Scandal at Cliveden

The swimming pool, now part of the hotel at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire

Throughout its history Cliveden has experienced its fair share of scandal.

Cliveden’s story started with a scandal when in 1666 the Duke of Buckingham built the first great house here for his mistress and then fatally wounded her husband in a duel. Three hundred years later, a 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 to everyone as Bill) loved to entertain at Cliveden. Over the weekend of the 8 and 9 July 1961 he and his wife Bronwen hosted a small house party. His guests included the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo and his wife.

That same weekend, Cliveden's resident osteopath, Stephen Ward was also hosting house party at his home, Spring Cottage down on the river banks within the estate. Ward’s guests included society showgirl Christine Keeler and Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché. 

As it was a warm evening, Ward decided to take his friends up to the house for dip in the swimming pool where they were discovered by Bill Astor and his 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 Conservative government. 

Breaking news

In 1963, revelations about Stephen Ward and Christine Keeler’s private lives lead to the press hounding Christine. She decided to tell her story in the Sunday Pictorial including the events at Cliveden in 1961. 

It emerged that as well as an affair with Profumo, Keeler had a very brief relationship with Ivanov too. This connection was seen as a serious security risk and Profumo was forced to make a statement in the House of Commons. He denied there was any impropriety in his relationship with Keeler and when his lie was exposed he was forced to resign.

The end of the ‘Profumo Affair’

Prime Minister Harold Macmillan did not recover from the crisis that engulfed the government, resigning seven months later and the Conservatives lost the general election the following year.

However, more than careers were lost as a result of the affair; Stephen Ward was put on trial and took his own life and Bill Astor’s health declined from stress and he died in 1966. Cliveden had been given to the National Trust 25 years earlier and following Bill Astor’s death the family decided they no longer wished to live here.