HUGO VICKERS Biographer & Historian
Gladys, Duchess of Marlborough (1979)
Hardback (UK) 1979
Hardback (US) 1980
Paperback (UK) 1987

Gladys Deacon (1881-1977) was an American beauty who dazzled European society at the turn of the 19th/20th century. After a traumatic childhood during which her father shot dead her mother's lover and she was kidnapped by her mother from a convent in Paris, she was thoroughly educated in America and Europe. When she was fourteen she became fascinated by Consuelo Vanderbilt's engagement to the 9th Duke of Marlborough and wished she had been old enough to catch him, but she wrote: 'I am too young though mature in the arts of woman's witchcraft'. In Paris she was lionized by Robert de Montesquiou, in Florence Bernard Berenson contemplated asking her to be his wife, and at Blenheim the Crown Prince of Prussia pledged his love with a ring. When she was twenty-two she took the famous wax injections which ravaged her beauty, but nevertheless she still captured the hearts of the philosopher, Hermann von Keyserling, Anatole France, the poet, Robert Trevelyan, Prince Roffredo Caetani, and the Dukes of Connaught, Norfolk and Camastra. Proust wrote of her: 'I never saw a girl with such beauty, such magnificent intelligence, such goodness and charm'.

At the age of forty, after a bohemian life in France and Italy, Gladys married the 9th Duke of Marlborough, having been his mistress for many years. The marriage was not a success and ended with great bitterness on both sides. She retired to a farmhouse, surrounded by cats and hens, yet with her Impressionist paintings on the walls around her. Her life there was that of an eccentric recluse. Eventually she was removed by force and incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital where she spent the last fifteen years of her life. Within its walls she continued to take an interest in the outside world until her death at ninety-six in 1977.

Hugo Vickers became fascinated by Gladys Deacon when he was 16 and this biography is the result of four years research in England, France, Italy and America. For two years he paid weekly visits to the Duchess and was granted access to her private papers after her death.

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