Sitting regally amid 400 acres of greenery, gardens trailing down to the River Thames, it is easy to see why Cliveden has provided such an inspiring setting for so many writers.
In the 18th century Alexander Pope described the stately home as ‘the bower of wanton Shrewsbury and love’ – a reference to its conception by the Duke of Buckingham as a love monument to his mistress, the Countess of Shrewsbury.
From its inception in the 1660s, Cliveden has been the setting of many dramas – tragic, scandalous and politically momentous – that have defined or destabilised the state of the nation. Last year, Cliveden was the subject of international interest when Meghan Markle stayed on the night before her wedding to Prince Harry.
When the Duke of Buckingham bought Cliveden in 1666, he transformed two modest hunting lodges into a magnificent mansion commanding majestic views high above its landscaped gardens down to the river.
The location of the house – five miles from Windsor Castle and fewer than 30 miles from the Palace of Westminster – has been reflected in its role in British politics. After the royal residence and the Houses of Parliament, Cliveden has served as a third point in an enduring triangle of power. It has provided a base for royal confidantes and parliamentary pioneers, a meeting place for cliques, cabals and counter-courts. Cliveden has hosted artistic premieres – in 1740 Rule, Britannia! was performed for the first time here in its gardens – and it has been a sanctuary for monarchs, providing refuge for the grieving Queen Victoria. Under the guidance of Nancy Astor in the 20th century, the Cliveden Set became the heart of British society, with eminent guests including Charlie Chaplin, the Asquiths, Arthur Balfour, Lawrence of Arabia, the pioneer aviator Amy Johnson, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill and FD Roosevelt. And, of course, Cliveden is synonymous with one of the most salacious sex scandals in British politics. Nineteen year-old Christine Keeler stepped naked from the swimming pool before the hungry eyes of John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, and their illicit love affair toppled the government. The Profumo Affair is just one of many historic turning points for which Cliveden has been the stage.
With the Festival, which gathers together writers and intellectuals from around the world for a weekend every year, the spirit of Cliveden is renewed.