Mrs Catherine Gladstone

'A woman not quite of her time'

Janet Hilderley is the author of Mr Disraeli's "Rattle", the love story of Benjamin Disraeli and Mary Wyndham Lewis as they traversed the politics and social scene of Victorian Britain.

Catherine Glynne was born in 1812, in the same year as Charles Dickens. An earl's daughter she married the son of a self-made merchant, William Ewart Gladstone, who became Queen Victoria's Prime Minister on four occasions. While the Queen and the PM loathed each other, they both loved Catherine, Gladstone’s wife.

After a long and indecisive courtship, Gladstone said of his new wife that my Cathie forever twinkles. Society remarked that her beauty showed a profound intelligence. Catherine loved being in the main stream of action but disliked politicians, fashion and social niceties. Unusual for the time Gladstone was present at the birth of each of their eight children and Catherine insisted on feeding them herself.

Mrs Gladstone’s primary concern was support of the poor – in particular those suffering from cholera, near-starving mill girls and homeless orphans. She established the concept of free convalescent homes and her common-sense influenced the Poor Laws. To maintain her genius for charity she took every opportunity to approach Gladstone's friends for financial support for her good works. In return she found places for her husband's ‘rescue’ women – young girls forced into prostitution as a result of poverty. When her brother's ironworks failed Catherine and her family faced poverty. It was Gladstone’s financial skills that saved the family from bankruptcy. Catherine died on 14th June, 1900.

Pertinent to this biography is the letter the author wrote to the Church Times about the reasons behind the riots in London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, in August 2011. The letter header – “Mrs Gladstone! thou shouldst be living at this hour” – drew attention to a personality who in her time confronted severe social need through community action (the letter text is reproduced on the Press website).

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-898595-55-7
Paperback Price: £14.95 / $24.95
Release Date: October 2012
Page Extent / Format: 224 pp. / 216 x 138 mm
Illustrated: No


Chapter 1. A Meeting, a Marriage and Rising Power
To 1840

Chapter 2. Death of a Daughter, Ladies of the Night and Financial Disaster
The 1840s

Chapter 3. Journey to Naples, King of an Island and
Goodbye to a Sister
The 1850s

Chapter 4. Upsetting Miss Nightingale and Fighting
for Poor Suffering Humanity
Victorian Poverty

Chapter 5. A Loving Wife, a Widowed Queen and
Preparing for Power
The 1860s

Chapter 6. Enter Disraeli, Departing Brothers and a
a Great Political Campaign
The 1870s

Chapter 7. A Time of Change, the Great Courtesans
and a Murder
The 1880s

Chapter 8. Death of a Soldier, Ireland, a Jubilee
and Mrs. Gladstone enters Politics

Chapter 9. Winds of Change and Departure

Chapter 10. Goodbye to Catherine


Beautiful in her youth, Catherine remained handsome into old age but rarely fussed about her appearance. Accustomed to wealth, she lived in a remarkably Spartan fashion though occasionally chafing at Gladstonian penny-pinching. As a well-documented Victorian mater-familias, there is much in her life to confound our unthinking memory of the archetypal Victorian.
... Janet Hilderley’s biography is anecdotal rather than an analytical. It is at its strongest in its description of the courtship, marriage and development of family life. With a personality as significant as William Gladstone’s, there is a danger that any biography of Catherine will be overwhelmed by the doings of her husband. This risk is avoided. Reviewed in the Journal of Liberal History, Winter 2014–15

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