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Mary Victoria Leiter (1887) by Alexandre Cabanel,[1]

Mary Victoria Curzon, Baroness Curzon of Kedleston, CI (27 May 1870 – 18 July 1906) was a British-American peeress who was Vicereine of India, as the wife of Lord Curzon of Kedleston, Viceroy of India.


In America

She was born Mary Victoria Leiter in Chicago, the daughter of Levi Leiter, the wealthy co-founder of Field and Leiter dry goods business and later partner in the Marshall Fields retail empire. Her family moved to Washington, D.C. in 1881 and entered the exclusive circle of official society there. They lived for several years in the former home of James G. Blaine on Dupont Circle. She was taught dancing, singing, music, and art at home by tutors and learned the French language from her French governess. A Columbia University professor taught her history, arithmetic, and chemistry. Travel and prolonged residence abroad cultivated her powers of observation and breadth of mental vision at an early age. Her poise and finish made her charming to those with mature and brilliant intellect.

Mary was a striking six feet tall presence with a curvy figure. She had large grey eyes set in an oval face, glossy chestnut-brown hair drawn back into a loose knot at the nape of her neck, and delicate hands and feet.

Her debut was in winter of 1888. She was regarded an equal in beauty and breeding, and frequently, the peer in manner and intellect, of daughters of better known and longer established families in eastern U.S. society. Prior to her marriage, her closest friend Frances Folsom Cleveland was six years her senior and the wife of a much older President Grover Cleveland.[2]

In England

Lady Curzon of Kedleston, Vicereine of India, c. 1902 by Franz von Lenbach

The U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James's, Thomas F. Bayard, introduced Mary to London Society in 1894. She met a young man, George Curzon, a Conservative Member of Parliament who was thirty-five years old and had been representing Southport District for eight years and was heir to the Barony of Scarsdale. The position he had made for himself through his own talents was of more interest to her however, than his eventual inheritance. The high reputation of his writings on the political questions in the East particularly attracted her admiration.

Mary Leiter and George Curzon were married on 22 April 1895 at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. by Bishop Talbot who was assisted by the Rev. Dr. Mackay Smith, the pastor of the church.

She played an important role in the reelection of her husband to Parliament that autumn and many thought that his success was due more to the winning smiles and irresistible charm of his wife than to his own speeches. They had three daughters, Mary Irene (later Lady Ravensdale), in 1896, Cynthia Blanche (first wife of Sir Oswald Mosley), on 23 August 1898, lastly, Alexandra Naldera, on 20 April 1904 (wife of Edward "Fruity" Metcalfe, the best friend, best man, and equerry of Edward VIII); best known as Baba Metcalfe.

In India

Her husband accepted the position of Viceroy of India and was elevated to the Peerage of Ireland as Baron Curzon of Kedleston in the summer of 1898 at age thirty-nine. On 30 December they arrived in Bombay to the greetings of royal salutes and great excitement. She instantly made an impression of beauty and respect that soon spread all over India. They were greeted in Calcutta a few days later, with great enthusiasm. It was estimated that over one hundred thousand people witnessed the magnificent spectacle of their reception at Government House. The Indian poet, Ram Sharma referred to her in his welcome address to Lord Curzon of Kedleston, as:

"A rose of roses bright
A vision of embodied light."

Another declared her to be:

"Like a diamond set in gold
the full moon in a clear autumnal sky.

In 1901 Turner first raised the "Lady Curzon", was a hybrid (R. macrantha x R. rugosa Rubra) in her honor. It has a soft iridescent pink/violet shade, 10 cm flowers, and a sweet scent.[4]

In 1902 Lord Curzon organized the Delhi Durbar to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII, "the grandest pageant in history", which created a tremendous sensation. At the state ball Mary wore an extravagant coronation gown, by the House of Worth of Paris, known as the peacock dress, stitched of gold cloth, embroidered with peacock feathers with a blue/green beetle wing in each eye, which many mistook for emeralds, dipping into their own fantasies about the wealth of millionaire heiresses, Indian potentates and European royalty.[5] The skirt was trimmed with white roses and the bodice with lace. She wore a huge diamond necklace and a large broach of diamonds and pearls. She wore a tiara crown with a pearl tipping each of its high diamond points. It was reported that as she walked through the hall the crowd was breathless.[6][7] This dress is now on display at the Curzon estate, Kedleston Hall.

Lord and Lady Curzon were loudly criticised for the huge expense of this extravagant event and their own personal lifestyle, but their defenders pointed out that no money went out of the country—that it all came out of the pockets of the rich and was paid into the hands of the poor. What the government and the native princes and nobles expended in their splendid displays was paid to working people who needed it, and by throwing this large amount of money into circulation, the entire country was benefited.[citation needed]

Lady Curzon contributed to the design of the exquisitely rich and beautiful coronation robe of Queen Alexandra of England,[8] made from gold fabric woven and embroidered in the same factory in Chandni Chauk Delhi where she ordered all the materials for her own state gowns. The factory owner said that she had the rarest taste of any woman he knew, and that she was the best dressed woman in the world—an opinion shared by other good judges.

Lady Curzon was an invaluable commercial agent for the manufacturers of the higher class of fabrics and art objects in India. She wore Indian fabrics. She made many of them fashionable in Calcutta and other Indian cities as well as in London, Paris, and the capitals of Europe. She placed orders for her friends and strangers. She assisted the silk weavers, embroiderers, and other artists to adapt their designs, patterns, and fabrics to the requirements of modern fashions.

She kept several of the best artists in India busy with orders and soon saw the results of her efforts, reviving skilled arts that almost had been forgotten. Lady Curzon was tutored in Urdu by the Mohyal patriarch Bakhshi Ram Dass Chhibber.[9]

The Lady Curzon Hospital in Bangalore, now known as Bowring and Lady Curzon Hospital

Progressive medical reforms were initiated by English women in India under the leadership of the Marchioness of Dufferin and Lady Curzon by supplying women doctors and hospitals for women. There is a Lady Curzon Hospital in Bangalore, shown to the right.

William Eleroy Curtis's dedication of his book "Modern India" is: "To Lady Curzon, An ideal American woman"[10]

On 4 November 1902 Lady Curzon wrote from Viceroy's Camp, Simla, to Lady Randolph Churchill advising her on the appropriate headgear to wear in Delhi, saying that she is looking forward to seeing her and that she will not need an ayah in addition to her maid.[11]

In 1903 she sailed on a yacht from Karachi for a tour of the Persian Gulf with Lord Curzon, Ignatius Valentine Chirol, young Winston Churchill and other notable guests.

In 1904, Lady Curzon traveled by train with Lord Curzon to Dhaka and toured the Shahbagh area in a fleet of Dechamp Tonneau-model 1902 automobiles. (photo: Fritz Kapp)

Lady Curzon learned about the Great One-horned Rhinoceros of Kaziranga from her tea-plantation friends and wanted to see them. In the winter of 1904 she visited the Kaziranga area,[12] and saw some of their hoof marks, but was disappointed by not having seen a single rhinoceros. It was reported that the noted Assamese animal tracker, Balaram Hazarika, showed Lady Curzon around Kaziranga and impressed upon her the urgent need for its conservation.[13] Concerned about the dwindling numbers of rhinoceros, she asked her husband to take the necessary action to save the rhinoceros, which he did. The Kaziranga Proposed Reserve Forest thus was created. Later it was developed into the Kaziranga National Park.

Private life

The Curzons' youngest daughter, Alexandra Naldera, was conceived in July 1903 at Naldehra, 25 km from Shimla,[14] perhaps after a high altitude game of golf.[15] She was born on 20 March 1904.[16] and became best known as "Baba", an Indian name for baby or little one. In 1925 she married Major Edward Dudley Metcalfe, the best friend and equerry of Edward VIII.[17] She later became a mistress of Oswald Mosley, her sister Cynthia's husband, as did their stepmother, Grace Curzon[18][19] Her oldest sister Irene had a short affair with Mosley before Cynthia married him.

The Curzons' home in London, 1 Carlton House Terrace

Lady Curzon was never able to give Curzon the son and heir he desperately desired. Her demanding social responsibilities, tropical climate, a prolonged near fatal infection following miscarriage, and fertility-related surgery eroded her health. Convalescent trips to England failed to heal her. When they returned to England after Curzon's resignation in August 1905, her health was failing. She died on 18 July 1906 at home at 1 Carlton House Terrace, Westminster, London, at age thirty-six.[20][21]

It is said that Lady Curzon, after having seen the Taj Mahal on a moonlit night, exclaimed in her bewilderment that she was ready to embrace an immediate death if someone promised to erect such a memorial on her grave.[22]

Following Lady Curzon's death, in 1906, Lord Curzon had a memorial chapel built in his late wife's honour, attached to the parish church at Kedleston Hall. Lady Curzon is buried, with her husband, in the family vault beneath it. The design of the chapel, by G F Bodley, does not resemble the Taj Mahal, but is in the decorated Gothic style. It was completed in 1913. [23]

In the chapel Curzon expressed his grief at his wife's premature death by charging the sculptor, Sir Bertram Mackennal, to create a marble effigy for her tomb which: "expressed as might be possible in marble, the pathos of his wife's premature death and to make the sculpture emblematic of the deepest emotion." [24] Later, Curzon's own effigy was added to lie beside that of his wife's, as his remains do in the vault beneath. Curzon's second wife chose to be buried in the churchyard outside.


  • "The Viceroy's Daughters, The Lives of the Curzon Sisters", By Anne de Courcy, Harper Collons Publishers, 2003, Price: $14.95 ISBN 0-06-093557-X[25](biography) not cited. retrieved from publisher 3/14/2007
  • Nicolson Nigel, "Lady Curzon", Harper & Row, New York, 1977. ISBN 0-29-777390-9[26] (biography) not cited.
  • Bradley John ed, (1986) "Lady Curzon's India: Letters of a Viceriene", Weidenfeld & Nicolson., London, ISBN 0-29-778701-2


  1. ^ NCAW Spring 05 | Leanne Zalewski on Alexandre Cabanel's Portraits of American "Aristocracy"
  2. ^ De Courcy Anne (2003) "The Viceroy's Daughters: The Lives of the Curzon Sisters", Harper Collins, 464 pages, ISBN 0-06-093557-X, 61 page Google Abstract(biography) retrieved from Google 3/14/2007
  3. ^ Virginia Tatnall Peacock. Famous American Belles of the Nineteenth Century. J.B. Lippincott, New York, 1901., pp.264 - 287.Full text
  4. ^ Pro artists, Roses/Lady CurzonRoses/Lady Curzon
  5. ^ Nicola J. Thomas. "Embodying Imperial Spectacle." p. 391.
  6. ^ Time Magazine, "Curzon's Will", Monday, Aug. 03, 1925
  7. ^ Finding Aids to Official Records of the Smithsonian Institution, Accession 87-156, National Portrait Gallery, Office of Exhibitions, Exhibition Records, 1975-1979 , Mary, Lady Curzon: Portrait of Mary Victoria Leiter, Baroness Curzon of Kedelston (Lady A. Metcalf), Once a Proconsul, Always a Proconsul, M. Beerbohm (All Souls' College), Silver Medallion Commemorating Curzon's Viceroyalty of India (Viscount Scarsdale), Badge of the Order of the Crown of India (Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth) Peacock Dress of Mary Curzon (Mus. of London), Lady Curzon's Ball Costume by Jean Worth (Museum of Costume, Bath) two Photos: Viceregal Lodge at Simla (India Office Records), Five Photos of Procession of Rajahs and Maharajas through Delhi (India Off. Library), Photograph of Lady Curzon wearing Peacock Dress (Lady Alexandra Metcalfe) Film Clip: Lord and Lady Arriving at Great Delhi Durbar [1]
  8. ^ Nicola J. Thomas. "Embodying Imperial Spectacle." 388.
  9. ^ General Mohyal Sabha, 2005-06, A-9, Qutab Institutional Area, New Delhi-110067, "MEMBERS OF MOHYALS" [2]
  10. ^ Curtis William Eleroy (1904) "Modern India", Project Gutenberg EBook, retrieved 3/18/2007[3], [4]
  11. ^ Churchill College, CHURCHILL ARCHIVES CENTRE, CHAR 28/66/36 retrieved 3/23/2007[5]
  12. ^ Kaziranga accessed on February 23, 2007
  13. ^ Subir Bhaumik, Kaziranga's centenary celebrations, BBC News, South Asia, 18 February, 2005
  14. ^ Cory, Charlotte (2002) Sunday Times, December 29th, retrieved 3/14/2007 "The Delhi Durbar 1903 Revisited",[6]
  15. ^ Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, Wildflower Hall, Shimla, India - Other Activities/golf
  16. ^ Tompsett Brian C. (2005) Index to Royal Genealogical Data, retrieved 3/17/2007[7]
  17. ^ Time, June 8, 1925
  18. ^ Davies Matt <Matt> (Mon, 18 March 2002) Grace Elvina Hinds Duggan Curzon, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston (1879-1958). Daughter of J. Monroe Hinds, United States Minister to Brazil, Grace Elvina was married firstly to Alfred Duggan of Buenos Aires. Widowed by Duggan, she then married secondly on 2 January 1917 to George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston (1859 -1925). Grace was the authoress of a book of Reminiscences. retrieved 3/18/2007 [8]
  19. ^ George Nathaniel, the Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, John Singer Sargent -- American painter, 1914 Royal Geographical Society, England, Oil 100.3 x 77.5 cm (39 1/2 x 30 1/2 in) Jpg: Friend of the JSS Gallery [9]
  20. ^, ID: I526875, Mary Victoria Leiter, retrieved 3/17/2007
  21. ^ Maximilian Genealogy Master Database, Mary Victoria LEITER, 2000
  22. ^ SR Shaheed DOHS Banani (October 25, 2004) "Lady Curzon's wish" ,The Daily Star, Vol. 5 Num 153, Dhaka[10]
  23. ^ *The National Trust (1988; repr. 1997). Kedleston Hall. page 60.
  24. ^ *The National Trust (1988; repr. 1997). Kedleston Hall. page 61.
  25. ^ "The Viceroy's Daughters, The Lives of the Curzon Sisters", By Anne de Courcy, Harper Collons Publishers, 2003, ISBN 0-06-093557-X, Price: $14.95 publisher's partial Abstract
  26. ^ Item Detailed Information for Seller's item number: 35313, "MARY CURZON The Story of the Heiress from Chicago Who Married Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India", Author: Nicolson, Nigel, Publisher: Harper & Row, New York NY, 1977. ISBN 0-29-777390-9 retrieved 3/14/2007[11]

Further reading

  • Nicola J. Thomas, "Broadening the Boundaries of Biography and Geography: Lady Curzon, Vicereine of India 1898 – 1905", Journal of Historical Geography, 2004
  • Nicola J. Thomas, "American Vicereine of India", in: David Lambert and Alan Lester, eds., "Imperial Lives across the Empire" Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, forthcoming
  • Nicola J. Thomas, "Embodying Empire: Dressing the Vicereine, Lady Curzon 1898 – 1905", Under review in Cultural Geographies


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