on September 28, 2002
"To Marry An English Lord" may sound like a how-to guide, but it is really one of the most fascinating history books on the English Peerage ever written. This book specifically follows the migration of rich American girls to England and, subsequently, to marrying a member of the English peerage. It also reveals life in both England and America at the dawn of the 20th century. This book contains the most fascinating and seldom-explored facts from the period, and really takes an in-depth look at the everyday lives of the privileged during the Gilded Age. If for nothing else, buy this book for the pictures! With cartoons, photographs, maps and paintings, you get a visual guide to the period. This book is so well organized that practically every page gives you detailed information on a specific subject, and a picture to illustrate it. Most pages also have small factoids that are some of the best parts of the book. Certainly the best part of the book is how it follows a few American heiresses throughout the book, which really makes you care about the 'characters' and gives you the full story: from start to finish. If you love Victorian/Edwardian history, or the English Peerage, you will absolutely love this book. I refer to it almost once a week and enjoy re-reading it whenever I have some spare time!
on March 10, 2012
I already own the 1989 out-of-print version of 'To Marry an English Lord' in my collection and its one of my absolute favorites! So when I saw that it was going to be republished I thought that there was going to be new information or pictures (and possibly a color section), but I was mistaken, the only thing new is the lovely cover of Consuelo Vanderbilt-Balsan. On the flip side, I am happy to have it nonetheless, and thanks to the great success of Downton Abbey and Julian Fellowes, this gem may have never been back on the shelves.
Without giving too much away, the book is full of pictures and information of everything you need to know about the many American heiresses who went across the waters (some by force)to marry a money-poor, land-rich English peer during the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. There is also plenty of background information and images of the American, Victorian, and Edwardian high societies, as well as enlightening and amusing facts concerning these Aristocratic American ladies and their British spouses. In the back there is even a directory of every American heiress (that is at least known) to have married into the English aristocracy.
on January 18, 2004
Those few of us who have wondered why in the world a comfortable, cosseted American girl would want to marry an Englishman and live in a cold climate in an even colder stone castle will find answers here, even if the answers aren't satisfactory to the modern ear.
Think of it: wealthy American society girls, products of generations of men and women who gave lives and fortunes to escape a Royalist society, thought it a worthy investment of their lives, loves and wealth to buy an English title in the form of a husband. It's understandable that men who have no money and are saddled with huge estates and titles with no way to support themselves "in the manner to which they have become accustomed" would search out these women. It's another matter to understand the women, especially if they were bright and energetic (like the fabled Jenny Jerome).
Of course the first women to get involved in this weird method of social climbing didn't realize what was involved. (Though why American society decided that an English title was important in the United States, especially if it could be bought with money, still escapes me.) The problems included loveless husbands who paid little attention to their wives and carried on affairs; cold and drafty castles into which Papa sank tons of money to no avail as far as comfort was concerned; families who refused to accept them in spite (or because) of the fact that they provided the money to keep the lifestyle intact; servants who often were sulky and rebellious ("but we've ALWAYS done it that way"); children they handed over to nannies. The first brides must have kept the hardships and loneliness from the succeeding generation, for the rage for English titles prevailed from the mid-19th century almost through the mid-20th century.
TO MARRY AN ENGLISH LORD is a fascinating and complete look at these women and the lives they led. Illustrations showing the homes and households of the times and how they operated, fashions, maps, photographs of the women and their friends, families and husbands all combine to present the core of that particular section of society in that particular age.
The book is meticulously researched and includes a bibliography, a register of American heiresses, a suggested walking tour of the women's London and a very handy index. It's built around the stories of these women and the men who wooed and won them. Who they were, what they did and what the consequences were -- all adds up to an intriguing and fascinating read.
on April 22, 2012
On November 6, 1895 at St. Thomas' Episcopal Church in New York City, a groom waited at the altar for a bride who appeared to be delayed. The groom was no ordinary groom, but Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough; the bride he waited for was the American railroad heiress, Consuelo Vanderbilt. The wedding was considered a triumph for both families, since the Duke would be delivered from his debts by Consuelo's millions, while Consuelo would gain a noble title. It was all the work of Consuelo's mother Alva, who coerced her teenage daughter into agreeing to marry the Duke. Now there have been many arranged marriages between well-to-do people in the history of the world, but usually they were intended to form necessary political alliances. The Marlborough-Vanderbilt marriage had as its main purpose the exaltation of Alva's vanity by enhancing her social status. As for Consuelo, she kept her groom waiting at the altar for twenty minutes as she cried her eyes out in sheer misery.
In the re-release of their book To Marry An English Lord, Gail MacColl and Carol Wallace include the stories of many wealthy American girls who went to England in pursuit of a titled husband. Unlike Consuelo Vanderbilt, most were eager to marry into British high society and some, like Jennie Jerome, who married Lord Randolph Churchill with whom she had fallen in love, were very eager indeed. The book traces the tendency of American heiresses to marry abroad to the rigidity of the old New York Knickerbocker aristocrats who would not tolerate new money families like the Vanderbilts, the Jeromes, the Leiters, the Iznagas to join the ranks of the established Four Hundred. All the money in the world could not force certain exclusive doors to open. However, the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, liked American girls; he appreciated their expensive clothes, their willingness to gamble, their pert innocence, and their spontaneous wit. His Royal Highness encouraged the marriages between his subjects and American millionaires' daughters; many a dilapidated country seat was restored to its former grandeur due to money made on Wall Street and in American industries.
The troubles which the heiresses had in adjusting to English life as ladies of the manor is described in detail ranging from the hilarious to the tragic. While some marriages, such as Mary Leiter Curzon's, were spectacular successes others, like Alice Thaw's, were disasters. Throughout the narrative, the Prince of Wales makes his appearance; reading the book is like being at a ball where he suddenly arrives. To Marry An English Lord was an inspiration for Julian Fellowes' Downton Abbey. I now have a great deal more insight into the marriage of Lady Cora and her earl as well as into the world of Downton Abbey in general. I also have a deeper understanding of Edith Wharton's and Henry James' novels. Everything from rules of etiquette to life in the servant's hall to the political highlights of the age are explored. Most interesting to me are some of the American heiresses, such as Jennie Jerome Churchill and Consuelo Vanderbilt Marlborough, who ultimately found fulfillment not in bearing a noble name but in political, cultural and charitable activities. As for Consuelo, she eventually walked away from it all, knowing, as she always knew inside, that money cannot buy a happy marriage or peace of soul.
on March 10, 2012
If you have an interest in the stories of American heiresses who married into the British aristocracy during the late 1800s and early 1900s, this is the book for you. I've had the original edition of this book for several years. The authors give the backstory of the new American plutocracy after the Civil War, and analyzes the different waves of heiresses from the Self-Made Girls to those with Pushy Mamas and Sporting Fathers; from bagging the aristocratic target to the often disappointing life after wedlock. The book is full of photos, cartoons and summaries, and written with tongue firmly planted in cheek -- it's not just a series of biographical sketches.
on June 30, 2012
This book is an easy read with more photos and line drawings than can be imagined. The vast majority of pages have multiple photos and every couple pages offers a 1-2 page special section with either photos or line drawings demonstrating, for example, the 6 rankings of royalty, 9 types of costume changes, how estate drains work, calling card protocol, etc.
I also gained a bigger context of how Astor's 400 in New York created a vacuum, so that young ladies looked elsewhere for fame & fortune, and how Queen Victoria's neurotic refusal to allow Bertie into the business side of being a manager of England increased his demands on the upper classes for expensive & novel entertainment.
For me there were only 2 drawbacks:
(1) There were so many names bandied about, I totally lost track of who was who. So I just went with the story, without trying to track individuals, which was OK.
(2) After tens of pages of tales about wealthy American beauties and their conquest of fiscally poor English nobles, I felt sick of all the (not always, but often) calculated / manipulative bartering of sex, money & privilege. However, I gave the book a break for a while, and then came back to it, and am quite glad that I did.
If you can't get enough of English period pieces, and are interested in the woman's experience (at a not very academic, not very feminist) level, you will probably really like this book. If you enjoy reading People magazine, you will LOVE this book.
on October 15, 2012
I grew up in America but lived in England for a time in college, and never could make sense of the culture. Well, even a century and many millions of pounds away, To Marry an English Lord clears things up. A bit. While also being a fun, fast read of little vignettes and mind-blowingly precise history.
One author lives in NYC and the other in England, and they approach from what seems to be a not-taking-sides but educated and feminist perspective.
The gist, of course, is that American money entered England in the form of wealthy girls whose parents wished them to marry nobility. The nobles get to fix up their estates, the Americans get increased social status, everybody wins. Kind of.
The parents, for the most part, not the heiresses, wanted the weddings. But WHY? A reading of history and of literature before this phenomenon occured reveals that we mostly hated English culture from 1776 on. What was happening? What was happening was Edward (Bertie) the Us/People/OK superstar of his age, suddenenly making English nobility look fun.
Boy, was that wrong. Bertie demanded fun expressly because there was really not much fun in his class and certainly not in his family.
Meanwhile, railroad and lumber barons in New York were playing a reverse game of "What Do the Simple Folk Do?" trying in hilariously complicated ways to make some RULES for being nouveau riche. Lacking skill for this, marrying daughters into nobility, however impoverished, gave a family instant clout.
Of course the lumber barons at home were pretty put out by their women going overseas, but what did they have to offer besides money--which the heiresses had in the first place?
Many of the marriages were understandably doomed to failure. The nobles didn't want partners in the American sense, but wives in the English sense, who'd manage the estate, coddle the husbands and not concern themselves to much with love unless it was love affairs. But managing the estate was supposed to be the estate as it WAS--heaven help the American bride who wanted to use her millions to install central heating or who thought, just because her dollars maintained the place that she could enter the kitchen without permission of the servants.
The authors have sidebars and little subchapters everywhere. Just when one is interested on a story, it becomes necessary (and I do mean NECESSARY) to explain the nuances of each rank of nobility or why, exactly, the servants had rules their employers could not violate. One hundred years later, when I lived in England, the class divide was not much different and at lease some of the big houses still lacked central heating.
It is extremely difficult to follow the stories. Not only are the names unfamiliar, but a character's name is apt to change many times, not only due to her marriage but because her last name would change if her husband got a better title. Thus Consuelo Vanderbuilt became Consuelo Marlborough and then Consuelo somebody else when her husband moved up. This also means brothers have different last names, as they might be Dukes of different estates (and it was the title, not the family name, with which one signed documents), and did I mention the popular names were different? If I read a book now, I can be pretty sure there will be no more than one character named "Flora" but in this time period, Floras, Florences, and Minnies abound. Like another reviewer I gave up trying to sort them out and enjoyed each story independently.
The authors are kind to everyone, reporting on what happened without saying whether historically the phenomenon of heiresses marrying nobility was a good or bad thing. That is noble of them (hah) but I cannot help but feel that this artificial pumping in of cash was a resussitation that kept the English nobility system alive far longer than it has had any right to be.
Which is one of the things that makes it such a great book. You don't have to agree with the authors to learn from them.
And I am greatly relieved not to have lived in that time, not as an heiress, nor a servant, and certainly not as an impoverished noble.
on December 11, 2012
This book doesn't translate to Kindle. Pictures are tiny and in black and white (understandable) and they are nearly impossible to see. The book is organized in a way that is difficult to follow but undoubtedly would be less so in book form.
It is the format I dislike, not the book.
on March 14, 2000
Yes, it's an interesting subject but, in my opinion, merely a vehicle for much more interesting information written in a highly readable style with great wit. I've never before come across such a clear comparison between attitude and lifestyles of American and English high society during the Victorian era. I had also never realized how much Queen Victoria's strictness had been diluted by her heir. And I have certainly never seen so many interesting illustrations of the era in one book before - jewels, fashion and architecture with descriptions and explanations. By no means definitive or comprehensive, and not pretending to be, this books offers a wealth of detail which brings the entire period into much sharper focus and is by no means limited to the subject matter referred to in the title.
I found this book to be incredibly interesting. I usually stick to the Tudor period when I read, but this book was recommended to me so I gave it a go...loved it! I knew next to nothing about this time period except that the social scene was run by an extremely rigid set of rules. I've been to Newport RI and driven down the beautiful Bellevue Ave lined with the magnificent mansions of the Gilded Age, but never took the time to read about any of their owners.
This book has certainly peaked my interest in this time period, and I've added to my reading list a bunch of other books pertaining to this era, including many of the works of Edith Wharton. I'm also thinking I may have to give Downton Abbey another go. I watched most of the first season via Netflix, but then never kept up with it. Now that I understand the dynamics of Victorian/Edwardian high society a little better, I may enjoy it more.
If you're at all interested in this time period, or are a fan of Downton Abbey, then I highly suggest reading this. Another reviewer put it absolutely perfectly when she said this book is a "...cross between a dynamic history book and a high-society gossip rag". Being written in the style that it is makes this a super easy read and at no time do you feel bogged down by all the names and families being mentioned (it CAN be a little confusing at first, especially if you're new to all these names I was, but you'll catch on). I'm so glad I stepped out of my comfort-zone to read this.