A Glorious House With a Racy Reputation
The "famous rake" who built Cliveden more than 300 years must have cast a racy spell over this place. It's been associated with sexy scandals ever since.
The Duke of Buckinghamshire, described as a "famous rake, a schemer and a wit" built Cliveden, now run as a National Trust attraction as well as a luxury hotel. His spirit still hovers because the house has been tied to power, politics, and scandal ever since.
The Cliveden House fame skyrocketed when it was purchased by William Waldorf Astor, in 1893 the richest man in America. Apparently, Queen Victoria was not well pleased. Astor gave it to his son and daughter-in-law, Waldorf and Nancy Astor, who turned it into one of the early 20th century's most important political salons.
Today it's not just a historic house, it's also a country house luxury hotel set above gorgeous parterre gardens that are maintained by the National Trust.
By the way, Cliveden rhymes with lived in, perhaps appropriate for the centuries of high living this house has seen.
- Address: Cliveden, Taplow, Berkshire, SL6 OJF
From Expat Bride and MP to Great Hostess of the Roaring Twenties
Son of American expat multi-millionaire William Waldorf Astor, Waldorf Astor was given Cliveden as a wedding present when he married Virginia-born Nancy Witcher Langhorne.
Nancy Astor was the first woman to sit in Parliament. She continued a tradition of hospitality (the house had hosted every British monarch since George I) and entertained actors and celebrities, politicians and artists. Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, and George Bernard Shaw were all guests. In fact, when former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan heard Cliveden was to become a hotel, he is reported to have remarked, "My dear boy, it always has been."
A portrait of the glamorous Nancy Astor by John Singer Sargent graces the great hall of Cliveden. If Nancy looks a bit like a Gibson girl, that should come as no surprise. Her sister Irene married Charles Dana Gibson and became the model for the Gibson girl.
Cliveden's Romantic Spring Cottage Was the Scene of an Infamous Sex Scandal
Call girls, Russian spies, a government minister, a viscount, and a go-between, the infamous Profumo affair of the 1960s had it all. Some say it was the greatest political sex scandal of the 20th century.
And the steamy story began in this sweet cottage in the woods at Cliveden on a steamy night in July 1961. That night, at a pool party, society osteopath and man about town Stephen Ward introduced Jack Profumo, Secretary of State for War in the Macmillan government, to the 19-year-old Christine Keeler, generously described by some as a showgirl and a good time girl. The fact that she was also having an affair with a Russian naval attaché and probable spy at the same time was what made the story so juicy, forced Profumo's resignation and probably brought down the Macmillan government, just a few months later.
In the 21st century, Cliveden has marked the anniversary of the event with special saucy overnight events, including talks, glamorous meals, and luxury accommodations.
A Country House Hotel and a Museum Quality Historic House
Cliveden is more than a hotel. The house itself is like a museum. In fact, parts of it are open to the public through the National Trust and all stays include a daily National Trust surcharge.
All the 39 guest rooms are named after famous former guests, Henry James, Garibaldi, Charlie Chaplin, except, of course, Spring Cottage, a secluded cottage tucked away somewhere on the 376-acre estate, the scene of the Profumo Affair.
Each room and suite is individually and magnificently appointed, silk wall coverings, antique writing desks, swags and furbelows everywhere you look.
But Cliveden is a Grade I Listed property. Any and all changes and improvements have to be approved by numerous committees who protect the UK's historic built heritage. So some of the glamorous marble bathrooms could use a bit of touch up to the paintwork and the glorious painting of the doomed Charles I occupies above-the-mantle space that might sport a flat screen telly at another hotel.
Luxury and History at Historic Country House
Staff at Cliveden will be happy to arrange your limousine, helicopter, private jet, who says the sky's the limit.
As you might expect, staying in the former home of a millionaire doesn't come cheap and you can pay more than £1000 a night for rooms like Lady Astor's bedroom. Standard doubles are considerably cheaper for bed and breakfast plus VAT and the National Trust surcharge.
Insider Tip: Last minute midwinter rates can be surprisingly reasonable for a hotel of this class.