Mona Eden: Antigone of British politics

Written by Karla Cripps, CNN

Born into wealth, the 31-year-old was the wife of a colonial administrator. She had inherited the family fortune of 15 million, and as a result could show off an enormously expensive wardrobe.

But the family’s highest aspirations did not extend to a seat in parliament, and within a year, Eden was stripped of her title by her “opponent” in the forthcoming general election.

During her 20 years in the House of Commons, Eden would spend the next three decades in exile, eventually winning a seat back in her constituency of South Wimbledon.

Wearing stilettos and pearls and dripping in gems, Eden was a staple in the Sunday papers and later became one of Britain’s more influential political commentators.

After being overtaken in popularity, she walked away from politics in 1991. She lived out her remaining years in the spare room of the family home.

Eden died on September 14 at the age of 101.

Born in 1911 into the Earl of Bedford’s sprawling estate in the South of England, Eden became a successful model in the years following World War II. She soon met and married Stephen Howard, the future leader of the Greater London Council. They then had five children, two of whom would become MPs.

The family wealth was quickly depleted, however, by the costs of her husband’s political career and he was forced to resign. The child she was pregnant with at the time, by someone else, was born while her husband was in Hong Kong on a diplomatic visit.

There she was betrayed by her elder son and given away to a family friend, Lord Percy, and the family’s fortunes were once again entirely based on her. It made for an interregnum which characterized the life of the new family, their estranged estate and Lord Bedford.

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But when Earl Cecil, the 23-year-old son of Earl Cecil, ascended to the throne in 1956, this began a rapid series of horse-trading that made him into the first of Britain’s three King of Windsor.

However, Cecil proved himself a flawed king. Deeply unstable, with a penchant for heavy drinking and rowdy parties, he was found to have a taste for blackmail, murdered by one of his servants in 1979, and through a protracted legal dispute died unknown in exile in Switzerland in 1985.

It had been Cecil’s mother who had first introduced the concept of marriage as a mere “spare bedroom” to her children, in order to take advantage of the fact that the eldest child, Carolyne, was unmarried.

The family wealth had been almost entirely built up by Earl Carolyne Eden, Britain’s longest reigning Viscountess. With a social network, architectural lineage and a purpose-built presence in Westminster, Carolyne would doubtless prove a formidable rival to her mother.

At the end of the 19th century, she had begun a successful career as an interior designer and – with her husband Stephen – she produced a highly controversial design for the first official residence of a British heir to the throne.

The new residence of the Duke of Gloucester, she had spearheaded a series of unconventional designs for the Royal Household, ensuring the incorporation of the early geometric, modernist as well as Gallic style.

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