Lily, Duchess of Marlborough (1854 - 1909): A Portrait with Husbands by Sally E Svenson

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Lily, Duchess of Marlborough (1854 - 1909): A Portrait with Husbands by Sally E Svenson

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Buy Lily, Duchess of Marlborough (1854 - 1909): A Portrait with Husbands by Sally E Svenson at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Biography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An immaculately-researched look at someone whose life deserves more attention. The book is particularly good where it looks at Lily's life at Blenheim Palace. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: November 2011
Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1457507762

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The woman we will eventually come to know as Lily, Duchess of Marlborough was born Eliza Warren Price in Troy, New York in 1854. Her father hailed from Bluegrass Country in Kentucky and met his future wife (who was from Troy) in Washington DC. The family was comfortably off (but not rich) and became part of the Troy's social elite when they returned to live there. Lily (as she became known) had an unremarkable childhood and youth but became wealthy though her marriage to Louis Hammersley, who died when she was twenty eight and left her a wealthy widow. His will would leave her legal problems which would simmer all her life and even after her own death twenty one years and two more husbands later.

Remarkably little has been written about Lily, but what is available beyond the barest details begins with her second marriage. The eighth Duke of Marlborough was a social outcast in England. He was also divorced, with a dreadful reputation and in need of a wealthy wife: his home, Blenheim Palace, absorbed money like a dry sponge absorbs water. After knowing each other for a relatively short period of time - and much of that by way of letters - they were married. This caused a rift with Lily's mother, who would never forgive her daughter's perceived disloyalty and Lily would have to face social exclusion when she came to England with her second husband.

It is very difficult to make interesting and accurate reading out of the life of a nineteenth century woman, even one who was married to a wealthy man such as Louis Hammersley, because the attitude was to keep their affairs private. Sally Svenson has done a remarkably proficient job in the circumstances but the book really comes alive and sings when Lily marries the Duke of Marlborough and makes her home at Blenheim. It's far more than fleshed-out details: there's a real feel for the way of life, the problems which the social difficulties of the Duke bring about and the responsibilities of running a home such as Blenheim. Lily comes off the page and surprisingly, so does the Duke, who emerges as a far more engaging personality than I was expecting.

Lily's first husband died relatively young and this was to be a feature of her life. She was chatelaine of Blenheim was just four years before the eighth Duke died with shocking suddenness. Lily had been well aware that Marlborough had married her for her money but there does seem to have been a lot of mutual affection between them, much of it engendered by Lily's willingness to adapt to her husband's way of life. She would marry for the third and final time not long afterwards, this time to the Anglo-Irish Lord William de la Poer Beresford, a man with popularity akin to that of a modern film star.

The book is wide-ranging and authoritative as well as being an interesting read about someone whom history seems to have passed over. Two American women have been Duchess of Marlborough. Jennie Jerome is well known, not least for being the mother of Winston Churchill, but she was married to the eighth Duke's younger brother. The other Duchess was Consuelo Vanderbilt, brought to prominence by her family connections and it's good that the balance has been at least partially redressed by this very readable biography. I'd like to thank the author or sending a copy to the Bookbag.

The gardens at Blenheim were designed by Capability Brown. You can read more about him in Lancelot 'Capability' Brown: The Omnipotent Magician 1716-1783 by Jane Brown For more about a contemporary of Lily we can recommend Daisy: The Lives and Loves of the Countess of Warwick by Sushila Anand.

Buy Lily, Duchess of Marlborough (1854 - 1909): A Portrait with Husbands by Sally E Svenson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Lily, Duchess of Marlborough (1854 - 1909): A Portrait with Husbands by Sally E Svenson at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Lily, Duchess of Marlborough (1854 - 1909): A Portrait with Husbands by Sally E Svenson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Lily, Duchess of Marlborough (1854 - 1909): A Portrait with Husbands by Sally E Svenson at Amazon.com.

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