For fans of Downton Abbey: the enthralling true story of family secrets and aristocratic intrigue in the days before WWI. After the Ninth Duke of Rutland, one of the wealthiest men in Britain, died alone in a cramped room in the servants' quarters of Belvoir Castle on April 21, 1940, his son and heir ordered the room, which contained the Rutland family archives, sealed. Sixty years later, Catherine Bailey became the first historian given access. What she discovered was a mystery: the Duke had painstakingly erased three periods of his life from all family records-but why? As Bailey uncovers the answers, she also provides an intimate portrait of the very top of British society in the turbulent days leading up to World War I"--
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Having watched a couple seasons of Downton Abbey, I can see definite similarities and wonder if a little of Belvoir is in the mix for the show. The allure of that vanished way of life is intensely appealing in a lot of ways. To have that much money, privilege and power is astonishing in this day and age. In some ways I am saddened that the English economy and socio-political structure collapsed, shutting it down entirely, but it had to happen. Luckily many large estates still survive, if in a shrunken state.
I won’t get into specifics because it’s better to read this one without knowing too many of the turning points ahead of time, but not all of the 3 central secrets are totally solved. Haddon’s death (don’t worry that detail comes early) is still shrouded in lies and euphemisms. For it and the other secrets, my mind ran away with me hard down the road of speculation. Much of what I suspected didn’t turn out to be true, but it was fun to guess and reformulate based on a new item uncovered by the writer.
The lengths that Violet goes to are extreme and lays her psyche open pretty well. She was so indulged her whole life that any and all thoughts, actions or approaches were automatically sanctioned not only by her, but by everyone around her. The result is a thoroughly self-centered and ruthless person. Cruelty, lies, manipulation, whatever it took to keep Violet feeling in control and able to stay safely away from what hurt her was on the table. Despite her circumstances, I think she was in denial a lot of the time. What was baffling was her intense efforts on John’s behalf in the latter half of his life after virtually ignoring him for the first half. In this day and age, the family’s treatment of John could be construed as abuse; certainly neglect. Emotionally he was left out to dry and it’s no wonder that the became a solitary, bookish person rather than the social powerhouse his new role as eldest son required of him. I don’t know if he ever settled to his fate, but in the end he took steps to try to erase the unseemly parts of his legacy. Lucky for us he didn’t entirely succeed.
Bailey was given access to the family archives of the Dukes of Rutland, held at Belvoir Castle, the family seat. The archives had been basically locked up in their rooms from the time of the death of the 9th Duke in 1940 until the early part of this century, and Bailey was one of the first historians permitted access. She'd intended to write quite a different book, one about the experiences of the men of Belvoir and the surrounding estates during World War I, but when she began exploring the archives she found the story she tells here, and determined to recount that instead. We should be very glad she did.
The 9th Duke spent the final years of his life closeted away in the rooms where the archives were kept, and in fact even died there, on a small couch, surrounded by the family papers. When Bailey began her search, she quickly found that the 9th Duke's motives had not been entirely pure of heart: he had created three very precise, but very thorough, gaps in the archival record by removing all the correspondence and papers for those date ranges. Bailey set out to discover just what happened during those periods, and that hunt forms the basic structure for the book. What she finds is a tale of real family drama and somewhat shocking behavior on the part of a good number of people.
I had a terrible time putting this down once I started reading. Bailey's account of her efforts to puzzle out the events of those three mysterious periods makes for riveting reading, and it's really a pleasure to dig into her own research process and methods ... not to mention all the fascinating things she manages to learn. I'm not going to share any of those here: go off and read the book.
This is not, I admit, a perfect book. The title and subtitle are slightly overdrawn (except for the "plotting duchess and a family secret" part), and not only do some questions remain unanswered, but there are also certain points that just prove unsatisfying or anticlimactic. But on the whole, I found this a tremendously interesting book, and recommend it highly.
It's not my place to divulge what those secrets were, but in the unveiling of the one involving the first year of the war, I felt the author went off the rails a bit. Once the reader knows what was hidden, why, and who was responsible, Bailey goes into minute detail over each fact that she discovered and how it was discovered. Instead of making me feel outrage and sorrow at what was done, I soon became impatient and my enthusiasm for the book as a whole began to wane from its original high. Two-thirds of The Secret Rooms is fascinating,and I'm glad I read it, but that final third does drag a bit.
The story of John,the 9th Duke was one of mystery and intrigue and one which Bailey began to follow with increasing interest. He died,virtually alone,living his final days in the five damp and bare muniment rooms surrounded by private letters. These family letters had,Bailey discovered,had three distinct gaps which she determined to fill. Two of these (his war-time letters and the later ones,) she solves and explains well) The third,those concerning the death of his brother,is left virtually unexplained.
Overall a good,solid piece of work which is well worth reading.
It's difficult to review this without spoilers so I won't go into much detail, but suffice it to say that the Lord of Rutland's parents were pretty horrific and the secrets he spent so much time keeping were painful ones. Ms. Bailey does meticulous research and the inclusion of information from many letters really capture the time, its attitudes, and the people living through them. The mystery cuts all the through many of the most interesting times in twentieth century history and the story of the pursuit of the documents in a good one.
Not my cup of tea, but a good read if you're interested in life in a big English country house during the Edwardian period and throughout World War I.
It was very interesting following her as she attempts to piece together the why of the missing documents. Loved following her mind as she makes, at first small, and then larger discoveries. The dukes remaining letters create a vivid picture of the lives and morals of the very top of Edwardian society. From a tragic happening in his youth, to his enlistment in World War I, and his marriage we get a clear glimpse of what life was like for this Duke. Speaking of dysfunctional families, this family had it all. His mother the Duchess was a major=r piece of work, and his father not much better. I did understand and excuse certain things about his father, because he was under enormous pressure to keep up appearances and the large family estate together at a time when all fortunes were declining.
The letters detailing his life in the war and the reason he did not go to the front, were very illuminating. From other letters in his possession and the facts uncovered by the author we get a horrifying look at the War, the battle of Ypres, and the major cost of lives on this estate alone. Over two hundred young and older men would die in the war.
IF I have one complaint I think a few of these letters could have been kept out without a detrimental effect on the story, they sometimes just seemed like overkill. All in all though this is a solid look at lives of the last few Dukes of Rutland and the uncovering of a mystery that was 1/2 century in the making. Also loved that the author doesn't just end the book but lets us know the fate of all the leading players. Very solid and interesting historical.
This book is about Catherine Bailey’s investigation into these gaps. It is not a ‘whodunnit’, for the person responsible for the deliberate destruction of these particular records is known and identified early on, namely, John Manners 9th duke of Rutland, but an investigation into the events giving rise to their destruction and why.
It is questionable whether this is truly a ‘gothic mystery’, but the style of the narrative follows that of a ‘whodunnit’ by continually whetting the appetite with a systematic stripping away of the layers, but withholding the answer until the end. However, whether or not this story is a mystery is not that important. What is conveyed within these pages is, in general, a story of the aristocracy’s perceived view of their rank and status, their arrogance and undoubted hypocrisy, but in particular the power, control and manipulation exercised by the Manners and the depths to which the family stoops to protect that rank and status, above all else.
The beginning of her quest enthralled me. After many of the early chapters I had to stop and tell somebody what had happened as it was quite exciting. The lives of the Rutland family were tangled and complicated and there was a fair amount of unpleasantness in family life. We then got to the point where Bailey is investigating the gaps in John's WWI experiences and I did feel it all got very bogged down with far too much detail, to the point where I really couldn't concentrate on it all and take it all in. Nevertheless, the underlying story was still interesting and intriguing to me.
I read a proof copy of this book and, after meeting the author at an event the other night, I understand that the publishers printed the proof copy before they should have done and that there is more material in the final version, which might explain at least one of the unresolved gaps. I definitely want to try and find out what it was, as I did feel it was left too open-ended in my version.
Overall an interesting tale of family life and dastardly dealings, an overbearing mother, a distant father, tragedies, and ultimately the unhappiness caused by being part of the aristocracy.
I was absolutely riveted - missing letters, secret codes, family secrets (of course), and Catherine Bailey's cleverly paced cliffhangers! A hidden batch of letters, a trunk of overlooked correspondence, the cracking of the code - the pieces all slowly start to come together, and while the revelations are not exactly devastating (must be all that historical fiction), the final family portrait of the Manners family is both decadent and dysfunctional. Someone should turn this book into a miniseries! The curmudgeonly duke and his cruel wife, their lonely son who abandons duty for love, and the secret rooms at the castle. There's even a dodgy American spy thrown in for good measure! Yes, the final chapters are slightly repetitive, drawing out the reason behind John's wartime secret, but overall, a well-researched and exciting historical 'mystery'.
I seriously cannot recommend this book enough - fact is freakier than fiction!
Why was the physician of King George VI expected? Most astonishing of all, why was this physician and others awaiting the patient to be ready for them?
These questions show only the beginning of the Duke of Rutland mystery, while England
To understand this time and culture one needs to understand the history. Further, one needs to know that history has the ability to change, albeit not sometimes unexpectedly. Moreover, one needs to realize the family dynamic. The family position was, well, everything and appearances mattered daily. However, it was the first-born male heir who mattered most, but this young heir landed at death's door.
Was it an accident? Or an illness? Or was it something more?
Catherine Bailey brings to life yesteryear that Downton Abbey fans will relish, and her riddle manages to capture mystery lovers and history buffs too.
The lives in this story will have you enthralled, as you race to find answers that lay just beyond indecorum and falsehoods. Strong women, weak men, appear inside the walls of Belvoir Castle, but roles change as their time progresses. If you are like me, you'll believe that just maybe someone still living is suspicious that things weren't right in the past.
Great and intriguing mystery with numerous layers at the start and through the middle; loses its punch and focus a bit once WWI
My biggest regret was that the "haunted castle" part in the subtitle really only equates to a paragraph very early in the book. Alas, my expectations weren't met because of that, though the history and biographic bits held my interest through to the end.
THERE WAS NO FAMILY SECRET. FUCK THIS SHIT.
The book opens with the death of the Duke in 1940, then the author describes
I enjoyed the look at the life of an aristocratic family in the early 20th century, before and after WWI, but felt a bit like saying, is that all there is to it? at the revelations. I think part of the problem was that the author kept writing about the sensational secrets she was uncovering, and they weren't that sensational.
The print book comes with some black and white photos (not that well reproduced) of the Duke and his family, and various maps and plans of his estate, his home, Belvoir Castle, and other significant places in the story, and lots of endnotes detailing the author's references.
This is clearly meticulously researched and an interesting read but the mystery is not as exciting as the title leads one to expect.
Reviewed 21 March 2013 as part of the Amazon Vine programme.