After-dinner conversation turned naturally to the family and, inevitably, our mutual grandmother, Kate. ‘I wonder who she really was,’ I said. ‘Nothing seems to make any sense.’ Paul looked at me in surprise. ‘Disraeli …’ he began. It was only then that I remembered some relationship I’d heard about years before in Auckland. ‘She was his mistress?’ I asked, although if I had checked the date on her birth certificate against that of Disraeli’s death I would have seen the impossibility of such a thing. ‘Kate,’ said Paul with absolute certainty, ‘was Disraeli’s daughter.’ Novelist, statesman and renowned wit, Benjamin Disraeli was twice prime minister of Britain and was Queen Victoria’s favourite minister. It was an age of strict outward adherence to Victorian ideas of morality. If, in his domestic existence as the devoted husband of an equally devoted wife, there was a secret, then he needed to keep it hidden. Who better to help in this than his powerful friends, the Rothschilds? The truth remained concealed until, on the other side of the world, an elderly woman as proud of her Jewish heritage as Disraeli had been of his, began gradually to disclose her memories.
Catherine Styles, Benjamin Disraeli’s great-granddaughter, lived for a number of years in France before returning to New Zealand. She has written novels, verse and a major musical for her home country, and has recently completed a translation of Racine’s ‘Phèdre’.