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Viscount Astor
William Waldorf Astor.jpg
William Waldorf Astor, 1st Viscount Astor
Born William Waldorf Astor
31 March 1848(1848-03-31)
New York City, New York, United States of America
Died 18 October 1919 (aged 71)
Brighton, East Sussex, England
Title Viscount Astor
Predecessor None
Successor Waldorf Astor
Spouse(s) Mary (Mamie) Dahlgren (1878-1894)
Parents John Jacob Astor III (father)
Charlotte Augusta Gibbs (mother)

William Waldorf Astor, 1st Viscount Astor (31 March 1848 – 18 October 1919) was a financier and statesman and a member of the prominent Astor family.

Contents

Biography

William Astor was born in New York City, the only child of John Jacob Astor III (1822-1890) and Charlotte Augusta Gibbes (c. 1825-1887). He was educated in Germany and in Italy before studying at Columbia Law School. He worked shortly in law practice and in the management of his father's estate. In 1878 he married Mary Dahlgren Paul (1858-1894) and went into politics, serving as a New York state assemblyman and senator. Astor was likely elected with help from the boss of the New York State Republican machine, notorious Roscoe Conkling, with whom his family was involved. He was twice defeated in his bids for a seat in the United States Congress. In 1882, President Chester A. Arthur appointed Astor Minister to Italy, a post he held until 1885. ("Go and enjoy yourself, my dear boy," the president told Astor.) While living in Rome, Astor developed a life-long passion for art and sculpture.

Upon the death of his father in early 1890, William Waldorf Astor inherited a personal fortune that made him the richest man in America. On November 7, 1890, plans were filed with the New York City Building Department to construct a new hotel on the site of William Astor's residence. In 1891, after a family feud with his aunt Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor over matters of social seniority, Astor and his family moved to England, a decision that was published throughout all the major newspapers. Although the owner of the Waldorf Hotel built where his home had stood, William Astor visited it only once in his lifetime. In 1897, his cousin, John Jacob Astor IV (1864-1912) built the Astoria Hotel adjoining the Waldorf, and the complex then became known as the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Arriving in England, at first Astor rented Lansdowne House in London until 1893 when he purchased a country estate at Cliveden-on-Thames in Taplow, Buckinghamshire from Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, 1st Duke of Westminster. In 1899 Astor became a British subject and in 1903 acquired Hever Castle near Edenbridge, Kent about 30 miles south of London. The huge estate, built in 1270 was where Anne Boleyn lived as a child. William Waldorf Astor invested a great deal of time and money to restore the castle, building what is known as the "Tudor Village" and creating a lake and lavish gardens. In 1905 he gave his son William Waldorf Astor II and his new daughter-in-law, the former Nancy Langhorne, the Cliveden estate as a wedding present.

With ambitions to be part of the literary world, Astor wrote two novels, became the owner of the Pall Mall Gazette and The Pall Mall Magazine, and in 1911 purchased the The Observer. In 1915 Astor relinquished his holdings, giving them to his son Waldorf Astor who sold the Pall Mall Gazette (The Pall Mall Magazine having already been sold to Hearst Corporation) but retained The Observer. An avid lover of thoroughbred horse racing, he acquired a large stable of horses that won a number of important British races.

Astor's move to England was influenced by his distrust of the American press. Newspapers famously quoted him as stating "America is not a fit place for a gentleman to live."[1] Astor resented their branding him as a traitor and continued to be concerned about his reputation in the American press. In 1892 he even circulated false reports of his own death in order to see how the press would memorialize him. Unfortunately, his ploy was soon uncovered, and only damaged his reputation further.

Growing paranoia, fueled by anonymous threats to kidnap his children, was another component of Astor's decision to leave the United States. To maintain security at Cliveden, Astor blocked the grounds from public access. One of his townhouses had a system of trap doors and secret locks, and he slept with two revolvers at his side. At Hever Castle, guests could not spend the night and were kept out by a moat and drawbridge. The occult also pre-occupied Astor’s imagination. He wrote several fanciful short stories for the Pall Mall Magazine and even investigated the possible presence of Anne Boleyn’s ghost at Hever Castle.[2]

As a British citizen, William Waldorf Astor used his great wealth for numerous public causes, especially during World War I for which King George V rewarded him with a barony, as Baron Astor in 1916[3] and a year later was raised to Viscount Astor, of Hever Castle in the County of Kent.[4]

Many of Astor's endeavors were attempts to distract himself from the boredom and dissatisfaction he felt with life. In his younger years, his family forbade him to marry the woman he loved because she had a family history of tuberculosis. Many relatives attribute this early defeat to his lifelong struggle with discontentedness and searching. Secondly, Astor did not attend college but was tutored privately which affected his ability to socialize with others. Lastly, his defeat at the hands of his Aunt regarding who the true "Mrs. Astor" was left him bitter and utterly discontented. These events marred the remainder of his life with disappointment and searching for contentment.

Death

He died of congestive heart failure in the lavatory of his Brighton, Sussex, England home. [5][6] His ashes were buried under the marble floor of the chapel at Cliveden.

Bibliography

  • Valentino: An Historical Romance of the Sixteenth Century in Italy (1885)
  • Sforza, a Story of Milan (1889)
  • Pharaoh's Daughter and Other Stories (1990)

Children

  1. Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor (1879–1952), married Nancy Langhorne (1879–1964)
  2. Pauline (1880–1972), married on 29 October 1904, Herbert Henry Spender Clay (1875-1937). Their second daughter Rachel Pauline (1907-?) married The Hon. David Bowes-Lyon (1902-1961), the youngest son of 14th Earl of Strathmore, and brother of H.M. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
  3. John Rudolph (1881–1881)
  4. John Jacob Astor, 1st Baron Astor of Hever (1886–1971)
  5. Gwendolyn Enid (1889–1902)

References

  1. ^ Bonnie Marie Sykes. "William Waldorf Astor." In American National Biography Online Oxford: Oxford University Press
  2. ^ Virginia Cowles. The Astors. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979. Lucy Kavaler. The Astors: A Family Chronicle of Pomp and Power. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1966.
  3. ^ London Gazette: no. 29454, p. 1126, 28 January 1916. Retrieved on 2008-12-11.
  4. ^ London Gazette: no. 30156, p. 6409, 29 June 1917. Retrieved on 2008-12-11.
  5. ^ "Viscount Astor Died Suddenly of Heart Disease. Stricken Saturday Morning, After Having Passed Part of Preceding Day Outdoors. Body Will Be Cremated and the Ashes Placed in Private Chapel at Cliveden. Peerage Came as Reward for War Gifts. Realty Holdings Here Valued at $60,000,000. Little Known to British Public. Estate Will Pay a Heavy Tax. His Pursuit of Title Evoked Bitter Criticism. Became a British Subject in 1899. Peerage Followed War Gifts.". New York Times. October 20, 1919. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9507E5D81038EE32A25753C2A9669D946896D6CF. Retrieved 2008-08-01. "Viscount Astor died yesterday morning. His death, which was from heart disease, was unexpected." 
  6. ^ Kaplan, Justin. When the Astors Owned New York. New York: Viking, 2006.

External links

Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Astor
1917–1919
Succeeded by
Waldorf Astor
New creation Baron Astor
1916–1919
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