Sunday, 15 April 2012

Cliveden's Notorious History

Cliveden House

Cliveden House, is in the spotlight once more as the lease of this National Trust owned property has recently been sold to another hotel chain. Over the years this mansion has been both famous and infamous, but not necessarily the scene of very much human happiness.

Pronounced CLIV-d'n, the house is set on cliffs two hundred feet above the River Thames, originally an Italianate villa built by George Villiers 2nd Duke of Buckingham as a "hunting box" and to house his mistress, Anna, Countess of Shrewsbury.

George’s father, the favourite of both James I and Charles I, was stabbed by an assassin when George was four months old, and he was brought up by Charles I together with his older sister Mary, who became Duchess of Richmond, and younger brother Francis, with the King's own children.

In the Civil War he took part in the attack on Lichfield Close when he was only 15. Under the care of the Earl of Northumberland, George and his brother travelled abroad and lived in Florence and Rome. When the Second Civil War broke out they joined Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland in Surrey, in July 1648. Francis was killed near Kingston upon Thames but George escaped to the Netherlands.  In September, 1649, Charles II conferred on him the Order of the Garter (KG) and admitted him to his Privy Council in Exile in April 1650.

George Villiers 2nd DukeBuckingham
Reckless, extravagant and a arrogant, George took his father's dubiously earned fortune and threw it in every direction when restored to him by his boyhood friend, Charles II. Indulged by the king, George got himself into all sorts of political scrapes, but he appears to have been brave and as well as strong minded and wasn't afraid to go against convention.

A lifelong enemy of Edward Hyde, Earl Clarendon, Buckingham supported the alliance with the Scottish Presbyterians, fought with Charles II at Worcester, abandoned the king in exile and returned to England to marry Fairfax's daughter Mary, who had fallen in love with him although the banns of her intended marriage with the Earl of Chesterfield had been twice called in church. his negotiations with Oliver Cromwell's government, estranged him from the royal family.

He tried to court Charle's widowed sister Mary, Princess of Orange, and  Due to his participation in the rebellion, Buckingham’s lands were confiscated and had already been given to his father-in-law, Thomas, Lord Fairfax.
Anna, Duchess of Shrewsbury

Buckingham carried on plotting against the government, and he was placed under house arrest at York House in April 1658, escaped, and was rearrested, but freed after promising not to assist the enemies of the government, and on Fairfax's security of £20,000. He joined Fairfax in his march against General John Lambert in January 1660, and afterwards claimed to have ‘turned’ Fairfax to the cause of the Restoration.

Buckingham was waiting at Dover to receive Charles II on his restoration to the throne, and despite being greeted coldly, it wasn’t long before he was appointed a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, made Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire. He also accompanied Princess Henrietta, the king’s youngest sister, to Paris to marry the Duke of Orleans, but made such shameless advances to her that he was recalled.

By 1662 he was on the Privy Council, his confiscated estates were restored - amounting to £26,000 a year making him the king's richest subject. He went to sea in the second Anglo-Dutch War in 1665, and took measures to resist the Dutch or French invasion in June 1666.

Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, had Buckingham debarred from office, and Buckingham came to blows with the Marquess of Dorchester and pulled off the marquis’s periwig, which earned him another stay in the Tower. Buckingham’s opposition to the government had finally lost him the king's favour, and he was dismissed from all his offices.

Charles II could rarely bear a grudge and George charmed his way back into the king's favour, and took an active part in the prosecution and fall of Clarendon, after which he became the chief minister, even though he had previously held no high office except Master of the Horse, a post he bought from the Duke of Albermarle in 1668.

George fought an infamous duel to protect the honour of his mistress, Anna, Countess of Shrewsbury with her husband, Lord Shrewsbury in which he was fatally wounded.

Legend says Anna held her lover’s horse while she coldly watched her husband being killed by Buckingham. There is a crossed swords detail on the lawn at Cliveden where Shrewsbury’s blood spilled on the grass. [Although some accounts say this duel was fought in barn Elms.] Accoring to Samuel Pepy's account, a man called Jenkins was also killed and Sir JohnTalbot badly injured. then provoked an outrage when he installed the "widow of his own creation" in his own and his wife's house.

In 1674, the Lords, on behalf of the trustees of the young Earl of Shrewsbury complained of Buckingham’s public affair with the Countess, and that a son of theirs had been buried in Westminster Abbey with the title of Earl of Coventry. Buckingham and the countess were required to apologize and give security for £10,000 not to cohabit together again.

Fnally removed from his court posts forever, Buckingham reformed his ways, attended church with his wife, paid his debts, became a "patriot", although he spent another short spell in the Tower for more intrigue. He abhorred the Popish Plot, but avoided aligning himself with the Whigs – possibly because of his dislike of the Duke of Monmouth and the Earl of Shaftesbury, and was restored to the king's favour in 1684. 

After James II's accession, Buckingham took no part in public life and retired to his manor of Helmsley in Yorkshire, most likely because of poor health and exhausted finances.Taken ill with a hernia whilst hunting, he died at Kirby Moorsideand was buried in June 1687 in Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey, with greater splendour than the late king. All his property, which had been deeply mortgaged, was sold, and did not realize sufficient to pay his debts. He had no heirs, so his nine titles became extinct.

His last recorded words, "O! what a prodigal have I been of that most valuable of all possessions—Time!" indicate George Villiers had at last become aware of the flaws in his own character.


Between 1737 and 1751 the estate was leased to Frederick Prince of Wales, eldest son of George II to escape the king's influence, and where he held musical parties with his friends, and saw the first performance of Arne's Rule Britannia in 1740, probably in a grass amphitheatre which still exists, hidden in woods at the north end. Frederick died before his father and it was Frederick's eldest son, who had spent most of his childhood at Cliveden, who became the next king as George III.

Two fires at Cliveden, in 1795 and 1849 destroyed the first two incarnations of the house. Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, was chosen to supervise rebuilding work and in 1851, a new Italianate villa, close to the spirit of Villiers' original building was erected. It is this house which was purchased from the Duke of Westminster by William Waldorf Astor in 1893, an act which did not amuse Queen Victoria, a frequent guest.
Lady Nancy Astor 1879-1964

When Astor’s son, Waldorf, married Nancy Longhorn in 1906, Cliveden was given to the couple as a gift. Nancy, the first woman to sit in the House of Commons, turned Cliveden into a social and political centre and entertained, Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, President Roosevelt and George Bernard Shaw, who in particular loved it, and visited many times.

Harold Macmillan, another frequent guest, when told that the house was eventually to become a hotel, remarked “My dear boy, it always has been.”

Cliveden's final inquity occurred in the summer of 1961, when, at a pool party given by Lord Astor, John Profumo, the secretary of state for war, began a relationship with Christine Keeler, a showgirl staying at Spring Cottage in the grounds, who was also involved with a Soviet spy. The ensuing scandal resulted in Profumo's resignation and the suicide of one of the party guests.


Alison Stuart said...

Oh, I love George Villiers. He is so delightfully bad. He shows up in my novel BY THE SWORD where he is thoroughly nasty to my hero. I so enjoyed writing him into the story. Often villains are much more fun than heroes.
Poor Mary Fairfax, he led her such a difficult life. I have often wondered how her poor father, who adored her, reconciled himself to the marriage.

Carole said...

Nice post. Cliveden is on my Travel Bucket List