DUCHESSES: LIVING IN 21ST CENTURY BRITAIN (pub. Blink Publishing, 4th Sept 2014)
Jane’s latest non-fiction book, ‘Duchesses: Living in 21st Century Britain’ was published by Blink Books (an imprint of Bonnier Publishing) on 4 September 2014. For the first time ten of Britain’s non-royal duchesses talk candidly about their role and their lives in the 21st century, when privilege is not a popular concept. Each also selects her favourite duchess from the past, providing a colourful gallery through the centuries. The book also contains a digital element. ISBN 9781905825851
Hatchards of Piccadilly, London, hosted the launch party and created an eye-catching window display.
Jane Dismore - Duchesses - Living in 21st Century Britain
Published on Aug 20, 2014
For some the title Duchess evokes the grandeur of stately homes but for other’s it’s about unearned privileges. But above all, it is a title that many feel is historic with little relevance in today’s society. However in April 2011 the title was taken out of its antechamber, dusted off and deposited firmly in the High Street and on the internet: giving an old title to a young lady as twenty-first century as Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge was to make it topical, even desirable, again.
But despite the Queen awarding Prince William a dukedom, the future for dukes, especially non-royal, is not bright. There are only twenty-four left in Britain today: they, and therefore their duchesses, are an endangered species. Yet little is known about these women or what their relevance is in today’s Britain.
In this unique book ten of Britain’s remaining non-royal duchesses talk of their lives and their roles in the twenty-first century. Most never speak publically; those who do seldom speak about themselves. To be granted an interview was therefore a huge privilege.
With 10 chapters focussed on each Duchess, there are also 10 sub chapters looking at a specific ancestor as a comparison. 5 of the Duchess have also allowed us access to their homes and their chapters with include augmented reality technology.
What’s in the title?
The title of duchess has long been part of Britain’s heritage. In 2011, it was brought up to date
The Duchess of Cambridge
with the marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, when the Queen conferred a number of titles on her grandson, among them Duke of Cambridge. Catherine joined that select group of the highest-ranking duchesses, well-known royals whose husbands are dukes as members of the Royal Family. Another group of women sit one notch down from royalty, but at the top of the aristocratic tree with their dukes. These non-royal duchesses, of whom there are just 24, enjoy titles that were bestowed by monarchs for centuries but they are a dying breed: it is unlikely that any more non-royal dukedoms will be created.
Torquhil and Eleanor with their children (from left) Archibald, Charlotte and Rory
Duchess originals: Meet the commoners who married into aristocracy
By Jane Dismore
Published: 23:01 GMT, 30 August 2014 |
THE DUCHESS OF ARGYLL
Eleanor Cadbury married Torquhil Ian Campbell, 13th Duke of Argyll and head of one of Scotland’s most powerful clans, in 2002. Their main home is Inveraray Castle by Loch Fyne.
Eleanor sees the main role of a duchess in the 21st century as looking after the stately home, if there is one. ‘For many duchesses, sadly, over the years, money’s got tighter and tighter. Not everyone has a great pile to try to finance.’ And her view of her position is pragmatic. ‘It’s not going to be like a film, where you marry and walk around the shrubbery all day. You have a job to do. I used to work in PR so now I PR the castle. I’m not interested in people knowing about me. I’ve got three small children and a castle to run.
‘In the old days, the aristocracy only married the aristocracy and my family, who were Quakers, only married within that group. My father’s a Cadbury, whose ancestors were Birmingham industrialists, my grandmother was a Milward – they made knitting needles – and the industrial families often married each other. But all that’s changed now. My children are at school with a complete range of people, which is brilliant.
‘People expect me to be terribly grand. So when I turn up in my trainers they’re surprised. They assume you should be snooty, but no one can get on in the world like that these days. It doesn’t work.’
She sometimes acts as lady-in-waiting to Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, visiting charities and attending dinners, which she says is a ‘huge honour’. Every Christmas, Eleanor invites 80 local children to tea: if she did not, she would be ‘in trouble. It’s a very small community and West Highlanders are brilliant. I walk down to the supermarket and have a chat and walk back home again just like everybody else.’
THE DUCHESS OF SOMERSET
Judith-Rose Hull married John, Lord Seymour, in 1978. John became the 19th Duke of Somerset in 1984 and is descended from Edward Seymour, brother of Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry VIII. They live at Bradley House in Wiltshire, which contains 500 years of Seymour memorabilia, and own another estate in Devon.
Judith-Rose is not one to seek the spotlight. She prefers to focus on others and the causes with which she is involved. ‘I haven’t done one public engagement without coming back inspired. But it’s a difficult role sometimes. There are people who seem to feel resentful that you’ve got something they haven’t. That’s hard. I say to the children: “I’m proud to have married Daddy, proud to be part of his family, which is part of English history.’’’ Instead of being negative, she suggests people should remember her title is historical, not personal. ‘I’m very keen on the monarchy. It may be an
old-fashioned thing to say, but it should remain.’
She became the Duchess of Somerset at 32, younger than she had expected, in 1984. ‘I remember so clearly the night John’s father died. We went back home and as I looked at my son asleep in his cot, I thought: “Oh dear, what’s this going to be like?” Two daughters and another son arrived between 1987 and 1992. ‘I’d be seen opening fêtes with my hat askew with four children and a pram. That doesn’t happen any more. They go for football stars now. My workload has reduced considerably.’
‘It’s a difficult role sometimes, but I’m proud to be part of this family’
However, she is very involved in schools – ‘I love young people and I do a lot with them’ – particularly the primary school in Devon that her youngest son Charles attended. On her first school visit, ‘They were expecting me to turn up in my tiara and my dress: “She hasn’t got a tiara!” There’s a much more glamorous duchess now – the Duchess of Cambridge.’
'I want to make the houses we are responsible for relevant to today'
THE DUCHESS OF BUCCLEUCH
Lady Elizabeth Kerr (right), a former journalist, married Richard, Earl of Dalkeith, a direct descendant of King Charles II, in 1981. Richard became the 10th Duke of Buccleuch and 12th Duke
of Queensberry in 2007. They divide their time between Boughton House in Northamptonshire, and Drumlanrig Castle and Bowhill House in Scotland.
Lady Elizabeth was apprehensive about following in the footsteps of her mother-in-law Jane, who was ‘the epitome of a kind and innovative duchess. What I’ve tried to do,’ she says, ‘is form it in the way that feels best for me.
‘I knew I had to make the houses we were responsible for relevant to today and nurture my children [she has two sons and two daughters] into roles they were nervous about. They’ve been brought up in this century and are very un-grand.’
The three houses, all of which are open to the public, contain important art collections, including works by Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Van Dyck, and are ‘owned in trust – we couldn’t sell even if we wanted to. My vision is that Bowhill will become a literary centre. Sir Walter Scott, a kinsman, lived close by, and Richard and I sponsor and I’m a judge on the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.’ For Boughton, Elizabeth hopes to develop a musical theme after discovering a musical archive there, which she has been cataloguing with friends.
THE DUCHESS OF RUTLAND
Emma Watkins (below), who trained as an opera singer before setting up an interior design business, married David, Marquess of Granby, in 1992. David became the 11th Duke of Rutland in January 1999, a title created by Henry VIII in 1525. They live at Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire.
Becoming a duchess was a ‘real shock’ for Emma. Her mother-in-law handed her a huge black box of keys and wished her good luck. ‘There’s no training, no book to read. It’s quite scary becoming a
‘'I’m a Welsh farmer’s daughter, so when I became a duchess, I thought, “How do you do it?”’
duchess when you’ve been a Welsh farmer’s daughter. I thought: “How do you do it?” You always imagine duchesses to be a bit crusty, living in a tower and screaming at the staff, but we have a very tight team here and we all roll up our sleeves.’
Emma wrote for help to the Duchess of Devonshire who was lauded for having changed the fortunes of Chatsworth in Derbyshire. ‘She wrote back and said: “Come and see me and I’ll tell you whatever I can.” I found her inspiring. The key point that came from that lunch was to let the estate evolve and to develop it gradually. She was a great help to me.’
Emma and David, who have five children, threw their energies into the ailing 15,000-acre estate, which needed urgent repairs. David also faced death duties of almost £10 million. The precarious position of the estate when he inherited it was ‘a bit like the Titanic going towards the iceberg’. When the recession hit in 2008, Emma noticed they were losing 70 per cent of the income from their game shoots as corporate clients could no longer afford the luxury. Something drastic had to be done. On her parents’ farm, Emma had run the beating line, flushing out the birds with her spaniel, so she had a little knowledge of what a shoot was about. She went around the country studying the role shooting plays in conserving the countryside and in five years turned Belvoir into one of the best shoots in the country. Maintenance of the fabric of the castle alone costs £100,000 a year, which can be met from a good season.
After having three girls, Emma was aware of the expectations to bear a son. ‘I remember a woman at a hunting ball coming over to me after Eliza was born, this wonderful little treasure, commiserating with me as though there had been a death. She said: “I’m so sorry to hear your news. I’ll have to give you some tips on how to produce a boy.” I didn’t understand what she meant because I never questioned that I wouldn’t.’ Emma went on to give birth to their first son, Charles, in 1999, and another, Hugo, in 2003.
In early 2012, Emma and David decided to separate after Emma discovered he was having an affair. But they both still live in the castle, in different wings, so that David can have easy contact with the children and for the practical purpose of running the estate.
‘The key thing in life is to retain the foundation of who you are. It doesn’t matter where you go, but to remain grounded about where you’re from.’ Emma is under no illusions about her position in relation to the estate. ‘This is all a wonderful privilege, to be trying to get the estate and the land right for the next generation. But I don’t own any of it.’
Jane Richard married Lord Ralph George Algernon Percy
Jane Richard (above) married Lord Ralph George Algernon Percy in 1971, joining a family that dates back to the ninth century.
Ralph became the 12th Duke of Northumberland in 1995. They live at Alnwick Castle (left) in Northumberland, the location for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films, and own extensive land and property in Scotland and Surrey.
‘I think I have been a huge challenge to everyone at Alnwick. I see this as a positive rather than a negative because I was the first Duchess of Northumberland who could do all the jobs needed to be done herself. I’d cooked for 16 years, I’d run a house, I’d gardened, we’d brought up four children [two sons and two daughters] and I wasn’t someone who needed to be told what to do. If you are married to a duke you have to develop a thick skin.’
Restless in her new role, she had to find her own niche. Ralph’s suggestion she restore Alnwick Castle’s derelict garden led to creating a new one. Today, many community project groups are involved with and helped by the garden. There is also the famous Poison Garden, which inspired Jane to write a series of books called The Poison Diaries. They are just one of the businesses she has started, which include a clothing range and a collection of saucy-sounding cocktails. Jane and Ralph are also patrons of more than 160 charities, but ‘the castle is what it’s all about. It’s important not to be away too much because otherwise, like an absentee landlord, it never really works’.
She believes the title is generally ‘irrelevant. It can open a door, but there are a lot of people waiting to knock you down when you get through that door. In today’s world, you’re only as good as what you do, which is the way it should be. If you do something and you don’t do it well, whether you’re a duchess or not, you’ve failed.’
This is an edited extract from Duchesses – Living in 21st Century Britain by Jane Dismore, which will be published by Blink on Thursday, price £20. To order a copy with free p&p, go to you-bookshop.co.uk