‘Bit of scan­dal’ re­vealed

Central Leader - - NEWS - By EMMA WHIT­TAKER

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.

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Photo: JA­SON OXENHAM

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.

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