Story Title: To Marry An English Lord
Author Name: Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace
Category: Published Book
Story Url: Story Link
Supplemental Materials: Click Here
Content Rating: All Ages
Length: 414 pages
Story Summary: From the Gilded Age until 1914, more than 100 American heiresses invaded Britannia and swapped dollars for titles–just like Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, the first of the Downton Abbey characters Julian Fellowes was inspired to create after reading To Marry An English Lord. Filled with vivid personalities, gossipy anecdotes, grand houses, and a wealth of period details–plus photographs, illustrations, quotes, and the finer points of Victorian and Edwardian etiquette–To Marry An English Lord is social history at its liveliest and most accessible.
Since I stumbled upon this book, I’ve been amazed at how much better I can understand the subtleties found in so many other books, some of which I had previously thought I knew backwards and forwards. Whether a new Jane Austen fanfic or a re-read of “A Monstrous Regime of Women,” the second book in the Sherlock Holmes-Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King, “To Marry An English Lord” has proved relevant time and again.
What’s a Worth gown and why does it matter? Why did some estates get turned over to the National Trust, but not others? How much did it cost to run one of those mammoth estates, and where did the money come from? It’s all in here, along with so much more.
Between the 1870s and the start of World War I, England was facing a precarious situation; far worse than they even realized then. That time period, falling between the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution, could have easily been when a British Revolution occurred. But instead of the proletariat rising up and overthrowing the bourgeoisie, the monarchy and the British upper class as a whole somehow survived. Even more, they’ve become stars.
How? They were bankrupt – morally and financially. The feudal system that was the backbone of Britain’s agricultural sector was failing. Those huge old manor houses were too expensive to maintain, even without bringing in modern plumbing and electricity. Le bon ton was broke, but still trying to live it up. Charles Dickens could try for all he was worth to guilt-trip the upper class into shelling out for the lower-class, but the Beau Monde could barely afford a new pair of hunting dogs that season, much less feed the poor. Those huddled masses yearning to breath clean air in the disgusting, sewage-drenched, rat-infested slums of London were just going to have to starve.
So, how did they avoid a revolution without even realizing it? They married the nobility off to rich American brides, girls whose families had, only a generation or two previously, been flat broke. By so doing, they made the noble class accessible. A generation removed from being poor? That’s nothing. Think about Jane Austen’s world, where we’re told that the Bingleys’ money comes from trade. We don’t even know exactly how “new” their “new money” status is. But they’re labeled with it, and it makes Miss Bingley crazy.
Just a few generations after Miss Bingley was shunning Gracechurch Street, there are Dukes – actual Dukes! – marrying girls whose fathers had been as poor as a tenant farmer. Not only did that pour money into the upper crust; not only did it provide England’s ton with the ingenuity to continue surviving, (why not build an inn on the edge of your estate and welcome tourists?); not only did it assure England of a strong international ally; not only did it bring in brides who actually had a social conscience which they put to good use; most importantly: It made the nobility accessible to the poor. Suddenly, they were only an American dream away from being rich. It’s how Lady Diana Spencer, the product of an American/English match in her recent past, could become a princess. It’s how Winston Churchill, the product of another, could hold England together by sheer willpower, and still manage to drag America, kicking and screaming, into WWII. It’s why Kate Middleton isn’t as shocking of a future Queen as one might expect, in spite of her parents’ roots.
So ultimately, although this book could definitely use some editing to make it flow better (see below), it’s a goldmine of information. If you like Downton Abbey, Jane Austen, Sherlock Holmes, or are in any way an Anglophile, you need to read this book. It tells story after story of rich heiresses, their absent fathers, their manipulative mothers, and their avaricious, lordly husbands.
My Only Critique: I’ve debated whether or not to post this recommendation, because although it’s one of the most informative books I’ve read in ages and contains vastly entertaining anecdotes, it’s also terribly organized and in desperate need of a good editor to restructure the entire thing, as well as replace the dreadful photocopy-quality photos that are included. The disorganized, patch-work job that has been done with this book’s layout makes it difficult to follow a lot of the stories. Reading it as an e-book, as I did, is even more difficult, thanks to the way some of the inserts carryover onto subsequent pages. Mid-sentence, the book will abruptly be interrupted by an insert containing an anecdote that might be set years, or even decades, past the point in which the book’s narrative is currently focused. Then, just as abruptly, the shaded inset ends and the chapter resumes. Ouch.