The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married into the British Aristocracy

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A deliciously told group biography of the young, rich, American heiresses who married into the impoverished British aristocracy at the turn of the twentieth century – the real women who inspired Downton Abbey

Towards the end of the nineteenth century and for the first few years of the twentieth, a strange invasion took place in Britain. The citadel of power, privilege and breeding in which the titled, land-owning governing class had barricaded itself for so long was breached. The incomers were a group of young women who, fifty years earlier, would have been looked on as the alien denizens of another world - the New World, to be precise. From 1874 - the year that Jennie Jerome, the first known 'Dollar Princess', married Randolph Churchill - to 1905, dozens of young American heiresses married into the British peerage, bringing with them all the fabulous wealth, glamour and sophistication of the Gilded Age.

Anne de Courcy sets the stories of these young women and their families in the context of their times. Based on extensive first-hand research, drawing on diaries, memoirs and letters, this richly entertaining group biography reveals what they thought of their new lives in England - and what England thought of them.

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About the author

Anne de Courcy is the author of many widely acclaimed works of social history and biography, including 1939: THE LAST SEASON, MARGOT AT WAR, THE FISHING FLEET, THE VICEROY'S DAUGHTERS and DEBS AT WAR. Her books DIANA MOSLEY and SNOWDON; THE BIOGRAPHY were turned into television documentaries., while THE HUSBAND HUNTERS has been optioned for a feature film. She lives in London and Gloucestershire.
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Additional Information

Publisher
St. Martin's Press
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Published on
Aug 7, 2018
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Pages
368
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ISBN
9781250164612
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Rich & Famous
Biography & Autobiography / Women
History / Europe / Great Britain / Victorian Era (1837-1901)
History / Social History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The story of five women who shared one of the most extraordinary and privileged sisterhoods of all time.

Vicky, Alice, Helena, and Beatrice were historically unique sisters, born to a sovereign who ruled over a quarter of the earth's people and who gave her name to an era: Queen Victoria. Two of these princesses would themselves produce children of immense consequence. All five would curiously come to share many of the social restrictions and familial machinations borne by nineteenth-century women of less-exulted class.

Victoria and Albert's precocious firstborn child, Vicky, wed a Prussian prince in a political match her high-minded father hoped would bring about a more liberal Anglo-German order. That vision met with disaster when Vicky's son Wilhelm-- to be known as Kaiser Wilhelm-- turned against both England and his mother, keeping her out of the public eye for the rest of her life. Gentle, quiet Alice had a happier marriage, one that produced Alexandra, later to become Tsarina of Russia, and yet another Victoria, whose union with a Battenberg prince was to found the present Mountbatten clan. However, she suffered from melancholia and died at age thirty-five of what appears to have been a deliberate, grief-fueled exposure to the diphtheria germs that had carried away her youngest daughter. Middle child Helena struggled against obesity and drug addition but was to have lasting effect as Albert's literary executor. By contrast, her glittering and at times scandalous sister Louise, the most beautiful of the five siblings, escaped the claustrophobic stodginess of the European royal courts by marrying a handsome Scottish commoner, who became governor general of Canada, and eventually settled into artistic salon life as a respected sculptor. And as the baby of the royal brood of nine, rebelling only briefly to forge a short-lived marriage, Beatrice lived under the thumb of her mother as a kind of personal secretary until the queen's death.

Principally researched at the houses and palaces of its five subjects in London, Scotland, Berlin, Darmstadt, and Ottawa-- and entertainingly written by an experienced biographer whose last book concerned Victoria's final days-- Victoria's Daughters closely examines a generation of royal women who were dominated by their mother, married off as much for political advantage as for love, and finally passed over entirely with the accession of their n0 brother Bertie to the throne. Packard provides valuable insights into their complex, oft-tragic lives as daughters of their time.

From the author of the critically acclaimed biographies Diana Mosley and The Viceroy's Daughters comes a fascinating, hugely entertaining account of the Victorian women who traveled halfway around the world on the hunt for a husband.

By the late nineteenth century, Britain's colonial reign seemed to know no limit—and India was the sparkling jewel in the Imperial crown. Many of Her Majesty's best and brightest young men departed for the Raj to make their careers, and their fortunes, as bureaucrats, soldiers, and businessmen. But in their wake they left behind countless young ladies who, suddenly bereft of eligible bachelors, found themselves facing an uncertain future.

With nothing to lose and everything to gain, some of these women decided to follow suit and abandon their native Britain for India's exotic glamor and—with men outnumbering women by roughly four to one in the Raj—the best chance they had at finding a man.

Drawing on a wealth of firsthand sources, including unpublished memoirs, letters, photographs, and diaries, Anne de Courcy brings the incredible world of "the Fishing Fleet," as these women were known, to life. In these sparkling pages, she describes the glittering whirlwind of dances, parties, amateur theatricals, picnics, tennis tournaments, cinemas, tiger shoots, and palatial banquets that awaited in the Raj, all geared toward the prospect of romance. Most of the girls were away from home for the first time, and they plunged headlong into the heady dazzle of expatriate social life; marriages were frequent.

However, after the honeymoon many women were confronted with a reality that was far from the fairy tale they'd been chasing. With her signature diligence and sensitivity, de Courcy looks beyond the allure of the Raj to tell the real stories of these marriages built on convenience and unwieldy expectations. Wives were whisked away to distant outposts with few other Europeans for company. Transplanted to isolated plantations and remote towns, they endured heat, boredom, discomfort, illness, and motherhood removed from familiar comforts—a far cry from the magical world they were promised upon arrival.

Rich with drama and color, The Fishing Fleet is a sumptuous, utterly compelling real-life saga of adventure, romance, and heartbreak in the heyday of the British Empire.

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