British Empire Books


The Viceroy's Daughters


TypeNon-Fiction
AuthorAnne De Courcy
PublisherHarper
Published2003




This is the story of the three daughters of Lord Curzon. He, of course, was the youngest Viceroy of India at the beginning of the twentieth century. He also rose to prominence and high office in the aftermath of the First World War. However, the book is directed at the affairs and lives of his three glamorous daughters.

It is perhaps ironic that a Conservative father should have three girls who flitted about the political scene for as long as they did. Curzon was himself against giving women the right to vote and yet his own children were intimately entwined with political movers and shakers for much of the first half of the twentieth century. They seemed to have known pretty much anyone who was anyone in the interwar years - from Prince Edward to Oswald Mosley to Lord Halifax. Although having said that, they were very much the pretty wall flowers who were close to the halls of power but whose influence never moved into the decision making processes. In short, they were products of their time. They were aristocratic daughters in the brief halcyon days before the collapse of the such aristocratic privilege.

Privilege is definitely the name of the game of these daughters. They had fantastically rich lives in multiple residences, they had fabulous holidays and teams of servants running around doing their bidding. And yet, all three of the daughters managed to find much unhappiness in these lives of excess. There was not much in the way of fidelity, truth and loyalty as these spoiled children outdid one another in their poor choices of partners or in political affiliations.

It is the political naivity of some of the Conservative elite that is perhaps most illuminating from this book. It nicely illustrates how certain aristocratic figures were drawn perilously close to the enticements of Fascism. Of course, one of the daughters actually married Oswald (Tom) Mosley, but of wider interest is those who followed or dabbled in those right-wing tendencies. In particular, the book casts some revealing light on the political and character flaws of Edward VIII. Although these are well known, it is still humbling and deeply worrying to consider that this man might have been the King during its darkest days of World War 2. This book helps confirm what a selfish fool he was and what relief it was that his much more sensible brother took the helm just in time.

In many ways, this book throws light on the old way of conducting politics in Britain. It illustrates the tight and personal world of a narrow political class who think that they have a right to rule and direct the affairs of the nation and the wider empire. It also shows that this world was fast disappearing before these three daughters' very eyes. They would grow up in one era, but would ultimately become witnesses to its passing. Women in particular should be thankful that such a society has passed into a much more democratic and egalitarian society. These three daughters may appear on the surface to have been liberated and politically involved, but in reality, they were just children of aristocratic privilege whose wealth and standing could buy them access to the decision makers of their era - but who ultimately had to watch them from the sidelines. It would be the daughters and granddaughters of this era who would actually begin the transformation of British society.


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