As gripping as the best historical novel, Sisters of Fortune follows the exuberant lives of Marianne, Louisa, Bess and Emily Caton, the American sisters who enthralled high society in the wake of Waterloo, two generations before the great late- Victorian beauties. The four Caton sisters were descended from the first settlers in Maryland, and brought up by their grandfather, one of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. These Catholic Southern belles were expected to 'marry a Plantation'. But they were independent, fascinated by politics, clever with money, and romantic in mood. Arriving in Britain, they swept into the set of the Duke of Wellington, who loved Marianne until his death, and went on to forge their own destinies in the face of intense prejudice against both Americans and Catholics. Emily stayed in Baltimore, building the family estates. The widowed Marianne shocked the world by marrying Wellington's brother, the Marquess of Wellesley, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and appearing as a 'Catholic Yankee' among the Protestant Anglo-Irish.
Louisa eventually became Duchess of Leeds, and a friend of Queen Victoria, while Bess shone on the stockmarket, as queen of speculators. Based on intimate unpublished letters, Sisters of Fortune is a glorious book. Everything is here - childbirth and coronets, gossip and politics, the call of faith - and, above all, the power of wealth. This is a brilliant portrait of love between sisters and of Anglo-American relations through this period. It is also a story of money, of the choices it gave these women, and of the way it shaped social and even international relations around them.
Jehanne Wake is a historian who has written about both royalty and money. Her books include Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's Unconventional Daughter and Kleinwort Benson: the History of Two Families in Banking. She lives in London.