The Viceroy’s Daughters: The Lives of the Curzon Sisters by Anne de Courcy
As the daughters of Lord Curzon, confidants of royalty, and friends, lovers, and wives of politicians and the powerful, the Curzon sisters, Irene, Cimmie, and Baba knew everyone who was anyone in England between the wars (BTW.)
The Curzon gals are not nearly as much fun as the other famous British BTW sisters, the Mitfords, (Irene Curzon calls the Mitford sisters “hooligans”), but they lived interesting (and grander) lives nonetheless.
Lord Curzon, the imperious Viceroy of India from 1898 to 1905 was not the most comfortable of fathers, and the girls’ mother, the wealthy American Mary Leister, died when the girls were small. After his wife’s death, Curzon had several girlfriends, some of whom the sisters were fond, but he eventually married another heiress, Grace Duggan.
This was all to the good because Curzon not only maintained an imperial lifestyle, he also suffered from a serious house addiction and not of the 3 bed, 2 bath bungalow variety. Eventually Curzon fell out with his daughters over the money their mother had left them, believing that he had some say over its distribution. The girls won a series of unpleasant legal actions against their father which created a permanent breach.
Growing up without a mother (and father for the most part), the girls were close all of their lives, but frequently quarreled, usually over a man.
The first to leave home was “nice” middle daughter Cimmie, who married Sir Oswald Mosley, the British Fascist leader and well-known womanizer. After her early death, Mosley married one of the “hooligans,” Diana Mitford Guinness, with whom he had been having an affair for several years.
The baby of the family, Baba married the amiable but dim-witted best friend of the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII), Fruity Metcalf. It was a marriage she immediately regretted, and as a consequence spent much of her time in the company of other men.
As members of the Prince of Wales inner circle, Baba and Fruity had front row seats on the Wallis Simpson affair and were present at their infamous wedding, which Baba describes in her diary in characteristically acerbic terms.
Upon her sister Cimmie’s death, Baba immediately and creepily launched an affair with her brother-in-law, the widowed Mosley, presumably to “save” him from Diana. (It didn’t work.)
The eldest sister, Irene, never married but with her vast fortune, she maintained a home at Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire where she hunted, played bridge, drank too much, and had affairs. She traveled extensively and was a devoted aunt to Baba and Cimmie’s children, who were often unceremoniously dumped on her doorstep.
The Curzon siblings were indeed quintessential “poor little rich girls.” Despite their opportunities and some late life accomplishments, one can’t help but feel they lived somewhat purposeless lives. Even in their own biography, the men in their lives dominate the narrative.
But to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, oh, the places they went!
I recommend this book as well as two books about the “hooligans”— The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. Lovell and Nancy Mitford’s semi-autobiographical novel about her eccentric family, The Pursuit of Love.