Published Jan 2010
Beautiful heiress, accomplished flirt, aristocratic hostess, tragic mother, Edwardian icon, Ettie Desborough is a fascinating but forgotten figure. She has been celebrated in countless memoirs but this is the first biography of her. It is based on private family archives and letters.
Ettie Fane was born in 1867 and orphaned at three. At twenty she married Willie Grenfell, later Lord Desborough, a genial sportsman. Beautiful, rich, charming and clever, she soon became the centre of the group known as ‘the Souls’ and a leading hostess at two magnificent country houses. She was the intimate friend of powerful leaders including Balfour, Curzon and Churchill; the writers that she entertained included Wilde, Kipling, Wells, Yeats and Sassoon. This is a riveting portrait of a life which personified the last epoch of aristocratic glamour, elegance and power that ended in 1914.
But nemesis and tragedy were not far away. In 1915 her son Julian died in France of war wounds. Six weeks later her second son Billy was killed in action. Her youngest son Ivo would be killed shortly after the war. Other deaths on the Western Front – of lovers and younger admirers – hurt her terribly too. But despite intense private misery, she reacted with outward courage and self-mastery. Grief revealed the greatness of her spirit.
In the 1920s and 1930s she continued to collect new types, especially gifted young men, relishing people of all ages up to her death in 1952, a redoubtable survivor from a vanished age.