‘Bit of scandal’ revealed
THE Victorian scandal that is Catherine Styles’ family secret stayed quietly tucked away for more than 150 years – until now.
In her autobiography Disraeli’s Daughter she reveals her grandmother Kate was the illegitimate daughter of 19th century English Prime Minister, novelist and close acquaintance of Queen Victoria, Benjamin Disraeli.
‘‘For most of my life I didn’t know. There were hints, but it was a mystery,’’ Catherine says.
‘‘From my mother I’d got the idea Kate had been Disraeli’s mistress.
‘‘I thought, ‘ oh well, that’s nice, it’s a bit of scandal, I’m glad we got up to something in the family’. But if I had looked at the dates I would have realised it was totally impossible.’’
In 1866 Mr Disraeli was married, but childless, and not far off being elected to run the country when he had a relationship with Kate’s mother.
The identity of the woman is still a mystery but the baby girl she gave birth to was given to another family and shuffled out of sight.
Her birth certificate shows her parents were Mr and Mrs Donovan who had 13 children.
‘‘It is possible that she replaced a child who had died and was ascribed the birth certificate.
‘‘In Victorian England with the middle class trying to maintain their standards and the upper class never admitting to anything, they had their ways of dealing with it.’’
Mr Disraeli died when Kate was 15 and some time after it is likely she was asked to pay a visit to a lawyer.
Here she was told money would be set aside for her, but she had to promise secrecy and leave England.
‘‘She pleaded to be allowed to live in Italy which she loved. Her wish was not granted, Europe was a small place and the story would not be safe,’’ Catherine says in her book.
Instead she and her hus- band were sent to Australia before moving to New Zealand and settling in Mt Eden.
Mr Disraeli is known to have had an illegitimate son and historian Stanley Weintraub revealed he had a daughter in an early biography, but this was largely ignored.
With her own mother off the scene for most of her early years Catherine thought the elderly Kate was her mother until she was 8.
‘‘I was brought up like a Victorian. My skirts were always too long and my socks too high,’’ the Mt Eden resident says.
The closeness of the relationship meant Kate confided in Catherine, but she was true to her word and never revealed her secret.
There was a lot about Kate’s life story that seemed out of place given the family she came from.
‘‘My grandmother had quite a privileged upbringing. She learned to play music. It isn’t likely it would have been within the means of Mr Donovan,’’ she says.
‘‘When I was small the bedtime stories she would tell me were about her travels through Europe. Again it doesn’t fit with her upbringing.’’
The most striking anomaly was her religion.
Kate had been brought up in a Catholic family but was a practising Jew. Mr Disraeli was Jewish.
Catherine learned the truth about her grandmother from years.
‘‘Everything suddenly into place,’’ she says.
Catherine’s son Peter has helped her with the research for Disraeli’s Daughter.
‘‘The incredible thing about this is that a certain amount of the information has managed to be contained until today,’’ he says.
‘‘A lot of myths are passed down through families harking back to history and when I heard this I thought, ‘oh yeah?’ But when we started to look back it all fell into place,’’ he says. ‘‘ The resemblance between Kate and Benjamin is quite something. So many quirky little things seeped through and have affected us right up to me,’’ he says.
Victorian secret: Catherine Styles reveals in her autobiography that her grandmother was the illegitimate daughter of a prominent historical figure.
Benjamin Disraeli: The English Prime Minister in 1878.