BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Simon Kerry recently transported Royal Oak Foundation guests, filling one of Chicago’s most magnificent ballrooms, to the tumultuous late Victorian days of the British Empire, introducing them to his great-great-grandfather, the fifth Marquess of Lansdowne, whose significant role “on the great chessboard of international relations” is now almost forgotten. He epitomized the challenges to the aristocrats prior to and during World War I and was known for his uncompromising sense of dignity.
Unicorn Publishing Group and the University of Chicago Press have published Simon’s book, Lansdowne: The Last Great Whig, in the United States.
Diana Senior, President of the Royal Oak’s Chicago Chapter, welcomed Simon, who remarkably resembles his subject, and his wife, Nadine, an actress. Simon had spent that morning researching his latest book at the Newberry Library and Nadine touring the Loop on the “L.”
The Royal Oak Foundation raises awareness of the historic preservation efforts of the National Trust of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and celebrates some of the finest estates and gardens.
The Marquess of Lansdowne owned significant homes in London, Scotland, and Ireland, some designed by Robert Adam and landscape architect ‘Capability’ Brown. All displayed his significant art collections. His London residence, rented by Chicago’s Gordon Selfridge for 5,000 pounds a year in 1921, is now the home of the Lansdowne Club.
None of the homes can compare with the Viceroy’s Calcutta residence in India where Lansdowne and his wife, Maud Hamilton, known for her warmth and lightness, moved in 1888. Government House occupied 84,000 square feet, or as Lansdowne described, “St. Peters in Rome with two or three Buckingham Palaces tacked onto it.” Simon described a typical week:
“They might entertain 150 for a private ball and 500 for a state ball, or welcome 1,800 for a garden party and have 80 for dinner followed by a dance, and a small dinner for 12. He was required to bow to each guest at the garden parties and suffered from neck pain throughout this assignment. There were 500 in staff.
“Throughout his career he was plagued with money problems and, at one point, had to sell a beloved painting, The Mill, by Rembrandt. In India he had to spend more than double his salary to fulfill his duties as Viceroy.
“[There] he took a very progressive and liberal approach, listening carefully to the demands for self rule. His visited the poor and made a real effort to sample local food.”
During his fifty-year career, the Eton- and Oxford-educated Lansdowne served as Governor General of Canada, Viceroy of India, Secretary of State for War, Foreign Secretary, and Leader of the House of Lords. As Foreign Secretary he altered British foreign policy forever.
“Not wanting to enlarge the British Empire and aware that its power was declining, he recognized that international friendships based on mutual interests were the best safeguards of international security as his understanding with the United States and his alliance with Japan show.”
It was his appeal for a negotiated peace in a letter of 1917—which inspired Woodrow Wilson—that made him overnight the most reviled man in England.
“His son Charlie, one of their four children, was killed in Ypres.Throughout his life he was courageous, honest and open. His ‘Peace Letter,’ in which he sacrificed his reputation for his sense of honor epitomizes this. He was a great noble and had a singularly high ideal of patriotism.”
In addition to the impressive research and writing of Lansdowne, and research on an American cousin that will take him soon to California, Simon works as an editor and researcher, known to clients for his “scrupulous care.” He collaborated with Anne de Courcy on The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in New York and London, which includes Chicago’s Mary Leiter Curzon. Highly popular in London, it will be published in the United States in June. Simon has just finished editing On The Seven Deadly Sins by Lord Kenneth Baker.
Simon concluded the evening by inviting guests to the boutique-style Bowood Hotel in Wiltshire. Overseen by Simon’s father, the hotel is surrounded by beautiful parkland designed by ‘Capability’ Brown. Simon recommended it for golf and spa breaks as well as a peaceful retreat in the English countryside.
Photo credit (event): Jennifer Girard