Nonfiction November Review: Those Wild Wyndhams: Three Sisters at the Heart of Power by Claudia Renton

My Interest

Any family and its group of friends that includes not one, but three private secretaries to the Queen, plus other notables grabs my attention every time. Through in a fabulous portrait by John Singer Sargent, stir in a descendant owning the fabled Island of Mustique and well, I just had to read it! I’m still wondering how I missed it when it came out.

The Story

Back in the “other” ’90s–the 1890s, the so-called Gilded Age and into the Edwardian era at the start of the 20th Century there was a group known in society as “The Souls.” Their children became “The Coterie,”  and after the First World War they morphed into “The Bright Young Things,” This is their story. The three Wyndham sisters, the men they married, the men they flirted with, the men they committed indiscretions with, the children the begot and the good works that they did are all here. But that makes it sound boring and it was anything but! Even I, who has a pretty fair grasp of the families involved, needed a family tree and photographic chart to keep them all strait while listening to the audio version.

The sitters of Sargent’s famous Wyndham sisters, Mary, Lady Elcho (later Countess of Wemyss), Madeline, Mrs. Charles Adeane, and Pamela, Mrs. Edward Tennant (later the Baroness Glenconner) were the three sisters at the heart of the”The Souls.” They sacrificed sons on the altar of the King and Empire in World War I. They had the ear of politicians of the day. Their descendants entertained or advised royalty.

The women themselves lived life under their own rules. One was tried and true to her husband, happy with him from day one. One adored being with her children. One was a writer. All managed to do what they wanted while managing the migrations of family from one house to the other, while having to constantly manage and recruit servants, and put up with husband’s whims and occasional disparagement.

My Thoughts

I have such a book hangover that I cannot do justice to this book in a review. The families are fascinating–some times in ways they shouldn’t be, but mostly in good ways. This was one of the most interesting collective biographies I’ve ever read. I am purchasing a copy so that I can keep it and possibly do a better job of sorting out the families! It is enough to say that from these women descended some fascinating men–sons and grandsons who made their own mark. Two rather notoriously, and one quietly, behind the scenes. I leave it to you to decide if they are enough proof of how fascinating these sisters were. I am only sorry that I let it languish on my TBR for so many years.

From Mary, Lady Elcho/Lady Wemyss came:

Queen Elizabeth II with her Private Secretary, Martin Charteris (later Baron Charteris of Amisfield), grandson of Mary Wyndham.

From Pamela came

the “Brightest” of The Bright Young Things, her son, Stephen Tennant (left) and his brother, David, who started a notorious debauched club in London. Her grandson, Colin, Lord Glenconner, owned Mustique island and was a close friend of Princess Margaret. You can read more about him in my post here.

Those Wild Wyndhams: Three Sisters at the Heart of Power by Claudia Renton

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