Daisy: The Lives and Loves of the Countess of Warwick by Sushila Anand
|Daisy: The Lives and Loves of the Countess of Warwick by Sushila Anand|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: A biography of the Countess of Warwick, remembered not only for her notorious promiscuity but also for her conversion to radicalism and work for the early socialist cause, until then almost unheard of in aristocratic circles.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: May 2009|
|Publisher: Piatkus Books|
Born Daisy Maynard in 1861, the Countess of Warwick lived a colourful life by any standards. She was notoriously promiscuous, a spendthrift who did not hesitate to try and provoke a royal scandal to shore up her parlous finances, and although she relished her lifestyle to the full, she spent several years fighting wholeheartedly for the pioneer socialists in Britain.
Spotted by Queen Victoria and regarded as a possible bride for her youngest son Prince Leopold, she had other ideas, and at the age of 19 she married Lord Brooke, heir to the Earl of Warwick. In view of her later behavior, the royal family must have heaved a deep sigh of relief that this loose cannon 'jilted' Leopold (a haemophiliac who was fortunate to survive childhood but died at 30 and would have left her a very young widow).
She was extremely lucky in her compliant, much-cuckolded husband, 'Brookie', to whom she remained married until his death in 1924. They had not been together long before she sought affairs elsewhere, notably with the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) and members of his 'Marlborough House' set. One of these liaisons was with Lord Charles Beresford, who almost certainly fathered one of her children. She told Lady Beresford that she intended to elope with her husband, a state of affairs which the furious wronged wife refused to accept. The ensuing scandal resulted in various indiscreet letters involving the Prince of Wales, and came close to ending up in court.
By this time Daisy, known behind her back as 'the babbling Brooke', was embarking on the affair which she would probably regret most of all. Joe Laycock, who had served as an army officer in the Boer War, was a bachelor, a millionaire and a cad. He fathered two of her children, but showed little interest in them, and made it clear to her that he just regarded her as an occasional mistress. Her efforts to win him back ended up in another pregnancy, an abortion and her coming close to death with scepticaemia.
Although at one time she had been possibly one of the richest women in England, by middle age she was on the verge of bankruptcy. This could be solved, she thought, by publishing a kiss-and-tell memoir which would include some of the late King Edward VII's indiscreet letters written to her while he was still heir to the throne. Only some very adroit legal brinkmanship on the part of the advisers of King George V – ironically, at the time when they had more pressing matters to consider (like the imminent declaration of war with Germany) – managed to stop her.
By this time she had caused controversy and amazed the circles in which she moved by her passionate support for the Social Democratic Foundation and later the Labour Party. She saw nothing incongruous in continuing to host magnificent social occasions, while supporting the poor and needy. In 1924 she even stood as a Labour candidate for Westminster against the young Conservative, and future Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, a distant relation of hers by marriage, though she came a very poor third.
The author, who sadly died of cancer shortly after she completed the book, remains scrupulously non-judgmental throughout. Daisy could be an extremely selfish character, often thinking of nothing but her own pleasure, and refusing to let her husband divorce her as she would become a social outcast. Yet her concern for those less fortunate herself, especially helping to found a co-educational school for the needy, shows the better side of her. Whether a perception that life would never be the same for the upper classes in the new post-war order, even in a placid country like England, had anything to do with it, who can say?
At any rate, this is a fascinating biography of a strange, often contradictory but never dull character. There were occasionally places where I felt some of the love letters might have been edited a little, but this only detracts slightly from an extremely good read.
If you enjoy this, you might also like another biography of a near-contemporary, The Bolter by Frances Osborne or Lily, Duchess of Marlborough (1854 - 1909): A Portrait with Husbands by Sally E Svenson.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Daisy: The Lives and Loves of the Countess of Warwick by Sushila Anand at Amazon.com.
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