Skip to main content

Season 2/Episode 4, “His Grace the Duke”

Bertha angles for position with the visiting Duke of Buckingham. With Marian’s help, Ada continues to see Mr. Forte. Peggy travels to Alabama and meets Booker T. Washington. Mr. Russell is confronted by angry critics of his labor practices.

Mansions & Gardens Featured

In this Episode…

Image 1_Gilded Age Season2_Ep4_kelley-curran_1
Mrs. Winterton reads some shocking news. (Photograph by Barbara Nitke/HBO)

☞ Several historical publications frame the action of this week’s episode. Mrs. Russell poses for a sketch for The Daily Graphic, which Agnes Van Rhijn was reading in last week’s episode. This week, Mrs. Van Rhijn mentions a recipe for lamb published in The Ladies’ Home Journal, which had just begun its run as an independent publication that year. Bertha Russell learns that gossip about her son Larry and his client, Mrs. Blane, has been reported in a Newport newspaper, probably either the Newport Mercury or The Newport Daily News. Finally, various characters react to the news in The New York Times, the Sun and Town Topics that the Russells will host the Duke of Buckingham at their home in Newport.

The Duke of Buckingham and Bertha Russell (Photograph by Barbara Nitke/HBO)

☞ The introduction of the Duke of Buckingham into the show brings to mind a recurring story during the Gilded Age: the courtship of European aristocracy by wealthy Americans. The best-known example is the matchmaking done by Alva Vanderbilt between her daughter Consuelo and the Duke of Marlborough; Alva got her wish, which was to integrate her family with the British aristocracy, but for Consuelo the result was an unhappy marriage.

Others in Newport also competed for the privilege and prestige of hosting European aristocrats and royals, including Herminie Berwind of The Elms. In 1907, Prince Willhelm of Sweden visited Newport as part of his naval rotation. Many of Newport’s society women grasped at the chance to host the prince. The winner of this social sprint would have had to prove that they have mastered the protocol for entertaining at the highest level. Ultimately, Mrs. Berwind won and was a hostess of a ball in the prince’s honor.


☞ Kingscote again appears as Susan Blane’s Newport home, and The Elms kitchen as the kitchen in the Russells’ New York mansion. (Photograph by Barbara Nitke/HBO)

☞ Television speeds up journeys that would have been much more arduous in the 19th century than today. Susan Blane travels from Newport to New York and back over the course of an episode, as we often see characters do. This trip would have involved both trains and sea travel. Travelers could go by rail to Providence, then to Fall River to connect with the Old Colony railroad to Newport, or stop in Kingston to transfer to a stagecoach, then take a series of ferries. Beginning in 1871, the Newport and Wickford Railroad and Steamboat Company, founded by wealthy investors that included Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his brother Frederick, ran three and a half miles from the Wickford Junction railroad station to the port of Wickford for transfer to steamboat.


Booker T. Washington greets T. Thomas Fortune and Peggy Scott in Tuskegee. (Photograph by Barbara Nitke/HBO)
Booker T. Washington greets T. Thomas Fortune and Peggy Scott in Tuskegee. (Photograph by Barbara Nitke/HBO)
Booker T. Washington was the first principal at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, a secondary school for African Americans.

☞ A much longer journey by train is taken by Peggy Scott and T. Thomas Fortune to Tuskegee, Alabama, to meet Booker T. Washington, one of the most significant figures of 19th-century America. A brilliant mind in his own right, he used his genius to help countless African American men and women learn skills that would advance their pursuits of employment, as well as narrow the racial disparity in this country. Although this episode just scratches the surface of Washington as an individual, it does capture the monumentality of what he was trying to accomplish in the founding of the Tuskegee Institute, then known as the Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers, in 1881.

Image 6_Jane Addams

☞ The headmistress of Marian’s school asks her to teach classes for lower-class girls, a program inspired by the work of Jane Addams (1860-1935). Addams was early in her illustrious career at the time of this episode, in 1883. Six years later she co-founded Chicago’s Hull House. Later in life she co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union and in 1931 she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

☞ The scene depicting a ladies’ maid (Mrs. Bruce) and a chef (M. Baudin) in the parlor of a Gilded Age mansion would have been a wholly uncommon occurrence. Domestic staff would not be permitted, nor would they feel they had the right, to be in spaces such as this, whether the lady of the house were present or not.

Cartoon Pullman crushing worker

☞ The unflattering newspaper cartoon of George Russell crushing the laborers who work for him between “Low Wages” and “Foul Conditions” was typical of the time. This very similar cartoon from 1894 shows railroad car magnate George Pullman crushing an employee between “Low Wages” and “High Rent.” Satirical cartoons depicted the growing inequalities and polarization of America through an economic lens. In other words, these caricatures showed the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

☞ Mr. Russell hires Pinkerton & Co. to protect his company during the upcoming strike. Pinkerton had been founded several decades earlier and was often involved in operations against organized labor in the United States. Russell’s assistant Mr. Clay mentions getting strikebreakers, or “scabs” – outsiders recruited to do the work of striking workers. The conversation suggests that conflicts between the Pinkertons, scabs and striking workers will likely turn violent.

More Episode Guides

Additional Visitor Info

Partners in Preservation

BartlettLogo_white BNP-white