A look ahead to Cliveden Literary Festival 2017

PUBLISHED: 11:32 26 September 2017

Iconic Cliveden awaits an amazing festival

Iconic Cliveden awaits an amazing festival


First festival has a stellar list of authors discussing everything from scandal and fame to war, power and even Brexit

Glamour, intrigue and names now woven into the country’s history – perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the first ever Cliveden Literary Festival in October has nothing short of a show-stopping ‘cast list’ of authors.

There’s an extraordinary line-up for an inaugural event and it’s hard to know where to start. Make a list and you have to leave some out, but how do you pick from the likes of historians Lady Antonia Fraser, Simon Sebag Montifiore, Bettany Hughes, novelists Sebastian Faulks, Robert Harris, Ian McEwan and Howard Jacobson and author Frances Osborne. Also appearing are Nick Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery and Hannah Rothschild, Chair at the National Gallery, politicians Michael Gove and Kwasi Kwarteng, as well as Anne Applebaum, Geordie Greig, Tina Brown, Sir Harry Evans and Simon Schama.

The boutique festival’s president, Professor Andrew Roberts, is naturally delighted that an event uniquely focussing on politics and history has the apt and exquisite surroundings of the Italianate, Grade I listed Cliveden House and its beautiful gardens as its setting, over one weekend, Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 October.

Much of the credit for this must go to author and festival chairman Natalie Livingstone, whose first book, the Sunday Times bestseller, The Mistresses of Cliveden, told the story of five extraordinary women and this remarkable house. Natalie says: “I think its testament to the allure and appeal of Cliveden that so many great names have agreed to speak. I was completely overwhelmed by the response and am so excited for all the events.”

She tells us: “In the course of researching my book about the women in Cliveden’s story, I was expecting to encounter many celebrated protagonists in English history from Queen Victoria to Winston Churchill. What I hadn’t expected to stumble upon were quite so many literary giants. From Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Tennyson, George Bernard Shaw and Rudyard Kipling, Cliveden has time and again played host and inspired a galaxy of extraordinary stars. My aim in setting up the literary festival was to revive this tradition and once again turn Cliveden into a literary salon filled with the brightest and most exciting talent of today.

“Throughout its 350-year-history, Cliveden has provided a stage for political plots and artistic premieres, hosted grieving monarchs and republican radicals, was idealised as a family home, and maligned as a threat to national security. It is therefore fitting that the main themes of the festival are history and politics, which I believe lend themselves perfectly to a house steeped in scandalous stories from the past.”

You can’t help but note – and raise a cheer – that a good proportion of the speakers at the festival are female, and Natalie is delighted to have such a fine selection of role models and inspirations. She says: “I am fascinated by women’s history and passionate about unearthing untold stories of women of the past. It is a painful reality that throughout history the voices of women have, all too often, been modified or silenced by the careless and prejudiced archiving of subsequent generations.

“Sometimes the record has been altered or destroyed much sooner, even by the women themselves, afraid of what would happen if the strength or nature of their opinions were known. I believe there is so much work to be done to redress the balance.”

It’s a good point and you can see how the festival was a natural progression from the research for and then publication of her 2015 book: “Walking around the house with a new historical awareness, I found myself, quite literally, coming face to face with the former mistresses of Cliveden, whom, with the exception of Nancy Astor, I knew nothing about. On one wall hung a portrait of Anna Maria, the original inspiration for the house. Carved into the staircase was Elizabeth, Countess of Orkney, a formidable intellect, power-broker and long-time lover to William III.

“Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, the queen that Britain was promised and then denied in the middle of the 18th century, was immortalised in a painting over the grand staircase, while the fourth mistress, Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland, a glittering society hostess, passionate philanthropist and the closest confidante of Queen Victoria, presided over the dining room. I was utterly captivated by these women and wanted to uncover their stories. I wanted to make their voices heard, to find out who they were and what they stood for.”

Book tickets

We’d advise making a weekend of it! Ticket prices are £95 Saturday, £85 Sunday or £170 for the weekend, with 50% off for students, schoolchildren and student card holders. Book by email at info@clivedenliteraryfestival.org, or call 07880 934 145.

The festival is supported by National Trust, and presented in association with Champagne Taittinger, Citi Private Bank, Iconic Luxury Hotels, John Sandoe Books and Jaguar Landrover.

See clivedenliteraryfestival.org for the full programme, Twitter: @ClivedenLitFest

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