Mary Leiter, A Downton Abbey Historical Inspiration
Recovering from the last episode of Downton Abbey's Season Two, leads us to thank Julian Fellowes for his generosity in sharing an inspiration for his series:
To Marry an English Lord: Victorian and Edwardian Experience by Gail MacColl, Carol Wallace.
Fellowes mentioned in a previous interview that he was reading this book when approached about writing a new series for British television.
We pursued this 'entertaining' book, finding it had reached astronomical pricing proportions in some examples on an online reading source. We note that the book is being reissued, so less dear prices will be requested and signing up for the reissue is possible from the publisher. I then turned to my favorite source, the Berkeley (California, not England) Public Library. Rarely disappointed in this large city's libraries (with its numerous branches, several of which are undergoing needed renovations for its expanding and grateful populace), it was in my hands in a few days, delivered by a traveling van that replaced my closed branch's overflowing shelves.
This morning my husband turned from The New York Times's Arts section, and the article, A Good Bet: More Turmoil For 'Downtown, with yet another tidbit from Fellowes, asking me "Who is Mary Leiter"? Fellowes in The New York Times interview is quoted saying, "I've read all these things, like Cora is supposed to be Mary Leiter ... She isn't really; she's one of that genus, of which Mary Leiter is a famous example."
I turned to the well-worn library's paperback copy of To Marry ... and looked up the tens of references to Lady Mary Curzon (née Leiter) in the index, only to find that there's even an index for the numerous illustrations and photographs in To Marry.
The Wikipedia entry for Lady Mary includes the following:
Lady Curzon was never able to give Curzon the son and heir he desperately desired. Her demanding social responsibilities, tropical climate, a prolonged near fatal infection following miscarriage, and fertility-related surgery eroded her health. Convalescent trips to England failed to heal her. When they returned to England after Curzon's resignation in August 1905, her health was failing. She died on 18 July 1906 at home at 1 Carlton House Terrace, Westminster,London, at age thirty-six.
It is said that Lady Curzon, after having seen the Taj Mahal on a moonlit night, exclaimed in her bewilderment that she was ready to embrace an immediate death if someone promised to erect such a memorial on her grave.
Following Lady Curzon's death, in 1906, Lord Curzon had a memorial chapel built in his late wife's honour, attached to the parish church at Kedleston Hall. Lady Curzon is buried, with her husband, in the family vault beneath it. The design of the chapel, by G. F. Bodley, does not resemble the Taj Mahal, but is in the decorated Gothic style. It was completed in 1913.
In the chapel Curzon expressed his grief at his wife's premature death by charging the sculptor, Sir Bertram Mackennal, to create a marble effigy for her tomb which: "expressed as might be possible in marble, the pathos of his wife's premature death and to make the sculpture emblematic of the deepest emotion." Later, Curzon's own effigy was added to lie beside that of his wife's, as his remains do in the vault beneath. Curzon's second wife chose to be buried in the churchyard outside.
One of those photographs in the To Marry An English Lord is of their London home, (No 1 Carleton House Terrace) which still stands today, housing The Royal Society.
1. Portrait of Mary Leiter Curzon 1870-1906 . Franz von Lenbach (1836-1904) Oil on board, 1901 National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Bequest of Lady Alexandra Metcalfe
2. Photograph of Curzon house: ©2004 Kaihsu Tai, Wikimedia Commons
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