Anne de Courcy

The perils of waiting on a Tudor queen

At 7 o’clock on a bleak February morning in 1542, King Henry VIII’s fifth wife Katherine Howard, so enfeebled by fear and misery that she could hardly stand, was half-led, half-carried from her cell in the Tower of London to the scaffold in a nearby courtyard. Watching as the axe fell on her mistress’s neck,

The identical twins who captivated literary London

The dazzlingly beautiful identical twins Mamaine and Celia Paget were born in 1916 and brought up in rural Suffolk – not the greatest springboard, you would think, for lives at the intellectual heart of the mid-20th century. Yet the list of their friends reads like a roll call of literary notables: Dick Wyndham, Peter Quennell,

Love and loathing at Harold Wilson’s No. 10

If Marcia Williams is thought of at all today, it is in terms of hysterical outbursts, a mysterious hold over the Labour prime minister Harold Wilson and, above all, the ‘Lavender List’ – Wilson’s 1976 Resignation Honours List in which Marcia is believed to have played a significant part. Linda McDougall, the widow of the

The perils of being pope

Rome in the 1st century AD pulsated with religion. The knowledge that they lived in a sacred city, protected by the gods, permeated the daily lives of its citizens. They would see oxen being led down cobbled streets to be sacrificed on marble altars or offerings of incense and wine being made when the gods

A canter through Britain’s racecourses

Although it could hardly be less woke, the racing world is an excellent example of the diversity and inclusiveness we are all constantly urged to practise. Racecourses attract people of all classes, ages, creeds and economic status, some drawn by the spectacle, others by a love of horses or betting, and many just by the

The elusive adventures of Catherine Dior

When Catherine Dior, one of the heroic French Resistance workers captured by the Nazis, came face to face with her torturer at his trial in 1952, to receive the suggestion from his lawyer that it was a case of mistaken identity, she burst out furiously to the judge: ‘I know what I’m saying. This affair

Malice and back-stabbing behind Vogue’s glossy exterior

‘What job do you want here?’ asked the editor of Vogue, interviewing a young hopeful. From behind her black sunglasses the 24-year-old replied coolly:‘Yours.’ It took time, but she got it. The girl was, of course, Anna Wintour. Now she is the global Vogue supremo and queen of fashion, before whose lightest frown the whole

A love story — with clothes as heroes

On the weekly ‘opinions’ afternoons, the public would arrive with carefully wrapped parcels holding items to be identified, writes Claire Wilcox. Sometimes this was a length of Brussels lace, sometimes a gown that could be dated not just to the year but to the season, because the fashion then was known: Once, someone brought a

The hazards of attending a queen

When Queen Alexandra chose her ladies in waiting she prudently surrounded herself with elderly and plainish ones, who did not tempt her susceptible husband Edward VII. ‘These are your wives?’ the Shah of Persia solicitously enquired. ‘They are old and ugly. Have them beheaded and take new and pretty ones.’ In earlier times, beheading was

There was no fairy tale ending for the lovely Gladys Deacon

The story of how Hugo Vickers eventually tracked down the former Gladys Deacon, Duchess of Marlborough is almost as fascinating as how Gladys nailed her duke. Both were obsessions that began young, that of the 16-year-old Vickers when he read of ‘The love of Proust, the belle amie of Anatole France’, and was so taken

When Cartier was the girls’ best friend

The word ‘jewel’ makes the heart beat a little faster. Great jewels have always epitomised beauty, love — illicit or sanctified —romance, danger and mystery. And no one knew better how to cash in on this mystique than the firm of Cartier, for years the go-to jewellers for discreet, elegant razzle-dazzle. Its customers were kings,