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Fortune's Many Houses: A Victorian Visionary, a Noble Scottish Family, and a Lost Inheritance

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A unique and fascinating look at Victorian society through the remarkable lives of an enlightened and philanthropic aristocratic couple, the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, who tried to change the world for the better but paid a heavy price. This is a true tale of love and loss, fortune and misfortune. In the late 19th century, John and Ishbel Gordon, the Marquess an A unique and fascinating look at Victorian society through the remarkable lives of an enlightened and philanthropic aristocratic couple, the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, who tried to change the world for the better but paid a heavy price. This is a true tale of love and loss, fortune and misfortune. In the late 19th century, John and Ishbel Gordon, the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, were the couple who seemed to have it all: a fortune that ran into the tens of millions, a magnificent stately home in Scotland surrounded by one of Europe's largest estates, a townhouse in London's most fashionable square, cattle ranches in Texas and British Columbia, and the governorships of Ireland and Canada where they lived like royalty. Together they won praise for their work as social reformers and pioneers of women's rights, and enjoyed friendships with many of the most prominent figures of the age, from Britain's Prime Ministers to Oliver Wendell-Holmes and P.T. Barnum and Queen Victoria herself. Yet by the time they died in the 1930s, this gilded couple's luck had long since run out: they had faced family tragedies, scandal through their unwitting involvement in one of the "crimes of the century" and, most catastrophically of all, they had lost both their fortune and their lands. This fascinating family quest for the reason for their dramatic downfall is also a moving and colorful exploration of society in Victorian Britain and North America and an inspirational feast for history lovers.


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A unique and fascinating look at Victorian society through the remarkable lives of an enlightened and philanthropic aristocratic couple, the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, who tried to change the world for the better but paid a heavy price. This is a true tale of love and loss, fortune and misfortune. In the late 19th century, John and Ishbel Gordon, the Marquess an A unique and fascinating look at Victorian society through the remarkable lives of an enlightened and philanthropic aristocratic couple, the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, who tried to change the world for the better but paid a heavy price. This is a true tale of love and loss, fortune and misfortune. In the late 19th century, John and Ishbel Gordon, the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, were the couple who seemed to have it all: a fortune that ran into the tens of millions, a magnificent stately home in Scotland surrounded by one of Europe's largest estates, a townhouse in London's most fashionable square, cattle ranches in Texas and British Columbia, and the governorships of Ireland and Canada where they lived like royalty. Together they won praise for their work as social reformers and pioneers of women's rights, and enjoyed friendships with many of the most prominent figures of the age, from Britain's Prime Ministers to Oliver Wendell-Holmes and P.T. Barnum and Queen Victoria herself. Yet by the time they died in the 1930s, this gilded couple's luck had long since run out: they had faced family tragedies, scandal through their unwitting involvement in one of the "crimes of the century" and, most catastrophically of all, they had lost both their fortune and their lands. This fascinating family quest for the reason for their dramatic downfall is also a moving and colorful exploration of society in Victorian Britain and North America and an inspirational feast for history lovers.

48 review for Fortune's Many Houses: A Victorian Visionary, a Noble Scottish Family, and a Lost Inheritance

  1. 5 out of 5

    Gareth Russell

    With the feel of a real-life 'Brideshead Revisited', full of towering good deeds and devastating miscalculations, 'Fortune's Many Houses' is a fantastic fusion of biography and memoir. At its heart, Simon Welfare has placed his extraordinary family story of an aristocratic heroine who dazzled British high society while attempting to make the world a better - and kinder - place. (An ARC was sent to me by the publishers.) With the feel of a real-life 'Brideshead Revisited', full of towering good deeds and devastating miscalculations, 'Fortune's Many Houses' is a fantastic fusion of biography and memoir. At its heart, Simon Welfare has placed his extraordinary family story of an aristocratic heroine who dazzled British high society while attempting to make the world a better - and kinder - place. (An ARC was sent to me by the publishers.)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Janilyn Kocher

    Welfare provides an in-depth look at one family of privilege and their efforts to give back to society. Most Victorian era rich gave to charitable donations, but this family outshone them. I found the reading informative while being educational. One aspect that I really liked was the conversion of British pounds to American dollars in the foot notes. I always wonder about the conversion so I was pleased to see that provided. Stories of the peerage has always fascinated me and I liked this one. T Welfare provides an in-depth look at one family of privilege and their efforts to give back to society. Most Victorian era rich gave to charitable donations, but this family outshone them. I found the reading informative while being educational. One aspect that I really liked was the conversion of British pounds to American dollars in the foot notes. I always wonder about the conversion so I was pleased to see that provided. Stories of the peerage has always fascinated me and I liked this one. The author went into great detail about the scandals and eventual downfall of the family.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cosima demaglie

    This is the 1st book I've read written by Simon Welfore ; great job at writing a good book; The story line caught my attention at the very beginning and kept me interested throughout the entire book. I loved the characters. I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley and I’m voluntarily leaving a review. This is the 1st book I've read written by Simon Welfore ; great job at writing a good book; The story line caught my attention at the very beginning and kept me interested throughout the entire book. I loved the characters. I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley and I’m voluntarily leaving a review.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

    This is the compelling riches to rags story of Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen who lived the majority of their years during the Victorian era. Their land and estates were worth millions upon millions in today's currency but due to their lavish spending habits (balls and festivals rivaled those of royalty, not to mention their huge staff of 70 at times and many vast home refurbishments and builds), generosity (they not only gave of their time but finances to a large number of causes, many of This is the compelling riches to rags story of Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen who lived the majority of their years during the Victorian era. Their land and estates were worth millions upon millions in today's currency but due to their lavish spending habits (balls and festivals rivaled those of royalty, not to mention their huge staff of 70 at times and many vast home refurbishments and builds), generosity (they not only gave of their time but finances to a large number of causes, many of which Ishbel herself implemented and patronized) and naivette (they bought land in Canada and America sight unseen at times, or very infrequently visited) nearly every penny was spent at the time of John's death. It is unfathomable for us to imagine. But Johnny and Ishbel were accustomed to pure luxury and thought their land and ranches would be much more productive and profitable than they were (climate and poor management were huge factors). They were also taken advantage of by many. Simon Welfare has clearly researched this subject thoroughly from letters and other documentation to provide his readers with more than just a glimpse into these fascinating lives which were spent living in Scotland, England, Ireland, Canada and America. Though this level of lifestyle may seem enviable, in my opinion it wouldn't be. There were endless parties, events, meetings, teas and balls to attend, often several a day as well as many high-ranking people to impress (Ishbel's jewels and clothing were worth a fortune) and many organizations to keep afloat. Wherever they went Ishbel gave, including talks in Manitoba about beautification, art shows in the UK and the Victoria Union of Nurses in Canada (this story was one of my favourites as I know all about the brutal weather on the Canadian prairies and north). To facilitate greeting many people and dignitaries it was necessary in their view to build and rebuild homes, adding spectacular rooms. Knowing the value of some of of the old masters' artworks which they owned alone is mind blowing, let alone everything else. This extreme privilege does not make one happy, as they discovered. Their lives were affected by deaths and other tragedies, too. Hard work and insane hours took their toll as well. Their children were cherished but how much time did they have to spend with them? Amongst their close friends were the Gladstones. Authors including Anthony Trollope and J. M. Barrie wrote about them. Not everyone loved this couple. I was unaware of the origin of Golden Retrievers! What I liked best about Johnny and Ishbel was their drive for social awareness and change, regardless of what others thought. They plowed ahead, doing what they felt was right and just which at times took them into dubious neighbourhoods. So many moves would not be easy, either. Yes, their homes were extraordinary but they usually spent a few months here before moving on to the next one due to Johnny's many official duties including being the Governor General of Canada. There is so much more, including their last days and final financial worth after having to sell everything they possibly could, even furniture! This entrancing book was remarkably interesting to read and I recommend it to anyone interested in this era, especially Nonfiction readers. You will undoubtedly learn a great deal. My sincere thank you to Atria Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this fabulous book in exchange for an honest review. Much appreciated.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Debra Pawlak

    I was given an advance reading copy of this book directly from the publisher as well as NetGalley.com in exchange for a fair review. The story of the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, Johnny and Ishbel Gordon, took many unusual twists and turns. They started out as a very wealthy couple who lived on an elaborate estate in Scotland. Their story could have begun and ended there, but these two had other plans. Ishbel was not only a philanthopist, but she worked hard to improve the lives of wome I was given an advance reading copy of this book directly from the publisher as well as NetGalley.com in exchange for a fair review. The story of the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, Johnny and Ishbel Gordon, took many unusual twists and turns. They started out as a very wealthy couple who lived on an elaborate estate in Scotland. Their story could have begun and ended there, but these two had other plans. Ishbel was not only a philanthopist, but she worked hard to improve the lives of women and children by opening schools and advocating for women's rights. When Queen Victoria appointed Johnny Viceroy to Ireland, their tireless efforts endeared them to the suffering Irish. Likewise, when Johnny was appointed Governor of Canada, they worked hard to ensure that the lives of those hardworking people were made better. The Gordons's biggest problem was that they spent more money than they brought in and when they died in the 1930s, they were flat broke, but the good works they left behind became their legacy. Author Simon Welfare did a great job researching and bringing to life the Gordon family (of which his wife is a descendent). He had access to many papers, letters, and various documents that detailed the activities of the Marquess and Marchioness. My only complaint was that the wealth of information was a bit scattered at times, but interesting nonetheless. I think Ishbell summed it up nicely when she said that she might have made many mistakes, but hoped she did more good than harm. We all should be as selfless as Johnny and Ishbel. Nicely done, Mr. Welfare. We could all learn something from this magnanimous couple who rarely thought of themselves.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Anne Morgan

    "Fortune's Many Houses" follows the lives of Johnny and Ishbel Hamilton-Gordon, Lord and Lady Aberdeen. Two very rich aristocrats with the unusual (for the time) desire to help members of the working classes and the poor- not through mere charitable donations but by actively providing support and building organizations to assist. Whether in Scotland, Ireland, America, or elsewhere Johnny and Ishbel do their best to help those in need and support family members, Much of Simon Welfare's focus goes "Fortune's Many Houses" follows the lives of Johnny and Ishbel Hamilton-Gordon, Lord and Lady Aberdeen. Two very rich aristocrats with the unusual (for the time) desire to help members of the working classes and the poor- not through mere charitable donations but by actively providing support and building organizations to assist. Whether in Scotland, Ireland, America, or elsewhere Johnny and Ishbel do their best to help those in need and support family members, Much of Simon Welfare's focus goes (as the title suggests) to the houses they bought, rented, briefly lived in, and renovated. Every place they lived was renovated extensively and expensively. I enjoyed the descriptions of the renovations and decorations, true examples of over the top spending to make homes 'livable'. I do wish the book had been a bit tighter written to help keep the narrative flowing, as I often got lost or distracted by side stories and extensive footnotes. All interesting, but taking away from the main family we are meant to be focused on. The regular use of foreshadowing disaster ('if only they had known then', 'the next time they met would be under very different circumstances' etc.) got old and definitely distracted rather than added to my reading of the narrative flow. Overall, an interesting book on two people trying to do good while clearly not being as practical as they should have been, this is perhaps more than the casual nonfiction reader will want to handle. I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    Is it a rich people thing to have no idea how to manage your money and then spend it lavishly on things you don't need? This is a large part of what I got out of Fortune's Many Houses - maybe because I don't have lots of money, and I'm not British, so the prestige of many of these things goes straight over my head. Don't get me wrong, the Aberdeens, the focus of this recounting, did start many initiatives that helped improve the lives of many people. They also were more humane and supportive to Is it a rich people thing to have no idea how to manage your money and then spend it lavishly on things you don't need? This is a large part of what I got out of Fortune's Many Houses - maybe because I don't have lots of money, and I'm not British, so the prestige of many of these things goes straight over my head. Don't get me wrong, the Aberdeens, the focus of this recounting, did start many initiatives that helped improve the lives of many people. They also were more humane and supportive to their staff than many landed (and lorded) people of their time. But it's hard not to focus on the excessiveness of their nature when reading this book. It's interesting and informative, but also more than a little bit exhausting and bewildering. The author is full of facts, and to some extent this does Welfare a disservice. There is a tremendous number of footnotes in the book, many quite extensive, but in reading them it takes away from the general flow of the book. As interesting as they are the book would have felt tighter and more focused if these had been more limited in nature. This book may be perfect for readers with a fascination with members of the British aristocracy, particularly in the dying days of having large and multiple landed properties - but may be a little much for a casual nonfiction reader.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

    Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! Fortune’s Many Houses is an engaging look at the lives of Johnny and Ishbel Gordon, Lord and Lady Aberdeen, through the various houses they lived in, built, and expanded during their marriage. I enjoy reading social histories and was hooked on this story after a few chapters. The Aberdeens led fascinating lives and the author walks us through the ups and downs of their journey, Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! Fortune’s Many Houses is an engaging look at the lives of Johnny and Ishbel Gordon, Lord and Lady Aberdeen, through the various houses they lived in, built, and expanded during their marriage. I enjoy reading social histories and was hooked on this story after a few chapters. The Aberdeens led fascinating lives and the author walks us through the ups and downs of their journey, as well as the political and societal changes of the time, in a well-researched and smooth narrative. There were some moments when the timeline seemed to jump forward or backward and got a bit confusing, but the main thread of the story was consistent and kept me on track. Extensive footnotes expanded on many topics to add effective context to the book. This is a great read for anyone interested in the dramatic political, economic, and societal changes that occurred in the United Kingdom and Ireland at the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    Outstanding people with terrific ideas (which they did implement) but poor money management skills who left a lasting legacy for people on more than one continent. This is a very well researched and written history of the ideas and their implementation by highly motivated but spendthrift people which is unlikely to be repeated today. Despite the minutiae and the translation of money, this is a very readable book, not just in the nonfiction genre either! Excellent descriptions! I requested and rec Outstanding people with terrific ideas (which they did implement) but poor money management skills who left a lasting legacy for people on more than one continent. This is a very well researched and written history of the ideas and their implementation by highly motivated but spendthrift people which is unlikely to be repeated today. Despite the minutiae and the translation of money, this is a very readable book, not just in the nonfiction genre either! Excellent descriptions! I requested and received a free temporary ebook copy from Atria Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, Inc. via NetGalley. Thank you to Raaga Rajagopala.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nan Williams

    What an interesting non-fiction family saga of the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen! Not only were the stories of the families, themselves, fascinating, but the footnotes, expanding on the history of the times were quite enlightening. It’s very timely in today’s understanding (or misunderstanding) about the bottomless pit of wealth. Beautifully crafted work. It was a real pleasure to read. A big thank you to Simon & Schuster for the gift of this biography.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Judy Santos

    Reading a good story like this one, I suggest you join NovelStar’s writing competition this April. If you are interested kindly check this link https://www.facebook.com/104455574751... for the mechanics of the writing contest this April and also, I am sharing your book in Facebook to help reach readers. Thank you Reading a good story like this one, I suggest you join NovelStar’s writing competition this April. If you are interested kindly check this link https://www.facebook.com/104455574751... for the mechanics of the writing contest this April and also, I am sharing your book in Facebook to help reach readers. Thank you

  12. 4 out of 5

    Meaghan

    The author does an amazing job of breathing life into the characters. What could easily be a black-and-white, dry recital of biographical details and blueprints is instead a vibrant picture of a particular place, time, and social strata. https://www.mwgerard.com/books-for-ma... The author does an amazing job of breathing life into the characters. What could easily be a black-and-white, dry recital of biographical details and blueprints is instead a vibrant picture of a particular place, time, and social strata. https://www.mwgerard.com/books-for-ma...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Karen McG

    Fortune’s Many Houses is a historical book that follows the lives of the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen. The book draws you into the lives and times of the couple and those around them. We learn the sweet story of how the couple met, their work to help others, the pains they face in life, the homes they owned and lived in, and the fortune that was lost. A perfect book for history lovers and true romantics. (I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher for my honest review.)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alicia

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Marie

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cari Strieby

  18. 5 out of 5

    Esgagu

  19. 4 out of 5

    Richard Davitt

  20. 4 out of 5

    Taylor

  21. 5 out of 5

    DrPierre Imare

  22. 5 out of 5

    Shanna Overbey

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brittany Moyer

  24. 5 out of 5

    Julie

  25. 5 out of 5

    John McNeill

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sue

  27. 4 out of 5

    {MyDearestClementine}

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kelly_Instalove

  29. 4 out of 5

    Liviu

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kit

  31. 4 out of 5

    Penny

  32. 4 out of 5

    Mary

  33. 5 out of 5

    Brandy Hodges

  34. 5 out of 5

    Karen

  35. 4 out of 5

    Nichelle

  36. 5 out of 5

    Jaidee

  37. 5 out of 5

    Helen Geng

  38. 5 out of 5

    Marie

  39. 5 out of 5

    Bette

  40. 5 out of 5

    Louis Muñoz

  41. 5 out of 5

    Jim

  42. 4 out of 5

    Susan

  43. 5 out of 5

    Deborah West

  44. 4 out of 5

    Maura

  45. 4 out of 5

    Janet Palmer

  46. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

  47. 5 out of 5

    Allie

  48. 5 out of 5

    Kate

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