and it is this appetite for scandal that Natalie Livingstone, wife of the current owner, For my full review: http://girlwithherheadinabook.co.uk/2... Cliveden is a house that is synonymous with intrigue, from its purchase in the Restoration all the way to the Profumo affair in the 1950s where 'good-time girl' Christine Keeler hit it off with government minister John Profumo while playing around in Cliveden's swimming pool. So many of the stories associated with it are truly stranger than fiction and it is this appetite for scandal that Natalie Livingstone, wife of the current owner, is tapping into with this glittering biography of Cliveden's most well-known mistresses. Not merely the memoir of the ladies however, Livingstone's book is also an account of the house itself, its changing roles and - one has to wonder - quite an effective bit of PR for it in its current guise as a hotel. Charting the story of the house over three centuries, Livingstone has real enthusiasm for her subject and has clearly done her research - this is a delicious dive into domestic history at its very best. Livingstone chooses to focus her book on five of the ladies who presided over Cliveden; Anna Maria, Elizabeth, Augusta, Harriet and Nancy. She has obviously picked out the juiciest candidates, skipping over generations which seem to have had less sparkle. Indeed, several of the ladies who do make Livingstone's cut do appear to rather stretch the point, with Anna Maria never quite taking up residence and with Augusta only ever being a tenant rather than an owner. However, these are petty criticisms as Livingstone does have the flair of a novelist in how she draws together these women's stories into this hugely engaging piece of work. While often forced to be spectators rather than participants in events, the mistresses of Cliveden were witnesses to some remarkable twists and turns of history. First up was Anna Maria, Countess of Shrewsbury and perhaps most scandalous of all the heroines of the book. George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, already had a wife Mary, who Livingstone dismisses as 'amiable but spiritless' according to contemporaries, so he was unable to resist Anna Maria who had grown disaffected from her husband. Their affair became notorious, so much so that Anna Maria's husband finally roused himself into action and challenged Villiers to a duel. This proved fatal for the Earl, so Villiers and Anna Maria assumed that they had achieved their happy ending, other than the loose end of poor Mary. Villiers bought two modest hunting lodges with the intention of using the land to build a love nest where he hoped that he and Anna Maria could host fabulous parties and generally enjoy themselves. Thus Cliveden was born. Livingstone airily describes how the house could only have been designed by a man as sincerely in love as Villiers was, but alas the lovers remained star-crossed with higher forces finally intervening to separate the scandalous pair. Anna Maria eventually made a respectable remarriage while Villiers ultimately died in disgrace. Next up was Elizabeth, wife to the Earl of Orkney but better known as long-term mistress to William III. Jonathan Swift described her as the wisest woman he ever knew but contemporaries made more of her looks, or rather lack of them - she was nicknamed 'Squinting Betty'. Despite being a childhood friend of William's wife Mary, she began an affair with the prince shortly after he and Mary married. Livingstone notes Elizabeth's intelligence and maturity being better suited to William than Mary's insecurity. Her marriage to the Earl of Orkney came after Mary begged William on her deathbed to end the wicked association and indeed it caused no small amount of strife between Elizabeth and her family, most of whom sided with Mary. Elizabeth does come across as a very warm woman however - she may even have been my personal favourite - and her common sense approach to managing her household does give the impression that she had the most contented life out of the book's four heroines. Much is made of Cliveden's royal associations, with the third mistress being Augusta, wife to Prince Frederick who very narrowly missed out on being king, due to a nasty bout of influenza. Augusta and her husband set up a rival court at Cliveden given that they were banished from that of the actual monarch due to the rather Shakespearean discord at the heart of the Hanoverian family. Queen Caroline insisted that her son and his wife made her want to vomit - I have always remembered that ghastly detail that Caroline was comforted on her deathbed that at least she need never see Frederick ever again. Here, Frederick and Augusta's determination to present the image to the public of a domestic idyll with the pair of them in the midst of their children - well, it all seems very political. Augusta was not so innocent as she pretended. Next was Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland and granddaughter of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, of whom I have been a long-term fan. It was interesting to read more about that lady's descendants. Harriet was pronounced as the most 'kissable' by Charles Dickens - not an award I envy her for I must admit, was Queen Victoria's closest friend, was also a great friend of Gladstone and was rather taken later in life by the Italian nationalist Garibaldi. She was also a well-known hostess, campaigned against slavery (somewhat hypocritically based on her family's historic role within the Highland clearances) and maintained a role at the forefront of society despite Livingstone noting that she seems to have suffered with quite severe depression. Quite the tough lady. The final mistress - and possibly the most immediately familiar - was Nancy Astor. I have never known a great deal about her aside from her infamous exchanges with Churchill and the fact that she was the first female Member of Parliament but as the chapters on Nancy concluded, I was not entirely sure that I liked her. Or more accurately, she seemed slightly unhinged. Highly irascible, her reinvention after her traumatic first marriage led her to almost deny her American heritage as she seemed to become more English than the English. Her rabid support of appeasement and obvious anti-Semitism was difficult to overcome - her 'Cliveden set' was even the basis for the unpleasant scenes within The Remains of the Day. Equally unattractive was was her espousal of the Christian Scientists which led her to fail to seek prompt medical treatment for her daughter, leaving the latter with a long-term back injury. Her utter loathing for physical led to some truly bizarre personal relationships and her marriage was certainly complicated. Yet, there can be no doubt that Nancy Astor was a pioneer and that she had a remarkable life. Throughout the lives of all of these remarkable women, Livingstone tracks the wider political context and happenings of the day and more specifically the developments of the house itself. Cliveden develops from George Villiers' gift to Anna Maria, destined never to be delivered, to the great house where Augusta held court, to a time when Nancy saw the place as a burden, inconvenient, something to be gifted to the nation. One could imagine The Mistresses of Cliveden making a highly successful transition to costume drama, something akin to the BBC's 1998 adaptation of Aristocrats. This is history at its most seductive, with four fascinating women who could each have sustained a book solo. Quite clearly, Livingstone has fallen under their spell - her passion for her subjects is obvious - but with a book which is both well-written, full of intrigue and such compelling characters, The Mistresses of Cliveden is a more than worthy tribute to her predecessors in her post. It is rare that a biography comes along that I could recommend as a beach read but there was a strange feeling of decadence reading this - it is the non-fiction equivalent of chocolate cake with all the trimmings and I relished every moment.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    The Mistresses of Clivenden starts out with the story of a real mistress, Anna Maria, the Countess of Shrewsbury, who was beloved of the Duke of Buckingham. He built the house with the purpose of them living together and enjoying the pleasures of the flesh. Due to the public censure of their scandalous and even murderous (he killed her husband in a duel) relationship, they were not able to actually be together and live happily at the estate. Another famous mistress was Elizabeth, Countess of Ork The Mistresses of Clivenden starts out with the story of a real mistress, Anna Maria, the Countess of Shrewsbury, who was beloved of the Duke of Buckingham. He built the house with the purpose of them living together and enjoying the pleasures of the flesh. Due to the public censure of their scandalous and even murderous (he killed her husband in a duel) relationship, they were not able to actually be together and live happily at the estate. Another famous mistress was Elizabeth, Countess of Orkney, who was the paramour of William of Orange, despite her famous squint. She and her husband, the Earl, upgraded the house and hosted royalty. The next owner was just the mistress of Clivenden, as she loved her husband - Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, the wife of the Prince of Wales. Together, they turned Clivenden into an alternate court, away from the stuffiness of the palace, with entertainments and a lower standard of protocol. Next was Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland, who was known as a beauty. Sadly, Harriet was plagued with depression, and saw the estate burned while she was chatelaine. She oversaw the rebuilding, using some of the most famous architects and builders of the day. She was also known as Queen Victoria's dear friend. The final mistress of Clivenden is Nancy Astor, the Virginia-born wife of Waldorf Astor. A spirited woman of courage, she became the first female elected to the House of Commons. Some time is also spent on the Profumo Affair, a scandal that rocked the British Government, and involved Clivenden. The book is rather uneven in its treatment of the different ladies. Too much time is spent on Nasty Nancy, probably because of the vast amount of information available about her versus the more ancient occupants. For all their wealth, none of the ladies seemed to be particularly happy. One hopes the current owner, also the author of this book, has a better outcome.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Pat

    History of a stately home and its mistresses. This well-researched book was only fair to read. It had way too many footnotes to read comfortably in an electronic format, as it did not allow ease in flipping back to the text. Every time I clicked on a reference, it went there directly, but I had to go back to the table of contents to get back to where I had left off reading - so I quickly stopped looking at the references. It likely would be better to read this in hard copy. The subjects of the b History of a stately home and its mistresses. This well-researched book was only fair to read. It had way too many footnotes to read comfortably in an electronic format, as it did not allow ease in flipping back to the text. Every time I clicked on a reference, it went there directly, but I had to go back to the table of contents to get back to where I had left off reading - so I quickly stopped looking at the references. It likely would be better to read this in hard copy. The subjects of the book could have been fascinating, but the author (probably rightly) handled it more as a scholar might, but didn't seem to fix entirely on either a scholarly or popular approach, and it seemed to me that the flow and readability big the book suffered as a result. It didn't entirely grab me as a result of the jumpiness of the narrative. This was a library loan, and it was automatically snatched back when I was about halfway through. (Since it wasn't keeping my attention too well, I was reading other books simultaneously. This one helped me drop off to sleep if I read it in the evening - not high praise unless you're an insomniac. If you are, then I'd recommend it as bedtime reading.) I will not bother to get back in the library queue to finish it up, though if I still had it, I'd likely finish it .... Eventually. I do believe it would have benefited from more illustrations, especially as the changes to the house and garden, and how the countryside around Cliveden changed through the centuries. There were a LOT of descriptions, but they weren't always clear. If you've always wondered about the history of a stately home and of the people who lived there, as I do, you might enjoy this book - but I'd recommend getting it in hard copy; the electronic format doesn't do it justice, and creates obstacles to enjoyment of this story.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    In The Mistresses of Cliveden, author Natalie Livingstone has re-assembled the history of Cliveden and the story of its châtelaines. The finished product alternates between the high born behaving badly and an architectural primer. This is neither wonderful nor terrible. The chapters on Augusta (mother of 13-colonies'-tyrant George III) and Harriet (BFF to none other than Queen Victoria herself) were the most interesting on a personal level. As for the house, I wish Livingstone had devoted more in In The Mistresses of Cliveden, author Natalie Livingstone has re-assembled the history of Cliveden and the story of its châtelaines. The finished product alternates between the high born behaving badly and an architectural primer. This is neither wonderful nor terrible. The chapters on Augusta (mother of 13-colonies'-tyrant George III) and Harriet (BFF to none other than Queen Victoria herself) were the most interesting on a personal level. As for the house, I wish Livingstone had devoted more ink to its use as a Canadian hospital during World War I, particularly as the hospital at Cliveden was not located within the house, as it was at Highclere Castle, but was actually a brand-new, specially-constructed facility located on the grounds. Unfortunately, the treatment of house-as-hospital is consistent with much of the book. Livingstone spends minimal time describing the routines of the hospital, the ways in which various family members interacted with it, or what the men themselves thought. In other words, surface deep. This is frustrating because there are stories here, no question, but in focusing so squarely (narrowly?) on the house's mistresses, Livingstone's approach to many of them feels too oblique. Beyond the hospital example, above, I'd over the treatment of Nancy Astor's string of butlers and maids. Surely there's more to tell than what is written here, and I'd bet dollars to donuts it would add a little more color to tell it, but instead the reader gets only a handful of lines and the merest outlines of the story.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Harris

    A fascinating joint biography of five influential women who made their home at Cliveden House: Anna Maria Talbot, mistress of the 2nd Duke of Buckingham; Elizabeth Villiers, mistress of King William III; the politically astute Augusta, Princess of Wales, the abolitionist Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland and the first female MP to take her seat in the United Kingdom, Nancy Astor. Livingstone discusses the contributions each of these historical figures made to the development of Cliveden House and t A fascinating joint biography of five influential women who made their home at Cliveden House: Anna Maria Talbot, mistress of the 2nd Duke of Buckingham; Elizabeth Villiers, mistress of King William III; the politically astute Augusta, Princess of Wales, the abolitionist Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland and the first female MP to take her seat in the United Kingdom, Nancy Astor. Livingstone discusses the contributions each of these historical figures made to the development of Cliveden House and to the politics and society of their times. The degree of financial independence enjoyed by elite women in Britain varied from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries and the book explores the choices available to each of the women who presided over Cliveden. There is also some fascinating history of the house itself. The Cliveden estate was the Duchess of Connaught's Canadian Red Cross Hospital during the First World War and served as a Canadian Red Cross Hospital again during the Second World War. The author currently runs Cliveden as a hotel and the book is informed by her extensive research and experience of spending time on the estate. An enjoyable and informative read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Liz Wallis

    I Loved the sensitivity displayed by the author... (the current 'Mistress' of Cliveden) in how she relates the intriguing history of this Stately house. She shares with us the lives of it's Five prominent Mistresses who over the period of 3 centuries - each in her own way -would somehow contribute to the shaping of Britain's political image. Their names have become inextricably linked with the building itself - and the scandals, which time has softened and quieted a little. Natalie Livingstone b I Loved the sensitivity displayed by the author... (the current 'Mistress' of Cliveden) in how she relates the intriguing history of this Stately house. She shares with us the lives of it's Five prominent Mistresses who over the period of 3 centuries - each in her own way -would somehow contribute to the shaping of Britain's political image. Their names have become inextricably linked with the building itself - and the scandals, which time has softened and quieted a little. Natalie Livingstone brings to life for us the tale of Cliveden House - when it was all shiny and new in 1660! When a mere hunting lodge - purchased by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham was turned (at huge financial cost) into a magnificent estate up the river from Windsor. The scandal was that Buckingham had achieved this, not for his wife...but for his Mistress! The story continues, through the secret whispers over 300 years bringing us finally to 1961 when an indiscretion between a young show-girl, Christine Keeler and John Profumo, Secretary of State for War would change the course of British History! A must read for the History enthusiast!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Susan Lorenz

    Such an interesting premise for a book. It focuses on a famous English country estate and profiles the five prominent women who lived there. The first two were mistresses of powerful men (including a King). The third was a Princess of Wales. The fourth was a close personal friend of Queen Victoria. And the last was the first woman MP in Parliament. The author's family currently owns and runs Cliveden House as a luxury hotel. She is excellent at describing the history and politics and scandals th Such an interesting premise for a book. It focuses on a famous English country estate and profiles the five prominent women who lived there. The first two were mistresses of powerful men (including a King). The third was a Princess of Wales. The fourth was a close personal friend of Queen Victoria. And the last was the first woman MP in Parliament. The author's family currently owns and runs Cliveden House as a luxury hotel. She is excellent at describing the history and politics and scandals that have occurred at Cliveden during its over 300 year existence. Livingstone also provides a listing of each of the major characters in each of the mistresses' lives and includes a timeline of events that helps you understand how some of these women's lives overlapped. I knew something of Nancy Astor from reading "Five Sisters: The Langhornes of Virginia" a few years ago but this was a good refresher. The other four women had been unknown to me and so I learned much about them and their eras. A very satisfying historical read.

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