The art of collecting kings at Polesden Lacey

A brooch bearing the initials of Edward VII

By the end of her life, socialite Maggie Greville had played hostess to three English kings and seven maharajas of India at Polesden Lacey, not to mention countless politicians, writers, and names of the day. But exactly what did it take to lure a king into one’s confidence? The art of collecting kings is a masterclass in how to socialise with royalty.

On Saturday 5 June, 1909, Mrs Greville hosted her very first house party at Polesden Lacey and the guest of honour was none other than the king himself – His Majesty King Edward VII. This marked the first of many royal visits throughout Maggie’s career as a society hostess and when you visit Polesden Lacey, it’s easy to see what kept them coming back.

Hospitality fit for a king

Maggie was planning for royal visits before she’d even moved into her party retreat. Mewès and Davis, interior designers to the Ritz no less, were hired to create lavish rooms ‘fit to entertain maharajas’. 

The gold saloon, a room fit to entertain maharajahs
The gold saloon at Polesden Lacey

Decorating aside, every other aspect of hospitality at Polesden Lacey was meticulously planned and delivered to distinction, from the French menu to the best entertainment in London.

Money was no object and nothing was too much trouble. Indeed, with so many maharajas dropping by at Polesden, Maggie built a curry house to ensure that the flavours of home were always available, if desired.

The Maharajah of Cooch Behar, one of Maggie's guests
A Maharajah sits for a portrait in ceremonial uniform

Class that can’t be taught

Of course, there’s something to be said for the fact that Maggie became the Edwardians most beloved society hostess not because of her unfathomable wealth but because of who she was.

That said, the fact that the walls of her home were quite literally gilded in 24 carat gold could hardly have failed to make a lasting impression. 

King Edward VII, in a portrait housed in the gold saloon at Polesden Lacey
A portrait of King Edward VII in ceremonial uniform

Maggie was the best because she had qualities that money couldn’t buy. 

Our late Queen Mother described her as being "so shrewd, so kind, so amusingly unkind, so sharp, such fun, so naughty."

Maggie was at the heart of society. She knew when to gossip and what to say, just as she knew when to look the other way. A people person, she’d mastered the art of conversation early on, using her quick wit and social finesse to influence those in power.

Learn the art for yourself

This summer, visit Maggie’s party house and you’ll discover the essential social skills and qualities you’d need to schmooze with the very best. From a watertight social diary to fine dining fit for royalty, find out what it took to befriend a king.

The art of collecting kings runs from Friday 5 May – Thursday 7 September 2017, 11am – 5pm (Guided tours only weekdays 11am-12.30pm. Last entry 4pm. Timed entry tickets in operation at weekends and busy times). 

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

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Mrs Greville chats with some guests with a twitter logo in the corner of the picture

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