Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lady Mary Curzon

The stately and regal Lady Mary Curzon, Baroness Curzon of Kedleston and Vicereine of India from 1898 to 1905, was born as Mary Leiter in Chicago in 1860. She was the daughter of a wealthy Chicago businessman who made his huge fortune in real estate and dry goods. Mary was a tall, striking beauty, intelligent and very cultivated. After her debut in 1888, she became famous in eastern US society for her breeding and intellect. When she traveled to London in 1894, she charmed London society with her beauty and refined manners and in return she was warmly welcomed anywhere she go. She was then introduced to George Curzon, a young Conservative member of the Parliament. Mary immediately took a liking to this brilliant and talented young man. She was well aware of his title and inheritance, but this did not interest Mary. She was more interested in his talents and with the way he made a position for himself because of his brilliant mind. As for George, it was a love at first sight towards this lovely and charismatic young woman. They were married in 1895 and had three daughters, Mary, Cynthia, and Alexandra. 

In 1898, George became Viceroy of India and was given a peerage, Baron Curzon of Kedleston. Mary was now Vicereine of India, the highest-ranking political position ever attained by an American woman in the British Empire. George and Mary left London and traveled to India before the end of 1898; they arrived in Bombay, where they were warmly greeted with festivities and great enthusiasm. The couple immediately gained the respect and admiration of the people, and soon Mary became a popular and fashionable figure. She started the trend of wearing Indian-made dresses, which became highly popular with Western women in the early 20th century. She also supported local crafts, and made many things for India.

Unfortunately, Mary's demanding social responsibilities and a complication from a miscarriage in 1905 greatly undermined her health. Her health began to fail by the end of 1905 and she was taken back to London where she died there several months later. She was buried in a memorial chapel built by her husband  in honor of his wife's memory. George Curzon was devastated by the death of his wife, and said that he had no fear of death because he would be able to join Mary.

Mary was compared to a "diamond set in gold, the full moon in clear autumnal sky". During a State Ball organized as a celebration for the coronation of King Edward VII, Lady Curzon wore a magnificent and expensive gown known as the "peacock dress". The peacock was a magnificent masterpiece of Indian creation: "It was stitched of gold cloth, embroidered with peacock feathers with a blue/green beetle wing in each eye, which many mistook for emeralds, dipping into their own fantasies about the wealth of millionaire heiresses, Indian potentates and European royalty. The skirt was trimmed with white roses and the bodice with lace. She wore a huge diamond necklace and a large broach of diamonds and pearls. She wore a tiara crown with a pearl tipping each of its high diamond points. It was reported that as she walked through the hall the crowd was breathless." 

Lady Mary Curzon wearing the famous
peacock dress.
It was said that when Mary walked in the ballroom, the guests were breathless. The gown sparkled in her every move and the details of it were extraordinary. One guest commented: "You cannot conceive what a dream she looked."

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