This unique reproduction is the how-to directory which guided wealthy American heiresses in their quest to marry a titled British aristocrat in the turn-of-the-century Downton Abbey era, the core story of the TV series itself. A fascinating Introduction to the "Dollar Princess" trade by noted historian Eric Homberger explains the phenomenon of American brides exchanging enormous dowries for the right to be the Lady of a great English manor. What would entice a young American bride to leave their families, homes and everything familiar to travel thousands of miles away to a land and culture with a myriad of rigid and absolutely foreign social rules, traditions and customs? The bachelors who are chronicled in Titled Americans drew the attention of many aspiring American bridal prospects who thumbed through the pages of this Who's Who of British aristocracy, letting their hearts fill with the fantasy of being the Lady of a great estate as they mulled over the directory's full details of every bachelor's income, property value and net worth!
Selected excerpts from the Introduction:
It has been estimated that 454 American heiresses married European aristocrats in the late nineteenth-century, and thus acquired, at considerable expense, hereditary titles of nobility. 136 bagged Earls or Counts, 42 married princes, 17 married dukes, 19 married viscounts, 33 married marquises, and there are 46 wives of baronets and knights, and 64 baronesses.
People were indeed curious about such fairy-tale marriages. In the last two or three decades of the nineteenth-century, there had been an explosion of press interest in the doings of the wealthy.
The most astringent view of these golden marriages came from those who assumed that there were financial transactions and substantial dowries behind such marriages. One estimate suggested that as much as $50,000,000 might have accompanied the American brides as they sailed across the Atlantic for their new lives in the decayed and impoverished estates of the great aristocratic families. Other estimates put the total financial cost of the transatlantic marriages at a significantly higher figure.
And when everything was settled, it was time to bring in the lawyers for a “long and legal and messy” consideration of the settlement, especially taking into account the different legal frameworks which applied to the property of married women in the United States (where a bride retained her property and wealth) and Great Britain (where husbands assumed unrestricted control over the wealth and property of the women they married). There was much to negotiate. And when the families’ objections seemed interminable, it was sometimes necessary to force their hands.
Behind the simple lists of aristocratic marriages in Titled Americans
there is a world of complexity, scandal, family problems and financial and legal concerns. There was sufficient drama in such marriages to keep society gossips happy.
Excerpted from Titled Americans, 1890 by Chauncey M Depew. Copyright © 2013 by Dr. Eric Homberger. Excerpted by permission of Old House, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.