The intriguing tale of a trailblazing, women's rights activist who married the youngest son and heir to a vast family fortune may be of great interest to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Not only does the relationship between Katharine and Stanley McCormick draw the odd parallel with their own, but the royal couple's new Santa Barbara home is built on what was once McCormick family land.

The fabled 87-acre estate in Montecito, California, boasts a fascinating history - the place where Stanley McCormick was confined for 40 years due to mental illness, while a string of eminent psychiatrists were employed in a desperate, but ultimately fruitless, bid to cure him.

The 19th-century family saga is documented in the 1998 novel Riven Rock by American author TC Boyle, which once featured in an episode of The Sopranos.

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The Sussexes are, of course, hoping for a rather more fulfilling life at the sprawling, nine-bedroom property that they have chosen to be their long-term home.

Snapped up in June for the relatively bargain price of $14.6 million (NZ$22.3m), the couple, who have a significant mortgage, spent much time researching the area and are hoping to lead as normal a life there as possible.

The main house, built in 2003, lies beyond a "grand archway of trees" and has no fewer than 13 full bathrooms and six "half bathrooms", not to mention a five-car garage, cinema, games room, spa, sauna and wine cellar.

Outside, the property has the requisite swimming pool and tennis court but also lays claim to 100 century-old olive trees, rose gardens, an orchard featuring orange, lemon and almond trees and an organic vegetable garden.

The yoga-loving couple will have been drawn to a Japanese-style teahouse perched alongside a koi pond that one estate agent described as the perfect "meditation or yoga spot". The pond marks the end of a manmade stream that "meanders through much of the property".

Their one-year-old son Archie will revel in the huge climbing frame structure and "children's cottage" - a miniature apartment with its own bathroom and kitchen - while a two-bedroom guest house is ideal for Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland, or their security detail.

The property was last sold for $25m in 2009. It was unsuccessfully listed for sale six years later at the vastly inflated price of $34.5m.

In 2017, it was up for sale again at nearly $23m. Last April, it was back on the market at $17m before being relisted for the same price in January.

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The 7.83-acre property sits upon just a small corner of what was once the "Riven Rock" estate where Stanley McCormick, dubbed the "mad millionaire", was confined from the age of 34 until his death at 72.

Stanley, born in 1874, was the youngest son of Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the mechanical grain reaper that revolutionised agriculture.

In 1904, he married Katharine Dexter, the second woman ever to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who had harboured dreams of becoming a doctor.

But just two years into their marriage, his mental health had deteriorated to such an extent that he was sent to the family's Santa Barbara mansion, a "gilded cage" run by medical staff who provided round-the-clock care.

Among the various experts hired by the family to help him was behavioral scientist Dr Gilbert Van Tassel Hamilton, who created his own primate laboratory at Riven Rock as he worked to find a cure for his client's symptoms of schizophrenia and dementia.

According to Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, money was ploughed into finding comfort for Stanley McCormick. A nine-hole golf course was constructed, a musical director hired, a theatre was built for live performances and a large art collection was acquired.

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His wife, meanwhile, was prevented from contact with her violent husband, often reduced to crouching in bushes and watching him with binoculars.

She devoted herself to women's rights and became a high-ranking leader in the suffragette movement. Later, she turned her attention to the birth control movement, buying thousands of illegal diaphragms and personally smuggling them into the US.

Riven Rock's main house was razed after an earthquake in 1925 and the estate was broken up. The oak after which it was named died several years ago.