Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey

Black Diamonds

Catherine Bailey

The extraordinary true story of the Earls Fitzwilliam and the family feuds, forbidden love and civil unrest that brought down their coal dynasty.

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From the New York Times–bestselling author of The Secret Rooms, the extraordinary true story of the downfall of one of England’s wealthiest families

Fans of Downton Abbey now have a go-to resource for fascinating, real-life stories of the spectacular lives led by England’s aristocrats. With the novelistic flair and knack for historical detail Catherine Bailey displayed in her New York Times bestseller The Secret Rooms, Black Diamonds provides a page-turning chronicle of the Fitzwilliam coal-mining dynasty and their breathtaking Wentworth estate, the largest private home in England.

When the sixth Earl Fitzwilliam died in 1902, he left behind the second largest estate in twentieth-century England, valued at more than £3 billion of today’s money—a lifeline to the tens of thousands of people who worked either in the family’s coal mines or on their expansive estate. The earl also left behind four sons, and the family line seemed assured. But was it? As Bailey retraces the Fitzwilliam family history, she uncovers a legacy riddled with bitter feuds, scandals (including Peter Fitzwilliam’s ill-fated affair with American heiress Kick Kennedy), and civil unrest as the conflict between the coal industry and its miners came to a head. Once again, Bailey has written an irresistible and brilliant narrative history.

Advance Galley Reviews

I tried to read this book but it just wouldn't hold my attention. I might have done better with audio version?

This was a really interesting read for me. I thought that the idea of using one family to tell a greater story about British social, political, and industrial history was a perfect way of presenting the material. I have to say, I was much more captivated by the personal story of the Fitzwilliam family, but overall the narrative was informative. I would absolutely be interested in reading other works by this author. She clearly does her research and is able to present it in a clear and readable manner.

Behind the doors of Wentworth House, one of the largest and most beautiful estates in England, lies a mystery that the Fitzwilliam family wanted to keep hidden from public scrutiny. Hiding their secrets became such an obsession and in 1972, 16 tons of historical documents that covered three decades of the 7th, 8th, and 9th Earls Fitzwilliams was destroyed by flames that burned for three weeks. The destruction was not accidental. The fires were ordered by the 10th Earl Fitzwilliam, the very last Earl Fitzwilliam. I enjoyed the historical elements and family intrigue. There was certainly enough drama but some portions contained painfully long descriptions that I felt were unnecessary to the story. Interesting family but one I'm glad I never had to meet. Reading about them was enough. After a while, I must say, this dysfunctional group left me chilled and bored.

Lots of history about the Fitzwilliam family dynasty, their massive estate, Wentworth, and the British coal mining industry from the late 1800's through the mid-1900's. The author did a superb job in describing the conditions in which the coal miners lived and worked. The stark contrast of the lavish livestyles of the Fitzwilliam family are documented as well as can be considering the family destroyed most correspondence and archives during the mid-1900's. Even with their excess wealth and lavish lifestyles, the Fitzwilliam family was looked on favorably by the poor miners employed at the Fitzwilliam mines. There were several events documented in the book that are quite memorable.......descriptions of tragic mining accidents and also the barbaric destruction of the Wentworth estate grounds in the late 1940's. The book contains several pages of photos.

I recently read Ken Follett's "Fall of Giants" which features interaction between the "Big House" and a nearby mining village in Wales, in the WW1 period. Fascinating as the fiction was in Follett's book, there were episodes throughout "Black Diamonds" that could be described as stranger than fiction. Indeed, I was familiar with the fictionalizing of the facts in relation to Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy's death and it took "Black Diamonds" to reveal the actual truth to me. I won't spoil it for later readers by going into detail. It is clear that Catherine Bailey did the most extensive research for the purposes of this book. I found just one error. On P43, the "beautiful Kilkenny Castle" is described as located in "Tipperary". Kilkenny Castle is in Kilkenny City, County Kilkenny, Ireland. Catherine Bailey may have been referring to Ormonde Castle, which is in Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary. Both these buildings are now owned by the Irish State, are open to visitors and are well worth a visit. Given the question-mark over his birth, I found the character of Billy Fitzwilliam, the 7th Earl, to be the most noble of all the Earls. Some might cavil at the fine detail of this book. I found it engrossing and a very easy read. Ideal for fans of "Downton Abbey", this is, as I've already mentioned, also a useful companion to the fictional saga of the Ken Follett's Century Trilogy ("Fall of Giants"; "Winter of the World"; "Edge of Reason":)

This is a great social history of the coal industry in Yorkshire, England, in The mid-nineteenth century through the nationalization of the industry in 1947. It centers around the Fitzwilliam, whose home, Wentworth House, was Built over the Barnsley seam, one of the richest coal deposits in England. I recommend this book if you like going back in time and enjoying the background of rich English history.

This is a really interesting historical read that enlightens about the role of coal in England while also sharing information about the way people lived. I enjoyed understanding the dichotomy of the different lives of people in different social classes. There were some moments that were a bit dry and the story telling was not as narrative as I usually enjoy but it is a wealth of information. This book was an interesting read and overflowing with knowledge. It also highlighted some of the enigmas of Wentworth and the Fitzwilliam family that will never truly be known. If history is an interest of your this book is well worth the read.

I love reading about this period of time in England and about the contrast in life for the super wealthy and the poor. There were many parts of this book that satisfied that interest. One always hopes that the movement from one extreme to the other will be handled in such a way that it makes sense at that moment. Unfortunately, the jumps between life in the mines and life in the big manor house felt sudden and without explanation. It felt almost jarring and took away from the story.

Black Diamonds is an exhaustively comprehensive study of the Fitzwilliam's seat Wentworth as well as a history of approximately the last 75 years of the family's possession of the property. Yes, it's a little "Downton Abbey" but it is also a little "Oliver Twist" with some Kennedy magic thrown in. Bailey provides intimate details of the aristocratic life of the early 20th century as well as the lives of their tenant coal miners. It's a bit of a schizophrenic read given the dichotomy of the subject matter. Your time will be well spent if this is a subject that is of interest to you or you always wondered how socialism could make sense. I found it particularly poignant given the talk today about income inequality.

This is a book of interesting details, but somehow a less interesting whole. It discusses several generations of a wealthy aristocratic family, the Fitzwilliams, tracing their lives through social changes and wars. Once a vast estate, and owners of coal mines, at first there was a great deal of money coming into the great house coffers. But, as the book describes in detail, almost to the point of a second book, mining conditions were so terrible things were bound to have to change eventually. The loss of the coal mines was only part of the struggles of the family, though, with the bitterest blows dealt from within, by squabbles over poor choices in love and marriage, demands of finding the 'right' spouses, parental and societal disapproval. with pressures from within and without, it's hardly surprising the family did, as the title promises, fall. Some of the stories tucked within the book are fascinating, wonderful, and tragic, and the photographs are windows into an often beautiful or sometimes coal-dust covered and poverty-stricken time. The contrast between the poor and the wealthy land-owners makes what happens seem inevitable, especially if you've read any history of the time--but the personal anecdotes could save it. It's only the sheer amount of data, the great sweep of history covered in these pages that bogs down those stories, losing them in a sea of text. People interested in the time period, especially those with a little knowledge of the history, might find this book interesting--especially a few pages at a time.

I found the book highly informative. It is clearly well researched and contains plenty of information. However, I struggled to get captured in the family history. I do not think this is any way is related to the writing, which I felt was articulate and bought out, but with the story itself. I believe that any person who truly enjoys history and readings along the lines of Downton Abbey would enjoy the book.

Fascinating study of an aristocratic British family that died out over time due to secrets and family bickering. I received this as part of the Penguin First to Read program to give an honest review. There are three main storylines here. The first deals with a son with epilepsy in which the family tried to keep him from having an heir, but ended up failing in the long run. (No other child is ever been discussed as being epileptic in the book.) This was in the 1860's to 1880's where epilepsy was looked at as a mental illness. The next story is about Kathleen Kennedy (Lady Hartington) and Peter Fitzwilliams love story. This was all hushed up at the time due to Peter being a married Protestant and Kathleen being Joe Kennedy's daughter and a widow of a peer. Tragic story of what religion forces people to do in place of love. Rose Kennedy because of her devout faith comes up the villain in this piece. She was ready to never have anything to do with her daughter again and throw her out of the will. Even after Kathleen's death she was said to have said, "God's judgement." We end the story with the son's of the Earl fighting out in court after their father's death because their mother (a former Gaiety girl actress) was upset when her eldest son married the daughter of a draper. She began putting it about that he was born before they were married, which from the book seems highly unlikely. There is also a side story of an illegitimate son of an earl who is born by a servant girl. Everyone believes he is deaf and dumb and is taken away from his mother and placed in an insane asylum. A nurse discovers him when he is in his seventies and discovers he can write perfectly and can hear. It seems at one point in his life someone sliced his tongue so he could never speak properly. This part made me cry. I liked this true story and found many similarities between this British family and the Fitzherberts in Ken Follett's The Century Trilogy. So many in fact that I would think he used this family as his muse. This is a great book with all Anglophiles and Downton Abbey fans and reads like a novel with lots of pictures and footnotes.

This book is very well written, and full of (presumably) well-researched detail. (But this is not the sort of non-fiction book that provides footnotes or direct sources, although one can find references for the quotations used at the book's end.) It certainly must have taken a lot of effort, and the author is good at her craft. Thus, I am sorry to say that the material is simply not that interesting. I read the first 100 pages (or, first two Parts/10 chapters), but so little in it grabbed me that I put it aside. I hope it is more to other people's tastes. The author does try to create interest, but does so by jumping all around in chronology, which I found very distracting, and a little manipulative. But I would be happy to read books on other subjects by this author.

BLACK DIAMONDS by Catherine Bailey This book is a great history read about England and its economics in the microcosm of a single Coal Mining family. Picking the Fitzwilliam family was a good choice as Billy was a mix of mineral baron and charitable feudal Lord. Having these two disparate elements within the same individual gave the book depth without undue sensitivity as opposed to other persons who were also the same socialclassas Billy. Even though the book is lengthy it it rarely boring. I will admit that there are some dry spots but these are few and far between. The one item I feel could have been done better is the introduction and reasoning for the inclusion of Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy towards the end. I felt that this had very little transition and it jolted me causing a discordant feel to the rhythm of the book. All in all a fascinating read and I will definitely read Bailey's other book and will be interested in future books by her.

4.5 stars This book pretty much had everything...from aristocratic Englishmen, to World Wars, to impoverished miners to the Kennedys. Never dull, it follows one dynasty, the Earls of Wentworth, as they build up, then destroy their fortune based mostly on coal. Perspectives switch from the Fitzwilliam saga, to the lives of the local miners, and to the overall political situation in England. This was a time when the attitudes regarding the noble families was changing and the economic disparity between villager and nobleman was becoming obscene. Covering the years before World War I to after World War II, the book's pace never slows. Dense with information, I never found myself bored or lost interest. I recommend this for fans of Downton Abbey or Ken Follett's Century Trilogy. I received an E-Galley of this book from the First to Read Program in exchange for an honest review.

Once England was an economic powerhouse, fueled by coal. Within living memory, Margaret Thatcher shut down the nationalized coal industry as a financial drain. Coal was no longer king, nor had it been for many years. Catherine Bailey's BLACK DIAMONDS takes us back to the day when British coal made the country a manufacturing power, when the sun was not setting on the Empire. The book focuses on the very intriguing Fitzwilliam family, made rich by the coal that existed under the land they received for supporting the dismantling the Catholic Church in England. Fans of Downton Abbey are aware of the great changes in fortune that ensued after the end of the First World War. BLACK DIAMONDS is an accounting of the decline in the Fitzwilliam family's fortunes, a story that is centered on the family's estate and the mining towns that were part of it. Ms. Bailey describes the lifestyles of the people who made the place run, from the social activities of a peer of the realm to the ordinary existence of the miners. She brings the reader from the Edwardian era when the money was rolling in, through the Great Depression when Earl Fitzwilliam made an admirable effort to help his employees when the coal industry went into a decline. The book provides insight into the change that British society underwent after the war, with the rise of socialism that doomed the coal-funded aristocrats. The labor unrest that began at the close of the Nineteenth Century provides a backdrop to the entire book, and helps to explain the actions that followed through the years. Nationalization of the coal industry comes as no surprise. Readers may find the story-telling a bit choppy, with long anecdotes interrupting the flow of the narrative. The inserts are of interest, however, because the Fitzwilliam clan brushed shoulders with British royalty and America's version of royalty, the Kennedys of Boston. Throughout the book, the reader will watch the earls decline in quality, and the great house that was built on coal is presented as a suitable analogy to the end of an aristocratic line. In general, the book is well worth reading for its portrayal of a radically shifting political landscape that saw the end of a traditional way of life, but failed to substitute a new industry for the dying trade of coal mining.

This was a very well researched and presented book/ biography of the Fitzwilliam family. I enjoyed reading this book even though it is not a type I normally read. I was entranced by the life they led and felt like I was there when tragedy struck. A five out of five.

If you are interested in country homes of England, this is the book for you. The author does an indepth investigation of the Fitzwilliam family, their estate Wentworth and their demise. Yes, as others have said, it does drag in the middle but keep going as much to my surprise, a connection to the Kennedy family comes to light. Thoroughly enjoyed this book

This book was slow in parts and a little hard to get into at first, but it was very interesting. I learned a lot, and I love reading books like this. If you are having trouble getting through the first bit, keep at it and it will be worth it!

It took me a bit at first to get into the book. I got a bit confused with all the Earl's. I did learn quite a bit from the book about coal mining. There were a few spots that felt like it went a bit slow. There was a bit of drama and conflict. Lots of names to remember but I do enjoy reading these type of books.


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