Power Play at Polesden Lacey

A portrait of Maggie Greville by Carolus-Duran

Starting this May, as part of the National Trust’s Women and Power programme, we will be exploring the power and influence of Maggie Greville, Polesden Lacey’s inimitable socialite owner. Just how did a widowed socialite of illegitimate birth gain so much social power in the early 20th Century?

" She was immensely rich and the only hostess who had any political power … I have no doubt she had considerable influence"
- Kenneth Clark

During her life, Maggie Greville was known as a wonderful hostess. She was exacting with her plans to ensure guests enjoyed every moment of her gatherings, whether they were coming for dinner or staying for a weekend party. Everyone wanted to be in her company.  


It was also well noted that Maggie had an interest in business and politics, which set her apart from many other socialites of the day. As Osbert Sitwell wrote, ‘Her grasp of politics and business was masculine, it is true, but the way in which she went to work was essentially feminine. Politics, more than art, was what she loved and best understood’.


So she wasn’t just hosting fabulous guests who would tell wonderful stories and gossip all night. She was hosting royalty, politicians and many other powerful people from around the world. 

Maggie, third from left, sitting next to King Edward VII on the south lawn at Polesden Lacey
A group portrait taken in the gardens of Polesden Lacey
Maggie, third from left, sitting next to King Edward VII on the south lawn at Polesden Lacey


Maggie took advantage of her combination of wealth, social status and a forceful personality to bring together these influential people so she could exert her own influence. 


Kenneth Clark remarked ‘She was immensely rich and the only hostess who had any political power … Mrs Greville would draw aside Sir John Simon, Sir Sam Hoare or some other of her regulars, and talk to them seriously. She sat back in a large chair, a Phoenician goddess, while the cabinet minister or ambassador leant forward attentively. I have no doubt she had considerable influence.’


In our new seasonal programme Power Play at Polesden Lacey, we will be exploring more about just how Maggie became so powerful and how she used her power. As you wander around the house, play games, listen to guests' reminiscences and see clips of the entertainers who performed at Maggie’s parties. 


Power Play runs from 4 May - 29 November. 

Mrs Greville speaks with some guests with a Facebook logo in the corner of the picture

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