The life of Lady Desborough - beautiful heiress, aristocratic hostess, unfaithful wife, tragic mother, Edwardian icon.
Born in 1867 and orphaned at three, Ettie Fane was brought up by a beloved grandmother and then two adoring, almost incestuous, bachelor uncles. At twenty she married Willy Grenfell, later Lord Desborough. Beautiful, rich, charming and clever, Ettie soon became a leading hostess at the two magnificent country houses she had inherited. Leading politicians, writers and artists were very much part of her circle.
But there was a dark side too, as this book will reveal. Ettie could be manipulative and cruel. Her eldest son Julian, after a nervous breakdown at Oxford, rejected her world and values. Nemesis and tragedy were not far away. In 1915 Julian died of war wounds. Six weeks later her second son Billy was killed in action. Her youngest son Ivo would be killed shortly after the war. But despite intense private misery, she reacted with outward courage and self-mastery. Grief revealed the greatness of her spirit. In the 1920s and 1930s she continued to collect new types, especially gifted young men, relishing people of all ages up to her death in 1952, a redoutable survivor from a vanished age.
Richard Davenport-Hines is a past winner of the Wolfson Prize for History and contributes regularly to the TLS, Sunday Times, Independent and Nature.