Review: The Mistresses of Cliveden by Natalie Livingstone

4 Stars

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for allowing me the opportunity to read this book prior to publication.

I’m a sucker for anything historical, especially in European history.  I also love reading historical accounts of woman in an age where their voices were rarely heard outside the home and where their correspondence and other writings were routinely lost, burned or otherwise destroyed because they were not deemed important enough to keep.  This book takes us from the birth of Cliveden to it’s decline, a romp through three centuries of scandal and intrigue.

The estate was originally built by the Duke of Buckingham for his mistress, Anna-Maria, Countess of Shrewsbury.  The very creation of Cliveden was shrouded in scandal and political intrigue.  It saw the rise and fall of its first mistress as Buckingham was forced to cut Anna-Maria out of his life.  Her reign at Cliveden was brief and she was forced to flee to France after both she and the Duke fell out of favor at court due to their behavior.  Her story was very well written and researched and you could feel a sympathy for her and her station.  Many others have made women like Anna-Maria out to be evil and sex-crazed.  But the author paints a much different picture.  What would you have done in her shoes during a time where women did not enjoy the same freedom we do today.

The house burned down and was rebuilt several times during its history.  It passed through several families, including (for a time) the Prince of Whales.  It was a seat of political importance and intrigue.  The early mistresses were often close to the monarchy and in one case, became very close friends with Queen Victoria.  You couldn’t be that close to the Queen without becoming involved in the politics of the court.  These women definitely had a voice and while we didn’t often hear them out loud, their effects were clearly present.

Cliveden leaves English hands and becomes the home of Nancy Astor and her husband.  She is the very antithesis of the first mistress of Cliveden.  Where Anna-Maria was thought of as a nymphomaniac, Nancy Astor was the very definition of prudish.  Instead, she brought her eccentric and energetic nature to Cliveden and became the first woman MP as she paved the way for women in politics.

This is an awesome book for any lover of history, especially those who are interested in the historic estates and the women who ran them.

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