A short history of the Gilded Age
The Gilded age is a term that was coined by Samuel Langhorne Clemens popularly known as Mark Twain.
“New money” was a derogatory term even among the English upper classes. But after waging war across the seas and losing a lot of battles, the British landowners were downcast and were not able to produce as much food.
If you’ve seen the series “Downton Abbey” you would know the crisis that Lord Grantham faces after the World War I. The problems for the British peerage only got worse after the world war II. The lords and Dukes simply couldn’t find a large source of income to support their estates.
While Britain’s monopoly was sinking , America was flourishing particularly after the Civil War . America gave birth to new millionaires . A few familiar names include Carnegie, J P Morgan and Rockefeller. You may have heard of them as a lot of buildings still sport their name.While the upper classes rolled in cash, poverty was still running rampant among the working classes of America. The American moguls were ruthless in their acquisition of power and wealth. What they lacked was status and fancy titles. So thus began an understanding between powerful families of the two nations. The American heiresses would cross the Atlantic and marry themselves into the British Aristocracy thus securing a title. Both the parties were happy. The British received huge amount money in the name of dowry and the Americans were proud to have a noble connection.
Twain referred to this as the Gilded Age. He meant that even though it looks shiny on the outside, it’s actually a piece of wood veneered in gold. It is also called the “Era of Dollar Princesses”
The first of this very long line of princesses was Jennie Jerome. She got engaged to Lord Randolph Churchill. Now, Randolph’s parents were obviously not happy that is until they saw the $4 million dollar dowry . They might have not known it then, but they gave birth to one of the most important men in the history of Britain, Sir Winston Churchill.
This marriage set a precedent. Thus the American families sent their daughters across the seas to land themselves a British aristocrat who was in dire need of money.
The story is adopted in Downton Abbey also. Where Cora marries Robert and saves the estate with her dowry.
Even though the family back in America were boasting of an aristocratic connection, the girls who got married were not happy. They had to live in large, draughty houses. Their ideas for renovating the mansions were too modern for the British to swallow. Thus, they lived far away from the comfort of home and too proud to give up their titles.
This popular practice also found it’s way into the royal family. The marriage of Baron Fermoy and Frances Ellen produced a great grandchild who came to be known as the People’s Princess. It was none other than Diana Spencer, the Princess of Wales.
This strange practice between America and Britain almost pumped up the British economy. Even though the rich English peers still hated the idea, the idea of losing their estates was too much for them compared to letting go of their rather rigid principles. As for the Americans, as if they did not already have it, it only increased their propensity towards buying anything with money, even meaningless titles.
“There is only one true aristocracy . . . and that is the aristocracy of passionate souls!”
- Tennessee Williams