When British documentary producer Catherine Bailey began looking through family archives at Belvoir Castle, she was searching for information about the men from the area who served in World War I, including the 9th Duke of Rutland. What she didn’t find surprised her. Not only did she find few letters from the war, surprising for a family who wrote each other and others often, but the letters were missing from two other periods—when John Manners, later the 9th Duke, was nine years old and in 1909, when he was serving the ambassador in Rome.
Soon, Bailey learned that Manners spent the last days of his life, when he was dying of pneumonia, working among the archives in the room, that he died there, and that the rooms had been locked up ever since he died. It became clear that he was destroying correspondence and other papers. Further, she learned that the rooms had been broken into shortly after his death, the thief being identified later as John’s mistress, Hilda Lezard.
Bailey realized that without the letters for World War I, she could not complete her original project. However, she then decided to try to find out what happened during those three periods of the Duke’s life that he wanted hidden.
The result is a story as fascinating as any mystery novel. Although the entire truth of these periods will never be known—in particular, exactly what happened to the Duke’s brother Haddon when they were boys—the search is as interesting as any modern crime story. The truth involves cruelty, duplicity, and a completely unscrupulous parent.
The Secret Rooms is an entertaining and interesting book. I highly recommend it.