Who were the women of Cliveden?

Find out more about Cliveden's Women of past and their remarkable stories

Elizabeth Villiers

Elizabeth Villiers: The Royal Mistress: 1657 - 1733

Seen as a plain, wanton woman, who schemed her way to the King’s bedchamber with little to recommend her apart from her “fat and wrinkles,” Elizabeth joined the long line of shameless women who seduced the married monarch. But would a man have been judged that harshly? And was a ‘royal mistress’ then just a byword for a shrewd political motivator, able to use her power for influence? Jonathan Swift called her “The wisest woman I know…” was Elizabeth actually a witty intellectual who got as close to influencing politics as a woman of her time ever could?

Princess Augusta

Princess Augusta: The Scheming Princess 1719 - 1772

She was the wife of the heir to the throne, and was adored by the public as their future queen. One half of a darling couple, beloved by their people. But after his sudden death, she was a woman alone in a foreign country and choices she made – particularly in the guidance of her son George III -were questioned and derided. The press tore her apart and she fell spectacularly from grace. But was this woman really a threat to the monarchy? Or did she try to play the role of both parents to her son, seeking help where she thought right? Was she just a supporting player in men’s journey to the throne, or did she forge her own path under the glare of public scrutiny?

Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland : The Champagne Socialist 1806 - 1868

Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland: The Champagne Socialist 1806 - 1868

Harriet was descended from the Devonshires, a notoriously political family who sought social influence and power. Was she just another ‘it girl’ who wanted to appear politically aware for the sake of fashion and influence? After all, all of her campaigns focused on problems abroad rather than in her homeland, and her husband’s family had been instrumental in the Highland Clearances. But did Harriet really seek to make a difference, with her fight for the abolition of slavery, and her support of Garibaldi’s unification of Italy? What did her passion for garden design mean for the future of Cliveden? Was she more than just a champagne socialist?

Nancy Astor

Nancy Astor: The Rattlesnake in the House 1879 - 1964

Nancy is the most famous of our women, and little wonder. She was the first female MP to take her seat, a feisty Southern belle often viewed as pushy, right wing, forceful and unsympathetic. But was there more to her? She blazed the political pathway for women, and spearheaded campaigns for gender equality and social change. She challenged traditional perceptions of femininity and perhaps was more sympathetic to the suffragette cause than history has suggested…