Apple TV+’s “The Buccaneers” is based on an unfinished Edith Wharton novel of the same name. Its large cast includes Kristine Froseth, Christina Hendricks, Alisha Boe, and Mia Threapleton and traces a group of young, wealthy American women as they venture across the pond looking for high-class husbands in the 1870s, focusing on the clash between British and American culture and the lives of the young women of that era.
The show’s protagonists and their lives are entirely fictional. However, their tale is based on a real phenomenon that occurred during the late 1800s and early 1900s, when many young American women, flush with new money, traveled across the sea in order to find aristocratic British men to marry. According to History, between the late 19th century and the 1940s, many American heiresses traveled to Britain, offering their wealth to British aristocrats who possessed status, class, and titles but who often were short on funds.
Britain’s aristocracy lost a great deal of money during the Gilded Age, in large part because America began producing its own grain during that time, damaging Britain’s profits from the industry. Meanwhile, many American men were rocketing to financial success in America through various new businesses, though their new-money status often left them without social prominence. A solution, then, was to marry daughters of American wealth to inheritors of British class and status.
Things didn’t always go smoothly for the women sent over to Britain. Many of these women grew up in luxury but found British culture and etiquette stifling and old-fashioned. Their efforts to modernize British society eventually garnered them the nickname “dollar princesses.”
These “dollar princesses” wound up having a clear impact on history in more ways than one. In 1874, an heiress named Jennie Jerome married Lord Randolph Churchill, and the pair wound up having a son named Winston Churchill. Then, in 1880, a stock and railway heiress named Frances Ellen Work married the future Baron Fermoy. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1891, but more than a century later, Work’s great-granddaughter Princess Diana married a then-prince named Charles.
Since then, the lives of these “dollar princesses” have been frequently chronicled on the page and on screen. The show “Downton Abbey” largely focuses on a fictional American heiress Cora Lady Grantham and her marriage to a British aristocrat named Lord Grantham. “The Buccaneers,” which premieres on Nov. 8, is the latest series to detail the adventures of the women who made the trek overseas seeking status and who changed the culture of the British aristocracy forever along the way.