Julian Fellows has cited To Marry an English Lord as one of his major inspirations for Downton Abbey, saying “It occurred to me that while it must have been wonderful for these girls to begin with, what happened 25 years later when they were freezing in a house in Cheshire aching for Long Island?” Thanks to Downton Abbey Mania, a new edition of this previously out of print book has just been released.
A stream of wealthy American women married into the British aristocracy during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. The closed nature of New York society excluded the nouveau riche, leaving many Robber Baron heiresses with few marriage options. Meanwhile, the future Edward VII had a fondness for American women that made wealthy, charming Yanks desirable party goers across the pond, regardless of their status at home. Falling agricultural returns meant that many in the British aristocracy were cash strapped and thus more interested than ever before in a match with a wealthy foreign heiress.
To Marry an English Lord covers how these Americans found British husbands, from their Worth wardrobes to their social graces, and how they fared as peeresses. Jennie Jerome, mother of Winston Churchill was among the first Dollar princesses, while Nancy Astor, the first woman to take a seat in Parliament, was among the last. At the same time, there were disastrous marriages such as that of Consuelo Vanderbilt to the Duke a Marlborough which eventually ended in divorce.
I found the layout of this book a little distracting, too many text boxes interrupted the flow, and I would have liked color images rather than black and white. But it is fascinating to read about the details of these women’s lives, particularly if you’re an Edith Wharton or Downton Abbey fan.
To Marry an English Lord on Amazon