Daisy Greville - Countess of Warwick
After a recent trip to Warwick Castle and the subsequent discovery of a photo taken through the latticed window of the chapel, I have became almost obsessed with it. Whether or not you believe in ghosts, this photo is worth a second look because through my eyes, I can see a white flowing Edwardian-style gown, front and centre. And I can guarantee you, no one was standing behind me at the time. Unfortunately, the face is hidden in the lattice work of the chapel window but there is a hint of someone's face in profile with dark hair tied back as was popular in the Edwardian era.
Obsessed was a good word for how I was feeling. My inquisitive mind sent me in a frenzy of research into Warwick Castle and what I discovered gave me goosebumps and left me in awe of a quite extraordinary woman who stood out from the beginning of her memorable life.
Sex and power seem to go hand in hand and nothing can do more damage to a reputation than a good sex scandal. Nowadays people yawn through newspaper accounts of civil warfare and economic downturns but give them a juicy sex scandal peppered with important names and it’s the first story readers will turn to. We’re hopelessly hooked because it seems people with titles behaving badly is intriguing. Who’d have thought they had the same desires and passions as the rest of us? The only difference is the consequences are bigger, sometimes disastrous.
So, meet Daisy Greville, 5th Countess of Warwick and wife of Lord Baron Brooke. From what started out as an interest in Warwick Castle (and a bit of a giggle at my ghostly photo) my research has shifted into something so much more. Let me tell you a story about a remarkable woman called Daisy.
Daisy was born Frances Evelyn Maynard in 1862, the daughter of Blanche FitzRoy, a descendant of Charles II through two of his mistresses - Nell Gwyn via her mother Jane Beauclerk and Henry Fitzroy, and the Dukes of Grafton via her grandfather Rev Henry Fitzroy. Blanche was only 18 when she gave birth to Daisy, whilst her father, The Honourable Charles Maynard was close to 50.
Charles was the eldest son and heir apparent of Henry Maynard 3rd Viscount Maynard and was due to inherit his father’s titles and fortune on his death. Sadly both Charles and his father died within months of each other so three-year-old Daisy inherited most of her grandfather’s estates, including her ancestral home of Easton Lodge in Little Easton, Essex. The inheritance made her a very wealthy young heiress while she still only a small child. Two years after Charles Maynard’s death, Blanche married 33-year-old Lord Rosslyn a favourite courtier of Queen Victoria’s, and it brought the family into the close circle of the Royal Family.
Queen Victoria had her eye firmly set on the wealthy and beautiful young woman with haunting eyes and ready wit as a possible wife for her youngest son, Prince Leopold (later titled Duke of Albany). Daisy, however, wasn't so keen on the idea of marrying the odd-looking young man with the hooded eyes and hawkish nose. Not to mention the dreaded disease haemophilia lurking in the mucky gene pool. Instead, at the age of 20, she married Francis Greville, Baron Brooke, the eldest son and heir of George Greville, 4th Earl of Warwick, much to her mother’s disapproval and Victoria’s astonishment. A brave woman, even at such a young age, to thwart the indomitable Queen Victoria's dynastic plans.
One year after the wedding in 1881, Daisy provided the Earl with a son but by 1884, her eyes had begun to wander. They had become members of the ‘Marlborough House Set’ headed by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII). At the time, Marlborough House was the hub of society in London where Prince Edward, (better known as Bertie) and his wife Alexandra of Denmark resided. As part of the elite set, Daisy and her husband entertained aristocrats frequently and lavishly and of course, one thing led to another with Daisy partaking in a string of affairs. Infidelity in those days was accepted as long as it followed the age-old tradition of discretion. Unfortunately, Daisy was not discreet. Everything came a bit unglued when an affair Daisy was having went horribly wrong.
The wife of one of her lovers became pregnant and Daisy was wild with anger and outrage. She wrote a passionate and…um...explicit letter to her lover, Lord Charles Beresford, questioning his loyalty to her and explaining her feelings about the whole matter. Daisy was unaware that Lord Charles had instructed his wife to open all his mail whilst he was away on campaign and Lady Charles did exactly that, becoming only too aware of what had been going on. Others read the letter, including Charles's brother, who stated it "ought to have never seen the light of day" but instead, Lady Charles handed the letter to Sir George Lewis, society's discreet solicitor, for safe-keeping until she decided what to do with it.
Rather wisely, Daisy realised that with her letter now in the wrong hands, coupled with legal advice, she had to do something drastic. In a panic, she went to her dear friend Bertie for help. It was during a tearful scene with the gorgeous Daisy begging him to intervene that Bertie fell in love with her.
Bertie, the consummate gallant gentleman, was completely besotted by Daisy by then and he flew into action immediately. At 2 a.m. on a rainy morning he rousted the unfortunate solicitor from his bed and demanded to see the letter and once read, Bertie knew the dreadful thing must never come to light. He insisted on keeping it but the solicitor however did not share his opinion. He refused to hand it over and there was a somewhat desperate and messy tug-of-war between Bertie, the solicitor and Lady Charles who refused to return the letter to Daisy unless Daisy was willing to take herself off to the Continent away from London Society, and her husband, for the rest of the season.
Bertie was not a man to be threatened. He told Lady Charles that if she used the letter in any way whatsoever it might be she who would be ostracized by society not Daisy. Better still, hand the letter over! Again, Lady Charles refused to part with it to which Bertie countered with measures of his own. That season, the Brookes were invited everywhere and Lady Charles and her husband were assiduously cut from any function that involved him.
Of course, while all this was going on, London Society was agog with the gossip, revelling in the juicy stories coming to light, even giving Daisy a nickname - "Babbling Brooke." If you’ve heard of a song called ‘Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do’, it’s because this song was written just for her.
Bertie’s interference in the matter angered Lord Charles enough for him to storm over to Marlborough House demanding to see Bertie. It all ended up in an untidy shoving scuffle with Lord Charles propelling Bertie against a sofa and threatening to knock his block off. The quarrel lasted until Prime Minister Lord Salisbury intervened and both parties reached an agreement. Lord Charles would be called away to sea in the service of the Royal Navy before he could do any more damage to his relationship with the future King of England and his wife would stew on the side-lines for the remainder of the London season.
Bertie forgave Lord Charles for his actions, but the scandal placed a definite strain on the friendship of the two men, and needless to say, the relations between Bertie and Lord Charles remained weak for the remainder of their lives. During this time, Daisy’s husband inherited the Earldom of Warwick, Daisy became Countess of Warwick, and the family moved into Warwick castle.
This leap into the higher nobility allowed Daisy to spend much more time in public with Bertie and she encouraged him in his extravagant, thrill-seeking ways. Wife-swapping was a popular pastime amongst the Marlborough House set and the ladies often wore short tea dresses with no corsets which was the opposite of how a decent Victorian lady should behave. She organised parties at her mansion in Essex and even had a railway line put in place to bring her ‘personal’ guests in discreetly (by this time, locomotives were hurtling people across the country from London to Birmingham at an astounding thirty miles per hour).
Being a mistress was not seen as a shameful thing within Daisy and Bertie’s circle as many of their friends lived in similar set-ups and quite a lot of them had nurseries filled with children who looked very little like their apparent fathers. In this environment, Daisy formed other passionate attachments. She fell hopelessly in love with a millionaire bachelor, Joseph Laycock and when she became pregnant with Laycock's child, Bertie, although forever fond of her, insisted on a distance between them due to his mother's horror of scandal. In a lifetime full of philandering, Bertie considered Daisy to be one of the three great loves of his life and listed her among his closest confidantes. It didn’t stop him however from immediately moving on to another mistress by the name of Alice Keppel, wife of the Honourable George Keppel and youngest daughter of a Scottish Naval Commander by the name of Sir William Edmonstone 4th Baronet. Her beauty, charm and discretion attracted Bertie and she remained his mistress till his death, lightening the dark moods of his later years and allegedly holding considerable influence. Through her younger daughter, Sonia Cubitt, Alice Keppel is the great-grandmother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, second wife of Charles, Prince of Wales.
Daisy's lover, Joseph Laycock, an army officer in the Boer War, became the natural father of two of Daisy's children, Maynard (born 21 March 1898), and Mercy (born 10 April 1904). However, at the same time, Laycock was also having an affair with Kitty, the Marchioness of Downshire, and when Kitty’s husband found out about the affair, he was not so understanding. He threatened to divorce her. This menage-a-trois set society's pens ablaze again with snickers at “Babbling Brooke” and her antics. Laycock eventually married Lady Downshire after her divorce, and the heartsick Daisy was forced to attend to other matters. And this is where Daisy had an rather amazing transformation.
During her time as Bertie’s mistress, Daisy had begun dabbling in social reform. She began addressing social inequality, in particular the education and feeding of poor children, and the education and employment of women in general. She offered her home as a meeting place for trade unions and funded countless charities. She founded needlework and agricultural colleges for women, established a needlework school for rural girls with a shop to sell their work and she sought to offer educational opportunities to women in a society very much closed off to them. She also devoted herself to the plights of women’s suffrage, unemployment and free meals for schoolchildren and financed Bigod’s Technical School for disadvantaged rural children in Essex. By the time her affair with Bertie finally came to an end, Daisy had become even more devoted to her reform work, becoming a socialist, joining the Social Democratic Foundation in 1904 and donating large amounts of money to the organisation.
Daisy’s social circle changed drastically as she left high society behind, spending time with the likes of George Bernard Shaw. By the end of World War One, Daisy had published twelve books covering a wide variety of subjects; gardening, the First World War, Socialism, The History of Warwick Castle and books on the arts and crafts movement.
All this was happening in 1923 when Daisy took an enormous gamble and stood as the Labour Party candidate in a by-election for the seat of Warwick and Leamington. It was a huge risk since Westminster was seen as a men’s only club. But Daisy - being Daisy - wanted to be heard. As it turned out, she lost by a mere 10,000 votes to Anthony Eden who would later become the Prime Minister. Despite this, Daisy continued to support the party and even offered to gift Easton to the Independent Labour Party. The offer never progressed beyond initial acceptances but it led to the ILP’s annual summer school being held there.
Needless to say, her lifestyle, largesse in community projects and years of lavish entertainment and sociality pursuits had depleted the immense fortune she had inherited from her grandfather and by 1924, after her husband’s death, her life of high-society partying had drained Daisy’s coffers. As a widow facing poverty with neither husband nor royal benefactor (King Edward had died in 1910) Daisy was desperate. She was facing imprisonment in HM Prison Holloway for her debts and she had no way of paying them. It forced her to make a rather desperate move: she threatened to publish her most private letters from Bertie unless his son, George V, paid for her silence. The letters demonstrated the extent of Edward VII's infidelities and would have scandalised society if they had been made public.
George did not take the bait but in the end allowed Daisy to publish a censored version of her memoirs through a British industrialist and politician, Arthur Du Cros, who paid £64,000 for the love letters (that would be worth around £8,000,000 today) to avoid bankruptcy. When her memoirs was eventually published, titled "Life's Ebb and Flow," Daisy's daughter called it so vulgar that it could only be described as muck. Today it is considered one of the best-written memoirs on Edwardian society and is often cited.
Daisy achieved a great deal in her seventy-six years. She died in 1938, her husband Francis had died fourteen years earlier and despite Daisy’s eccentricities and her string of infidelities, he is known to have said that he would have rather be married to Daisy than any other woman in the world.
It was Daisy’s 16-year-old grandson, Charles Greville, who became the last earl of Warwick. Not that he spent much time there. Charles wanted to be a film star and he went to Hollywood to crack the movies using his stage name, Peter Brooke, although he was better known by his nicknames – Duke of Hollywood and Warwick the Filmmaker. But his film career never really took off and he was forced to sell armour, paintings and heirlooms to cover the cost of the castle’s incredible upkeep. Eventually in 1978, Warwick Castle was sold to one of Britain’s most famous entertainment companies and the Earls of Warwick are long gone.
But I like to remember Daisy and the past earls of Warwick. They played their part in the dramas of England – Agincourt, the War of the Roses, the rising of Lady Jane Grey and the war of the Parliament against Charles I. They have been the hosts of kings and queens and also their executioners. They have dictated the policy of their country and they have perished miserably on the scaffold.
And their history, like Daisy, does not lack variety, spice or admiration.