Sir George Reresby Sitwell, 4th Baronet (27 January 1860 – 9 July 1943) was a British antiquarian writer and Conservative politician who sat in the House of Commons between 1885 and 1895.
Sitwell was born in London, the son of Sir Sitwell Reresby Sitwell, 3rd Baronet and his wife Louisa Lucy Hutchinson, daughter of the Hon. Henry Hely Hutchinson. His father died in 1862 and he succeeded to the baronetcy at the age of two. He was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. He was a lieutenant in the West Yorkshire Yeoman Cavalry.
Sitwell contested Scarborough seven times, losing twice in 1884. He was elected Member of Parliament for the constituency at the 1885 general election, but lost it at the 1886 general election. After regaining the seat in the 1892 general election, he lost it again in the 1895 general election.
A keen antiquarian, Sitwell worked on the Sacheverell papers, and wrote a biography of his ancestor, William Sacheverell and published The Letters of the Sitwells and Sacheverells. His collection of books and papers are said to have filled seven sitting-rooms at the family house, Renishaw Hall, in Derbyshire. He researched genealogy and heraldry, and was a keen designer of gardens (he studied garden design in Italy).
In 1909 he purchased the Castello di Montegufoni, near Florence, then a wreck inhabited by three hundred peasants. Over the next three decades he restored it to its original design, and took up permanent residence there in 1925, writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to explain that taxes had forced him to settle in Italy. He remained in Italy at the outbreak of war, but in 1942 moved to Switzerland and died at Locarno at the age of 83.
Sitwell married, in 1886, Ida Emily Augusta Denison, daughter of William Henry Forester Denison (later 1st Earl of Londesborough). In 1915 he refused to pay off her many creditors, and saw her prosecuted and imprisoned for three months. He was succeeded by his elder son Osbert, who described him vividly in his five-volume autobiography. Sir George's other two children were the writers Edith and Sacheverell Sitwell.
Sir Reresby Sitwell, Bt
Sir Reresby Sitwell, 7th Bt, who died on March 31 aged 81, was the elder and only surviving son of Sir Sacheverell Sitwell, writer, traveller, and a leading figure in 20th-century taste; he inherited the family seat, Renishaw Hall, set in 5,000 acres near Sheffield, from his bachelor uncle, Sir Osbert Sitwell, and cared for it for more than 40 years.
5:56PM BST 31 Mar 2009/ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/5084244/Sir-Reresby-Sitwell-Bt.html
Remarkably the house has had only three owners since 1862. The Sitwells trace their ancestry back to Simon Sitwell in 1301, and in the 14th century the family held lands in the parish of Eckington. They settled at Renishaw in 1626, garrisoning Charles I there during the Civil War. Sir Sitwell Sitwell was created a baronet in 1808 for holding a ball at Renishaw for the Prince of Wales (later George IV).
At Renishaw, Reresby Sitwell found himself steeped in his Sitwellian past. The house owed much to his eccentric grandfather, Sir George, who laid out fine gardens and a 17-acre lake. His extravagant grandmother, Lady Ida, had fallen into debt and into the hands of a blackmailer, and was sentenced to three months in prison for fraud in 1915. Then there had been the tangled web woven by the famous literary trio – Sacheverell (Reresby's father), his elder brother Osbert and their eccentric sister, the poet Dame Edith. Reresby's early life was complicated by the antagonism between Osbert and Sacheverell, due, some believe, to Osbert's never forgiving his brother for marrying, which he judged an act of betrayal.
Set against this backdrop were the talented friends of the Sitwells, who enriched the life of Renishaw: the composer William Walton; the photographer Cecil Beaton (who posed the three Sitwells in the house in many famous photographs); and the artist Rex Whistler. And modern Renishaw is adorned with the finest collection of paintings by John Piper, many of the house and the gardens.
Sacheverell Reresby Sitwell was born at 18 Tite Street, Chelsea, on April 15 1927. He was old enough to remember his eccentric grandparents, Sir George and Lady Ida, who divided their time between Renishaw and Montegufoni, their huge medieval castle in Tuscany. Into the equation of the three Sitwells came Reresby's mother, Georgia Doble, whom Sacheverell had married in 1925 (the other two never married). Georgia was a Canadian and the sister of the actress Frances "Bunny" Doble, later Lindsay-Hogg.
He was christened at Lambeth Palace, and his uncle Osbert wrote that he hoped the boy would "prosper and be a terror to his grandparents, though not to Mother, Father or Uncle". Reresby's parents moved in an interesting set, and his godparents included Zita James (the elder of the two Jungman sisters) and the relentless hostess Mrs Ronald Greville, of Polesden Lacey. He was to resent the fact that Mrs Greville left him only £500 in her will – while Princess Margaret, who was not a god-daughter, was bequeathed £20,000. (Mrs Greville had a penchant for giving to the rich.)
As was customary in upper-class households in those days, Reresby's childhood involved being left with his nanny or deposited with grandparents and relations for long periods, while sometimes his parents failed to make the correct arrangements for him as they swanned about the world with their rich friends. He was miserable at his prep school, Sandroyd, and nearly ran away, and he was not much happier at Eton. His bad reports enraged his father. who then chased him round the kitchen, brandishing a furled umbrella.
Nevertheless, he surprised his parents by winning a scholarship in Medieval History to King's College, Cambridge. Before taking it up, however, he joined the Army for three years. He undertook his National Service in the Grenadier Guards, serving two years with the 2nd Battalion in occupied Western Germany.
In 1943 Reresby had been the main beneficiary of his grandfather's will, causing further squabbles over inheritance within the family and some disquiet amongst the Sitwell siblings. Relations with his parents deteriorated when his Cambridge career failed to burgeon. He switched subjects, and when even English Literature (taught by the celebrated Dadie Rylands) failed to inspire him, he came down from the university without a degree.
From 1948 to 1963 he worked in advertising and public relations and for some years operated a vending-machine business. In 1964 he went into the wine trade, and in 1972 planted his own vineyard at Renishaw. He made two rare excursions into writing, collaborating with John Julius Norwich and A Costa on an illustrated record of Mount Athos, and writing a small book about his family, Renishaw Hall and the Sitwells, published in 2001.
Further trouble arose over his marriage. At one stage Sitwell had taken a job at Fortnum & Mason, where he met Penelope Forbes, the stunningly beautiful daughter of Colonel Donald Forbes, DSO, and a niece of the Earl of Granard. Her father had been killed in a car accident when she was 12, and she had been left with little income. She too was also working at Fortnum's, and Reresby's parents (and, in particular, his difficult mother) put every possible obstacle in the way of their marriage.
Nevertheless, Reresby had found a bride, who, in the words of his father's biographer, Sarah Bradford, was "a woman of strong personality" and "precisely the character he needed to provide the support which had not always been forthcoming from his mother". The couple were forced to marry from the bride's aunt's house in Paris in 1952, while Sacheverell and Georgia were safely away in Chicago. On hearing the news, Georgia Sitwell began to wage war against Reresby and his new wife, instructing their friends not to give them wedding presents or invite them to their houses.
This situation continued for five years, after which there was a sort of truce. The young Sitwells spent Christmas with Sacheverell and Georgia at their Northamptonshire home, Weston Hall, and a reconciliation seemed to be cemented by the birth of Reresby and Penelope's only child, Alexandra, who was born in the following March.
In the autumn of 1965 Sir Osbert Sitwell handed Renishaw over to Reresby and retreated to Montegufoni, in order to avoid death duties. Reresby and Penelope were to run it for 44 years, and this became the cause of further difficulties with his parents, who felt excluded – a situation that was exacerbated by problems concerning the breaking and division of the Weston Trust.
Nor were relations helped when Osbert cut his brother, Sacheverell, out of his will. Georgia Sitwell had anticipated inheriting Montegufoni, and hardly was Osbert dead than she began to invite guests there. When she was told it had gone to Reresby, she spent a week in the London Clinic suffering from depression.
Meanwhile, although Reresby engaged international lawyers to protect his interests, in a letter to his father he wrote of his "sadness about all the misunderstandings, the bitterness, the wasted talents, the squandered assets and sheer follies that have sundered us all". Only after Georgia's death, in 1980, was there a full reconciliation between father and son, although Sitwell feuds were destined to continue. Reresby and his younger brother, Francis, were never in harmony.
In the years that followed, Reresby and Penelope Sitwell ran Renishaw as a home for family and friends, holding magnificent weekend parties. When they moved in, there had been neither electricity nor central heating, and the gardens were in a state of dismal neglect. Penelope set about restoring the gardens, and organising the estate into a striking landscape of ordered spaces and wild woodland.
Reresby loved his Sitwell ancestry, and enjoyed relating tales of neighbouring figures such as the Duke of Portland and the many extraordinary figures who had peopled his life. He was a superb custodian of Renishaw, of which he loved every stone, and to which he admitted the general public for a few days of the week at certain times of the year. He was equally delighted to show it to interested visitors so long as they applied in writing. (In Sitwellian tradition, he was less keen on those who appeared unannounced.)
Recently he opened a performing arts gallery in the stable block in the grounds. This included a costume gallery and a museum of Sitwell memorabilia. He staged annual exhibitions celebrating the memory of those who had played a part in the house, such as Beaton and Rex Whistler. In the summer of 2007 he displayed a collection of wartime memorabilia, including Field Marshal Montgomery's pyjamas, Goering's cufflinks, Mussolini's cigarette case and the swastika-covered nightdress of Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress. He owned and frequently lent to exhibitions his many works by John Piper.
Reresby Sitwell served as High Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1983-84, and was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Derbyshire in 1984. He was a Freeman of the City of London, and a member of the Society of Dilettanti. In 2004 he received an honorary doctorate from Sheffield University as a celebrated patron of the arts and culture and for making Renishaw Hall so accessible to the public.
Renishaw is now inherited by his daughter, Alexandra, while George Sitwell, elder son of his late brother Francis, succeeds in the baronetcy. Penelope Sitwell survives him.
Great dynasties of the world: The Sitwells
Ian Sansom on an English clan famous for their eccentricity
Saturday 7 May 2011 00.05 BST / http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/may/07/edith-sitwell-great-dynasties-ian-sansom
In The English Eccentrics (1933), Edith Sitwell claimed that "Eccentricity exists particularly in the English, and partly, I think, because of that peculiar and satisfactory knowledge of infallibility that is the hallmark and birthright of the British nation. This eccentricity, this rigidity, takes many forms." And no more eccentric and more rigid a form, one might add, than in the Sitwell family itself.
The Sitwells made their fortune in the 16th and 17th centuries, from landowning and iron-making. They made nails and saws, and built themselves a grand gothic pile on the proceeds – Renishaw Hall, on the edge of Chesterfield in Derbyshire. (Renishaw was the model for Wragby Hall in DH Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover – a "dirty and completely worthless book", pronounced Edith.) In 1808, Sitwell Sitwell – so good they named him twice – held a lavish ball for the Prince of Wales, and bagged himself a baronetcy in return. The Sitwells had made it: they had money, a house and a title. They were also soon to achieve fame and notoriety.
Sitwell Sitwell's great-grandson, Sir George Reresby Sitwell, the fourth baronet, married Ida Emily Augusta Denison, in 1886, and they had three children: Osbert (1892-1969), Sacheverell (1897-1988), and Edith (1887-1964). "They weren't parents I would recommend to anybody," remarked Edith of Lady Ida and Sir George. "I don't believe there is another family in England who have had parents like ours." She was probably right.
Sir George, according to the biographer Victoria Glendinning, "did not like real life, because it disrupted his inner reverie of the past; so he avoided it, by illness, oddness, and self-imposed isolation". He spent most of his time with his devoted butler, Henry Moat, writing unpublishable books (including A Short History of the Fork and Acorns As An Article of Medieval Diet) and thinking about gardens. If Sir George was merely eccentric and remote, Lady Ida was all too horribly present.
"There was something very seriously wrong," wrote Edith. Indeed. Edith never forgave her mother for making her wear an iron back brace and a nose-truss as a child, in order to straighten out her posture and her features. It wasn't until after Lady Ida was released from Holloway after her imprisonment for fraud in 1915 that there was any thawing of relations between the two.
Edith escaped Renishaw and went with her governess to live in London, where she wore turbans and jewellery, and wrote poetry, including Façade (1922), a spoken-word piece set to music by William Walton, in which Edith intoned the lines through a megaphone, concealed behind a curtain. Edith was fabulously rude, a great enthusiast, and madly in love with the Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchew, who preferred boys. Dame Edith makes Lady Gaga look tame, frankly: in a good biopic she would be played by Meryl Streep, with a prosthetic nose, and an accent.
Osbert – Alfred Molina, perhaps? – became the de facto Sitwell family chronicler in his many volumes of autobiography, beginning with Left Hand Right Hand! (1945), and ending, eventually, with Tales My Father Taught Me (1962). Sacheverell, the youngest, the mildest and most benign of the trio – Kenneth Branagh? – was also determined to "leave a mark of some sort or kind", and duly wrote more than 100 books. Neither Osbert nor Edith married or had children.
Osbert's companion was a man named David Horner: the two spent much of their time at the Sitwell's castle, Montegufoni, near Florence. Sacheverell Sitwell's son, Reresby, inherited Renishaw, and seems to have been delightfully sane. He died in 2009. His daughter Alexandra is the current owner of the house, which one might rightly describe as the ancestral home of the English eccentric.
At home with art and beauty: Lee Marshall heads to Tuscany to stay in the castle once owned by the Sitwell family
LEE MARSHALL Tuesday 19 July 1994 / http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/at-home-with-art-and-beauty-lee-marshall-heads-to-tuscany-to-stay-in-the-castle-once-owned-by-the-sitwell-family-1414723.html
We arrived just as night was falling, having taken the scenic route from Rome. Encouraged by hunger and the failing light, we had
already identified two hill-top castles which just had to be Montegufoni. Neither was. I had a vision of us following curves into eternity, in the Dantean circle reserved for unrepentant motor tourists.
All of a sudden, there it was: the unmistakable profile of the tower of the Palazzo
Vecchio. Now I really was
hallucinating: what was Florence's landmark doing on a cypress-strewn hill 25km south-west of the city?
'The story was,' writes Osbert Sitwell in his autobiography, 'that an owner of the castle in the 13th century had publicly sworn that if a certain favour were granted by St Anthony, he would never live out of sight of the Palazzo
He obtained his desire, but since he was greatly devoted to his country estate, sought to avoid the payment of his oath by constructing at Monte-gufoni this counterfeit.'
A far grander but no more reliable car than our clapped-out Fiat broke down on this very curve one summer evening in 1909, after taking a wrong turn on the road from Florence to Siena.
Among the tourists forced to cool their heels were Sir George Sitwell and an Italian 'baron' who was also, Osbert tells us, a fairweather estate agent and vendor of fake medieval tapestries.
How strange that the breakdown should have occurred beneath the terraced ramparts of the castle of the Acciaiuoli, a Tuscan family which achieved brief prominence as the Dukes of Athens in the 13th century (it was in their demesne that Shakespeare set A Midsummer Night's Dream). And how fortuitous that this imposing property should just happen to be on the market.
Sir George was hooked. He wrote at once to his son Osbert, then 16: 'You will be interested to hear that I am buying in your name the
Castle of Acciaiuoli (pronounced Accheeyawly) between Florence and Siena. . .We shall be able to grow our own fruit, wine, oil - even champagne] The roof is in splendid order, and the drains can't be wrong, as there aren't any.
'I do hope, my dear Osbert, that you will prove worthy of what I am trying to do for you, and will not pursue that miserable career of extravagance and selfishness which has already once ruined the family.'
Osbert comments wryly: 'This letter puzzled me, for I was not conscious of having been extravagant.
'I had not bought a castle big enough for 300 people. I was not proposing to make my own champagne.'
Montegufoni passed out of the Sitwell family's hands in 1972 and it has since become a hotel. On the evening we arrived, the place seemed empty: the austere stone-flagged courtyard preserved its air of forlorn grandeur and in the corner stood the castle well which had yielded a woman's skeleton during restoration work, much to Sir George's delight.
Having made it up to the castle and looking for some sign of life, we wandered through a deserted hall.
There was a banqueting table beneath a vaguely rococo frescoed ceiling, difficult to make out in the twilight - except for the eyes of a vigilant owl. Out on the patio, the mingled scent of wisteria and black roses rising from the terraced garden below was overpowering.
We were saved by the restaurant. An unmarked door giving on to the gravel path concealed a cosy, family-run trattoria. The young and only waitress spoke broad Tuscan and nothing else.
Cosimo Posarelli, who owns and runs the hotel together with his father, says most visitors are not Sitwell groupies but families in search of a relaxing holiday in romantic surroundings. The castle is divided into 17 self-catering apartments, most of which retain original furnishings and wall or ceiling fres-coes. They range in size from La Galleria, incorporating the Sitwells' former living-room and occupying a whole wing, to the aptly-named Il Camino (the chimney).
Because each flat has a separate entrance, the castle tends to feel empty even in the high season. And if it does get crowded, there's always the garden.
The plants Osbert mentions in his autobiography are still here: ranunculus asiaticus, which flowers 'with a feathery lolling fullness that was altogether lacking in the north', verbena and plumbago, and of course the lemon trees, planted in rows in enormous, ancient terracotta pots bearing the Acciaiuoli crest of greyhound and lion rampant. The only addition since the Sitwell
occupancy is a good-sized swimming pool.
Below the double staircase which leads down to the first of the terraced lawns is a shell-covered grotto with 18th-century statuary. In a fresco above, the same owl I had noticed in the entrance hall gazed down from an allegorical scene. This is another Acciaiuoli trademark: the tawny owl, attribute of Athene, evidently reminded the family of its glory days in Athens. It finds an echo even in the name of the castle: Montegufoni means Big Owl Mountain.
The owl appears in other frescoes dotted around the castle, including a delightful Commedia dell'Arte scene painted in 1921 by Italian futurist Gino Severini.
In the best Renaissance tradition, Severini painted his patrons into the composition: Osbert is a mandolin-strumming harlequin stepping nonchalantly out of the frame, contemplating art and beauty through half-closed eyes. After a week at Monte-gufoni, you begin to see his point. Getting there:
VISITOR'S FACT FILE
Montegufoni is 25km south-west of Florence on the Castelfiorentino road. From Florence airport, follow the A1 motorway southbound as far as the Firenze Certosa turn-off; follow signs to Galluzzo and then Montespertoli. A hired car is recommended, as local bus services are infrequent.
Apartments: Montegufoni is open from March to October. Apartments are rented by the week, Saturday to Saturday. High Season (July-August) prices range from more than pounds 1,000 per week for the sumptuous La Galleria (sleeps eight) to pounds 300 per week for the humbler Il Camino (sleeps two). The low season is up to 20. per cent cheaper.
Bookings can be made directly with
Sergio Posarelli, Castello di Montegufoni, 50020 Montagnana Val di Pesa (FI),
Italy (010 39 571 671131, fax 010 39 571 671514).