‘This book is a record of the British upper classes – and a few others – at their best (sometimes their worst), displaying a sort of unhinged blitheness of manner that leads them to say and do strangely unexpected things. It is a quality of innocent insolence, or maybe guileless arrogance, which belongs only to the very rich, the very privileged and the very idle.’
Consider the duke who, on being told by his butler that there was no bread, demanded to know why he had not been brought toast, or the earl whose passion for his good-looking young footmen led to their tinkling with the jewellery he had given them. Or the duke who, when it was tentatively suggested that he might, as an economy, dispense with one of his six chefs – the pastry cook – gazed bleakly at his straitened future and asked plaintively, ‘Can’t a chap have a biscuit?’
Patrick Scrivenor has combed the annals of the British aristocracy to provide an illuminating – and wildly funny – portrait of people who, though often talented in their own fields, courteous and well-meaning, generous and even liberal-minded, none the less display a certain disconnectedness from the realities that tend to afflict the less elevated echelons of society. The result is clear evidence that what many call ‘eccentricity’, the more rational would probably describe as ‘plain bonkers’.
Whether you aspire to the upper reaches of the Establishment yourself, or long for the Revolution and the tumbrils carrying the toffs to their horrible fate, this is a book to amuse, delight, mystify, amaze and, occasionally, outrage any reader.