MEGHAN Markle’s last night before the Royal Wedding will be spent in an English stately home with a rich history of saucy scandals.
Later today, the bride-to-be and her mother Doria Ragland will be checking into Cliveden house, a Grade I listed property on a ridge of the Chiltern Hills.
Flynet Pictures The stunning Cliveden House Hotel will host Meghan on the night before her wedding
Set on 376 acres of National Trust land, the 38-room hotel has a luxury price tag, with the most expensive room costing £1,500 for a night.
But it’s Cliveden House’s past which has got most people talking – the hotel’s history spans 350 years and is brimming with scandal, intrigue and seduction.
The hotel is best known for the role it played in the Profumo Affair, when married government minister John Profumo hooked up with 19-year-old model Christine Keeler in 1961.
It was a pool party at the hotel where they first met, and Cliveden House is often remembered as the root of the brief and controversial affair.
Getty – Contributor Model and topless showgirl Christine Keeler first met John Profumo at the swimming pool in Cliveden House
Splash News Meghan Markle and her mum Doria Ragland will be spending a lavish girls night-in at Cliveden House tonight Tour Cliveden House Hotel, where Meghan Markle and her mum Doria Ragland will stay the night before the Royal Wedding
Celebrity mistress and a deadly duel
However, Cliveden House is at the centre of many more scandals and controversies besides the Profumo Affair.
The house was built in 1666 by George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and one of England’s wealthiest men.
But this was no family home – George had one woman in mind when drawing out the plans – and it was not his long-suffering wife.
A married celebrity mistress, the stunning Anna Maria Talbot, had captured the Duke’s heart – and he gave her Cliveden House as a gift in 1667.
Alamy Cliveden House has been the site of many scandals and dramas throughout the years
But things got complicated when her husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, challenged the duke to a duel at Barn Elms near Putney Bridge.
Dressed as a boy so as not to give herself away, Anna Maria held the Duke’s horse as her lover shot her husband.
He may have won the duel, but the Duke fell from royal favour – and Anna Maria was ordered by the ever-meddling House of Lords to abandon her relationship with him.
Nevertheless, she kept up the affair and gave birth to the Duke’s illegitimate son.
George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, won the duel that killed his mistress’s husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury
The squinting sister
The next scandal took place about a decade later when Elizabeth Villiers became “royal whore” to William of Orange.
She was none other than the sister of William’s wife, Mary, and they began their affair during his unhappy marriage.
An unlikely mistress, Elizabeth was not much of a looker, and was nicknamed “Squinting Betty” on account of a cast in one eye.
Years passed before the affair was uncovered but, when the truth emerged, Elizabeth was expelled from the royal household.
Where did she go? No place other than Cliveden House, the heart of high-society controversies.
It was here where she kept up her unlikely campaign of royal seduction, entertaining both George I and George II in the lap of luxury.
Elizabeth Villiers struck up an affair with William of Orange – moving to the house after she was discovered
The American glitterati
American businessman William Waldorf Astor, owner of the Waldorf Astoria hotels and later The Observer newspaper, bought the estate for $1.25 million (well over £30m in today’s money) in 1893.
He spent years sourcing art and recreating architecture from across the world, including installing the ‘Fountain of Love’ in the gardens.
Hulton Archive – Getty The Astor family are the historic owners of the house
After buying the house, he faked his own death to retire from public view, paying his newspaper staff to report that he had died from pneumonia.
The ruse was soon discovered, and the embarrassed aristocrat was thrust back into the public eye.
But when his son, Waldorf Astor, fell in love with divorcée Nancy Shaw, Bill had the perfect wedding gift in mind – and the lucky couple became the new owners of Cliveden in 1906.
The shell fountain, known as the Fountain of Love, greets visitors at the end of the lime tree avenue up to the house
The party politician
Possibly the most influential figure in the course of Cliveden’s history, Nancy Astor became the first woman to take a seat in British Parliament in 1919 – a position she boosted with countless parties at the Astor pad.
Weekends at Cliveden were legendary: splashing in the pool, boating on the Thames, not to mention the opportunity for hedonism without prying eyes.
Times Newspapers Ltd English socialite and MP for Plymouth, Nancy Astor was well-liked by her constituents and a member of the British elite.
Not just a place for debauchery, these house parties adopted a more serious agenda in the thirties, when the group gained the moniker of the “Cliveden Set”.
Newspaper articles accused them of being pro-Nazi and directing British foreign policy, although there is little solid evidence to back this up.
Nancy Astor made history on 1 December 1919 when she became the first woman to take up her seat in the House of Commons
The scandal that rocked a nation
But the weight of these rumours were nothing in comparison to the scandal that unfolded one summer in 1961.
Hosted by Nancy and Waldorf, The Secretary of State for War John Profumo wandered over to the pool after dinner and spotted stunning 19-year old model Christine Keeler splashing about with her friends.
Later that evening, Keeler, Profumo, Soviet spy Yevgeny Ivanov and a group of the other house guests were frolicking in the pool together.
Getty – Contributor Christine Keeler was a key figure in the 1963 scandal involving Conservative Defence Minister John Profumo
Reportedly, Keeler and Ivanov slept together that night, before she and Profumo began what she described as “a very, very well-mannered screw of convenience”.
Outside of the cold war period, a crossover between a minister of war and a possibly Soviet spy would have meant very little – however this became one of the biggest scandals in British history.
Hulton Archive – Getty John Profumo, British Secretary of State for War had an affair with model Christine Keeler
Profumo was forced to resign and the Harold Macmillan government was shattered by fears of a cold war security leak.
Keeler spent six months in Holloway prison for perjury in 1963 and died in early December last year.
Rex Features Christine Keeler met John Profumo at Cliveden House in 1961
The ill fame also broke the Astor family, who moved from the house shortly after Keeler and Profumo’s first meeting.
The historic pleasure palace was donated to the National Trust in 1942 and it was opened for public visitation in 1966, before becoming the luxury hotel it is today in 1985.
Splash News The infamous Cliveden House became a luxury hotel in the eighties and is now hosting Meghan on the eve of her wedding to Prince Harry