Friday, 27 March 2015

Jeanne Stourton, the wicked Lady Camoys

Julia Maria Cristina Mildred Camoys Stonor (born 19 April 1939) is the eldest daughter of Sherman Stonor, 6th Baron Camoys by his wife Jeanne Stourton. She is best known for her books about her family, exposing long-suppressed family scandals and her claims to be the rightful heir to the Camoys barony.

Julia Camoys Stonor was born Julia Maria Christina Mildred Stonor, the eldest daughter and first child of Ralph Robert WattsSherman Stonor, 6th Baron Camoys of Stonor Park and Newport, Rhode Island, USA (1913–1976), by his wife (Mary) Jeanne Stourton (1913–1987). Her mother's maternal grandfather was Thomas Southwell, 4th Viscount Southwell. According to Julia Stonor, the Spanish aristocrat Pedro de Zulueta was her mother's father.

Legally, Jeanne Stourton's maternal grandfather, was the paternal grandson of Charles Stourton, 19th Baron Stourton. Jeanne Stourton's great-uncle the 20th Lord Stourton succeeded as 20th Baron Stourton in 1872, and as 23rd Baron Mowbray & 24th Baron Segrave in 1878 when those baronies (last held by Edward Howard, 9th Duke of Norfolk) were called out of abeyance 101 years after his death in 1777.

Stonor is the author of Sherman's Wife: A Wartime Childhood Among the English Aristocracy, a rather scandalous memoir of her controversial mother Jeanne, Lady Camoys. She is currently at work on the second part of her memoirs, Sherman's Daughter. In the first book, she described her half-Spanish half-English mother, who was fathered by a Spanish aristocrat, and whose lover died in the Spanish Civil War on Franco's side. Stonor alleged in the book that her mother was an ardent Nazi sympathizer, and had been the lover of several men including Joachim von Ribbentrop and her own father-in-law. More controversially, she argued that her mother Jeanne had murdered her husband Lord Camoys (who died in 1976) and that Lady Camoys had been murdered by her younger son Honourable Robert Camoys (died 1994).

In later years, Stonor has claimed that she is the only legitimate child of her parents; her mother's other four children, including the present Lord Camoys, being illegitimate and biologically unrelated to Sherman Stonor. Thus, she has argued that she is the rightful heir to the Camoys barony.

She is an active supporter of several charities, including Exiled Writers Ink!, and has worked as a freelance writer, author, human rights activist, volunteer, and charity-supporter.

Julia Maria Cristina Mildred Camoys Stonor
19 April 1939 (age 75)
Occupation     Writer
Known for      "I Know Myself To Be Without Fred"
Notable work  Sherman's Wife: A Wartime Childhood Among the English Aristocracy
Religion          Catholic
Relatives         Sherman Stonor, 6th Baron Camoys
Thomas Southwell, 4th Viscount Southwell
Charles Stourton, 19th Baron Stourton

Heil Hitler and pants orf! How the bisexual, Nazi-loving aristocrat called up countless lovers into action, reveals her DAUGHTER
PUBLISHED: 22:00 GMT, 7 December 2012 | UPDATED: 10:05 GMT, 8 December 2012

Heil Hitler!’ shouted Mummy as she pushed Daddy down the stairs at Stonor Park, our ancestral home in Oxfordshire.
Standing terrified in the hallway below, I watched as my father, the Honourable Sherman Stonor, heir to the 5th Baron Camoys and a descendant of Sir Thomas de Camoys, Henry V’s standard-bearer at the Battle of Agincourt, picked himself up off the floor and dusted down his khaki army uniform.
My mother stared at him, her scarlet finger nails glittering and a lit cigarette clinging perilously to her clenched lips.
 ‘You’re totally useless and the sooner I’m rid of you the better,’ she yelled. ‘Get the hell out of here.’
At that, my father made his way out of the tradesmen’s entrance and back to the dangers of World War II, leaving behind the perpetual battlefield that was life with my mother Jeanne.
Surely one of the most eccentric characters ever to have graced, or rather disgraced, the pages of Debrett’s Peerage, my mother was an ardent Nazi sympathiser who seduced Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, drove Cecil Beaton’s brother Reggie to suicide, and slept with Hitler’s henchman Joachim von Ribbentrop.
And all that was before she openly cuckolded my father with a string of lovers, insisting throughout my childhood that I should include this ever-growing list of ‘Uncles’ in my nightly prayers.
That drama on the stairs was just one of many colourful episodes during my upbringing at Stonor Park, the stately home near Henley-on-Thames which has been in my family for more than 850 years and where my mother once entertained British and European royalty and leading lights of the day including Benjamin Britten, John Betjeman and Graham Greene.
They accepted her hospitality at a price. She was once described by her friend John Mortimer as ‘a great beauty’ but ‘endlessly quarrelsome and singularly unforgiving’ and this was certainly true when it came to her treatment of my father.
Bit on the side: SS general Joachim von Ribbentrop was the lover of Lady Camoys, with her very obviously having an affair more than likely with her husband knowing
Bit on the side: SS general Joachim von Ribbentrop was the lover of Lady Camoys, with her very obviously having an affair more than likely with her husband knowing
She tolerated his presence only so far as was necessary to satisfy the craving for money and social standing which stemmed from her impoverished childhood.
Her mother Frances Stourton was an army major’s wife, deserted by her callous husband when he discovered that she was sleeping with a dashing Spanish diplomat named Don Pedro de Zulueta — but not before he had embezzled her substantial inheritance. My mother was the result of that liaison. Born in London in 1913, she was brought up by Feckless Fanny, as she called her mother, in a flat above a butcher’s shop.
Although she never forgave my grandmother for the reduced circumstances into which she was born, she was immensely proud of her aristocratic blood, her father coming from a family of Castilian grandees.
She often proclaimed that she was ‘an aristo Spanish bastard’ and soon exploited her exotic beauty, seducing wealthy beaux including department store tycoon Gordon Selfridge, 47 years her senior.
This secured her an entree into fashionable London society where she found what promised to be a lucrative source of income in the form of sexual blackmail.
One of her targets was society photographer Cecil Beaton’s younger brother Reggie, an RAF officer whom she knew to be gay. They were supposedly friends but when they met for dinner one evening in October 1933 she threatened to reveal his homosexuality unless he agreed to meet her for tea the next day and hand over a large sum in cash.
Later that night Reggie jumped to his death in front of a London Underground train. Far from showing remorse, my mother let it be known that she would tell the Beatons’ mother the reason for his suicide unless Cecil let her sit for him.
The result, a beautifully composed portrait by the most celebrated photographer of the day, confirmed her status as ‘one of society’s loveliest girls’ as one newspaper described her, and in 1935 she caught the eye of Barbara Hutton who employed her as her social secretary. Vulnerable and gullible, ‘my own darlin’ Barbara’, as my mother called her, was then on the second of her seven husbands.
Her third would be Cary Grant, one of the biggest heart-throbs of the era, but she is also said to have taken various female lovers, including Greta Garbo. This made her an easy target for my mother, who flirted her way into her bed and remained there as long as it took to secure various magnificent gifts, including a diamond and ruby brooch, and a watch studded with sapphires and emeralds, both from Cartier.

“My grandmother refused to attend my parents' marriage, weeping with what proved justified concern for her son”

Alongside her penchant for money and expensive jewellery, my mother had a life-long obsession with uniforms and medals and she was inevitably drawn to Hitler’s henchman Count Joachim von Ribbentrop when he was appointed the German ambassador to Britain in 1936. They soon embarked on an affair.
Among certain elements of the English Catholic hierarchy there was a growing conviction that Nazism offered a bulwark against the evils of communism. This view was shared by my mother who took to ending her sentences with the words ‘Heil Hitler and olé!’. The blood-lust and violent glamour of a man like von Ribbentrop, cruelly resplendent in his black and silver SS uniform and jackboots, only added to his appeal.
‘Such divine blue eyes and much, much else in the vital parts,’ she would reminisce, but Von Ribbentrop was already married and could never offer her the wealth and place in society to which she aspired.
For that, she turned to my father, a fellow Catholic. Two months younger than her, he was a naive and gentle man, an ardent ecologist who loved to make and fly his own kites. His family was understandably worried when my mother set her cap at him.
That she had little genuine affection for my father was clear when, dining at Stonor for the first time, she appeared transfixed by the Georgian cutlery, turning the silver over and examining the hallmarks as if making an impromptu valuation.
The scarlet lipstick marks she left on the linen napkins were regarded equally unfavourably and when my parents married in the summer of 1938, my grandmother Mildred — or Mildew as my mother called her — refused to attend, remaining at home in bed and weeping with what proved to be justified concern for her son.
The newly-weds spent two nights at Claridge’s, where my father lost his virginity to his highly-experienced new wife before she announced a surprise honeymoon visit to Joachim von Ribbentrop’s castle Schloss Sonnenburg, which was set in a dark and dank forest north-east of Berlin.
While von Ribbentrop was flirting with my mother, presenting her with wedding gifts including jackboots, spurs and the low-cut dirndl dresses more traditionally seen on Bavarian barmaids, my father was bewildered to find himself surrounded by armoured cars, heavily uniformed SS guards, and endless goose-stepping.
Realising the extent of his new wife’s adoration of Hitler and the Nazi cause, he tried to make a run for it but was headed off at the local station by motorcycling storm-troopers led by my mother, and was coerced into returning.
The trauma of this disastrous honeymoon appeared to have rendered him impotent. But, while my mother would forever afterwards make fun of his ‘God-awful lack of performance’, it was apparent on their return to London that she was pregnant with me.
She regarded my arrival in the world in April 1939 with clear disdain, and instead of attending my christening the following month she spent the day at Claridge’s, in bed with a Brazilian diplomat.
Referring to me as ‘Sherman’s brat’, she would often tell me as a young child: ‘Never go out without making your bed, because you might be brought back dead.’ She obliged me to curtsy to her on a daily basis — a habit which remained largely unbroken into my 30s — and bought me only second-hand clothes, including my underwear, even as she luxuriated in her furs, silks, satin and cashmere.
‘Nothing common or ’orf the peg for me,’ she would declare and her favourite colour was black, a hark back to the fascist uniforms of the Thirties which she emulated with military outfits made specially for her — featuring whistles, silver buttons, cockaded hats and rows of medals.
Guests at Stonor were often startled to find her seated at the dining table in full regalia and she was as likely to appear fully uniformed at the crack of dawn — her morning seldom starting later than 6am, such was her eagerness to star in the dramatic spectacle which was her daily life.
Insisting that the local station-master roll out a red carpet on the platform and doff his cap to her whenever she travelled by train, she played the part of lady of the manor to the full, with me in the occasional walk-on role.
With my father away at war, I learnt from an early age to mix her favourite ‘Horse’s Neck’ cocktails — the concoction of brandy and ginger ale which she insisted on having for elevenses. I also accompanied her to mass in Stonor’s private chapel, which adjoined the house.
There she scandalised the congregation of villagers and estate workers by lighting her cigarette from the sanctuary lamp and talking loudly in the gallery above the pews, jangling her bracelets and stomping in and out during the service to take calls on the telephone which shrilled loudly in the adjacent bedroom.
Frequently declaring that she had the ‘divine right of Kings’, she decided that this entitled her to bring her retinue of King Charles spaniels to these services. If they needed a piddle, she simply let them out in to the adjoining library to relieve themselves on the rare silk rugs.
Constantly snarling and barking, these dogs were also honoured guests at every meal — sitting on Chippendale chairs as my mother entertained the ‘Guns’, the men who attended the regular Saturday shooting parties she hosted throughout the war. Many returned for private encounters which were more intimate, if sometimes rather brief.
‘Pants ’orf,’ she would command them upon their arrival. ‘Don’t let’s waste any time. Heil Hitler and olé!’
In her eyes, my father could never match up to a man like von Ribbentrop
Asking too many question about these ‘Uncles’, as I was encouraged to call them, would have earned me a cuff to the ear, with the heavy gold swastika which dangled from her charm bracelet adding to the pain. But my mother made no attempt to keep her liaisons secret and one in particular caused much scandal locally.
While my father’s mother had moved to the safety of America soon after the outbreak of war, his father Ralph had remained behind. He was nearly 30 years older than my mother but soon he was openly sharing her bed.
This relationship did not stop her seeing many other men — including the conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent and the drinks tycoon Enrico Cinzano — and neither did the return of my father from the war.
Evacuated from Dunkirk, he was invalided out of the Army in 1944 with a burst appendix. This ordeal, combined with the shame of discovering that his wife had been sleeping with his own father, gave him a nervous breakdown, but my mother’s coterie of men friends continued their regular visits to Stonor Park.
They accepted my father’s lavish if unwilling hospitality with scarcely a thought for their all but silent host seated at the far end of the vast mahogany dining table. As always he was relentlessly mocked by my mother.
‘For God’s sake, f*** off Sherman,’ she would shout if he dared annoy her. ‘That is, if you can.’
Snatching up the telephone whenever it rang and barking ‘Turville Heath 424 — and who the hell are you?’ into the receiver, she remained firmly in charge at Stonor.
When Joachim von Ribbentrop was executed for war crimes in 1946, she ordered me into the courtyard to ring the Angelus bell, more normally used to summon the faithful to prayer but now tolled in mourning for her dead lover.
In her eyes, my father could never match up to a man like von Ribbentrop, but she could never have divorced him. The ultimate prize came in 1968 when my grandfather Ralph died, making my father the 6th Baron Camoys and my mother Lady Camoys.
She rejoiced in a title which seemed to put her days above that butcher’s shop irrevocably behind her, but the costs of running Stonor had fast diminished my father’s wealth. My mother was eager to sell the valuable mansion, so forced him to move into the four-bedroomed Dower House nearby.
My father, mysteriously in increasingly deteriorating health and confined to a claustrophobic single bedroom, died in March 1976 and, at the age of 63, my mother began fortune-hunting all over again.
It wasn’t long before she had found a target in her neighbour, Agatha Christie’s widower Sir Max Mallowan, an archaeologist who had inherited some of his wife’s estate following her death just two months before that of my father.
Like so many men over the years, Sir Max became mesmerised by my mother and soon proposed, but there was a hitch. Her reputation had gone before her and his friends warned him off.
Terrified by the rumours, Sir Max swiftly withdrew his proposal of marriage, and my mother was forced to spend the years before her death in 1987 living in a rundown workman’s cottage near Stonor Park.
There she maintained the disdain for me which she had made so apparent when I was a little girl — clearly I had always bored her to tears.
‘I’m doing my best Mama,’ I would tell her.
‘Your best is simply not good enough,’ she’d reply. ‘Nor will it ever be.’
Curiously, I had never stopped loving her, and I was ever eager to be at her side. I believed in her absolutely, and, in my eyes, she would always be a towering figure, a beautiful, scent-drenched heroine.

Adapted from Sherman’s Wife by Julia Camoys Stonor, published by Stonor Lodge Press and available as an ebook from  at £5.99. © 2012 Julia Camoys Stonor
Julia Maria Cristina Mildred Camoys Stonor (born 19 April 1939) is the eldest daughter of Sherman Stonor, 6th Baron Camoys by his wife Jeanne Stourton. She is best known for her books about her family, exposing long-suppressed family scandals and her claims to be the rightful heir to the Camoys barony.

 Rampant fascism near Henley

Sherman’s Wife: A Wartime Childhood Among the English Aristocracy Julia Camoys Stonor
Desert Hearts, pp.347

There can seldom have been a better first sentence in a book by a daughter about her mother: ‘“Heil Hitler!” shouted Mummy as she pushed Daddy down the stairs at Assendon Lodge.’ Even better, the next few lines reveal that the second world war was in progress at the time, Daddy was in uniform, and the author was watching and listening from her hiding place under the said stairs.

Alas, the rest of the book fails to live up to its brilliant opening. This is a pity, because Julia Camoys Stonor has a bloodcurdling tale to tell and a monstrous parent to describe; and apart from taking the lid off her family, she has a serious purpose — to indicate just how strong, in certain pre-war English upper-class circles, sympathy for Hitler and Franco could be. This fact is not, of course, unknown; but with proper editing her book could have filled in another corner of the tapestry and been useful to historians. Repetitive and at times wildly overwritten, it reads, instead, as if it has not been edited at all.

Nevertheless it is quite a story. Julia Stonor’s mother, Jeanne, née Stourton, was a society beauty from a well-connected tribe of Catholic grandees. Jeanne’s flighty mother had an affair with a Spanish aristocrat, Pedro de Zulueta, who was acknowledged to be Jeanne’s father; one of her great-uncles was the Spanish ambassador in London in the 1930s, and another was a cardinal and adviser to two Popes. By her daughter’s account, the dark-haired, volatile Jeanne, with her rapacious appetite for money and sex, her complete disregard for convention, her alarming mendacity and her streak of cruelty, exhibited all the faults the English like to associate with the Spanish; oddly, even the photographs in this book give her the alarming look of a Goya cartoon. She boasted of being an ‘aristo Spanish bastard’ and was much given to shouts of ‘Olé’.

No comments: