They had the cash, but needed more class ... Those excluded from New York’s smart set took their revenge by buying a title, reasoning that if you were barred from American society then you would jolly well up sticks and marry into the impoverished but landed English aristocracy ... The transaction was simple. American heiresses traded money for social position. However, de Courcy argues with conviction that it wasn’t simply about money. Englishmen found the dollar princesses irresistible and were drawn to their vitality, social ease and lack of stuffiness.
In The Husband Hunters, Anne de Courcy’s latest social history ... With the economy lagging in the second half of the 19th century, these men lacked the ready funds to match their exalted status and maintain their grand estates — and since going into business simply was not done, it’s not as if they could go out and earn a fortune. To maintain their lifestyles, they needed to marry one. Enter the Americans. The United States in the Gilded Age was awash in nouveau riche families eager for establishment recognition. Marry a daughter off to an earl, et voilà: instant cachet that even the most horrendous New York snobs could not deny, given their enchantment with nobility ... The Husband Hunters is a forthrightly feminist history. De Courcy takes seriously the lives of the women she writes about, who surprisingly include the brave and remarkably savvy American suffragist Victoria Woodhull.
De Courcy documents the exhaustive efforts undertaken by wealthy nineteenth-century American mothers to secure titled British husbands for their hapless daughters ... Stories abound about American mamas who sacrificed their offspring to ensure entrance into the inner circles of New York society and invitations to posh summer affairs at Newport. Vanderbilts, Astors, Churchills, Marlboroughs; diamonds, tiaras, yachts, mansions; all are documented in glorious detail and should satisfy those readers with insatiable thirst for all things peerage.
...[a] fascinating new book ... De Courcy is a very practiced hand at this sort of thing; her earlier books, including The Viceroy's Daughters and Debs at War, likewise sort through piles of secondary sources in order to produce a string of perfect evocative anecdotes and a solid backdrop of an era ... De Courcy captures a great deal of the sad romance and sharp wit of that era in these pages.
The Husband Hunters, Anne de Courcy’s diverting new study of this phenomenon, is at its best when she’s exploring why [American heiresses married titled Europeans]. She makes a persuasive case that a prime driver in the American heiress exodus was escape from the savage competitiveness of Gilded Age society in the capital of status, New York ... The Husband Hunters has a lot to say about the young American women who married titles, but at heart it’s a wonderful study of monster mothers ... What impresses about de Courcy’s American imports is how efficiently they adapted their native skills to England’s resistant class structure ... De Courcy conjures it all with skill.
De Courcy brings the Victorian and Edwardian eras to life with her well-researched book, conveyed in an approachable prose style. Though the narrative’s central focus is the 454 American women who married into the British aristocracy between 1870 and 1914, the scope is far broader than just the ladies themselves ... In the 19th century, the right dress, jewels, upbringing, carriage, and conversation effectively demonstrated female power ... The author’s occasional repetition of details—e.g., the girls’ physical characteristics—is unnecessary, but the approachable narration and attention to detail make up for any deficiencies ... A highly readable social history that contains all of the juicy drama of a prime-time soap opera.
Journalist De Courcy delivers a fascinating but surface-skimming history of the wealthy young American women—novelist Edith Wharton called them the 'buccaneers'—who married titled Brits in the 19th century. De Courcy maintains that status-seeking mothers of nouveau riche families masterminded these transatlantic nuptials to break into the social circle of the wealthiest American families, an elite group known as the Knickerbockers. Arranging their daughters’ marriages to impoverished British aristocrats worked; the Knickerbockers, who respected titles, welcomed the brides, along with their families, into their ranks ... The stories of women like Virginia Bonynge, Maud Burke, and Cornelia Bradley Martin are ones of wealth and power, not romance.