'This book is a record of the British upper classes - and a few others - at their best (sometimes their worst), displaying a sort of unhinged blitheness of manner that leads them to say and do strangely unexpected things. It is a quality of incent insolence, or maybe guileless arrogance, which belongs only to the very rich, the very privileged and the very idle.' Consider Lord Hartington, son and heir of the seventh Duke of Devonshire, who contrived to shoot dead a pheasant flying low through a gate and the retriever that was pursuing it, while also peppering (a) the retriever's owner, and (b) the chef from Chatsworth House. When asked if he regretted taking this risky shot, Hartington replied, 'Well of course. If I had killed Chef we'd have had dinner'. Or the first Earl of Durham who, in the early nineteenth century, remarked that 'GBP40,000 a year is a moderate income - such as one man might jog along with.' He was t speaking from experience, his own annual income being a healthy GBP80,000 a year at the time - or between GBP6 million and GBP8 million in today's money.Or the third Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, to whom it was tentatively suggested by his advisers that perhaps employing six chefs was excessive, and one, the pastry cook, might possibly be dispensed with, as an ecomy. The Duke gazed bleakly at his straitened future. 'Can't a chap have a biscuit?' he complained. Patrick Scriver has combed the annals of the British aristocracy to provide an illuminating - and wildly funny - portrait of people who, though often talented in their own fields, courteous and well-meaning, generous and even liberal-minded, ne the less display a certain disconnectedness from the realities that tend to afflict the less elevated echelons of society. The result is clear evidence that what many call 'eccentricity', the more rational would probably describe as 'plain bonkers'.
Born in Palestine, Patrick Scrivenor was brought up in Africa and England and, after studying at Oriel College, Oxford, was commissioned into the army as an infantry officer. Since then he has been a journalist and writer for all his working life. Among his books are In Praise of Male Chauvinism, Egg on Your Interface: A Dictionary of Modern Nonsense, and I Used to Know That: English - stuff you forgot from school. He has co-authored two further books, Hansel Pless: Prisoner of History (a biography of the fourth Prince of Pless), and Cancer Positive: The Role of the Mind in Tackling Cancers.