Memories of Debo by Barbara Leaming

New York Times bestselling author Barbara Leaming talks to The Mitford Society about the special friendship she shared with Debo. Her memories are as follows…

If you are very, very lucky, someone comes into your life out of nowhere and changes everything. Debo Devonshire did that for me. I certainly didn’t deserve her—no one could deserve someone quite that wonderful. Actually it was Andrew Devonshire who first invited me to Chatsworth and it was Andrew who gave me the first incredible gifts I was to receive—and the greatest of those gifts was Debo. I shall always remember Debo that first night: that night she was performing for Andrew as well as for me. Sixty years into their marriage, Andrew was a rapt audience. It was not difficult to see why—though to me, during that first dinner at least, Debo was very scary. That night, it was Andrew who was the gentle one, Debo the one with whom I was sure I could never dare relax. But it changed—not least because that first night I realized that one of Debo’s greatest qualities was that she was interested in everything, really everything. She wanted details; she wanted to know how things worked; she wanted to know EXACTLY what you meant when you said something—and not an iota of that interest was faked. And she would ask questions that no one else would dare to ask. Alone together upstairs in her sitting room late that first night, she made me pull up my trouser leg to see if I had the “great legs all American girls have.” I didn’t, but I did pull up the trousers—actually SHE pulled up the trouser leg. It was an extraordinary night—not least because I fell in love with both Andrew and Debo that night—and completely unexpectedly the seeds of a friendship were planted.

I’m so glad that I had the luck to see Debo with Andrew for no matter how much I was later to hear about the two of them from Debo herself and also from their family and friends, I would not have understood the complexity of that relationship had I not actually watched him watch her and her watch him.

I was in England then to research my biography of President John F. Kennedy. My husband and I had a flat on Eaton Place not far from Debo’s Chatsworth Shop on Elizabeth Street. The little shop was a very special place—pure Debo—and she loved it and was deeply involved with it. My husband used to buy all of his lunches there and I still giggle thinking about how I would come home to find David on the phone with Debo in intense discussion of the merits of her soups and especially detailed reports about the prices of an item she was selling versus the price of a similar item in a supermarket on King’s Road. When the Chatsworth Shop closed later, I had an urgent phone call from her cousin Jean, warning me that Debo was so upset that I must be careful not even to mention the closing for a time.

After Andrew died, by which time Debo and I had become friends—initially, I believe, because Andrew made sure it happened—and by which time we had other deep friendships in common, Debo did not draw back, but rather expanded the wings of her friendship.

She and Andrew had been indispensable to my research for my biography of President John F. Kennedy and to my understanding of the man and the world in which JFK lived. But for the book I wrote next, about Winston Churchill, Debo, now alone, went much further. First she listened to what I hoped to do with Churchill—and then she took charge. Debo never had to be asked to help. She just offered—no rather, she ACTED. Before I knew it, she had made up lists of people I must talk to about Churchill, including her cousin Mary Soames—and then moved on to make sure they talked to me—and then made sure that I asked the right questions. She wrote letters; she made calls; she went over ideas with me. It was endless and she was incredible.

Debo loved to give advice—especially about how to do things cheaply. I still laugh thinking about her voice on the phone the day I moved into the flat I’d rented in Mayfair to do Churchill research. Our flat was not far from the Beau Brummell house she still owned, and she was full of detailed instructions about where to go in Shepherd Market—but better, still, about what to do cheaply. Debo loved the idea of doing things cheaply. “Keep your hands in your pockets!”, as she put it.

When I went up to stay with Debo at Edensor, it was strange at first to think that Andrew was gone—or rather, that he was next door, as she reminded me—in St Peter’s churchyard. But she was so funny, so over the top about everything as usual. So welcoming. There was, I think, more emotion now that Andrew was gone—more sense of time passing. And always, more reminders not to waste a minute—to grab everything you can, while you can.

I can still hear her as we sat on the old-fashioned swing on the lawn in front of the vicarage talking about Andrew; talking about “the cousinhood”; talking about people that both of us knew—people she had somehow miraculously brought into my life—who were now gone. As she talked about all that she missed, suddenly the swing started moving faster because Debo also wanted to talk about the future. What she wanted to do next—and a reminder that I must not just be thinking about what I was doing now, but what came NEXT.

Debo and Andrew are also very much there in my new book on Jackie Kennedy [Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story]—all sorts of things they told me about the aftermath of the assassination—as well as about what was going on during the presidency. And I am going to return in detail to that world which they opened to me with unimaginable generosity in the book I am writing next. So much of what they shared with me has vanished now—but my mind is filled with images of that vanished world—a world that strangely enough has become part of my own future.

I can’t bear to think that there will never be another letter from Debo turning up in the post, that the phone will never ring again with her voice on the other end inviting me to stay with her in Edensor, that there will be no more long talks about the members of “The Set,” and, of course, that there will be no more books from her to treasure forever.

Everything about Debo had to do with life and what’s next, and for that reason it is just impossible to imagine she is not out there plotting some future project.

Barbara Leaming’s book Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story will be published in the UK on January 1st 2015. It is already available in the US.


The Mitford Society Loves…

“Christmas cards are such a nightmare to me. I have dozens from totally unknown people, in some cases bearing photographs of their totally unknown faces. But I forget people very soon so this means nothing and I can see from their fervid messages that once we have been very intimate.” – Nancy Mitford

The traditions of the festive season did not charm Nancy. The exchanging of gifts was headache inducing, crossing the Channel to visit the loved ones – too grim to bear – and the custom of writing and receiving cards proved a burden for the French Lady Writer. Although she delighted in sending her godchildren presents of exotic things, such as gilded trinkets and fur mufflers, Nancy was not as gracious when she received a gift she disliked. Perhaps the best example springs from her childhood, when an unsuspecting Diana presented to her a small, neatly wrapped present. Nancy opened the present, and, without a sideways glance, she hurled it into the fire. ‘I appreciated her honestly,’ Diana remarked. The collection of books below should please even the grumpiest of recipients. What are we saying? Books please everyone!


Robert Wainwright’s elegant biography of Sheila Chisholm should charm those who revel in the era of the Mitfords and disgraced royals. Lovely to look at and heavily illustrated, this book – available in hardback (as pictured) or in paperback – would make the perfect gift.


If you enjoy gazing at beautiful things and wish to make an impression on the recipient then Claudia Renton’s dazzling biography of the Wyndham Girls – Mary, Madeleine and Pamela – is just the ticket.


This sophisticated detective novel centres around a glamorous actress-by-day/ spy-by-night working undercover in the Third Reich. The menacing plot features Hitler and Goebbels, and a cameo from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Unity and Diana flit in and out, giving the sinister undertones a touch of Mitford Tease.



Truly a presentation piece, this index of great women’s obituaries doubles as a motivational book when one is indulging in the non-U habit of feeling sorry for oneself. With an array of profiles, this book will certainly cross the murky divide of all personalities. It looks great on a bookshelf, too!

A memoir of the best kind, this zippy book is written in a friendly and engaging way. As the daughter of the Duke of Rutland and niece of Lady Diana Cooper, Lady Ursula’s memoir recalls an era that we can only dream of.


Because we seem to get a lot of books about women here at Mitford HQ it’s only fair that we select a biography with that of a male subject. Not only for Swinbrook Sewers, this lengthy study on Laurie Lee is a treasure trove of a biography.

Written as historical fiction, the plot revolves around the doomed love affair between Dorothy Richardson, member of the famed Bloomsbury set and contemporary of Virginia Woolf, and H.G. Wells. Stylishly written, this atmospheric book is a quick read.


Inspired by the Russian fairytale, The Snow Child is a modern fairytale for adults and cynics alike. Set in Alaska in the 1920s, the book paints a vivid portrait of the cruelties of nature, the isolation in winter and the heartache of a childless couple. A cozy, winter read.


This lovely set of Margaret Kennedy books have been re-issued by Vintage Books. As witty as a Nancy Mitford novel, this trio was deemed quite naughty in their day. Devilishly witty, Kennedy’s efforts remain as fresh and funny today as they were over eighty years ago.


Thinking ahead, there is nothing like buying the first novel of the New Year. Tessa Arlen’s debut novel (Jan. 2015) combines the things that we Mitties love: mystery, scandal, wit and a spectacular stately home. The prose at times is pure Mitfordesque, and having read a preview copy, The Mitford Society is proud to endorse Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman.

A Fitting at Dior as recalled by Olivia de Havilland

Nancy in Dior

Nancy in Dior

Following my post on Nancy Mitford’s fashion, I have transcribed Olivia de Havilland’s memories of French fashion and a fitting at Christian Dior in the mid 1950s, the same time when Nancy was a loyal customer.


To begin with, ever since coming to live here I’ve been faithful to the House of Dior, which means that I’ve known the establishment under the reign of King Christian the First, under Yves Saint Laurent, who became Prince Regent on the royal demise, and under Marc Bohan, the incumbent. And it is a question as to which of the three has tried the hardest and done the most to flatten my bosom. Not permanent, you understand – just while I’m wearing a dress.

The whole thing started at my first fitting on my first Dior dress, designed by His Highness himself. There I was, standing in merely my stockings, my slip and my bust, and the next minute I was fully clothed and bustless. At first I couldn’t think where I’d gone to. Then I was struck rigid by the idea that some sort of instantaneous and lasting transformation had occurred and that I’d suddenly lost forever what is every girl’s pride. Springing out of my paralysis and into action, I looked frantically down my decollete to see what had happened to me. Fortunately, I was still there, both of me. But bound. And gagged. Like the Japanese female foot. Or feet, rather. By a framework of net and bone. The dress’s basic foundation.

You mustn’t think, here, that I have one of those over-exuberant superstructures that really needs lashing to the decks to keep it from going overboard. No, no, not at all. It is, rather the sort that you might call appropriate, quite becoming, so it’s been said. Neat but not gaudy. However, it’s a wonder what the tender encouragement of a well-placed dart can do to put it “en valuer”. Therefore, all in favour of tender encouragement, I did not take the matter of my binding meekly, but immediately crossed pins with my fitter in the first skirmish of the Great War of Compression. But each time I advanced my cause by withdrawing a peg from my armature, the fitter would swoop in with a fresh squad of cleats and batten down the hatches tighter than ever. I tell you, there have been times during these forays when it has been my mind that cleaved and my bust that boggled.

Now that we are in the full swing of the third regime of the House of Dior, you would think, wouldn’t you, that, pin-scarred and needle-tried, I’d be able to say to you that I’d succeeded in imposing the American silhouette upon at least one dress of French haute couture? But I have not succeeded. As I charge into combat, arrayed as I am in the constraining armour of my basic bodice, oxygen starvation defeated me every time. In the end, I always lose my War of Liberation, and the French always win their War of Containment.

But I must say, I do look darn well dressed. And I’m beginning to accept the French notion that a girl’s bust really is more important when she’s got her clothes off than when she’s got them on.


Extracted from Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland, 1961.


A Pretty Hon is Like a Melody


I really prefer the word elegance. “Chic” has lost value in its native country. – Nancy Mitford, The Water Beetle

Reflecting on her love of Parisian couture houses and her annoyance with, what she felt, was the English’s inability to make a decent skirt, Nancy jotted down her fashion advice in the worldly little tome, The Water Beetle. And, she wasted no time with her appraisal. Style, swank, swagger and showing off, she chastised, represents everything that the English most dislike, “a sort of bright up-to-date fashionableness they have never aspired to”. The universal definition of elegance, she warned, was quite different in England. Men and little children, however, were viewed as the model of good dressing, “our Queen and Princess Margaret set the fashion for the world until they were ten”. Elegance to the Englishwoman was based on “a contempt of the current mode and a limitless self-assurance”. Ladylike is the appropriate term. Their sport and country clothes “are deplorable, they are of tweed thick and hard as a board, in various shades of porridge”. The English women residing in town were, to her horror, not much better. They had only one staple: a jacket and a tight skirt with what the fashion lot called a “cunning slit up the back” – to be avoided at all costs, for Nancy realised the slit divided horribly over the calves. Here we go with Farve’s irrational fears of women ruining their legs…

She reflects on the story of two English duchesses being turned away from Christian Dior because the people at the entrance considered the them too dowdy to be admitted into the cavernous House of Dior. The light scent of Miss Dior lingering in the showroom, the mad scramble of fashion models with their wasp waists and exaggerated peplum hips gathering on the staircase, and the “hideous trellis” of crossed nylons was no place for a Lady (in the Burke’s Peerage sense of the word).

“If you are a duchess,” Nancy advises, “you don’t need to be well dressed – it would be thought quite eccentric.” Why Dior, she wondered, when “they would certainly not have ordered anything”. Why indeed. Perhaps they were fatigued from a day of sight-seeing (terribly Non-U) and thought they should like to sit down for a while, having recalled the peaceful, empty salons in the days when their mothers and grandmothers were dressed by Worth. Though, she teased, in those days, Monsieur Worth visited the house like any other tradesman. In the early part of the twentieth century the English were rich and pleasure-loving, foreign currency was no problem, and society women bought their clothes from Paris. When the dresses were delivered they were stored away for at least two years, since in those gilded days, “nothing was considered so common as to be dressed in the height of fashion”. Showgirls and actresses could get away with it, but “one of us, dear child”, never. It was not just the ladies who were self-concious of displaying grandeur, the men, too, would not dream of wearing a new suit until it had spent one or two nights in the garden.

To Nancy, Paris was the most civilised place in the world, and dressing in Paris was an art “not to be come by easily or cheaply”. But what of the Americans?

Having never been to America and confessing to hold its culture in disdain, Nancy somewhat overlooked her prejudices to comment on American fashion. “America is to me some great star observed through a telescope, and I never feel quite sure it exists, now, or whether its light is not coming to me across centuries of time (future time, of course).” Whereas English children were considered smartly dressed, she realised the American teenager was a thing of elegance. “Their neat little clothes have more than an echo of Paris; the skirts are the right length, the waists in the right place, and they are, very suitable for children, understated,” she praised. The praise, however, ended there. She accused Americans of buying often, and cheaply too. The gap between children, teenagers, women and old ladies was muddled: “dolls’ clothes, clean, shining, with regular if rather big, teeth, wonderful figures and china skins”.

After exhausting the perils of dressing an Englishwoman, a Parisienne (Paris, to Nancy, stood apart from France) and an American, Nancy agreed they each had their merits. “In England the women are elegant until they are ten years old and perfect on grand occasions; in France a few women are entirely elegant always; in America most women are smart and impeccable, but with too much of an accent or immaturity for real elegance.” However, neither of the three women triumphed in her scrutiny of fashion. “The Latin American woman dressed in Paris,” she concluded, “is the very height of perfection.”

Olivia de Havilland & Nancy Mitford’s ‘The Blessing’


I remember that during my first weeks as a newly engaged, newly resident of Paris, I received from a malevolent Irishman a copy of Nancy Mitford’s The Blessing, which concerns an Englishwoman who marries a Frenchman and discovers that, although he obliges her beautifully in the evenings, he spends his afternoons with his mistress. The book shook me. At each fresh example of the husband’s perfidy, I exclaimed to Pierre: “So this is the way a Frenchman spends his honeymoon!” Is this the way a French husband toys with the tea hour? Is this…….., etc.”
Pierre was enraged. Finally he threatened to throw the book out the window, howling, “No, eet ees not true about Gaston, Alain, Georges, Robert, Raymond, Thierry, Jean-Pierre, Jean-Claude, or Jean-Paul!” Then he ran out of breath. I was en-heartened, but not wholly convinced. So I studied all our friends — Gaston, Alain, Georges, Robert, Raymond, Thierry, and all three Jeans — and found that it was clearly true, none of them was unfaithful to his wife, and obviously had no desire ever to be so.


Somewhat reassured though I was about my own personal destiny, I felt a curious sensation of dismay and bewilderment about Frenchman as a whole, and confided to Andre Maurois one day at tea that I was rather shocked by the discrepancy between the reputation of the French husband and the low incidence of infidelity that really existed chez lui.


Having agreed that the average Frenchman much preferred to be faithful to his wife, Maurois reflected for a moment and decided that the reputation must once have been well-founded  — “in the romantic period,” he said, “over a century ago, when the life of the feelings was given so much importance, and when the poetic imagination was accorded so much expression. Nowadays the style is different because conditions are difference. The French husband no longer has the leisure that his inheritance used to assure him, because the last two wars have wiped out the old French institution of the carefully nurtured and passed-on family fortune, and almost every modern Frenchman must therefore work. He marries young and has his children promptly. And you know,” concluded Maurois, “to have a mistress, a man must have the money for it — and the time — and the energy!”


With Pierre that evening I did a little careful checking. The family fortune had been thoroughly wiped out by 1946. He must have been bewildered by my expression of pure delight. He was puzzled but pleased when I myself took The Blessing and threw it out the window. After all, it was about the rarest type of modern Frenchman — a marquis, who had the time, the money, and the energy!


Extracted from Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland, 1961

The Asthall Poltergeist & High Society’s Fascination With The Unseen

Happy Halloween from The Mitford Society…

An Extract from The Mitford Society Vol. II

The supernatural was a fashionable topic of conversation in postwar society, with sophisticated hostesses sampling tarot cards, Ouija boards and table-tipping to provide an unforgettable party-trick. But, among those who dabbled in the unseen for paltry motives, there were serious followers of the occult. Violet Tweedale, the upper-class author, poet and spiritualist, chronicled her psychic experiences in her memoir Ghosts I Have Seen. She also belonged to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an organisation devoted to the study and practice of the occult, metaphysics and paranormal activities during the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Violet Tweedale

Violet Tweedale

One of the most enthusiastic followers of Tweedale’s work was Jean Skeffington (née Ainsworth), the 12th Viscountess Massereene. Residing in her husband’s family seat, Antrim Castle in Northern Ireland, Lady Massereene thrived on the castle’s ghostly reputation and reported sightings of a servant girl – known by locals as “The White Lady” – and a phantom carriage which was said to recreate its calamitous drive down the estate’s lime tree avenue where it met a watery fate at the bottom of a long canal. A harmless fascination, but in the god-fearing market town of Antrim, her Ladyship’s interests were brushed off as eccentric. However, it was in London that Lady Massereene fully embraced her belief in the supernatural, prompting gossip columnists to refer to her as “one of Mayfair’s most renowned ghost experts”. Statements such as “This summer I vow to go to forty seances” were viewed as beyond the pale to those in possession of a level head. Her husband, the Viscount Massereene, expressed little tolerance to his wife’s eccentricities, and she challenged his patience – not to mention her reputation – when she summoned the police to Antrim Castle to report a missing tiara. The tiara in question, she told them, was lying on the bed of the Six Mile river. How did she know, her husband and the police, questioned. The response was a simple one: she had dreamt it.

Viscountess Massereene

Viscountess Massereene

As much as Violet Tweedale and Lady Massereene spoke of their beliefs in the supernatural with genuine sincerity, there were false mediums springing up all over London as a response to the bereft individuals grieving their loved-ones lost to WWI. They say there is a market for everything, and this certainly rings true in the form of the medium William Hope and his invention of spirit photography. Taking a photograph of a client, he used glass plates and double exposure to make it look as though their dead loved-one was watching over them. Clever for its day, spirit photography serves as an example of the mass commercialism – or accessible commodity – that spiritualism had become.

Spiritual photography: a ghostly apparition appears in a photograph of Rev. Charles and Mrs. Tweedale

Spiritual photography: a ghostly apparition appears in a photograph of Rev. Charles and Mrs. Tweedale

Away from London, in the sleepy Cotswolds village of Oxfordshire, the Mitfords were experiencing their own ghostly experience. Asthall Manor, the family’s gabled Jacobean home built around 1620 was said to be haunted by a poltergeist so active that it tore off a maid’s bedclothes. In the daytime hours, cutlery flew across the scullery, china cups and saucers were hurled from their shelves, water-taps turned on by themselves and windows flew open despite their being locked. When night fell, footsteps could be heard on the paving stones outside, and on close inspection nobody could be seen. Could this have been the workings of the children’s overactive imaginations? Perhaps. The nursery windows overlooked the old graveyard of wool merchants’ graves, and although the children were forbidden to watch the funerals, they always did. Once, Decca and Debo fell into a newly dug grave, and Nancy warned them it meant “bad luck forever”.



Asthall Manor

Farve, Pamela and Diana – the two of his seven children who felt the uneasy presence of the specter – witnessed the phenomena first-hand. They ignored the eerie happenings, pushing it to the back of their minds and refraining from speaking openly about it, lest they conjure it up. Pamela, though, was more than curious to see if the poltergeist did exist, and she told Diana: “We want to do some table turning one night but we are so afraid that Farve might find us at it. That would be awful of course.”


Debo carried the tale of the poltergeist with her throughout adulthood. A non-believer in such things, she flippantly dismissed it as “one of those nuisances that accompany teenage girls”, and was happy to be the instigator of ghostly pranks. Knowing of the ghost stories surrounding old, stately homes, she summoned her own make-shift ghoul to terrify some American guests who were staying at Lismore Castle. Mr. Twigg (sec. of the hunt) dressed up in a sheet, a night-cap, chains and carried a lantern. She fixed fishing-wire to the chandelier in the dining room and it shook and rattled, and then Mr. Twigg appeared through the windows. One American woman nearly fainted; she screamed and demanded to leave at once, to go anywhere, even to a hotel. “She was really horror-struck,” Debo recalled. “The joke nearly went too far.” Too far indeed, but Debo was one of the few in her family who did not believe in such things.


Superstitions, too, governed Farve’s life to an extent that he would write the name of an enemy on a piece of paper, sometimes slotting it into a matchbox (a makeshift coffin?) and putting it away in a drawer. He believed the person who had vexed him would die within a year. Given that he often carried out this ritual on his many sons-in-law – Sir Oswald Mosley, Peter Rodd and Esmond Romilly, in particular – it is clear that his theory did not work. However, the very mention of “the drawer” was enough to send a chill through the room.


After ten years of living at Asthall Manor, the house was promptly put on the market. The family vacated the haunted house for temporary lodgings in Paris. Although financial difficulties inspired his decision to sell the house, the family believe the poltergeist played a significant part. For a sensible, philistine man like Farve, the very mention of a ghost turned his blood cold. Could there have been more than a hint of idle gossip in the existence of the poltergeist? His offspring seemed to think so.


The Mitford Society’s annual is available on and as well as Barnes & Noble

An extract of Titus Lives, a historical novel by Colin Sloan

‘He is in pitiful circumstances, exacerbated no doubt by that creature O’Sullivan. What say you Titus? You have sat there all evening soberly observing him,’ asked Lady Primrose.
‘I witnessed a broken man this evening. It saddened me. He is still capable of permitting us fleeting glimpses of regal charm, albeit flickering embers of his former self and what might have been that only tantalize us as to all that unfulfilled potential. But his spirit is broken nonetheless by conspiring circumstances and he now finds solace from insincere cronies and comfort through consuming ever increasing amounts of alcohol. I saw a young man with so much energy to give only to be brought down by the weight of expectation he has carried for so long and that he is unable to relinquish unless he imbibes himself to the very edge of oblivion. I saw a prince who was once within touching distance of greatness, of inheriting everything he was brought up to believe he had a right to, only to have it maliciously wrested from his grasp. A man without meaning, a man without a role, a man who has become austere and uncaring, kicking his heels in a room where people await without any hope or expectation for a door that will never open again. The frustration he must have felt has long since left him and been replaced if not by abject misery then at the very least by overwhelming melancholy. It’s a downward spiral and it will be a challenge.’
‘A challenge?’ asked Lady Primrose.
‘Yes. I know now the real reason why you wanted me here my Lady. You need my help, is that not so?’
‘Decidedly so Titus. The prince is surrounded by bad counsel and his life is increasingly disparate in nature, altogether transient. His retinue is continually gamboling from one foreign court or salon to another, using up favours, wearing out sympathies and patience by accruing debts as we have seen this evening. He seldom forms attachments that are long lasting or beneficial to him. He has instead withdrawn into himself, becoming harsh, dissolute, profligate, scathing and contemptuous.’
‘I couldn’t help but notice that he showed an innate fondness for you earlier in the evening if you don’t mind my saying so.’ I asked.
‘We share an uncommon friendship. It is no secret to those here present that I tell you I am a close companion of someone for whom the prince has strong residual emotions,’ said Lady Primrose.
‘Then this other woman, could she be a force for good in all this? Might she help us with our reclamation of Charles Edward?’
‘She would require a sea change in the Prince’s recent habits and behaviour to occur before even considering helping us.’
‘So that is perhaps where I can be of assistance? But you need to permit me to know more of the woman who has such a hold over Charles Edward.’
‘I can vouch for the trust and discretion of my good Lord the Duke and my god father, the Earl of Westmorland. What I tell you now will go no further than the confines of this dining room. My friend nursed the prince through a fever he contracted whilst he was on campaign near Bannockburn House back in 1745. Her father was a prominent Jacobite landowner and he followed their colours unfailingly until falling at Culloden. It was as if my friend was fated to meet Charles Edward as she was given the name of the prince’s own mother at birth. Clementina. Clementina Walkinshaw. She sat with him for a week he could scarce remember and then for another he would never forget. She slept holding his hand at the bedside, ate seldom and only if she could feed him a morsel from her plate as well. It was as if she willed the fever out of him as he slowly began to fight back from the sweats and delirium until it finally dissipated.’

Lady Primrose walked over to the double doors of the dining room where we sat and opened one to check if she was being overheard by one of the prince’s contingent. When satisfied that the rest of the house had retired for the night she closed the doors once again and continued in a lower tone than previously.

‘An attachment had been formed, a bond which inspissated through time, deeper than any girlish infatuation, an unspoken devotion that each would carry on their separate journeys into their later lives. She had saved his life and had done so selflessly. He had asked her to wait for him and that one day he would send for her. They had made love in a sacred place from antiquity to seal their pact with one another. The prince’s star was still in its ascendancy and as such he could have had the pick of the affections of all the pretty maids of Scotland and elsewhere, but Clementina had pierced his heart long before he let his father’s kingdom slip from his grasp. We can allow ourselves to imagine the tokens of love they must have exchanged, the lockets of hair, the keepsakes and amulets, portable heirlooms handed down from long dead lovers. Her love stoked his recumbent desires, she had restored his vigour at a propitiously fateful juncture and he took his leave of her full of optimism on the cusp of everything his birthright and lineage entitled him to wish for. He was not to see her again for five years. In that time and in secret he would place about him the keepsakes of their love; those cherished possessions which reminded him of a better world with love at its core and her by his side on the heather clad moor. The obstacles to her, both real and imagined were now subdued and alleviated by a new companion that had usurped and numbed his emotions, subjugating his thoughts to the lowest levels of darkness and decay. Clementina had become emblematic of what might have been and as time passed between them, he convinced himself that she was now treading on the path that had been denied to him by defeat. He had shown a congenital weakness by giving in to self-pity and this demise had sloughed his outlook, dry-stoned his heart, making him bitter and resentful with every sip he took. Clementina was still light in his darkness, an ever constant source of hope when the shadows of doubt closed in around him. He wanted her now more than ever.

Her family had paid dearly for sheltering and supporting the prince. Her father and brother both lay dead and their lands and property were confiscated by the government. Clementina chose to withdraw to a convent in Flanders. She had no intention of taking religious orders, choosing instead to withdraw to a place of confinement near her prince should he have need of her. She was aware that Charles Edward was leading a perilously fugacious existence. The nunnery offered sanctuary and a respite from the steady trickle of suitors who invariably came calling back in Scotland to take advantage of her reduced circumstances. As tiresome as it must have been to fend herself off from their advances, it paled in significance when compared to the dark intents of that ogre O’Sullivan. I had in my possession the encoded letters for the prince which I safely conveyed to Clementina at Dunkirk. It was imperative that I used her as my stratagem to cloak my real design in contacting Charles Edward Stuart.

Clementina’s sister, Emelia, though estranged from her late father, was no less close to her. She had embraced the new ruling elite by way of an advantageous marriage and had risen rapidly in favour, becoming a lady-in-waiting for the Hanoverian Princess of Wales. Frederick, the Prince of Wales, was openly contemptuous of his father George II and had established an alternative court at Whitehall. This he filled with liberal free thinkers, libertines and those with Jacobite tendencies. Frederick saw an opportunity to further ignite his father’s existing antipathy for him by taking soundings and opening lines of communication with Jacobites on the continent by way of Emelia. Frederick proposed the unthinkable and he would certainly have been carted off to bedlam if his father had got wind of his ludicrous intentions. He wanted to renege his succession in favour of the restoration of the Stuarts. Emelia did contact me, knowing of my Jacobite sympathies and furnished me with a purse full of gold coins, letters of transit as well as coded dispatches from the Prince of Wales for Charles’s attention via Clementina.
I found her in good spirits at the nunnery near Dunkirk. Her mood having been lifted on hearing that Charles Edward was presently residing nearby at Liège. After an interval of two days we were visited by his courier. I took an instant dislike to O’Sullivan, sensing him to have a Janus-faced predisposition. He had an overweening opinion of himself, an arrogance that belied his position in life. Furthermore he had an unhealthy disrespect for those he knew to be his betters and wore arrogance as if it were a badge of office. I was resentful when he tore open the secret dispatches and proved to be proficient at deciphering their codes of content within before resealing them with his own embossed sealing wax. His master must trust him without qualification to allow him such freedom of scope. He was privy to matters that were of national importance and of no concern to a mere message bearer. Furthermore he was insistent that we should dine with him that evening after helping Clementina compose a letter to the prince. I could read his designs through the folly of concern for how Clementina should construct her writings. Drink loosened his tongue over dinner and much later he was incapable of much else which compelled the mother superior to permit him a bed for the night.

I thought his behaviour reprehensible at best given the sensitive nature of the documents he was instructed to deliver. I noticed that he paid Clementina more compliments and attention than was healthy to expect in polite company. More than once I had to remonstrate with her for allowing herself to get carried away in discussions that loosely involved the prince, but in reality were O’Sullivans entrée into her affections. I could see that she was impressionable and vulnerable to his rough charm so I made it my purpose to keep O’Sullivan’s arrogant inroads to her person as remote as possible were applicable. I stayed with Clementina for five days, during which time O’Sullivan had numerous occasions to call upon her delivering letters from the prince. It was pleasing to see her spirits lifted by his writing to her, but it was vexatious to watch O’Sullivan try to take advantage of her joy. I collected the response from Charles Edward that was written for the attention of Prince Frederick and took my leave of the nunnery on the morning of the sixth day. I cautioned Clementina to resist the advances of this courier, reminding her that she was promised to his master. She assured me that it was just a flirtation and Charles’s name was etched on her heart. I left her happier than she had been at any time since 1745, but I knew O’Sullivan to be the type of creature who would not desist with his attempts to woo her at the expense of his unassuming backer. I reached Dover two days later and when practicable I conveyed my communications from Charles Edward to Prince Frederick by way of Emelia. As flattered as he was, even the Stuart Prince was not deceived by Frederick’s incredulous plan and urged great caution to George’s wayward son to give up such an idea as he was certain that it would only lead to further acrimony and worse with his own father. Charles Edward’s pride would not entertain the idea of recovering his father’s kingdom by such methods which were dishonourable and full of family betrayal. In His opinion it was ‘Using the servants entrance to gain access to the house when only the front door would suffice’ My journey wasn’t wasted as it gave me the opportunity to confront the malevolent miscreant who has subsequently cast such a dark spell over Charles Stuart. It is as if O’Sullivan is unable to permit others happiness without him first getting a taste of it himself. He seeks to control and manipulate situations to secure his advantage and exploit the weaknesses in others. It is under protest that am loathe to have this scoundrel under my roof. He makes my stomach churn with all his conceit and arrogance. Gentlemen I have tried to paint this picture for you of the dark forces now combining to corrupt and destroy our rightful prince of his health and inheritance. Titus what remedy if any do you proffer to prevent his further descent into utter desperation?’