Husband Hunters (de Courcy)

The Husband Hunters:  American Heiresses Who Married into the British Aristocracy
Anne de Courcy, 2018
St. Martin's Press
320 pp.

A deliciously told group biography of the young, rich, American heiresses who married into the impoverished British aristocracy at the turn of the twentieth century—The real women who inspired Downton Abbey.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century and for the first few years of the twentieth, a strange invasion took place in Britain.

The citadel of power, privilege and breeding in which the titled, land-owning governing class had barricaded itself for so long was breached. The incomers were a group of young women who, fifty years earlier, would have been looked on as the alien denizens of another world—the New World, to be precise.

From 1874—the year that Jennie Jerome, the first known "Dollar Princess," married Randolph Churchill—to 1905, dozens of young American heiresses married into the British peerage, bringing with them all the fabulous wealth, glamour and sophistication of the Gilded Age.

Anne de Courcy sets the stories of these young women and their families in the context of their times. Based on extensive first-hand research, drawing on diaries, memoirs and letters, this richly entertaining group biography reveals what they thought of their new lives in England—and what England thought of them. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Anne de Courcy is the author of several widely acclaimed works of social history and biography, including The Husband Hunters: American: American Heiresses Who Married into the British Aristocracy (2018), Margot at War (2014), The Fishing Fleet (2012), Debs at War (2005), and The Viceroy's Daughters (2000). She lives in London and Gloucestershire. (From the publisher.)

Visit the author's website.

Book Reviews
[A] diverting new study…[the American heiresses] were brave. They were venturesome…they were just what was needed to shake the cocktail and bring some pizazz to the party. De Courcy conjures it all with skill.
Tina Brown - New York Times Book Review

Anglophiles fascinated by the intricate tribal codes of the British upper classes will find plenty to feed their interest in this narrative...if we’re looking to history to better understand our own time, The Husband Hunters has something to say about how we got here.
Boston Globe

Anne de Courcy has written the definitive account of the real-life buccaneers . . . de Courcy argues with conviction that it wasn't simply about money. Englishmen found the dollar princesses irresistible and were drawn to their vitality, social ease and lack of stuffiness . . . de Courcy is excellent on the cultural clashes between the Americans and British.
Times (UK)

Cleverly researched, sparkling with diamonds and wickedly funny (a Book of the Year).
Jane Ridley - Spectator (UK)

A true account of the women who inspired Downton Abbey.… [de Courcy] gets in their heads and in their homes, exploring what life was like for them after their moves and the clash of cultures that ensued.
Vanity Fair

[F]ascinating but surface-skimming.… De Courcy is best at describing upper-class life on both sides of the Atlantic, but the personalities of the young women never completely shine through.… Yet there’s enough glitz and glamour to enthrall those who [loved] the recent royal nuptials.
Publishers Weekly

Vanderbilts, Astors, Churchills, Marlboroughs; diamonds, tiaras, yachts, mansions; all are documented in glorious detail and should satisfy those readers with insatiable thirst for all things peerage.

[Anne] de Courcy brings the Victorian and Edwardian eras vibrantly to life with her meticulously well-researched book, conveyed in an approachable prose style.… A highly readable social history that contains all of the juicy drama of a prime-time soap opera.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers Talking Points to help start a discussion for THE HUSBAND HUNTERS ... then take off on your own:

1. What were the downsides of wealthy young American women marrying into families of the English aristocracy with their cold, crumbling manses? Could you ever have seen yourself doing so?

2. Anne de Courcy posits that the reason these women opted for English marriages was to escape the competitiveness of New York society in the Gilded Age. Take some time to discuss what that culture was like—and the ways in which New York and British social hierarchies differed. Consider that in Britain, money was no match for title: a duchess, no matter how little money she possessed, would always pull rank, even against a wealthy earl's wife? Is that social ranking any better (or worse) than New York society?

3. What, in fact, were the differences between a gilded American woman and her English cohort? Consider the degree of female power and independence in both countries.

4. Talk about the American "bling"—the number of dresses required for the Newport (Rhode Island) season and the outlandish jewels worn, some of which (necklaces) hung to the floor.

5. What is the history of the 400 families of New York? How and when did it crop up, and who ruled the roost?

6. The Husband Hunters also treats us to a study of monstrous mothers. Talk about some of the most egregious, including (and especially) Mrs. Bradley-Martin.

7. What was life like for the doyenne of a large English estate? How did that country life differ from the sparkling urban social seasons?

8. Which heiress's marital story do you find most interesting …or appalling?

9. How did the invasion of American heiresses change English culture? Do you end up admiring these women and their energies?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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