Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, and a Family Secret

I am a fan of Downton Abbey.  It's great fun to see how the 'other half' lives, or did live, in the early 1900's.  I am also a fan of family letters, documents and journals.  So when I came across this book by Catherine Bailey, The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess and a Family Secret, I had to snatch it up.  Actually, I listened to it as a audio book on my walks.

Bailey had traveled to Belvoir Castle (pronounced Beaver in the audio book) to do research on soldiers in the early days of World War I.  The Dukes of Rutland, who owned the castle, had for centuries, collected and preserved thousands of letters and documents over the centuries.  Well cataloged and filed, she felt this would be a great source of material as to how soldiers felt about the war and how they fared.  But entering Belvoir Castle, she entered a mystery.

The Ninth Duke of Rutland, who had been alive during WWI, died in 1940, in rooms in the castle which were cold, dark and in the servants quarters.  His son had the rooms sealed for decades.  In starting her research, Bailey found three periods in the Duke's life where all correspondence and documents had been eliminated.  But why? Though painstaking research across England, Bailey pieces together a life which was based on fabrications and lies.  And offers a glimpse into a life of privilege we can only marvel at.

With a very manipulative mother, the death of an older brother, and the backdrop of World War I, this was a fascinating listen.  Rank does have privilege and The Duchess of Rutland was not afraid to use her influence and connections to their fullest.  

Bailey fills in the gaps missing from the papers of the Rutland's and shows a look at a family whose outward face painted a very different picture than the inner workings of the Rutland Dukedom.

What fascinated me was the fact these letters, telegrams and correspondence were actually saved to the extent they were.  Most of us would read a letter and trash it, but everything was saved.  And the value of journals, faithfully kept by the Ninth Duke, in piecing together this mystery was priceless.  While I journal, I don't think I am covering up any great secrets.

The narrator of the audio book was male, which threw me a bit since the author is female.  I think I would have preferred a feminine voice reading the book since it was written by a female.  The Secret Rooms, is a modern day, real-life mystery definitely worth the time reading or listening to.  

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