Thursday, April 9, 2015

I love the TV series Downton Abbey for a number of reasons. An important reason is because it airs on PBS which is offered on a free channel. I don’t have to spend more money on Netflix or HBO to see a good series. I love it more importantly because it reflects a time in American history when we had our ultra –rich women at the turn of the Century who had everything they could possibly want but they did not have a title. They wanted to marry into Royalty for a title to add to their already famous names. They sought all that from the many princes found throughout Europe.

In the show one of the central plot lines is when Maggie   Smith reminds him that 24 years ago he married Cora because he needed her money and she needed his title. Cora is Lady Grantham played by Elizabeth Mc Govern who was once Cora Levinson the heiress to an American fortune.  She marries Lord Grantham a British Aristocrat and saves his crumbling estate and claims the title of Countess for herself.  It all plays out as an elegant fairy tale and although a fictional story, it is not all that far- fetched from reality. Lady Cora is an example of what became to be known as “the dollar princess of the Gilded Age.”

It was a time in the late 19th Century when American heiresses rich with money were rejected from high society. The women went to Europe seeking status through marriage. Wearing a tiara at a royal event must have been the fulfillment of a dream for the wealthy women who had everything else already.  So many of the American fortunes were in manufacturing,   railroads and finance meanwhile the royal were becoming poor. The British estates needed money to support their lavish surroundings and lifestyles. The British upper class was trying to hold onto their lifestyles.  They found salvation by the very same women shunned by the American elite

The Smithsonian Channel recently began a three part series depicting the lives of real American heiresses of the Gilded Age like Jenny Gerome the daughter of a Wall Street tycoon and the mother of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Jenny grows up thinking that she is wonderful. Confident, educated, musical and worthy of a good conversation among successful people.  The great –grandmother of Princess Diana was the daughter of another Wall Street wealthy man. Hundreds of women made the trans-Atlantic journey to find their man with the title of their dreams. There were match-makers in society here and in England who would help match people up.

There even was a publication printed to help in the quest. It was a quarterly journal called Titled Americans and it listed matches already made and listed titled men who still wasn’t married yet.  It was very practical and not very romantic. In it was listed the 22 year old Lionel Rothschild heir to the estate of the amount of acreage of land and an income they earn. Despite the romance the TV show shows, life was not too good for the American women who were used to having heat and electricity.  The reality was that Winston Churchill’s American Mother spent most of her life alone while his father died of syphilis. Princess Diana’s great-grandmother died poor and her British Aristocrat husband gambled all her money away.   Did you really expect a love story too?     

No comments:

Post a Comment