An unconventional view of the First World War from inside the glittering social salon of Downing Street: a story of unrequited love, loss, sacrifice, scandal and the Prime Minister's wife, Margot Asquith
Margot Asquith was perhaps the most daring and unconventional Prime Minister's wife in British history. Known for her wit, style and habit of speaking her mind, she transformed 10 Downing Street into a glittering social and intellectual salon. Yet her last four years at Number 10 were a period of intense emotional and political turmoil in her private and public life.
In 1912, when Anne de Courcy's book opens, rumblings of discontent and cries for social reform were encroaching on all sides - from suffragettes, striking workers and Irish nationalists. Against this background of a government beset with troubles, the Prime Minister fell desperately in love with his daughter's best friend, Venetia Stanley; to complicate matters, so did his Private Secretary. Margot's relationship with her husband was already bedevilled by her stepdaughter's jealous, almost incestuous adoration of her father. The outbreak of the First World War only heightened these swirling tensions within Downing Street.
Drawing on unpublished material from personal papers and diaries, Anne de Courcy vividly recreates this extraordinary time when the Prime Minister's residence was run like an English country house, with socialising taking precedence over politics, love letters written in the cabinet room and gossip and state secrets exchanged over the bridge table.
By 1916, when Asquith was forced out of office, everything had changed. For the country as a whole, for those in power, for a whole stratum of society, but especially for the Asquiths and their circle, it was the end of an era. Life inside Downing Street would never be the same again.
Anne de Courcy is the author of twelve widely acclaimed works of social history and biography, including THE FISHING FLEET: HUSBAND-HUNTING IN THE RAJ, THE VICEROY'S DAUGHTERS, DEBS AT WAR and 1939: THE LAST SEASON. She lives in London and Gloucestershire.
As I read with increasing amazement at these carryings-on, the thought kept intruding: this is a plot that Downton Abbey would die for! ... Anne de Courcy keeps this steaming, erotic merry-go-round whirling with admirable skill. Using Margot's diaries and a wealth of letters and other sources, she brings those fraught days of war alive, weaving them into their context with an immediacy of unexpected detail ... This book makes you feel you are there watching the tears fall - especially Margot's - into the emotional cauldron bubbling out of control — Peter Lewis, DAILY MAIL
Margot Asquith's sharp humour, modern style, intelligence and wealth fascinated men... Anne de Courcy has a firm grasp of politics, an acute eye for social detail and a keen perception of Margot's pains and pleasures. Her narrative is concise and compelling. — Iain Finlayson, THE TIMES
De Courcy, author of the celebrated The Fishing Fleet: Husband Hunting in the Raj, indulges us with generous quotes from contemporary correspondence and detailed observation, describing life at a time of turbulent change through engaging anecdotes and descriptions — Elizabeth Freemantle, SUNDAY EXPRESS
A proper sex in high places scandal... Though Margot Asquith, nee Tennant, is its main character, her husband's scandalous obsession with young Venetia Stanley is inevitably centre stage — Andy McSmith, THE INDEPENDENT 'Books of the Year'
A superb evocation of an extraordinary time — CHOICE Book of the Month
Fascinating ... Anne de Courcy is sympathetic to her subject. She's a journalist with a keen eye for detail and no-nonsense directness — Melanie McDonagh, THE TABLET
Covers everything from Asquith's infidelity to politics and parties — CATHOLIC HERALD
It conveys Margot's milieu with a nice touch and takes time away from this enclosed self-regarding world to give us vivid sharp vignettes of the harder times being experienced by other classes. De Courcy records very well Margot's tortured jealousy, not only of her husband's dalliance with Venetia Stanley but of his daughter Violet's almost incestuous passion for her father — Ferdinand Mount, LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS
A love triangle that nearly brought down the British government is at the heart of Margot at War by Anne de Courcy. Margot Asquith, whose husband was Prime Minister from 1908 to 1916, is the star of this riveting biography about war, love, marriage and secret goings-on at 10 Downing Street — GOOD HOUSEKEEPING
Margot scandalised society. She refused chaperonage and said what she thought. Plain, with a broken nose from hunting, she dressed beautifully, and was immensely rich when she married Herbert Henry Asquith, subsidising his love of luxury... The research is impressive and the eventful historical context covered with a light touch. Enlightening, especially on Asquith's intractable opposition to the suffragettes. — Jackie Wilkin, WI LIFE
There are many instances in this engaging book, where, as well us giving us an informed account of events, the writer includes observations that are both logical and empathetic. This is a useful, entertaining and impressive publication — HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY
Margot was a rare bird indeed: stylish, idiosyncratic and never less than controvserial ... Superbly blending the private and public, domestic dramas with international crises, Anne de Courcy proves that Mrs Asquith, flamboyant and opinionated, but also isolated and vulnerable, was peculiarly well suited to a period when her celebrity, if not her influence, had never been greater — Martin Williams, COUNTRY LIFE
A riveting, brilliantly researched picture of Downing Street during the crucial years in which the world changed irrevocably — GOOD BOOK GUIDE
The story of this fascinating character and London socialite is told with both a storyteller's flourish and a historian's clear head for the facts by Anne de Courcy in Margot at War. The torrid personal life of the flamboyant prime minister's wife is pieced apart by de Courcy, revealing a saga of glamour, affairs and relationship dysfunction, all unravelling alongside the first attacks of the Suffragette movement, the swelling unrest over Irish Home Rule and of course the lead up to the outbreak of the Great War. File under the "couldn't make it up" category — Hilary A White, IRISH SUNDAY INDEPENDENT