Looking for a riveting non-fiction read that's somewhat grounded in romance? Look no further. To Marry an English Lord is the story of the 100 or so American heiresses from the Gilded Age who willingly traded dollars for noble titles. Some succeeded; many ended unhappily. But their tale is fascinating.
The book opens with a look at old New York society, those families known as "Knickerbockers" whose safe world was to be challenged by the new money of the 1860s, money made in railroads, mining, and other low-born pursuits. It was a society closed to outsiders, and in frustration, newly-wealthy mamas with names like Jerome, Stevens, and Vanderbilt began taking their daughters to Europe when they reached marriageable age.
London was ripe to receive them. Queen Victoria was a widow, and her fun-loving son, Prince Edward, known as Bertie, had created the fashionable Marlborough Set after his marriage to a princess of Denmark. With an eye for pretty girls and an insatiable need for novelty, the Prince was expensive to entertain. The noble families of Britain didn't have much ready cash, and the beautifully-dressed, fun-loving Americans immediately caught the Prince's eye. And what Bertie liked, England liked. It wasn't long before cash-strapped aristocrats began shopping for brides among the American crop of heiresses.
Some were love matches, as in the marriage of Jennie Jerome and Lord Randolph Churchill, second son of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. So enamored were they of one another that Randolph proposed three days after meeting Jennie, though their marriage was delayed for two years and ultimately ended unhappily. Firstborn son Winston went on to renown. The majority were mostly business, as in the marriage of a reluctant Consuelo Vanderbilt to the Duke of Marlborough in 1896. He received nearly $15 million over time, money used to refurbish Blenheim Palace, among other things. Consuelo became a duchess, satisfying the ambitions of her pushy mother, Alva. The marriage ended, predictably, in divorce eleven years later.
Loaded with sidebar pages on interesting topics related to the times (expenses of running an estate; Victoria's court; genius designer Worth of Paris), this is a readable, entertaining book that can be enjoyed in short sittings. To Marry an English Lord offers a fascinating insight into the heights of social ambition. Don't miss it.