Created by Katherine Jakeways, Apple TV+’s ‘The Buccaneers’ is a period drama series about five American heiresses in search of their happy endings, which usually involve British nobility. These rich, confident and beautiful girls decide to mingle with the Londoners and arrive for their debutante season to claim a title they don’t completely understand. More than the destination, this show is about their journey and what they encounter in the process of adjusting to high society.
With stars like Simone Kirby, Kristine Froseth, Guy Remmers and Matthew Broome stealing the show, it promises unlimited drama, tension, deep conversations and an idea of what life looks like across the ocean. This depiction of bold and unapologetic women in the 1870s is a delight to watch since it surely seems to have a historical context. If we dig deep, we can make sense of the true story behind these American women developing a fascination for Britishers.
All About the Real Dollar Princesses of the Gilded Age
‘The Buccaneers’ is inspired by the last novel Edith Wharton wrote of the same name before her death in 1937. While it was published a year later, it is still referred to as an “unfinished novel,” even if attempts were made to complete it based on the detailed outline Wharton left behind. The novel, just like the series, is set in the 1870s, when Wharton was a young girl, and discusses the exciting events of the time. However, Jakeways revealed that a modern take has been given to the story in the series.
Wharton discusses a time when newly rich American girls decided to rise up in the New York society that had shunned them by marrying British aristocrats, knowing that European titles were the only way to help them build a social status for themselves. The huge amount of money they paid in exchange as dowry to the Englishmen, who were struggling with funds, was worth it for claiming a title. Even if this cultural exchange seemed unheard of at the time, it became a sort of mutual business relationship for both parties who wanted something from the other.
In the series and the novel, all characters and plotlines are entirely fictional, but that doesn’t mean real events haven’t inspired the entire premise. As exciting and out-of-the-world this kind of a relationship between Americans and Britishers may seem, it’s actually inspired by something that happened during this time. Essentially, the events depicted in the series are a reference to the Gilded Age in U.S. history, which was a period between the late 1870s and 1900, between the reconstruction and progressive eras. Renowned writer Mark Twain coined this term to highlight how this period in the late 19th century was glittering and shiny on the surface, even if there were greedy and corrupt people hidden under it.
In the real Gilded Age, as the Americans rejoiced after witnessing sudden economic growth and rise in wages for skilled labor and expansion of industrialization, the British economy suffered a huge setback, especially since the aristocrats didn’t actually do any work. Many young American girls at that point had immense wealth in the family but were not being accepted among the elites in society because they were being associated with “new money.” This problem made them think of the best possible solution, which was to find love elsewhere. This is when they approached the dukes, viscounts and barons with a heavy dowry, with one account holding the American women responsible for providing a billion pounds to the British economy to help them thrive financially while the women got to keep a title.
These women soon began to be called the “dollar princesses” of the Gilded Age. This glamorous exchange became a trend, with even photos and details of still single British aristocrats circling among the ladies who would benefit from this exchange. It didn’t work well for a lot of people since the American women who were used to a certain kind of lifestyle found it hard to adjust to the ways of the Britishers. Even if some relationships didn’t work, this trend did create a wave, with many American women finally getting accepted into the society they craved. Some others went on to create history. For instance, former prime minister Winston Churchill was born as a result of such a match, as the American heiress Jennie Jerome, the daughter of a Wall Street tycoon, got engaged to Lord Randolph Churchill in 1870 amid protests from the family, who soon accepted the idea of plenty of wealth coming their way.
Even Princess Diana, who became the Princess of Wales, was the great-granddaughter of one such “dollar princess,” Frances Ellen Work and Baron Fermoy. They had an unhappy marriage and soon got divorced in 1891 after 11 years of marriage, but not without cementing their roots with the British Royal family. This goes to show that even if ‘The Buccaneers’ might not be based directly on a true story, it has deep connections with a historical trend that ended up impacting both cultures and establishing a relationship between Europeans and Americans whose traces would last for generations to come.
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