Characters Julian Fellowes’ Gilded Age Gets Right: William Backhouse Astor, Jr.

Caroline Astor’s husband, William Backhouse Astor, Jr., does not appear in Season 1 of The Gilded Age and that’s exactly why Julian Fellowes gets him right. Her husband preferred to be anywhere Caroline Astor wasn’t, which was a relief to Caroline because he tended to upset her perfectly orchestrated social events by treating guests rudely. He divided his time between Ferncliff (his country home on the Hudson), his yacht, and a place referred to by New Yorkers as “the fleshpots of Florida” where made investments and pursued disreputable women. The Astor marriage was a sham but it worked perfectly. Caroline gushed to friends about how good William was to her (meaning he gave her unlimited access to his fortune, which she employed to position his family at the very pinnacle of the social ladder) and visited Ferncliff just often enough to reassure the public that the couple was, in fact, still a couple. They remained married (happily, Caroline would insist, and no one dared contradict her) until William’s death in 1892.

Note: The Gilded Age airs on Max.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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