One house, one family, one thousand years
The story of the real Brideshead: one home, one family, and a thousand years.
Madresfield Court is an arrestingly romantic stately home in the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. It has been continuously owned and lived in by the same family, the Lygons, back to the time of the Domesday Book, and, unusually, remains in the family's hands to this day. Inside, it is a very private, unmistakably English, manor house; a lived-in family home where the bejewelled sits next to the threadbare. The house and the family were the real inspiration for Brideshead Revisited: Evelyn Waugh was a regular visitor, and based his story of the doomed Marchmain family on the Lygons.
Never before open to the public, the doors of Madresfield have now swung open to allow Jane Mulvagh to explore its treasures and secrets. And so the rich, dramatic history of one landed family unfolds in parallel with the history of England itself over a millennium, from the Lygon who conspired to overthrow Queen Mary in the Dudley plot; through the tale of the disputed legacy that inspired Dickens' Bleak House; to the secret love behind Elgar's Enigma Variations; and the story of the scandal of Lord Beauchamp, the disgraced 7th Earl.
“Madresfield is a scholarly, evocative and beautifully written study, in which Jane Mulvagh builds up a thrillingly vivid historical portrait . . . Madresfield is a little masterpiece, as rich and rare as the house itself and all its fabulous store of treasures.”
Selina Hastings, Daily Mail
“Fascinating history of this very private house . . . Mulvagh is a tactful tour-guide with a convincing appreciation of the periods and materials that have enriched the place . . . she sets the reader at ease, and generally knows how to prick our interest . . . lays out for the first time the full heartbreaking background.”
Nicholas Shakespeare, Telegraph
“Covers 1,000 years or so of country house history, and comes crammed with eccentric earls and fanatic law-suits . . . the seductions of the house itself: its lavishly ornamented chapel, its antique Book of Hours, its relics from the heady days of the Oxford Movement . . . burned in Waugh's imagination for over a decade, eventually emerging to give Brideshead Revisited its setting and a fair amount of its cast and paraphernalia . . . a high-class guidebook in which the human exhibits can be quite as exotic as the objets d'art.”
D J Taylor, Independent on Sunday
“A delightful work of social history, beautifully written.”
“The house has its own tantalising tales to tell...Mulvagh vivdly brings to life the dramatic history of one of Britain's oldest landed families.”
“A brilliant book, one of the best recent monographs on an English family and their country house...approached with great intelligence...It is, moreover, beautifully written. The author's comment about the Pre-Raphaeilite artists employed at Madresfield - 'how confident they were in their views and how elegrantly they expressed them' - is as applicable to her own prose. I wholeheartedly recommend this book. It is clever and beautiful.”
“Mulvagh is an assiduous researcher and writes in an engaging style of graceful anecdote...where facts are sparse, she is well able to supply the deficiency with imaginative colour.”
Jane Shilling, The Times
“The real Brideshead, as Jane Mulvagh points out, is Madresfield in the Malvern Hills, the family home of Waugh's illfated friend Hugh Lygon, the model for Sebastian Flyte...her achievement in this disreputably beguiling book: her animating touch resuscitates the past and reclads a troop of haughty ghosts in fallible flesh. I loved the tour.”
Peter Conrad, Observer
“Madresfield, a sprawling moated pile, is "an arrestingly romantic home" according to Mulvagh, a sensitive biographer who has clearly fallen under its ancient spell...Madresfield's story is rich, and Mulvagh tells it with a beguiling blend of personal enthusiasm and scholarship...a mansion whose unbroken family chain goes deep into England's past,Madresfield has a character greater than the sum of its human parts...an emblem of endurance and a sort of spiritual enchantment more fascinating even than its owners.”
Rosemary Goring, Glasgow Herald
“Imaginatively at last, Madresfield was the consummation of Waugh's epic love affair with the upper classes...An affectionate and lavishly illustrated history of the house and family.”