History of Cliveden’s tenacious women revealed in new book
History books can sometimes be a little dry, skimming over the juicy and salacious details in favour of the rather mundane.
But a new book which documents the lives of the remarkable women who shaped Cliveden House does the precise opposite.
Written by journalist Natalie Livingstone, it is a labour of love, devised when her husband Ian purchased the lease to run part of the historic property as a hotel.
Spanning over 300 years the book, entitled The Mistresses of Cliveden, exposes the house as an ‘emblem of elite misbehaviour and intrigue’.
Cliveden House was built in the reign of Charles II by the Duke of Buckingham.
The primary purpose of the home was for the Duke to conduct a scandalous affair with ambitious courtesan Anna-Maria, Countess of Shrewsbury.
During the home’s 1960s period 300 years later, it served as the stage for scandal once again.
This time the pool area would be the site of the very first meeting of Christine Keeler and John Profumo, which would result in a scandal which rocked he public’s faith in the establishment.
In the years between both scandals, Cliveden was home to a string of tenacious women – all of whom made their mark on the society in which they lived.
One of these woman was Nancy Astor, the first woman to take a seat in parliament, another Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland, a society hostess who turned political campaigner. And Mrs Livingstone says that writing the book has unearthed vital parts of these stories for the first time.
She said: “There were so many surprises when I did the research.
“Stories that appeared to be a fait accompli at first were challenged when I looked at all the resources.
“In the case of Anna Maria, in previous history books her story has been told as a straight forward morality tale of a voracious woman who abandoned her children.
“But where Victorian writers portrayed it that way, through the research I found a woman who had to defend herself against very competitive court culture.”
It took two years for Mrs Livingstone to write the book, and she took a sabbatical from a 15-year career in journalism to focus on her research full time.
She said: “It was a very intense experience.
“I worked really, really long hours and had very few days off.
“It was a really labour intensive project and a massive undertaking.”
She added: “But when I first saw the house, as anyone that sees the view and goes up that gravel path will know, I was completely intoxicated by it.”
And Mrs Livingstone believes that the book will be an entertaining read, as well as a historical work.
She said: “It’s a fun read. Because I was teaching myself about these periods in history I hope I have been able to take the readers by the hand in the same way.
“It has affairs, scandals, a little bit of sex and is certainly not dry.”
The Mistresses of Cliveden is published by Penguin Random House and is released tomorrow (Thursday).
For more information visit www.randomhouse.co.uk