Margot Asquith was perhaps the most daring and unconventional Prime Minister's wife in British history. Known for her wit, style and habit of speaking her mind, she transformed 10 Downing Street into a glittering social and intellectual salon. Yet her last five years at Number 10 were a period of intense emotional and political turmoil in her private and public life. In 1912, when Anne de Courcy's book opens, rumblings of discontent and cries for social reform were encroaching on all sides - from suffragettes, striking workers and Irish nationalists. Against this background of a government beset with troubles, the Prime Minister fell desperately in love with his daughter's best friend, Venetia Stanley; to complicate matters, so did his Private Secretary. Margot's relationship with her husband was already bedevilled by her stepdaughter's jealous, almost incestuous adoration of her father. The outbreak of the First World War only heightened these swirling tensions within Downing Street. Drawing on unpublished material from personal papers and diaries, Anne de Courcy vividly recreates this extraordinary time when the Prime Minister's residence was run like an English country house, with socialising taking precedence over politics, love letters written in the cabinet room and gossip and state secrets exchanged over the bridge table. By 1916, when Asquith was forced out of office, everything had changed. For the country as a whole, for those in power, for a whole stratum of society, but especially for the Asquiths and their circle, it was the end of an era. Life inside Downing Street would never be the same again.
There is no doubt that Margot Asquith was a one-off: she was witty, intense, easily bored, and adored clever people. She was also a tradesman’s daughter who vaulted the stockade of class to arrive at the very epicentre of power and privilege. During her tenure, 10 Downing Street was run like a country house, full of interesting people and all the dramas that accompanied them. Asquith, who had pursued Margot so passionately after the death of his first wife, fell in love with his daughter’s best friend, Venetia Stanley, during 1912, causing Margot almost intolerable misery, and causing Asquith to behave in staggeringly inappropriate ways for a man in such a position, particularly once the country was at war. Young men were dying like flies and all the PM could think of was Venetia. This is a riveting, brilliantly researched picture of Downing Street during the crucial years in which the world changed irrevocably.
As I read with increasing amazement at these carryings-on, the thought kept intruding: this is a plot that Downton Abbey would die for! ... Anne de Courcy keeps this steaming, erotic merry-go-round whirling with admirable skill. Using Margot's diaries and a wealth of letters and other sources, she brings those fraught days of war alive, weaving them into their context with an immediacy of unexpected detail ... This book makes you feel you are there watching the tears fall - especially Margot's - into the emotional cauldron bubbling out of control -- Peter Lewis DAILY MAIL
Margot Asquith's sharp humour, modern style, intelligence and wealth fascinated men... Anne de Coury has a firm grasp of politics, an acute eye for social detail and akeen perception of Margot's pains and pleasures. Her narrative is concise and compelling. -- Iain Finlayson THE TIMES
De Courcy, author of the celebrated The Fishing Fleet: Husband Hunting in the Raj, indulges us with generous quotes from contemporary correspondence and detailed observation, describing life at a time of turbulent change through engaging anecdotes and descriptions -- Elizabeth Freemantle SUNDAY EXPRESS
A proper sex in high places scandal... Though Margot Asquith, nee Tennant, is its main character, her husband's scandalous obsession with young Venetia Stanley is inevitably centre stage -- Andy McSmith THE INDEPENDENT 'Books of the Year
Publication date: 06/11/2014
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson an imprint of Orion Publishing Co
|Publication date:||6th November 2014|
|Author:||Anne de Courcy|
|Publisher:||Weidenfeld & Nicolson an imprint of Orion Publishing Co|
|Genres:||Biography / Autobiography,|
|Categories:||Social & cultural history, 20th century history: c 1900 to c 2000,|
Anne De Courcy is a well-known biographer, journalist, interviewer and reviewer. She lives in London. Her book about the Curzon sisters, The Viceroy's Daughters, was a bestseller in Phoenix paperbacks.More About Anne de Courcy