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The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, and a Family Secret by [Bailey, Catherine]
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3.5 out of 5 stars 429 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

While researching a book on WWI, historian Bailey stumbled on a crackerjack real-life mystery revolving around the life and times of John Henry Montagu Manners, the ninth Duke of Rutland. A meticulous curator who organized his illustrious family’s documents and correspondence, he died in the archives suite of Belvoir Castle in 1940, refusing medical treatment until he completely expunged all records pertaining to three distinct yet interrelated periods in his life. As Bailey painstakingly unearths secret after secret in order to deduce what really happened between the years 1894 to 1915, the ghosts of scandals past surface in full force. Populated with a bevy of real-life aristos who played by their own twisted and privileged set of rules, a searing portrait of family intrigue, dysfunction, and hubris—à la Downton Abbey—emerges. --Margaret Flanagan


Gripping. Reads like the best kind of mystery story. It is a tale of mistresses and heirlooms, cowardice and connivance Sunday Times 'Astonishing, jaw-dropping, superb. Horrifying, extraordinary Sunday Telegraph Extraordinary, edge-of-the-seat, enthralling. All the ingredients of a lurid horror. The plot is thick with destroyed documents, decadent aristocracy, betrayed honour and curses Metro Compelling. A remarkable piece of research which throws a bright shaft of light on powerful people, hypocrisy and the first world war -- Jeremy Paxman Guardian, Books of the Year Wonderful ... has everything: family intrigue and hatred, love and war, witches' curses, eccentricity, snobbery and a series of shocking secrets. No reader can finish it unmoved Sunday Express Teems with hypocrisy, deceit, parental manipulation and bullying. Bailey artfully shows how guilt, grief, pride and shame levied a heavy toll Literary Review An extraordinary detective operation -- John Julius Norwich Excellent, beautifully crafted, fascinating Red Excellent. A fine, suspenseful, atmospheric tale, a less melodramatic and more nuanced Downton Abbey Daily Express Bailey's fascinating book takes us to the heart of a family tragedy ... this is a horrifying story of love, despair, intrigue, snobbery and upper class eccentricity which reads like fiction but is amazingly - and shockingly - real Lancashire Evening Post The mysterious death of a Duke and a castle full of treacherous goings-on make The Secret Rooms a gripping read for fans of Downton Abbey. As thrilling as any fiction, Catherine Bailey uncovers the darkest depths of a family with plenty of skeletons in its closet Good Housekeeping

Product Details

  • File Size: 10508 KB
  • Print Length: 487 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (December 31, 2013)
  • Publication Date: December 31, 2013
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,959 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S Riaz TOP 500 REVIEWER on December 31, 2013
Format: Paperback
Having really enjoyed the authors previous book Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty, I was looking forward to reading her new work. The Secret Rooms is the story of how Catherine Bailey set out to do some research for a book which ended up taking a completely different direction. When the author came to Belvoir, family home of the Duke of Rutland, she was intending to write a book about the 1,700 men of the estate who left to fight in WWI. However, when she attempted to look at the correspondence catalogued by the Duke, she found that there were three gaps: one in 1894, just before his ninth birthday, the second in 1909 when he was working in Rome and the third in 1915. When she looked at his war diary, the first pages were crammed full of war progress and movements, but after July 1915, it was a blank. What follows is the author first attempting to find what happened to the missing letters and then her search for what happened during those blank periods becomes the story she wants to write.

John Henry Montagu, the 9th Duke of Rutland, was a second son. His elder brother died shortly before the first gap in his edited correspondence. He had three sisters, one of whom was Diana, later the socialite and wife of Duff Cooper. Bailey takes us methodically through her search for the truth. She asks why the Duke died in 1940, locked away in a set of rooms to which only a handful of people were admitted, at his family home Belvoir Castle? What made him spurn a more comfortable sickroom for the spartan one he chose, in order to remain there completing his work, even when he was seriously ill? What, in other words, did he have to hide?

This is a work of great research and the author involves you completely in John's life and that of his family.
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Format: Paperback
"The Secret Rooms" takes us inside an amazing but true World War I era mystery that had been waiting all these years to be discovered and solved, behind the locked doors of the muniment rooms of Britain's Belvoir Castle, the longtime home of the Manners family and duchy of Rutland.

Enter TV writer-director-producer Catherine Bailey, who'd chosen Belvoir Castle's archives as the starting place for her research for a book about what became of the hundreds of Belvoir estate volunteers who, at their duke's urging, had gone off to France to fight World War I, and how their experiences had affected those who returned and their way of life after.

But Bailey soon found an even more compelling WWI story to research and write about. The 8th duke's son John, after the war and after he inherited the duchy, closed off the castle's muniment rooms and spent his last years locked inside those five rooms full of family history, doing something he considered urgent and private...and so important to him that, when he developed the pneumonia that would kill him, he refused to leave those cold rooms and whatever it was he was doing there. Nor would he let his own or the king's own doctor enter and try to save his life. He died there alone on an old sofa...having almost, but not quite, completed his mysterious task. After John's death in 1940, his son Charles, the 10th duke, ordered that the rooms be sealed and untouched, and so they remained until Ms. Bailey requested to see what information they could give her for her book. Soon it became clear to her WHAT John had been up to, but not WHY. Finding the answer to that would lead to the research that underpins a book the London newspapers would label "astonishing, jaw-dropping, gripping, compelling, remarkable, superb," etcetera. I agree and I suspect most readers will, too.

*pronounced "beaver"
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ninety-nine years have passed since the beginning of WW1, or as it was called at the time, "The Great War". Nearly a century ago, war was sparked by the assassination in Sarajevo in June, 1914, of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. Because of the tangled web of alliances, most of the nations in Europe went to war. In Great Britain and the imperial territories, hundreds of thousands of young men gaily joined up to fight for their king and country in a war that was supposed to last only a few months. Four long, dreadful years later, with the fields of France and Belgium turned into trench-laced killing fields, the war was over. An entire generation of young men and the cities and villages they had come from were starkly reminded of the toll the war had taken.

British historian Catherine Bailey has written one of the finest books on WW1 that I've read. Her new book, "The Secret Rooms" is a rather melodramatically-titled book about the Manners family - the Dukes of Rutland - and their castle "Belvoir" (pronounced "Beaver"). Bailey had intended to write a book about the Belvoir estate and the affect the war had on its thousands of tenants. However, once she got to work, perusing the war records at the castle, she stumbled upon a more interesting, more personal story. And that's the story she tells in "The Secret Rooms".

John Manners, the 9th Duke of Rutland, died in 1940 in a back part of his huge castle. He had sequestered himself in these rooms for a few months before his death at the age of 54, working frantically on his family's legacy. The British government had sent a huge number of boxes of archives to be protected from the German bombing of London, but it was not these records the Duke was interested in.
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