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Love, Lust and Scandal in the British Country House

Chelcey Berryhill - Friday February 12, 2016 16:21
Country house romance may conjure thoughts of Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson. However, love stories were often quite a bit more controversial in the historic country home. Country house romance may conjure thoughts of Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson. However, love stories were often quite a bit more controversial in the historic country home.

Country house romance may conjure thoughts of Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson. However, love stories were often quite a bit more controversial in the historic country home. Image courtesy of PBS.

Valentine’s Day in the English country home conjures romantic visions of Jane Austen’s crafting, or of the spectacularly slow, rewarding pairing of Carson and Mrs. Hughes on Downton Abbey. It evokes secluded walks in spectacular gardens and candlelit dinners with your partner by your side. The National Trust can recreate exactly that sort of experience for you, too, if that’s what you’re after.

Of course, that’s just one side of romance in the country house. Love was often less straightforward and idyllic in historic England, and often times verged on the downright scandalous. Take, for instance, these three stories of love, lust and drama in country houses now cared for by the National Trust.

Controversial figure Beatie Holme-Sumner was born at Hatchlands

Controversial figure Beatie Holme-Sumner was born at Hatchlands

Beatrice Holme-Sumner and Hatchlands Park

Ms. Holme-Sumner was a stunning socialite who ruffled feathers in the late 19th century, first with her progressive outfits and later with her affair with the married banker Charles Hoare. Arthur Sumner found Hoare in his daughter’s bedroom  ‘in circumstances which he could not satisfactorily explain,’ and so he banished Beatrice to relatives at remote Berkeley Castle (the subject of an upcoming Royal Oak lecture!). The couple continued their romance remotely; they exchanged letters and Beatrice allegedly staged a riding accident to be moved out of the castle and into a hospital not far from Hoare.

When Beatrice turned 21, she wasted little time in moving in with Hoare. However, the relationship was not to last, as a contempt of court case related to the affair mounted against Hoare and the union soon dissolved.

Beatrice landed on her feet though, ultimately marrying cricket superstar CB Fry and becoming the 19th century equivalent to Victoria Beckham. Visit her birthplace and uncover this history at Hatchlands with your Royal Oak membership.

Christine Keeler at Cliveden House, courtesy of the Daily Mail

Christine Keeler at Cliveden House, courtesy of The Daily Mail

From Russia with Love: Cliveden’s Fateful Affairs

Cliveden is a spectacular house that boasts exquisite gardens, a remarkable collection and a history of scandal. That history dates all the way back to 1666, when the Duke of Buckinghamshire built the house for his mistress and fatally wounded her husband in a duel.

300 years later, scandal returned to the great house with the Profumo Affair. The 3rd Viscount Astor, William, entertained frequently at Cliveden, and guests included  Secretary of State for War, John Profumo and his wife. At one of these parties, Profumo met society showgirl Christine Keeler and Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché. That set in motion a three-month affair between Profumo and Keeler, ending the Secretary of State’s political career and bringing down the MacMillan government. It turns out that Keeler was carrying on relationships with both Profumo and Ivanov, which was deemed a security risk.

Read more about the affair from The Daily Mail and be sure to visit Cliveden on your next trip to the UK.

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A Victorian Tale of Love and Abandonment at Dunham Massey

George Harry was 18 when he inherited Dunham Massey and became the 7th Earl in 1845. The youthful Earl rebelled against convention, marrying circus performer Catharine Cox amidst much controversy.

Because of the stir their union caused in Victorian society, Catharine and George left Dunham Massey, forever changing the estate’s history.

Now, a new exhibition at Dunham Massey asks: did they make the right decision? Investigate the effects of their love for each other and abandonment of the house by visiting Dunham Massey this year. The exhibit will be open every Saturday through Wednesday beginning February 27 through October 30. Use your Royal Oak membership to experience this living history today!

For even more stories of scandal at National Trust properties, click here.

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