The Viceroy's Daughters: The Lives of the Curzon Sisters

The Viceroy's Daughters: The Lives of the Curzon Sisters

by Anne de Courcy

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Based on unpublished letters and diaries, The Viceroy's Daughters is a riveting portrait of three spirited and wilful women who were born at the height of British upper-class wealth and privilege.

The oldest, Irene, never married but pursued her passion for foxes, alcohol, and married men. The middle, Cimmie, was a Labour Party activist turned Fascist. And Baba, the youngest and most beautiful, possessed an appetite for adultery that was as dangerous as it was outrageous.

As the sisters dance, dine, and romance their way through England's most hallowed halls, we get an intimate look at a country clinging to its history in the midst of war and rapid change. We obtain fresh perspectives on such personalities as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Oswald Mosley, Nancy Astor and the Cliveden Set, and Lord Halifax. And we discover a world of women, impeccably bred and unabashedly wilful, whose passion and spirit were endlessly fascinating.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062381729
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/16/2014
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 564,703
File size: 639 KB

About the Author

Anne de Courcy has written eleven books, including Diana Mosley: Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler's Angel; Debs at War; and The Viceroy's Daughters. She lives in London and Gloucestershire.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Curzon and His Circle

The Curzon daughters were born when the wealth and privilege of the British upper classes were at their zenith. Powdered footmen in brilliant liveries stood behind chairs at dinner parties of ten courses. The pavement outside a grand house was covered with sound-deadening straw if the occupant was ill, or with a red carpet if there was a ball, so that guests in tiaras or tailcoats could proceed in style to a ballroom filled with flowers from the hothouses of the host's country estate. Most of them, born into this tight and exclusive circle threaded through with networks of cousinage, already knew each other, their friendships flowering during the long Saturdays to Mondays spent at one another's country houses.

The grandeur, the sports, the pleasures, the elaborate clothes washed, ironed, mended and packed by lady's maid or valet, the dressing gongs, the carriages, the silver tea things on a white lace cloth beneath a cedar tree on the lawn, were expressions of a society secure in its own power — a power which extended over roughly a quarter of the world and which was, equally securely, held in the hands of its ruling class.

No one epitomized the concept of the Englishman born to rule better than George Nathaniel Curzon. As Lady Cynthia Asquith, the daughter of Curzon's friend, Lady Elcho, tartly observed: "It certainly needed no trained psychologist's eye to diagnose him at a glance as a man who would prefer to be mounted on an elephant rather than a donkey." When his daughters Irene, Cynthia and Alexandrawere born, in 1896, 1898 and 1904 respectively, he was at the height of his powers and influence.

The Honorable George Curzon, the eldest of four brothers and six sisters, was born on January 11, 1859, at Kedleston, the Derbyshire estate that had belonged to the Curzons for more than seven hundred years. The house, a northern palace, was built by Robert Adam with a saloon based on the Pantheon in Rome, and was surrounded by a park. George's father, the fourth Lord Scarsdale, who as a younger son had not expected to inherit the manor, was the village rector. All his life Curzon was passionate about Kedleston and constantly sought to enrich and improve it, a passion that expanded to embrace the other grand houses which he later bought or rented.

Curzon's brilliance and belief in himself were apparent from an early age; the future prime minister Herbert Henry Asquith, who met him while he was at Eton, was more struck by his self-confidence than by any other quality. Brought up by a sadistic governess, a cold mother, who died when he was sixteen, and a distant, eccentric father, the realization that he could depend only upon himself and on what he could make of his life had come to him early.

Just before his mother died, George had taken a fall while riding in the Kedleston woods, hurt his back badly and spent three days lying in bed in great pain. Like any fifteen-year-old, when he got better he forgot about it. Then, on holiday in France just before going up to Oxford in the autumn of 1878, he was suddenly struck by agonizing pain in the lower back. His right hip, he realized, had altered shape. He went straight back to London where he immediately consulted a specialist, who told him that he was suffering from curvature of the spine and that in future he must wear a corset or brace and avoid violent exercise. From then on, he was in more or less constant pain, often having to take to his bed as the only alleviation. Work provided distraction, consolation and a lifeline out of the self-pity into which he occasionally fell.

The effect of this constant suffering permeated Curzon's character, aggravated by the steel corset he was obliged to wear. This rigid framework made him literally stiff-necked, giving him an appearance of pride verging on self-importance, a man prepared to stand on his dignity on all occasions. And, just as stiffness of body is often reflected in rigidity of mind, so his attitudes and prejudices all too easily became set in stone while his will dominated his emotions.

This did not stop him from becoming the center of a notable group of friends both as an undergraduate at Oxford and after. There was the masculine society of the Crabbet Club — founded by the traveler, poet and womanizer Wilfrid Scawen Blunt at his home in Sussex — which would meet for what Curzon called "bayarnos" (he was under the impression that "beano" was Italian for a festivity) in the first weekend of July, when around twenty members arrived bringing with them presents of wine, cigars and other delicacies. In 1883 he was elected a fellow of All Souls; and three years later ran for Parliament and became the Conservative MP for Southport in Lancashire.

Curzon was also a founder member of the coterie of aristocratic and intellectual men and women known as "the Souls." Though the nude tennis-playing of the Crabbet Club after a long night of talk had no place among the Souls, they were equally impressed by an elegance of intellectual style. They were not afraid of expressing emotion — indeed, they had been christened the Souls by Lord Charles Beresford in 1888 since, as he said, "You all sit and talk about each other's souls"; and the name was confirmed by Curzon's banquet for them of 1889 at the Bachelors' Club, where each guest found on his chair a set of Curzon's verses describing the characteristics of each individual Soul. Their articulateness, freedom of expression and extravagant displays of affection made their conversation the very opposite of the convention and banality that had trickled down from court circles. One favorite after-dinner game was Styles, in which guests were given half an hour to...

The Viceroy's Daughters. Copyright © by Anne de Courcy. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. .

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Viceroy's Daughters: The Lives of the Curzon Sisters 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
beadinggem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well written biography of Lord Curzon, one of the Viceroys of India's daughters who lived lives of utter privilege and low morals. The best parts of the books were about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor during and after the abdication crisis as the book was based on diaries and letters of the subjects.
Guest More than 1 year ago
From start to finish, this is an excellant ,well written book on the Curzon sisters . Few biograhies possess the magic to transport the reader to another era, Viceroy's Daughters achieves this , with the text , and accompanying photos . Lord Curzon , (their father) married an american heiress (Mary Leiter, daughter of co-founder of Marshall Fields ), using her money to secure his position as Viceroy of India , among other splurges . The three sisters were all very young when their mother died , and their father took control of their fortune , spending lavishly , until eventually , his adult daughters faught back . Irene, the eldest lived in the world of grand house parties , and hunting . Cynthia would marry fascist Sir Mosley, and within months of her death, he took up with Alexandra , the youngest sister. If you were ever curious about life in the roaring 20's and 30's , or the golden age of the english aristocracy, this is a must read . Excellant family saga, worth every star !!