Sisters of Fortune
America's Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad
By Jehanne Wake
(Touchstone, Hardcover, 9781451607611, 416pp.)
Publication Date: April 5, 2011
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As gripping as the best historical novel, Sisters of Fortune is the story of the exuberant Marianne, Bess, Louisa, and Emily Caton, the American sisters who enthralled the highest levels of English Regency society decades before the notorious Dollar Princesses of the Victorian era. The Caton sisters were descended from prominent first settlers of Maryland, brought up by their wealthy grandfather Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, and were expected to “marry a plantation.” Instead, their grandfather made sure that they were well educated, raising four beautiful and charming young women who were unusually independent, intelligent, fascinated by politics, clever with money, and very romantic.
Arriving in Britain, the Caton sisters swept into the set of the Duke of Wellington and went on to forge their own destinies in the face of intense prejudice against Americans and Catholics. After capturing the heart of the Duke of Wellington, who could never marry her, Marianne shocked the world by marrying his brother Richard, Marquess Wellesley, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and taking a prominent place as a Catholic Yankee among the Protestant Anglo-Irish. Emily married Scots- Canadian John McTavish, heir to Montreal’s North West Company, and stayed home in Maryland, where she managed the family’s estates and wealth. Louisa became the Duchess of Leeds and a member of Queen Victoria’s court, while Bess made a fortune speculating in the stock market.
Based on the sisters’ intimate, unpublished letters and lavishly illustrated, Sisters of Fortune is a portrait of four lively and opinionated women, much of it told in their own voices as they gossip about prominent people of their time, advise family members on political and financial strategy, soothe each other’s sorrows, and rejoice in each other’s triumphs. It is also a meticulously researched history of Anglo-American relations and the political, financial, and social world of the nineteenth century. From post-revolutionary America’s White House and wealthiest plantations to Europe’s rarefied world of titled aristocracy, the story of Maryland’s Caton sisters is a stunning work of scholarship that is intimate in tone, sweeping in scope, and as compelling as any novel.
Jehanne Wake graduated from Oxford University and is the author of the biography Princess Louise, Queen Victoria's Unconventional Daughter. She lives in London. Visit her website at www.jehannewake.com.