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Lessons of history predict happiness for Meghan and Harry

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle should have a happy marriage if the lessons of history are anything to go by, says author Anne de Courcy, who is coming to Buxton International Festival to talk about her book on American millionairesses marrying into British nobility. 

America’s “Dollar Princesses” who married impoverished British aristocrats in the 19th Century not only saved plenty of country houses with their cash  –  they probably saved the country itself, said Anne, who will talk about The Husband Hunters on July 19.

Fabulously wealthy American girls, usually propelled by their social-climbing mothers, brought vast inheritances to Britain and exchanged them for a place in the English nobility.

One such marriage produced Winston Churchill whose mother Jennie Jerome – “more panther than woman,” as a contemporary described her – brought millions of dollars to Blenheim Palace when she wed Randolph Churchill.

“A lot of American heiresses saved a lot of country houses,” said Anne, author of 13 widely acclaimed works of social history and biography, including Margot at War, The Fishing Fleet, The Viceroy’s Daughters and Debs at War.

Young Winston, of course, went on to create and define the Special Relationship between the two countries which saved Britain and Europe in World War Two.

Ironically, the American invasion, which continued into the early years of the Twentieth Century, was fuelled by the strict social code of New York high society which in place of the exclusion literally bred into England’s hereditary system created its own artificial snobbery  – limiting those “in” to an arbitrarily designated 400 families.

The only other way in was to get an English title: “The Americans were fascinated by them,” said Anne. “They probably still are. It’s the one thing money can’t buy. People love a title – why do so many people want to get into the House of Lords?

“The period I was writing about wasn’t so very long since a lot of them had come from England, certainly in the South where they were used to the English caste system.”

And the American girls, with their confident, open manners, were a breath of fresh air to stuffy English society and especially to the Prince of Wales, who championed their cause.

However, for many of the heiresses, life on a cold, damp country estate with a husband more interested in foxes and hounds than a wife was a misery.

But Anne believes the next big wedding between an American woman and the cream of the nobility – Meghan Markle and Prince Harry –  should be a success if the lessons of history are anything to go by.

“She isn’t bringing the dollars,” said Anne, and not only has the actress had her own successful career, she’s also more ready for the culture shock.

“The happy marriages were with the ones who had married at 24, 25 or 26 after seeing something of the world. They weren’t the 18-year-olds separated from family and friends in a strange country.”

l The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York. Thursday, July 19, Pavilion Arts Centre, tickets £11.

To book, do to www.buxtonfestival.co.uk