Black Diamonds : The Downfall of an Aristocratic Dynasty and the Fifty Years That Changed England
by Catherine Bailey

Overview - From the New York Times -bestselling author of The Secret Rooms , the extraordinary true story of the downfall of one of England's wealthiest families

Fans of Downton Abbey now have a go-to resource for fascinating, real-life stories of the spectacular lives led by England's aristocrats.  Read more...

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More About Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey
From the New York Times-bestselling author of The Secret Rooms, the extraordinary true story of the downfall of one of England's wealthiest families

Fans of Downton Abbey now have a go-to resource for fascinating, real-life stories of the spectacular lives led by England's aristocrats. With the novelistic flair and knack for historical detail Catherine Bailey displayed in her New York Times bestseller The Secret Rooms, Black Diamonds provides a page-turning chronicle of the Fitzwilliam coal-mining dynasty and their breathtaking Wentworth estate, the largest private home in England.

When the sixth Earl Fitzwilliam died in 1902, he left behind the second largest estate in twentieth-century England, valued at more than 3 billion of today's money--a lifeline to the tens of thousands of people who worked either in the family's coal mines or on their expansive estate. The earl also left behind four sons, and the family line seemed assured. But was it? As Bailey retraces the Fitzwilliam family history, she uncovers a legacy riddled with bitter feuds, scandals (including Peter Fitzwilliam's ill-fated affair with American heiress Kick Kennedy), and civil unrest as the conflict between the coal industry and its miners came to a head. Once again, Bailey has written an irresistible and brilliant narrative history.

  • ISBN-13: 9780143126843
  • ISBN-10: 0143126849
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • Publish Date: December 2014
  • Page Count: 544
  • Reading Level: Ages 18-UP
  • Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.01 pounds

Related Categories

Books > History > Europe - Great Britain - General
Books > Social Science > Social Classes & Economic Disparity
Books > History > Social History

BookPage Reviews

England's dark dynasty

“I could’ve been a judge, but I never ’ad the Latin. . . . And so I become a miner instead.” So starts the bitterly funny “Miner’s Sketch” from the 1960s revue Beyond the Fringe, which gave Americans a sense of the long, brutal class war in Britain between coal miners and the ruling class. Neither emerged intact.

That antagonism provides the backdrop for Catherine Bailey’s irresistible Black Diamonds, a dual history of the “torrid unraveling” of an aristocratic dynasty, the Earls Fitzwilliam, and the collapse of the Yorkshire coal mining community that provided the family’s wealth.

As she did in The Secret Rooms, her 2013 bestseller about the Dukes of Rutland, Bailey provides proof that a noble title doesn’t always signify noble behavior. In 1902, when Bailey opens her story, the Fitzwilliams were based at the 365-room Wentworth estate. Staggeringly rich from coal, they spent the subsequent decades mistreating their children, betraying their spouses, impregnating village girls and chorus dancers and suing each other. Today, they have lost both Wentworth and their noble title.

Ironically, the one thing the Fitzwilliams did not do was oppress their workers: They were among the best of the mine owners. But they could do nothing about the viciousness of their fellow owners. Bailey writes movingly of the fatal accidents, the miners’ ghastly living conditions and the community solidarity that alleviated the horrors.

Peter, the eighth Earl Fitzwilliam, was a war hero and compulsive adulterer. When he died in a plane crash in 1948 with his lover Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s sister, the grieving families rushed into full cover-up mode. Bailey gives us the real deal, on that and everything else. Downton Abbey’s earl would be appalled, but the dowager countess would love it.


This article was originally published in the January 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

BAM Customer Reviews