Read The Mistresses of Cliveden: Three Centuries of Scandal, Power and Intrigue in an English Stately Home by Natalie Livingstone Online


A Sunday Times bestseller - Five women. One house. One extraordinary history.From its construction in the 1660s to its heyday in the 1960s, Cliveden played host to a dynasty of remarkable and powerful women.Anna Maria, Elizabeth, Augusta, Harriet, and Nancy were five ladies who, over the course of three centuries, shaped British society through their beauty, personalities,A Sunday Times bestseller - Five women. One house. One extraordinary history.From its construction in the 1660s to its heyday in the 1960s, Cliveden played host to a dynasty of remarkable and powerful women.Anna Maria, Elizabeth, Augusta, Harriet, and Nancy were five ladies who, over the course of three centuries, shaped British society through their beauty, personalities, and political influence.Restoration and revolution, aristocratic rise and fall, world war and cold war form the extraordinary backdrop against which their stories unfold. An addictive history of the period and an intimate exploration of the timeless relationships between people and place, The Mistresses of Cliveden is a story of sex, power and politics, and the ways in which exceptional women defy the expectations of their time....

Title : The Mistresses of Cliveden: Three Centuries of Scandal, Power and Intrigue in an English Stately Home
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 25686355
Format Type : Kindle Edition
Number of Pages : 608 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Mistresses of Cliveden: Three Centuries of Scandal, Power and Intrigue in an English Stately Home Reviews

  • Jen Campbell
    2019-02-24 16:14

    I'm chairing an event with Natalie on the 14th March at the V&A if you're in London and fancy coming along :) It's a fascinating book.

  • Marguerite Kaye
    2019-03-24 16:48

    There's no getting away from it, I was disappointed by this book. I was hoping for a good history with Cliveden as the centre piece, but what I got felt like a very contrived link, some not very interesting history, and what felt, ultimately, like a puff piece by the current owner. I know that sounds harsh. Don't get me wrong, it was well-written, and if you knew nothing at all of the histories involved, then it probably was informative. But here's the thing - and it's a personal thing that I've said over again with biography and history - I like people to be opinionated. I'm not interested in facts, I want discussion, analysis, hypothesis - whether I agree with it or not. I didn't get any of that here, save some rather spurious links between the various chatelaines of Cliveden which were 'scandalous'. What I also got was a lot of glossing over the history that was less than palatable, and an unwillingness to confront some of the less savoury links with the precious house. I was really looking forward to this book. Perhaps that's why I'm disappointed. But there's no getting away from it, I am.

  • Chris
    2019-03-16 18:58

    Your reaction to this book is going to depend upon what you think it is going to be or what you want. Is it a history of Cliveden? Despite the title, nope. It is more a history of selection group of women (not all the women) who had control of the propertry. As such, it is good, if a bit long winded at times.

  • Gemma (Non Fic Books)
    2019-03-11 17:00

    A very enjoyably read about five women connected to Cliveden, definitely one for people who think non-fiction cannot be just as fluid to read as fiction. My only gripe is that the depth of research is rather varied across the women with interesting aspects skimmed over in some lives while comparatively irrelevant detail is discussed in others. But, the author has left me interested enough in four of these five women to search out more in-depth looks at their lives.Ideally this would be a 3.5* book for me.

  • Aishuu
    2019-03-11 12:48

    A very uneven read - some of the sections were fascinating, but others dragged. It's not really about the life at the house - it's about the people who lived there. Some of the mistresses had a ton of their pre-house life, while other histories were not as expansive. The beginning is a lot more compelling - it really gets weaker as the story progresses. I also don't trust the writer - she's definitely an apologist for most of the ladies more questionable actions. I suspect this is something that was written for the current Cliveden gift shop....

  • Lolly's Library
    2019-03-23 18:01

    3.5 starsAn entertaining romp through history, hinged around the singular, magnificent, and infamous Cliveden estate, from its beginnings as a luxurious pleasure palace built by the Duke of Buckingham in the Restoration reign of King Charles II to the Profumo Affair in the 1960s, the sex scandal which took down the British government.Though the writing is lively, making for an entertaining read, as others have pointed out, the title is misleading as the bulk of the writing really doesn't focus on the women who are ostensibly meant to be the subject. Instead, we see a great deal more of the men around whom these women's lives revolved, as we watch these men build, rebuild, expand, restore, and renovate the house and grounds of Cliveden through the centuries while the women, for the most part, are sort of added in as decoration. Now some might say the author has a conflict of interest writing this book as her husband is the current owner of Cliveden, but I think this simply gives an additional layer to the history she's written as the latest mistress of the house.There were a great many pictures sprinkled throughout the text, which I found wonderful (I love having lots of visual references), especially the gorgeous portraits which led off each part introducing a new mistress of Cliveden. As an architecture nut, about the only thing I wish would've been added are some floorplans of the house. Also, while a Cast of Characters is provided at the beginning of the book, again, personally I would've preferred having some kind of genealogical tree to show the relationships and descendants.As someone who enjoys both British history and architecture, this book provided the perfect combination of both. Thanks to The Random House Publishing Group and Goodreads giveaways for providing me a copy of this book.

  • Suzanne
    2019-03-04 13:03

    Fantastic. I wasn't expecting this to do anything but entertain but I finished the book significantly better informed on a variety of topics. Centered around the manor house of Cliveden on the Thames, Livingstone tells the story of the home's mistresses. Using this format, you get an education in how the roles of women changed over the three centuries. True, the point of view is primarily of the aristocratic social strata but that bears our attention in the study of the advances of women. Nancy Astor is a person that has lingered on the periphery of my awareness for many years without knowing anything about her beyond her wealth. What a fascinating woman. I feel like I must know more about her. I am going to London this spring and wish a trip to Cliveden were on the itinerary, alas, it is not. Double alas because I understand it to be a rather swank hotel now. The reader was excellent. Her American accent was more than passable. At first I thought it was a bit too Annie Oakley but Astor was of Southern extraction so it worked. Great audiobook.

  • Helen Carolan
    2019-03-17 14:06

    this was a bit disappointing. Miss Livingstone's book was more about the house and gardens of Cliveden than it's mistresses. an o.k read but would have liked more written about the women this book was intended to be about.

  • Shelley
    2019-03-04 12:12

    This is the result of a Goodreads giveaway. Although I read a lot of English history, I probably wouldn't have picked this for myself. 3.5, rounded up to 4 because I would have gone for 3, but I'm cranky because it's hot out and I'm taking that into allowance.The title is poorly chosen. Sure, it's somewhat about the women who lived in (were the mistresses of) Cliveden and they are the scaffolding of the book, but look to the subtitle for what you'll find what's really here: centuries of powerful men who lived there alongside the history of England while Cliveden was built, burned, rebuilt, burned, and rebuilt, then burned by scandal.Why wouldn't I have picked it on my own? I don't like the trend of women writing about stately homes (with the possible exception of the Duchess of Devonshire because she's a Mitford and Mitford girls get to break all the rules). It's like assuming Elizabeth only liked Darcy because she wanted Pemberley. Also, it's 2016. Women. Writing about homes. My grandmother subscribed me to Better Homes & Gardens when I married, and it seemed quaint then. Does anyone want to know my Wedgwood pattern?Sorry for the digression. Although most of the facts align well with what I already know, occasionally the author lets loose with a howler like 1852 being one generation removed from the American Revolution's end. (1781 or 1783, depending on your point of view.) You will not often find me saying a non-fiction book is too long, but this one is. Someone not familiar with 17th or 18th century history might get lost keeping track of the Annes, Marys, and Elizabeths. For all that, it ends abruptly, the author skipping over Cliveden's time leased by Stanford and then various hotel groups (including her husband's, and her way of hinting they just happened to luck into the place through elbow grease is charming but unbelievable). You can go back and re-read the introduction and timeline, but that only gives you a small picture of what happened after the 60s.

  • Mell
    2019-03-11 14:56

    I've seen this book advertised with the phrase "for fans of Downton Abbey." This book is *nothing* like that PBS series. I want to clarify so that people aren't disappointed. Book begins in the mid 17th century (1660s) and is packed with historical and political minutia through the mid 20th century (1960s). In comparison, Downton covers just 1912 to 1922 and was lite on politics. Both are enjoyable in their own way but are not similar. Parts of The Mistresses of Clivedon were quite good, and others jumped the tracks into tedious tangents. The author will reference an occasion or fact in one of the women's lives and then go on for pages about unnecessarily detailed points. I have a degree in history and even I found the book a bit tiresome at times. The chapters are lopsided, with the earlier women's lives less documented due to both number of years passed and the fact that women weren't independent persons but legal extensions of their husbands. I did enjoy the first 2/3 of the book. Nancy Astor's life is the most spotlighted, and she was such a nasty person that I had to force myself to finish. The book has a clumsy introduction and conclusion about the British sex scandal in the 1960s. They are poorly integrated, and read like bad bookends tacked on at the last minute.

  • Andrea
    2019-02-27 12:56

    While some of the history presented was a review of things I’ve read elsewhere, overall – I found the organization of this book – around a single estate – to be enjoyable an effective. Spanning over 200 years, the book provides detailed history of the estate itself and the various homes built there over the years, the various “mistresses” of Cliveden and the overarching history of Britain. I was sort of disappointed at the final section – not so much because of the book as because I’ve always rather liked Nancy Astor and this book certainly captured some of her less endearing qualities and beliefs. Yikes!

  • Myra
    2019-03-24 17:57

    Natalie Livingstone has produced a well-written debut piece which encompasses considerable biographical and historical information; all utterly new to me. Depicted in this work, is not so much the history of the house, but more that of the rich and powerful group of English women inhabitants. The five ladies presiding over the house of Cliveden during the three centuries were: Anna Maria, Elizabeth, Augusta, Harriet, and Nancy. I found the book to be well organized, and, especially enjoyed being able to refer to the portraits, the Cast of Characters and the Timeline included in the book. I should mention that the author and her husband are the current owners of Cliveden and have turned it into a luxury hotel. I would especially recommend this book to the history buffs.An ARC of this book was provided to me by The Random House Publishing Group through a LibraryThing Early Reviewers contest.

  • Hannah
    2019-03-21 18:03

    A beautiful book in all senses of the word. Natalie Livingstone takes the lives of some of the female inhabitants of Cliveden as the premise. This is not really a history of the house as such, although this does play a part. It is more like a social history of a group of really interesting women through different ages. The reader learns about their changing positions and how they influenced the lives of the monarchy and the governments at the time. Although this could hardly be called a short book, it doesn't feel that long as there seems to be just enough about each of the women described. I thought it seemed well researched, engagingly written with well chosen illustrations.

  • Bethwyn (Butterfly Elephant Books)
    2019-02-22 17:04

    4.5 stars. Really very interesting and so well-researched. I loved the idea of setting it out based on the mistresses who resided there rather than just a general history - this made it much easier to follow and much more interesting. A wonderful read.

  • Mary
    2019-03-23 13:50

    24th- 26th July 2017 & 28th-30th July 2015Excellently written. Love the history of the house as much as the fascinating strong females populating the book. There's always room in my life for these lesser known characters from history!

  • Emily
    2019-03-22 19:06

    Highly researched, niche history of Cliveden in England.

  • Juliahoney Kamenker
    2019-03-24 11:58

    it was good but it went off way too much on historical background and not as much about the house itself

  • Dawn
    2019-03-03 14:09

    I really enjoyed this book. It could have been a dry read but wasn't. The author gave great info and kept it flowing.

  • Girl with her Head in a Book
    2019-02-25 16:15

    For my full review: is a house that is synonymous with intrigue, from its purchase in the Restoration all the way to the Profumo affair in the 1950s where 'good-time girl' Christine Keeler hit it off with government minister John Profumo while playing around in Cliveden's swimming pool. So many of the stories associated with it are truly stranger than fiction and it is this appetite for scandal that Natalie Livingstone, wife of the current owner, is tapping into with this glittering biography of Cliveden's most well-known mistresses. Not merely the memoir of the ladies however, Livingstone's book is also an account of the house itself, its changing roles and - one has to wonder - quite an effective bit of PR for it in its current guise as a hotel. Charting the story of the house over three centuries, Livingstone has real enthusiasm for her subject and has clearly done her research - this is a delicious dive into domestic history at its very best.Livingstone chooses to focus her book on five of the ladies who presided over Cliveden; Anna Maria, Elizabeth, Augusta, Harriet and Nancy. She has obviously picked out the juiciest candidates, skipping over generations which seem to have had less sparkle. Indeed, several of the ladies who do make Livingstone's cut do appear to rather stretch the point, with Anna Maria never quite taking up residence and with Augusta only ever being a tenant rather than an owner. However, these are petty criticisms as Livingstone does have the flair of a novelist in how she draws together these women's stories into this hugely engaging piece of work. While often forced to be spectators rather than participants in events, the mistresses of Cliveden were witnesses to some remarkable twists and turns of history.First up was Anna Maria, Countess of Shrewsbury and perhaps most scandalous of all the heroines of the book. George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, already had a wife Mary, who Livingstone dismisses as 'amiable but spiritless' according to contemporaries, so he was unable to resist Anna Maria who had grown disaffected from her husband. Their affair became notorious, so much so that Anna Maria's husband finally roused himself into action and challenged Villiers to a duel. This proved fatal for the Earl, so Villiers and Anna Maria assumed that they had achieved their happy ending, other than the loose end of poor Mary. Villiers bought two modest hunting lodges with the intention of using the land to build a love nest where he hoped that he and Anna Maria could host fabulous parties and generally enjoy themselves. Thus Cliveden was born. Livingstone airily describes how the house could only have been designed by a man as sincerely in love as Villiers was, but alas the lovers remained star-crossed with higher forces finally intervening to separate the scandalous pair. Anna Maria eventually made a respectable remarriage while Villiers ultimately died in disgrace.Next up was Elizabeth, wife to the Earl of Orkney but better known as long-term mistress to William III. Jonathan Swift described her as the wisest woman he ever knew but contemporaries made more of her looks, or rather lack of them - she was nicknamed 'Squinting Betty'. Despite being a childhood friend of William's wife Mary, she began an affair with the prince shortly after he and Mary married. Livingstone notes Elizabeth's intelligence and maturity being better suited to William than Mary's insecurity. Her marriage to the Earl of Orkney came after Mary begged William on her deathbed to end the wicked association and indeed it caused no small amount of strife between Elizabeth and her family, most of whom sided with Mary. Elizabeth does come across as a very warm woman however - she may even have been my personal favourite - and her common sense approach to managing her household does give the impression that she had the most contented life out of the book's four heroines.Much is made of Cliveden's royal associations, with the third mistress being Augusta, wife to Prince Frederick who very narrowly missed out on being king, due to a nasty bout of influenza. Augusta and her husband set up a rival court at Cliveden given that they were banished from that of the actual monarch due to the rather Shakespearean discord at the heart of the Hanoverian family. Queen Caroline insisted that her son and his wife made her want to vomit - I have always remembered that ghastly detail that Caroline was comforted on her deathbed that at least she need never see Frederick ever again. Here, Frederick and Augusta's determination to present the image to the public of a domestic idyll with the pair of them in the midst of their children - well, it all seems very political. Augusta was not so innocent as she pretended.Next was Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland and granddaughter of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, of whom I have been a long-term fan. It was interesting to read more about that lady's descendants. Harriet was pronounced as the most 'kissable' by Charles Dickens - not an award I envy her for I must admit, was Queen Victoria's closest friend, was also a great friend of Gladstone and was rather taken later in life by the Italian nationalist Garibaldi. She was also a well-known hostess, campaigned against slavery (somewhat hypocritically based on her family's historic role within the Highland clearances) and maintained a role at the forefront of society despite Livingstone noting that she seems to have suffered with quite severe depression. Quite the tough lady.The final mistress - and possibly the most immediately familiar - was Nancy Astor. I have never known a great deal about her aside from her infamous exchanges with Churchill and the fact that she was the first female Member of Parliament but as the chapters on Nancy concluded, I was not entirely sure that I liked her. Or more accurately, she seemed slightly unhinged. Highly irascible, her reinvention after her traumatic first marriage led her to almost deny her American heritage as she seemed to become more English than the English. Her rabid support of appeasement and obvious anti-Semitism was difficult to overcome - her 'Cliveden set' was even the basis for the unpleasant scenes within The Remains of the Day. Equally unattractive was was her espousal of the Christian Scientists which led her to fail to seek prompt medical treatment for her daughter, leaving the latter with a long-term back injury. Her utter loathing for physical led to some truly bizarre personal relationships and her marriage was certainly complicated. Yet, there can be no doubt that Nancy Astor was a pioneer and that she had a remarkable life.Throughout the lives of all of these remarkable women, Livingstone tracks the wider political context and happenings of the day and more specifically the developments of the house itself. Cliveden develops from George Villiers' gift to Anna Maria, destined never to be delivered, to the great house where Augusta held court, to a time when Nancy saw the place as a burden, inconvenient, something to be gifted to the nation. One could imagine The Mistresses of Cliveden making a highly successful transition to costume drama, something akin to the BBC's 1998 adaptation of Aristocrats. This is history at its most seductive, with four fascinating women who could each have sustained a book solo. Quite clearly, Livingstone has fallen under their spell - her passion for her subjects is obvious - but with a book which is both well-written, full of intrigue and such compelling characters, The Mistresses of Cliveden is a more than worthy tribute to her predecessors in her post. It is rare that a biography comes along that I could recommend as a beach read but there was a strange feeling of decadence reading this - it is the non-fiction equivalent of chocolate cake with all the trimmings and I relished every moment.

  • Annie
    2019-03-22 15:53

    The Mistresses of Clivenden starts out with the story of a real mistress, Anna Maria, the Countess of Shrewsbury, who was beloved of the Duke of Buckingham. He built the house with the purpose of them living together and enjoying the pleasures of the flesh. Due to the public censure of their scandalous and even murderous (he killed her husband in a duel) relationship, they were not able to actually be together and live happily at the estate. Another famous mistress was Elizabeth, Countess of Orkney, who was the paramour of William of Orange, despite her famous squint. She and her husband, the Earl, upgraded the house and hosted royalty. The next owner was just the mistress of Clivenden, as she loved her husband - Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, the wife of the Prince of Wales. Together, they turned Clivenden into an alternate court, away from the stuffiness of the palace, with entertainments and a lower standard of protocol. Next was Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland, who was known as a beauty. Sadly, Harriet was plagued with depression, and saw the estate burned while she was chatelaine. She oversaw the rebuilding, using some of the most famous architects and builders of the day. She was also known as Queen Victoria's dear friend. The final mistress of Clivenden is Nancy Astor, the Virginia-born wife of Waldorf Astor. A spirited woman of courage, she became the first female elected to the House of Commons. Some time is also spent on the Profumo Affair, a scandal that rocked the British Government, and involved Clivenden.The book is rather uneven in its treatment of the different ladies. Too much time is spent on Nasty Nancy, probably because of the vast amount of information available about her versus the more ancient occupants. For all their wealth, none of the ladies seemed to be particularly happy. One hopes the current owner, also the author of this book, has a better outcome.

  • Kerry
    2019-03-11 17:06

    While I do have some complaints about the book, it's overall enjoyable, interesting, and readable, even if it doesn't quite succeed in what it sets out to do. The book is also well-researched, though I'm curious how the portraits of the mistresses can hang in the house when it was severely damaged by fire at least twice. How did the portraits survive, and if they weren't in the house, how did they make their way (back) to it?The book is framed within the tale of a 20th-century scandal, and while it may be a good hook, by the time you get to where it picks up again, you've forgotten who was who and what they did and why it was so terrible. And while the histories of the mistresses of Cliveden might have been interesting, the work is so heavily punctuated by the stories of their men that it doesn't concentrate sufficiently on the women to justify the title. So the house had some interesting owners--does it justify writing a book about them?

  • Sue
    2019-03-06 10:56

    These are the stories of five women that presided over the house of Cliveden (pronounced with a short i) spanning three centuries: Anna Maria, Elizabeth, Augusta, Harriet, and Nancy. Mistresses of the illigitimate and legitimate kind. Each with their own drama and positioning for various roles with the men. What they do for the men they seek and actually what the men do for them as well. I found Elizabeth sort of interesting. She was smart but not known for her beauty. I think the book just went on too long-too much of the same. Three mistresses might have been ample to spotlight as I lost interest by the time I got to Nancy even though more current times (the Astors) and Cliveden interesting as a hospital. Philippa Gregory is the writer to admire if you like this period in history and all that goes with it. She's hard to beat.

  • Lisa
    2019-02-23 14:07

    This was a Librarything giveaway that I really enjoyed as the book takes you from the Cliveden's origins and how each of its occupants changed or modernized it, sometimes drastically. Fire and war also played a part in the house's fortunes with the aftermath of two world wars impacting the class system with fewer people wanting to return to jobs in domestic service and a generation lost in the battles of World War I. I found the differences in temperament of Cliveden's mistresses interesting as well with Lady Astor's being the acerbic and Princess Augusta's being the most maligned. A keeper

  • Bebe (Sarah) Brechner
    2019-03-15 13:07

    The author brings us the history of the famous Cliveden home through the lives of its mistresses. I thoroughly enjoyed this perspective, and it was very insightful, indeed. Livingstone presents all aspects of the women who were associated with the stately home, from its conception through the end of the Astor reign. I learned quite a lot about these women, as well as the political and social history of those times. Cliveden residents were heavily embedded into the politics of their times, and the author did a superb job in researching every source and bringing to light the many personalities surrounding Cliveden. Excellent work!

  • Pamela Vicik-smith
    2019-03-13 18:56

    For some reason I thought this book was a novel. I had been waiting for the right time to read it and was so excited to start it a few days ago. In the first chapter I discovered that not only was it not a novel, it was a very dry retelling of annotated facts. Though there were some interesting tidbits, most of the book I found extremely boring. I had read somewhere that if one liked Downton Abbey they would love this book. I loved Downton Abbey but couldn’t wait to finish this book so I could move on to something else.

  • Fremom3
    2019-03-16 13:56

    Great for history buffs and fans of shows like Downton Abbey who want to know what it was REALLY like to own a grand property. A fascinating history of one of England's great estates from inspiration, conception, destruction, rebirth, and reimagining. This book also tells the compelling stories of Cliveden's great mistresses. Cliveden, and the families who loved her, comes complete with royal connections, scandal, heartache, and triumph. Highly recommended for the serious historian.

  • Honor Kennedy
    2019-03-18 15:10

    Livingstone's family recently bought Cliveden and transformed it into a luxurious hotel. As a history major from Cambridge, she intertwines the politics of the times, personal family stories and architectural changes of the estate. Not to mention the five chatelaines who oversaw Cliveden's role in British politics and society. Strong women with strong spirits, savvy, and in some instances, scandalous situations.

  • P
    2019-03-20 17:11

    This book makes history come alive - political, biographical, social, architecture, parterres, cement, wars, British policy; this book is very well written and exquisitely narrated by Elizabeth Knowelden. I want to listen to every book narrated by Elizabeth and every book written by Natalie Livingstone.

  • CarolineMiller
    2019-03-11 16:10

    Great book. I listened to the audio book and loved that it was written and narrated by the current owner of Cliveden. A great book about history, women's status throughout the English history. It is a bit long but very interesting and helps a long commute seem short.

  • Vilma Santiago-irizarry
    2019-03-03 18:08

    This is an engaging narrative that gives us an entry point, however partial, into British history through the biographies of five women who, at different points in time, lived in and presided over Cliveden, a manor originally built in Restoration England for a mistress who never inhabited it. It speaks to the place of aristocratic women in English society and the power domains they had access to. It is well written and documented, complemented by a succinct timeline that helps us keep tabs on the chronology. I only wish the author had included more illustrations, particularly of Cliveden's interiors.Blurbs for the book include what has now become a tiresome cliché as they invoke Downton Abbey, quite obviously to beguile television watchers into reading real history. But not only does this well-researched book have nothing to do with the period and style of the soap opera-ish series, the comparison does it a disservice. Read it for the glimpse it gives us into salient periods of British history rather than in pursuit of popular entertainment.