A brief history of Cliveden

An aerial view of the Parterre at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire

With a history peppered with scandal, intrigue and controversy, Cliveden has many stories to share.

Cliff-dene

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 twentieth 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.

Scandal

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?

Join our knowledgable house guides to take a peek inside Cliveden House and keep an eye out for our free garden tours in season.