Lessons of history predict happiness for Meghan and Harry
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle should have a happy marriage if the lessons of history are anything to go by, says author Anne de Courcy, who is coming to Buxton International Festival to talk about her book on American millionairesses marrying into British nobility.
America’s “Dollar Princesses” who married impoverished British aristocrats in the 19th Century not only saved plenty of country houses with their cash – they probably saved the country itself, said Anne, who will talk about The Husband Hunters on July 19.
Fabulously wealthy American girls, usually propelled by their social-climbing mothers, brought vast inheritances to Britain and exchanged them for a place in the English nobility.
One such marriage produced Winston Churchill whose mother Jennie Jerome – “more panther than woman,” as a contemporary described her – brought millions of dollars to Blenheim Palace when she wed Randolph Churchill.
“A lot of American heiresses saved a lot of country houses,” said Anne, author of 13 widely acclaimed works of social history and biography, including Margot at War, The Fishing Fleet, The Viceroy’s Daughters and Debs at War.
Young Winston, of course, went on to create and define the Special Relationship between the two countries which saved Britain and Europe in World War Two.
Ironically, the American invasion, which continued into the early years of the Twentieth Century, was fuelled by the strict social code of New York high society which in place of the exclusion literally bred into England’s hereditary system created its own artificial snobbery – limiting those “in” to an arbitrarily designated 400 families.
The only other way in was to get an English title: “The Americans were fascinated by them,” said Anne. “They probably still are. It’s the one thing money can’t buy. People love a title – why do so many people want to get into the House of Lords?
“The period I was writing about wasn’t so very long since a lot of them had come from England, certainly in the South where they were used to the English caste system.”
And the American girls, with their confident, open manners, were a breath of fresh air to stuffy English society and especially to the Prince of Wales, who championed their cause.
However, for many of the heiresses, life on a cold, damp country estate with a husband more interested in foxes and hounds than a wife was a misery.
But Anne believes the next big wedding between an American woman and the cream of the nobility – Meghan Markle and Prince Harry – should be a success if the lessons of history are anything to go by.
“She isn’t bringing the dollars,” said Anne, and not only has the actress had her own successful career, she’s also more ready for the culture shock.
“The happy marriages were with the ones who had married at 24, 25 or 26 after seeing something of the world. They weren’t the 18-year-olds separated from family and friends in a strange country.”
l The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York. Thursday, July 19, Pavilion Arts Centre, tickets £11.
To book, do to www.buxtonfestival.co.uk
Visit buxtonfestival.co.uk for more information or telephone 01298 70395.
About Buxton International Festival
Buxton International Festival is one of the UK’s leading arts events taking place in July each year; a cultural celebration of the very best opera, music and literature taking place in the beautiful Peak District. The Festival features the most promising rising stars in the arts world, as well as prominent international singers, artists and literary figures performing in a packed summer programme of in excess of 120 events over a 17-day period to an audience of over 30,000.
The Festival produces three operas alongside a series of concerts given by many leading British and international musicians, and a literary series featuring leading writers and thinkers. Festival venues include the exquisite Matcham-designed Buxton Opera House, St John’s Church and the Pavilion Arts Centre. Together with the Buxton Festival Fringe, the spa town is a haven for arts enthusiasts throughout July each year. The Festival also presents an annual autumn Book Weekend and Outreach Programme.
Buxton International Festival has been presented annually since 1979. The brainchild of Malcolm Fraser, the Head of Opera at the Royal Northern College of Music, who had a vision of making the dilapidated Buxton Opera House, which had been used as a cinema for most of its life, into the home of an annual opera festival. With the help of Welsh National Opera conductor, Anthony Hose, he set about making his dream a reality. The Artistic Director is the acclaimed conductor, Stephen Barlow.