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Cecil Rhodes and the Princess

By Brian Roberts

Ruthless and visionary, Cecil Rhodes today personifies all the most extreme characteristics of the Victorian empire-builder.

Leaving both a country and a world-famous system of scholarships to commemorate his name, he might have been regarded as proof against personal intrigue. Particularly of the female variety, since – in the jargon of the day – he was a confirmed woman-hater. But when he died, many people said his death had been caused by a woman: the notorious Princess Catherine Radziwill.

What was the hold this determined Polish adventurer had over him? This impeccably sourced double biography contains much material never before published and clearly establishes that Catherine’s power over Rhodes was political, not sexual. Once she realised that Rhodes’s few private emotions were fully satisfied by the group of hefty young men who surrounded him at home, the princess changed her tune. Social importunity having failed, she first demanded money, then began forging Rhodes’s name on promissory notes and, finally, resorted to blackmail.

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