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The King, the Duke & the Rothschilds

Named after King Edward VII, who reigned at the turn of the 20th century, the Edwardian era was the swan song of a centuries-old way of life. The British Empire was at its peak, London was the acknowledged capital of the world, and the country house shimmered in the warm glow of “the long Edwardian afternoon.” All of this was swept away by the catastrophe that was World War I, leaving Britain irretrievably changed. The optimism of the Edwardian age – a mindset that caused people to believe anything was possible – was destroyed forever.

This lecture examines some of the greatest country houses of England that existed during this magical twilight of the early 20th century. From Highclere Castle (famous as the setting for Downton Abbey to Blenheim Palace, the magnificent home of the dukes of Marlborough, to the glorious Rothschild houses, there has never been anything quite like the splendor of the grand Edwardian country houses.

Jaw-dropping by any measure, these houses were off the charts when the art they contained was factored into the equation. The Rothschilds possessed the largest fortune in the world, which allowed them to create homes that were world-class museums in their own right. So famous was the Rothschild taste that its over-the-top verve gave birth to the term “le goût Rothschild,” a phrase still used today to describe collections of incredible richness featuring the finest art, furniture, fabrics, and decorative arts. This serious taste for bling was transmitted to the newly-wealthy American plutocrats, who were decorating their great townhouses on Fifth Avenue in New York City, as well as their country houses and Newport “cottages.” As with so much in history, one trend influences another, leaving for us today the residue of this faded but glorious time.

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