I was fortunate enough to spend a night at Cliveden in March with my partner, wandering the grounds, tackling the maze, drinking cocktails, eating a fantastic dinner and thoroughly enjoying the luxuriousness of the place. In the afternoon we walked down to Spring Cottage on the banks of the Thames where Stephen Ward lived and whose guest Christine Keeler met John Profumo, thus bringing down a government in the Profumo affair. On our last visit here for afternoon tea I bought the film Scandal that dramatises the events that started at Cliveden’s swimming pool. This time I started reading Mistresses of Cliveden: Three Centuries of Scandal, Power and Intrigue in an English Stately Home, written by the hotel’s current owner Natalie Livingstone.
It is a really interesting book detailing the lives and times of five women central to the history of Cliveden: Anna, Countess of Shrewsbury and mistress of the Duke of Buckingham who built the first house on the site (the house has burnt down twice since) (1642-1702); Elizabeth Villiers, Countess of Orkney and mistress of King George III (1657-1733) who subsequently entertained George I and George II whilst living at Cliveden; Augusta, Princess of Wales, who lived her with her Prince but never became queen consort (1719-1772); Harriett, Duchess of Sutherland, owner during the re-building of the house by the architect Charles Barry which turned the house into what you see today (1806-1868); and Nancy Astor, first women MP to take her seat in the House whose subsequent dubious politics put her at the heart of the ‘Cliveden set’ of those seeking and negotiating appeasement with Hitler before the Second World War (1879-1964).
Not only are these five fascinating women, but the book covers the politics of each era and the social changes occurring, as well as the lives of the aristocracy. Each period of history was so engrossing that I found it hard to make the small jumps to the next era, wanting to go away and fill in the gaps. It certainly brings to life the history of the house and its grounds, currently operated by the National Trust. Whether or not you’re planning a visit to Cliveden this is a book well worth reading.