Fortune's many houses A Victorian visionary, a noble Scottish family, and a lost inheritance

Simon Welfare

Book - 2021

"A unique and fascinating look at Victorian society through the remarkable lives of an enlightened and philanthropic aristocratic couple, the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, who exhausted their vast fortune buying homes around the globe where they entertained the rich and famous while also campaigning for the poor and disadvantaged. As the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, John and Ishbel Hamilton-Gordon enjoyed wealth and privilege that many in Victorian times could only imagine.... They counted Queen Victoria, the authors J.M. Barrie and Oliver Wendell Holmes, and the showman P.T. Barnum among their many distinguished acquaintances. Unlike other aristocrats of the time, however, the couple spent most of their money helping others. Ishbel-social reformer, political activist, health campaigner, and advocate of women's rights-personally transformed lives not only in her native Scotland, but in Canada and Ireland where her husband was appointed Viceroy by Queen Victoria. The couple ran their charitable campaigns from the homes they bought on their travels in Britain and North America, including a mansion in the Scottish Highlands, grand townhouses in London's most fashionable square, a fishing lodge in Quebec, and ranches in British Columbia and Texas. Yet Ishbel's passion for reform was a double-edged sword, doing as much good for others as it did reckless harm to her family's fortune and John had to sell almost all of his vast estates. When he died in 1934, their coffers were all but empty and Ishbel faced eviction from her home in the Scottish hills. A moving and colorful exploration of Victorian society through the eyes of an inspirational couple who did their best to change the world for the better, often at great personal cost, Fortune's Many Houses is a feast for history lovers"--

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Subjects
Genres
Biography
Biographies
Published
New York, NY : Atria Books 2021.
Edition
First Atria Books hardcover edition
Language
English
Physical Description
xiv, 336 pages, 40 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 309-313) and index.
ISBN
9781982128623
1982128623
Main Author
Simon Welfare (author)
  • A House by a Brook
  • A Mansion in a Glen
  • A Palace in Mayfair
  • A House for a Honeymoon
  • The Family Seat
  • A House for the Shooting, a House for Good Works
  • A House in Town and Cottages in the Country
  • A Royal Residence in Edinburgh
  • A Castle in Dublin City and A Lodge in Phoenix Park
  • A Cabin In North Dakota and a Ranchhouse in Texas
  • A House Near Niagara Falls
  • A Fruit Farm in Kelowna and a Fake Castle in Chicago
  • A Chapel in Ottawa
  • A Fishing Lodge in Quebec and a Hospital in the Klondike
  • A "Dear House" in Ottawa and a Scottish Retreat
  • A Village Hall in Ballsbridge and a Caravan in Kerry
  • A Hospital with a Throne Room
  • A House to Retire To
  • Ishbel's Lost Houses.
Review by Booklist Reviews

It must have been in the DNA of Welfare's in-laws to search for a homesite in northeastern Scotland. The land they chose once belonged to his wife's great-grandparents, Ishbel and John Gordon, the seventh Earl of Aberdeen, and their experience of running ruinously over budget echoed the circumstances Ishbel and Johnny endured throughout their peripatetic lives as politicians, court appointees, and social activists in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. With this as backdrop, Welfare chooses to hang his biography of the Aberdeens on the various homes they built or restored throughout the United Kingdom, Canada, and even America, and his attention to period detail enhances his depiction of their grandiose lives and surroundings as he focuses on the pageantry and opulence that attended the establishment of each lavish new estate. In their unfettered acquisitiveness, the Aberdeens represented the epitome of Victorian excess, a character trait that would prove to be their undoing as they ended their lives penniless, their properties sold or lying in ruins. A vibrant, rich, and dynamic historical portrait drawn from an invaluable insider viewpoint. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Television producer Welfare explores in this colorful debut biography the glamorous, philanthropic lives of Scottish aristocrats John and Ishbel Gordon, who bankrolled numerous social causes in Britain and North America even as they bankrupted themselves through bad investments and extravagant building projects. Married in 1877, the Gordons' honeymoon was a portent of things to come. Before the couple set out for Egypt, burglars stole Ishbel's extensive jewelry collection; weeks later, she and John were setting up impromptu health clinics during a trip down the Nile River (they also took on the living and educational expenses of four former slave boys). During John's tenure as the governor general of Canada from 1893 to 1898, Ishbel formed the Victorian Order of Nurses in Ottawa and initiated book drives to benefit rural areas. Both abroad and in Scotland, where they were the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, John and Ishbel designed, renovated, and built numerous stately homes; meanwhile, dodgy investments, including a series of North American ranches poorly managed by Ishbel's brothers, further drained the couple's resources. Welfare, who is married to the Gordons' great-granddaughter, draws on an extensive collection of family papers to provide intriguing details about the couple's social life and political causes. These imperfect do-gooders make for entertaining company. (Feb.) Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"As the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, John and Ishbel Hamilton-Gordon enjoyed wealth and privilege that many in Victorian times could only imagine. Unlike other aristocrats of the time, however, the couple spent most of their money helping others. Ishbel--social reformer, political activist, health campaigner, and advocate of women's rights--personally transformed lives not only in her native Scotland, but in Canada and Ireland where her husband was appointed Viceroy by Queen Victoria. The coupleran their charitable campaigns from the homes they bought on their travels in Britain and North America, including a mansion in the Scottish Highlands, grand townhouses in London's most fashionable square, a fishing lodge in Quebec, and ranches in British Columbia and Texas. Yet Ishbel's passion for reform was a double-edged sword, doing as much good for others as it did reckless harm to her family's fortune and John had to sell almost all of his vast estates. When he died in 1934, their coffers were allbut empty and Ishbel faced eviction from her home in the Scottish hills. A moving and colorful exploration of Victorian society through the eyes of an inspirational couple who did their best to change the world for the better, often at great personal cost, Fortune's Many Houses is a feast for history lovers"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A unique and fascinating look at Victorian society through the remarkable lives of an enlightened and philanthropic aristocratic couple, the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, who tried to change the world for the better but paid a heavy price. Illustrations.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A unique and fascinating look at Victorian society through the remarkable lives of an enlightened and philanthropic aristocratic couple, the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, who tried to change the world for the better but paid a heavy price. This is a true tale of love and loss, fortune and misfortune.In the late 19th century, John and Ishbel Gordon, the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, were the couple who seemed to have it all: a fortune that ran into the tens of millions, a magnificent stately home in Scotland surrounded by one of Europe's largest estates, a townhouse in London's most fashionable square, cattle ranches in Texas and British Columbia, and the governorships of Ireland and Canada where they lived like royalty.Together they won praise for their work as social reformers and pioneers of women's rights, and enjoyed friendships with many of the most prominent figures of the age, from Britain's Prime Ministers to Oliver Wendell-Holmes and P.T. Barnum and Queen Victoria herself. Yet by the time they died in the 1930s, this gilded couple's luck had long since run out: they had faced family tragedies, scandal through their unwitting involvement in one of the 'crimes of the century' and, most catastrophically of all, they had lost both their fortune and their lands.This fascinating family quest for the reason for their dramatic downfall is also a moving and colorful exploration of society in Victorian Britain and North America and an inspirational feast for history lovers.