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Selected excerpts from the Introduction:
It has been estimated that 454 American heiresses married European aristocrats in the late nineteenth-century, and thus acquired, at considerable expense, hereditary titles of nobility. 136 bagged Earls or Counts, 42 married princes, 17 married dukes, 19 married viscounts, 33 married marquises, and there are 46 wives of baronets and knights, and 64 baronesses.
People were indeed curious about such fairy-tale marriages. In the last two or three decades of the nineteenth-century, there had been an explosion of press interest in the doings of the wealthy.
The most astringent view of these golden marriages came from those who assumed that there were financial transactions and substantial dowries behind such marriages. One estimate suggested that as much as $50,000,000 might have accompanied the American brides as they sailed across the Atlantic for their new lives in the decayed and impoverished estates of the great aristocratic families. Other estimates put the total financial cost of the transatlantic marriages at a significantly higher figure.
And when everything was settled, it was time to bring in the lawyers for a “long and legal and messy” consideration of the settlement, especially taking into account the different legal frameworks which applied to the property of married women in the United States (where a bride retained her property and wealth) and Great Britain (where husbands assumed unrestricted control over the wealth and property of the women they married). There was much to negotiate. And when the families’ objections seemed interminable, it was sometimes necessary to force their hands.
Behind the simple lists of aristocratic marriages in Titled Americans there is a world of complexity, scandal, family problems and financial and legal concerns. There was sufficient drama in such marriages to keep society gossips happy.