The life-story of Lady Lucy Houston DBE must surely be one of the most romantic and dramatic epics of the last one hundred and fifty years, yet nowadays she is a woman unknown. She was a renowned beauty with a sharp intelligence, and over the years she would exploit her charismatic charm, first as a teenager to entice a wealthy lover, and subsequently to lead three husbands to the altar.
She was an ardent and productive campaigner for women’s rights, conducting outstanding works of charity during the Great War, such as providing a convalescent home for nurses returning from the front line. In recognition of these endeavours, she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1917. After the death of her third husband, a known misogynist, ‘under mysterious circumstances’, she was temporarily certified mad, but his Will was to make her the richest woman in England.
During the rest of her eventful and eccentric lifetime, she spent her fortune on a vast number of charitable causes, whilst waging a feisty political campaign against weak British politicians of all parties. As a great admirer of how Mussolini had restored Italy’s patriotic self-esteem, she championed men like Winston Churchill as the future saviour of her own beloved country. But her greatest legacy arose from her steadfast support for the Royal Air Force, whose finances were being crippled. She funded the 1931 Schneider Trophy Race as well as the Houston-Mount Everest Expedition of 1933. This funding had a crucial bearing on the development of the Merlin engine and the Spitfire aircraft, essentially kick starting the chain of events that would ultimately end in allied victory during the Battle of Britain. She died before the cataclysmic war that she so accurately predicted however, her death being precipitated by an infatuation with Edward, Prince of Wales.
In spite of her many eccentricities, the enchanting, infuriating, inspiring and endlessly controversial Lucy Houston deserves to be remembered as a very patriotic lady indeed.