The Gilded Age: The real women of 19th Century New York Society unveiled

The Gilded Age is the latest period drama from the mind of Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. This time, the story is set in New York and revolves around the social standings of the upper class with many at loggerheads as new neighbours start to move in. has everything you need to know about the inspirational real-life figures behind The Gilded Age characters.

WARNING: This article contains spoilers from The Gilded Age.

The Gilded Age was the prosperous years following the American Civil War where many financially flourished thanks to the industrial boom.

However, this caused issues for many as it became a story of New Money rising to the top and Old Money resenting their presence in New York society.

The characters in The Gilded Age may be fictional but writer Julian Fellowes did get his inspiration from real people.

In fact, the drama’s main rivalry sounds very similar to that of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor and Alva Vanderbilt.

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The Gilded Age sees how Agnes van Rhijn (played by Christine Baranski) deals with Bertha Russell (Carrie Coon) joining her social circle.

While Bertha married the son of a merchant family to get to where she is, Agnes is a proud aristocrat who doesn’t like her presence.

Much like Agnes, real-life American socialite Caroline Schermerhorn Astor was an avid supporter of Old Money being best.

She was deemed the leader of the New York society for four decades and determined who was “in” and “out”.

Mrs Astor drew up a list of who could be part of the inner circle which famously became known as the Four Hundred.

If you were invited to her annual ball which was held on the third Monday in January, then you were socially accepted by her but if not, then you were considered an outcast.

She was reportedly sharp-tongued and not one to hold back when it comes to the class divide, once stating: “I buy my carpets from them [shopkeepers], but is that any reason why I should invite them in to walk on them?”

While Agnes’ rival in The Gilded Age is Bertha, Mrs Astor’s was Alva Vanderbilt.

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Alva had married into the Vanderbilt railway fortune which was first-generation money.

Her husband William K. Vanderbilt was the grandson of founder Cornelius and when he died, the family was eager to move up in the world with the help of their wealth.

Agnes did not welcome Alva into New York society until 1883 when she was getting ready to hold a lavish Olympian-themed party with around 1,200 people on the guest list, as a housewarming party.

As a result, Alva was added to the Four Hundred list of who’s who in New York.

Agnes reportedly stated at the time: “We have no right to exclude those whom the growth of this great country has brought forward, provided they are not vulgar in speech and appearance. The time has come for the Vanderbilts.”

The Gilded Age season one is going to be made up of 10 episodes in total.

New episodes will be shown weekly with American fans being able to catch up every Monday and UK viewers the following day.

The Gilded Age is available to watch on HBO in America and Sky Atlantic in the UK. The series is also ready to watch on streaming service NOW.

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