Scandal at Cliveden that rocked the nation
This section of the page features an image gallery, so if you're using a screen reader you may wish to jump to the main content.
Cliveden’s story starts with scandal in 1666, when the Duke of Buckingham built the first great house for his mistress and fatally wounded her husband in a duel. 300 years later, scandal of the same magnitude engulfed Cliveden when, in 1963, it became the focus of the Profumo Affair.
A summer’s evening at Cliveden
The 3rd Viscount Astor, William (known as Bill) loved to entertain at Cliveden. Over the weekend of 8-9 July 1961, he and wife Bronwen hosted a small house party. His guests included the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo and his wife.
Cliveden's resident osteopath, Stephen Ward was hosting a house party at his home, Spring Cottage. Ward’s guests included society showgirl Christine Keeler and Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché.
Ward took his friends to the pool up at the house, where they were discovered by Bill Astor and guests. This chance meeting between Keeler and Profumo - and the three-month affair that followed - was to end Profumo’s career and bring down the Macmillan government.
In 1963, revelations about Stephen Ward and Christine Keeler’s private lives led to the press hounding Keeler. She told her story in the Sunday Pictorial.
It emerged that, as well as an affair with Profumo, Keeler had a brief relationship with Ivanov. The connection was seen as a security risk and Profumo was forced to make a statement in the House of Commons. Profumo denied impropriety but when the lie was exposed, he was forced to resign.
The aftermath of the Profumo Affair
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan didn't recover from the crisis, resigning seven months later. The Conservatives lost the General Election the following year.
More than careers were lost. Stephen Ward was put on trial and committed suicide. The affair also contributed to the decline in Bill Astor’s health, who died in 1966. Cliveden had been given to the National Trust 25 years earlier and, following Bill Astor’s death, the family felt that it was no longer practical to live here.