Mary Leiter, 1870-1906, cultivated, educated, a beauty and an heiress, was the ever loyal, American-born wife of Lord George Nathaniel Curzon, MP, Foreign Secretary and Viceroy of India. She was the daughter of a Chicago businessman who made a fortune as the founder of the Marshal Field department stores. For the American moneyed elite, the ultimate goal was to marry their daughters to English and European aristocrats. She was to fall in love with George, a cool, witty, imperious but not terribly wealthy young aristocrat. Mary had been feted as a debutante, privileged, well loved and supported by her parents but still a shy and diffident young woman who had trouble competing with Curzon’s self assured and spirited intellectual friends “the souls”. The souls were “a brilliant company, a select group in which a high degree of intelligence was to be found happily allied to an aristocratic birth”. Curzon, the leading light of the souls said when naming the group, “It is necessary to possess a soul above the ordinary” to become a member. Mary was too shy to ever belong to the souls, even after they opened their doors to her when she became Vicereine
Although cultivated educated and artistic, she accepted Curzon’s belief that women should confine themselves to the drawing room, the boudoir, the bed-room and the kitchen without demur. Curzon for his part accepted a marriage settlement of £6,000 per annum from his father-in-law and a million dollars settled on his new wife with more for any children.
Following the ignominy of a long and secret engagement because George was afraid to tell his father, Rev. Lord Scarsdale, she eventually married him in 1895, in Washington. She endured a life of civic and official duty and three years later, accompanied him to India.
The family remained in India for seven years where her devotion to duty as Vicereine equalled that of her husband and she was inspired by the responsibility and the romance of the position. With her beauty and her devotion she rose to the occasion. Despite her absolute love and unconditional devotion, she found life with the ambitious and increasingly self-centred Lord Curzon difficult and that “his work deflects every form of amusement.” Her health proved fragile, during pregnancies, confinement and in the harsh climate of India, she was required to spend time away recovering. She was often lonely and homesick. She utterly subsumed herself and her personality into that of her husband’s, and was described as becoming ‘too languorous and too yielding’ to some people, and in that assimilation she appeared acquired some of Curzon’s intolerance and intemperate opinions. She was however a very kind person disguising her true nature behind a mask of viceregal aloofness.
When she very nearly died after a badly managed miscarriage, her husband’s love for her became very apparent as he sat by her writing down everything she said between a series of comas and deteriorating health. He eventually returned to India alone leaving Mary weak but recovering and who wrote after he left that “the light of the world has gone out”. In spite of the effects on her health, Mary eventually followed him because Curzon needed her and she loved him more than she loved herself. “There is no happiness so great to a woman as the admiration she can feel to the depths of her heart for her Belovedest.”
One year after the defeated Curzon finally departed from India, Mary died suddenly in 1906. The doctors had tried to keep her alive with oxygen, champagne and strychnine but her breathing finally collapsed. After four days with Curzon at her side constantly she died. The devastated Curzon wrote “There has gone from me the truest, most devoted, most beautiful and brilliant wife that a man ever had, and I am left with three little motherless children and a broken life. Nothing can ever take from me the memory of eleven happy and long years, and somewhere her spirit is watching over me and doing what good she can”.
Lord Curzon spent six years building her a memorial Chapel which was to show “the pathos of Lady Curzon’s early death and to depict Lord Curzon’s deepest emotion”. This stunning tomb stands in the thirteenth century chapel at Kedleston with a most evocative memorial to her written by Lord Curzon.
Lady Curzon of Kedleston
Born May 27, 1870 Died July 18, 1906
Perfect in love and loveliness
Beauty was the least of her rare gifts
God had enbued with like graces
Her mind and soul
From illness all but unto death
Restored only to die
She was mourned in three continents
And by her dearest
For ever unforgotten
The Rose-Lady Curzon
R.Rugosa x R. Macrantha
This is the most unladylike rose we have in our collection of Rugosa hybrids. Although the blooms are elegant the bush itself is a rambling and thorny thug. The light soft pink single blooms have the translucence and fragility of an Iceland poppy with the added bonus of a crown of golden stamens. They fade to white at the centre as they age. It has scented flowers and one can forgive its once flowering habit for the joy of its blooms. Foliage is dark green and rough with elongated leaves, which is characteristic of both parents The new growth is flushed with reddish tinges. It is a broad shrub with unruly habits and arching canes, fiercely armed with wicked thorns which attempt to behead anyone mowing the lawn nearby. This rose, although with refined blooms, is an ill disciplined, vigorous layabout and I wonder what Turner knew about the Lady to name it thus? The gentle, fragile Mary Curzon with her weak health would be no match for her namesake. Neither are dogs or children so plant it safely out of the way by a fence!
The Rugosa family is native to the coastal margins of Asia and are characterised by crinkly tough, rugose leaves. They are grown along motorways in Europe as they form tough impenetrable crash barriers while charming passing motorist with their bright flowers and hips. They are immune to fumes, salt spray and wind and are as tough and hardy as any coastal gardener would want. They excel as motorway crash barriers where they are immune to fumes. They are exceedingly prickly bushes, great to keep out the roaming dog or child but that fault, if fault it is, proves immaterial when confronted with such charming, fragrant blooms which turn into ripe cherry red hips although Lady Curzon does not produce hips.
Turner was a nurseryman who brought the stock from Jenner, who had received a rose from a navy engineer working in Japan on a steam boat, which is now famed as Turners Crimson Rambler.(Engineer’s Rose). It became an immediate commercial success. Turner only released seven roses between 1893 and 1915. Lady Curzon was his second introduction.
The picture of Lady Curzon is from 'Wikicommons'