Cliveden House: an opulent and decadent history

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For over 300 years Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire was an exceptional home to extraordinary characters.

With a history peppered with scandal, intrigue and controversy, Cliveden House retains its glamour. Its reputation as a glittering party venue and celebrity hangout continues today, although it's now leased as a private hotel.

Enjoying a commanding position on a chalk cliff, the name Cliff-dene was given to the estate in the 1660s when the first house was built by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham.

It's thought the Duke built Cliveden for his mistress, the Countess of Shrewsbury. In 1668, on hearing of the affair, her husband challenged Buckingham to a duel and was fatally injured.

An Italianate palace
Successive owners sculpted the gardens and landscape, sparing no expense to create a magnificent summer retreat.

The current house owes its elegant architecture to Sir Charles Barry, famous for designing the Palace of Westminster. His decadent masterpiece, created for the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland in the 1850s, is the third house here, the other two having burned down.

The Astors' parties
Cliveden has always been at the centre of political and social life. However, it was while Nancy and Waldorf Astor lived here during the first half of the 20th century that Cliveden became famous for its lavish hospitality and glamorous guests.

The Astors entertained a diverse mix of people from Lloyd George and Winston Churchill to George Bernard Shaw, Ghandi and Henry Ford.

Cliveden hit the headlines in 1963 when it became known that John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, had met call girl – Christine Keeler – by the swimming pool.

Profumo’s affair caused concern for national security as Keeler was also involved with a Soviet naval attaché. It was the end of Profumo’s career and nearly brought down the government.

Thirsty for more?
The imposing Italianate façade conceals a world of decadence. For a glimpse behind the scenes, take our guided house tour in season.