“Chatelaines” … what a delicate, intriguing word.  If you don’t know what they are, let your mind wander a bit and come up with your own definition.  Could they be a buttery, flaky French pastry you’ve never heard of?  Or perhaps, a little embroidered purse into which you’d put your loose change?  Maybe, they refer to a member of a European family, perhaps third or fourth cousin, who ran off with the chambermaid.  If you do know what a “Chatelaine” is, you are better informed than I.  I had no idea.  But these practical items were quite popular for centuries, and are still around today.

A Chatelaine is nothing more than a “key chain” … a key chain most often worn by women heads of households, but also some men, from early Roman times through to the 19th century.  During this period, women’s clothing did not have pockets, and women did not carry handbags.  Unthinkable, I know.  So where did women (and some men) keep the keys to the larder or the tea chest?  What about those small embroidery scissors or their watch?  Not to mention their snuff box or perfume vial.  This very practical accessory, the Chatelaine, would hold all of these and other essential items, which a head of house, a nanny, or nurse might need at a moment’s notice.

Derived from the French word for “Keeper of the Castle” or “Mistress of the Chateau”, the Chatelaine would be affixed by a hook to a leather belt, cord or chain worn around the waist.  This hook would then have a series of smaller hooks or chains hanging from it, each holding one of these essential tools.  Not only were these essentials vital to the daily household chores, it was a status symbol letting others know this was a woman “in charge” and took her domestic responsibilities seriously.

Mrs. Hughes, wearing a Chatelaine, had a very prestigious and respected position as head housekeeper at Downton Abbey.

One of the most important uses of a Chatelaine was to hold a watch.  With no pockets and wristwatches were not as yet invented, the need to have a watch handy was vitally important, especially if you were overseeing the running of a manor house.

Victorian Antique Chatelaine

As with most items, Chatelaines eventually became a symbol of a person’s wealth.  A wealthy person might wear a very decorative and ornate Chatelaine made from precious metals and adorned with precious and semi-precious stones.  As handbags became the fashion, the Chatelaine shrank in appearance and functionality, but was still a popular ornamental piece.  Men began wearing them from their waistcoat to carry their watch.  Women began wearing them more as a decorative accessory around their neck and even around their wrist.  Perhaps this was the origin of what we now know as a “charm bracelet”.

Punch, a very influential 19th century British weekly magazine, notorious for their  sophisticated humor and satire (and is known for creating the “cartoon”), came up with an interesting use of the Chatelaine to aid mothers of young children

As I mentioned above, Chatelaines are actually still very popular. Today’s Chatelaine may look a little different and some may be purely decorative, but not all.  How many of us wear a Lanyard to hold our eyeglasses or company badge?  This very practical accessory, the Lanyard, is also a modern day form of a Chatelaine.

You can find modern day replicas of the classic Chatelaine on Etsy or EBay, as well as department stores.   But they are not only found on the runway and in fashion magazines, they are also quite popular as a ‘punk rock’ accessory in the form of a chain belt worn by both men and women, to hold wallets.  Worn primarily with jeans, but they can be worn with just about any outfit.  So, the name may have changed, but I believe the practicality of being able to have handy what you need, at a moment’s notice, will never loose its appeal, and if it can be decorative too, why not?

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References: Millys Marvels, Mental Floss, Louis Dell’ Olio, Wikipedia,


It’s hard for me to realize that I haven’t posted all summer!!  What have I been doing?  Going to the beach?  Nope.  On vacation?  Nope.  Long, lazy, relaxing days of doing nothing?  Nope.  But, somehow the summer has now come and gone, and some of you have been wondering where I’ve been.  I’ll be darned if I know.  What I do know is that I’m back!

I have, however, caught up on some reading over the past few months.  One book which I found quite fascinating is LADY CATHERINE AND THE REAL DOWNTON ABBEY, written by the current Countess of Carnarvon, Fiona Herbert.  Fiona is married to the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, George Reginald Oliver Molyneux Herbert.  The current Earl and his family live in what fans of the award-winning PBS period drama series now refer to as “Downton Abbey” but in reality is Highclere Castle.  Downton Abbey might have been a fictitious television program, but the 5,000 acre estate in Hampshire, England, does exist in all its splendid glory.

Countess of Carnarvon

In her book, Fiona takes us on a journey through the tumultuous lives of the 6th Earl of Carnarvon, Lord Porchester aka “Porchie”, and his American wife, Catherine.  From the glamorous, high-style living of wealthy aristocrats in the free-spirited 1920s through, in vivid heart-wrenching detail, to the impact both the first and second World Wars had, not only on Great Britain, but on Highclere and the people associated with it.  It’s an engrossing book detailing characters and a past lifestyle, which many of us may find hard to comprehend, but in the end, captures us and tugs at our hearts.


Julian Fellowes, the creator, writer and producer of Downton Abbey, was inspired by the original events of Highclere for his storylines.  He and his wife, Emma, are actually close friends of the Earl and Countess.  ‘Obviously we talk around the dining table when Julian and Emma stay,’ stated Fiona, who moved to the estate when she married her husband Geordie in 1999. ‘They ask questions and later we notice the characters saying things we’ve said.’

The revenue brought in from the commercial success of the tv series has been a financial boon to the cash-strapped estate.  The original home, a large, classic squared-off mansion, was built around the 14th century.  The first major remodeling was in the early 18th century, representative of the House of Parliament.  The last redesign Highclere underwent was in the 19th century.  You can only imagine that 200 years later, Highclere Castle … a modest home of 200 or 300 rooms, 80 of which were bedrooms … was in drastic need of major repairs.

The castle was unlivable.  At least 50 of the rooms were completely uninhabitable with only the ground floor and first floor rooms usable.  The Earl and Countess had to live in a modest cottage on the estate’s grounds.  Water damage had caused the stonework to crumble and the ceilings to collapse.  Estimates for repairs on the estate were around £12 million.

Although the series has ended, fans continue to que up to see the great hall, the dining room, the drawing room, library and music room, as well as any bedrooms which were used for filming.  And now because of the high number of paying visitors, Lord and Lady Carnarvon have made the necessary major repairs.  Although the family now lives in Highclere during the winter months, when the castle is open to the public in the summer, they return to their little cottage.

Even Queen Elizabeth was a fan of the tv series and is also frequently mentioned in Fiona’s book.  Having been a frequent guest at Highclere as a child, Queen Elizabeth was a very close friend of “Porchie”, the 6th Earl, about whom the book is written.  On the Netflix series, The Crown, Queen Elizabeth tells Prince Philip ‘not to be jealous of her friendship with Porchie because he is just “part of the furniture.’”

This was not meant to be a post about the fictitious Downton Abbey, but about the real and factual Highclere Castle, home of the Carnarvon family.  The stories have been taken from the private archives … all richly detailed, including beautiful period photographs … in the Countess of Carnarvon’s book, LADY CATHERINE AND THE REAL DOWNTON ABBEY.
A fascinating read!




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References:  Wikipedia, Highclere Castle, Lady Carnarvon, Amazon,


“Dollar Princesses” … until today I had never heard that term before.  Fascinating when you consider I’ve watched every single episode of Downton Abbey (maybe twice) and thought I had a very good grasp of every character and plot line.   But, today I learned about “dollar princesses”, and I am fascinated.

Lady Grantham, Cora Crawley

Lady Grantham, Cora Crawley

Cora Crawley was a “dollar princess” … coming from an extremely wealthy American home, “new” money or the “nouveau riche” as they were often called, yet with none of the social standing that the aristocracy or “old money” could provide.  Cora may have been a fictitious character, but she was based on a composite of many American heiresses who could not find acceptance at home.

After the Civil War, from about 1870 to 1910, America changed quite drastically.  With the rapid growth of railroading, mining and the steel industry, simple men who saw the future, worked hard and invested wisely became millionaires. The American wage rose much higher than those in Europe and Europeans from impoverished countries started flocking to the shores of the United States.  Termed the “Gilded Age” by Mark Twain, a man who was appalled during this time of extremes –  from abject poverty to excessive wealth.  Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, said about The Gilded Age, “This was a vivid time with dizzying, brilliant ascents and calamitous falls, of record-breaking ostentation and savage rivalry; a time when money was king.”   

If the now ended British series, Downton Abbey, is new to you, I’ll give you a little bit of a background on Cora.  She was (as we have now learned) an American Gilded Age “dollar princess“, who at the age of 20, was pressured by her very rich Jewish father into marrying Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham and member of aristocracy.  Cora’s dowry was controlled through the marriage contract by the head of the Grantham family (a man, of course).  Cora and Robert had three daughters, but not a son (who would eventually be heir to the fortune). It’s 1914, the world is in conflict, the Grantham estate’s money is beginning to run out, and so the story begins …

There were quite a few “dollar princesses” who had a large impact on Great Britain. And, it seems, that today every old aristocratic British family has a connection to at least one of these young American women … from Prince Charles on down.

One of the most important “dollar princess” who, without question, made the biggest impact not only for Great Britain but for the world, is Jennie Jerome.   Born in Brooklyn, New York (before Brooklyn was part of New York City), Jennie was the second of Leonard and Clarissa Jerome’s four daughters.  Through his successes in business and investments in this Gilded Age, Leonard became one of the richest men in New York.  But despite his wealth he was shunned by the New York elite, known as the Knickerbockers.  These “old money” families were run by the matriarchs, none of whom would have anything to do with Clarissa.  Having had enough of this snubbing, Clarissa decided to take her daughters to Europe, where she hoped they would be welcomed by the upper levels of society and perhaps gain a title.

Jennie Jerome

Jennie Jerome

Europe opened her arms to the Jerome’s and the other American “swells” who began to cross the pond looking for social acceptance.  It was at a grand ball in 1873 where the beautiful, dark-haired Jennie, aged 19, met the dashing and handsome, 24 year old Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill. Lord Randolph fell for the dark-haired beauty immediately.  After three days they considered themselves “engaged to be married”, but the wedding wouldn’t take place for another year.

During their marriage, Jennie gave birth to two sons, Winston and John.  The name, Winston Churchill, may sound familiar to you as he later became Prime Minister of England and one of the most powerful men in the world.

Although Jennie was the first and probably most well known of the “dollar princesses”, she wasn’t the only one.  Young American heiresses, mostly prompted by their families, we eager be introduced to European aristocracy and to started consulting publications like The Titled American, a quarterly magazine which listed all the eligible bachelors from British noble families.  Europeans knowing these newly minted fortunes would help prop up their costly estates were also eager to participate.  Ultimately many other young, rich American women found their lives and loves in Europe. Jennie’s husband, Randolph’s brother became infatuated and later married the wealthy American widow, Lily Hammersley, to become Duchess of Marlborough.  Jennie’s close friend, Consuelo Yznaga, whose father owned several plantations and a sugar mill, married George Montague, 8th Duke of Manchester to become the Countess of Manchester.

Minnie Stevens

Minnie Stevens

Daughter of the famed hotelier, Paran Stevens, 20 year old Minnie Stevens left New York City bound for Europe in 1872 and found love with Sir Arthur Henry Fitzroy Paget, later to become Commander-in-Chief of Ireland.  Minnie was actually responsible for introducing quite a few American heiresses to wealthy European suitors and earned the nickname “the American Queen of British society” playing the million dollar matchmaker to British men.

Not every marriage was built on love, however. One very famous arrangement was that the wealthiest of the “dollar princesses”, heiress to the Vanderbilt railroad millions, Consuelo Vanderbilt.  Ms. Vanderbilt, whose godmother, Consuelo Yznaga, and for whom she was named, married the 9th Duke of Marlborough, Charles Spencer-Churchill, at the insistence of her mother.  Although she loved another, Ms. Vanderbilt couldn’t stand up to her powerful mother and the ‘deal’ was made.  As part of the marriage contract, Charles Spencer-Churchill collected a dowry worth approximately $2.5 million (about $67 million today).

Other “dollar princesses” included:  Mary Leiter, Lady Curzon and Vicereine of India; Mary Goelet, the Duchess of Roxburghe; and Cara Rogers, Lady Fairhaven.  Even Princess Diana was descended from New York heiress Frances Ellen Work.  I’m sure quite a few of us remember the American socialite (and twice-divorced) Wallis Simpson and her powerful love affair with Edward, the  Prince of Wales, who abdicated his throne as King of England.

Many of these women went on to make solid contributions to society.  They were active in politics, social and charitable causes, establishing schools and raising funds for hospitals.  They participated in the war efforts, started magazines and were the inspiration for many novels, as well as a musical play.

Americans were fascinated by British Royalty and British Royalty was fascinated by the impulsive, free spirited, and very wealthy young American beauties.  “Cash for Class” as it was called.  During this period between 1870 and 1905 approximately 350 “dollar princesses” married into British aristocracy contributing over £40 million to the British economy.  Today the equivalent would be more than £1 billion.  Is it possible these young British men, most of whom had never worked a day in their lives, would be considered fortune hunters?  Yes.  But it is also possible that these young American “dollar princesses” wanting to wear a tiara and be presented at court were able to save country estates struggling with debt and dilapidated castles, many of which would have just shriveled up and died?

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References:  Edwardian Promenade, Newsweek, Smithsonian, Scandalous Women, Wikipedia


Bye, Bye, Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey Robert and CoraI’m not the only one saddened to see this award-winning British TV series end.  It’s been six years of pure joy and escapism.  For the past six glorious years, we’ve been transported to the opulent ancestral home of aristocrats Robert, the Earl of Grantham, and his wife, Cora, Countess of Grantham and their daughters, Mary, Sybil and Edith.

Downton Abbey sisters
Mary, the eldest daughter, elegant and graceful but headstrong, opinionated and daring to strike out on her own.  Darling Sybil, the middle daughter who defies the family by falling madly for the politically-active chauffeur. Edith, the youngest daughter for whom love and affection are always an arms-length away.

We’ve experienced the joys and heartbreak of life during this time as we’ve watched the Grantham family and the household staff experience love,  marriage, childbirth and death. We’ve stood hand-and-hand as they lost family members in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 . . . faced the direct, hard-hitting impact of the war years on their home, their lives and their future . . . coped with the changing morals, dress and labor landscape of the Roaring 20’s . . . and struggled with the decline of finances, lifestyles and ever-changing political climate.

We’ve become part of the inservice family below the stairs as well, watching as the fiercBTCyys-d4Rxlely loyal Mr. Carson, butler to the Earl of Grantham, manages the house and staff with discipline, integrity, and on occasion, patience. His stern demeanor masks the soft, squishy teddy-bear interior that we all know exists.  Firmly planted in the traditions of the past, Mr. Carson painfully and slowly must adapt to a new age.

His female foil and ultimate soul-mate is the pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes.  Respected, admired and feared by the female servants, Mrs. Hughes runs the household staff efficiently and compassionately.  Just a jiggle of those intimidating house keys hanging around her waist and everyone pops to.

Mrs. Patmore is my absolute favorite character.  She is the plump, protective, persnickety head cook who doesn’t let anyone get the last word. High-strung and quick tempered, her sharp wit, below the stairs, is as enjoyable as the Dowager Countess’s are above season2_world_onset_04the stairs.  And, of course, the Dowager Countess, matriarch of the family, mother of Robert and grandmother of Mary, Sybil and Edith, who is an absolute joy to watch. Proud, loyal and schooled in the old traditions, she never lets impropriety get in the way of her sharp tongue.

The cast has come and gone over the six years, but not to be forgotten are my favorites:  Mrs. Crawley, Matthew’s mother, firmly planted in her middle-class mores and feminist attitudes. John Bates, the wounded soldier who fought side-by-side with Robert, Earl of Grantham, in the Boer Wars and who now works as his faithful and trusted valet.  Anna Smith, the head housemaid and chambermaid to Mary who falls madly for Mr. Bates (who wouldn’t) and somehow survives so much pain and hardship.  We’ve watched the scheming, manipulative Thomas Barrow advance from footman to butler, leaving no one in his wake.  And, Daisy, such a sweet, naive soul who wants nothing more than to be heard and to be loved.

We’ve witnessed the installation of electricity, the telephone and the radio in the grand house. Below the stairs, we’ve seen the world of those “in service” shaken with the introduction of the typewriter, the sewing machine and the electric “whisk” or hand-mixer.  We’ve seen the uneducated become learners and teachers . . . the acceptance of what was once unacceptable . . . and the role of women grow, mature and become equal.
We’ve had ‘tea’ everyday at 4:00 pm in the book-laden library
and dined in opulent, chandeliered dining rooms, served from the left by tuxedoed footmen.  We’ve been driven in chauffeured touring cars and ridden side saddle on fox hunts over the northern dales.  We’ve seen hemlines creep up and hair be cut off.  We’ve donned our gloves for dinner and put on our “wellies” to slop the pigs.


For me, I’ve never been so captured and captivated by a TV program.  Yes, of course, its a soap opera, but it’s been a glorious soap opera taking us into a lifestyle of opulence and luxury, rich in traditions and landscapes that doesn’t exist today.  A life that some of us may have fantasized about, but knew we would never experience.

Thank you Downton Abbey for six “masterful” years!

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Downloadable Downton Abbey list of characters, PBS, Masterpiece