American Duchess by Karen Harper

American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt provides a rich inspiration for this fictionalized novel of her life beginning in the 1890s.  In American Duchess, Consuelo, a member of the privileged Vanderbilt family, is engaged and married, against her will, to the 9th Duke of Marlborough.  Overruled by her dominating and controlling mother Alva, she is merely a pawn in Alva’s desire for an even higher social status as well as the Duke’s need to preserve his family’s estate and financial well-being.

We first meet Consuelo on her wedding day to the Duke of Marlborough in 1895.  She is in tears as she is about to marry not the man she loves, but the man her mother has chosen for her.  With her sense of duty to her family’s legacy, she carries on and enters the church to marry the Duke.  It is only after her marriage that we learn that she was actually in love with a man who her parents did not approve of as a suitable match for their daughter.  Alva has her sights set on matching her daughter with British royalty and does everything in her power to play matchmaker.  Blenheim Palace, the seat of the Duke’s family, is in need of money to maintain the estate and who better to supply the money than the Vanderbilt family with a bride for the Duke?

After the wedding, Consuelo, now the Duchess of Marlborough, attempts to find her place, helping the less fortunate in the surrounding areas and learning more about her new role as head of the household.  Throughout her time at Blenheim Palace, a close ally emerges in her husband’s cousin, Winston Churchill, and the two share a close friendship.  As time passes, the relationship between she and the Duke grows more and more strained to a breaking point.  Consuelo finds the strength to eventually follow her heart and make difficult, but necessary decisions.

This novel is a fictionalized account of a fascinating, yet little known historical figure whose life did not start the way she had envisioned.  Throughout her life she  gathered the strength and courage to live her life on her own terms.  Many believe that Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, is the first American born Duchess but it turns out that over 100 years ago, England welcomed an American Duchess, Consuelo Vanderbilt.  This novel gives the reader a good sense of the challenges she faced in her new country.

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