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An Earl, a Hero, and a Lady


Readers have sent me three additional obits, each a fine example of the art of the British send-off. (Query for Andrew, Iain, or Derb: Why did the art of obituary writing develop only on the far side of the Atlantic?)

One of the three obits, for the 11th Earl of Shaftesbury. Whereas the obit for the 10th Earl of Shaftesbury, which I posted yesterday, represented a little masterpiece of malice and humor, the obit for the 11th Earl is merely sad. (And maybe a little spooky. Are there such things as family curses?) An excerpt from the Telegraph:

Murdered earl’s heir drops dead at age of 27

The new Earl of Shaftesbury has collapsed and died six weeks after the body of his murdered father was found in the French Alps.

In the latest, tragic twist in the family saga, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the 27-year-old 11th Earl of Shaftesbury, died on Sunday morning after an apparent heart attack while staying with his younger brother in New York. In contrast to his father’s flamboyant lifestyle, the 11th earl was an accountant who lived in London and did not feature in the tabloid gossip columns.

The earl, who was single, succeeded to the title following the discovery of his father’s body early last month. His brother, Nicholas, 25, whom he was visiting in New York, is now expected to succeed to the earldom.

As far as I have been able to learn, the 12th Earl is still alive.

The second obit, a send-off for a hero. Gush? Never. Note instead the admirable dryness. Again, from the Telegraph:

Lieutenant-Colonel “Tich” Harvey, who has died aged 82, won an MC during the Italian campaign and a Bar in operations against Communist terrorists in the Malayan Emergency.

On April 9 1945, Harvey led “D” Company of the 1st Battalion, 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles, in an attempt to force the Santerno River, in northern Italy. The German positions on the high flood banks were very strong, and the Gurkhas went into battle in Kangaroos, hollowed-out Sherman tanks converted into troop carriers.

Captain Harvey led his men in a dash to the near bank. Many of the flame- throwers that should have provided support became bogged down and, as the leading platoons assaulted the far side, they ran into heavy machine-gun fire from the left flank and mortaring from overhead. No sooner was this position secured than the enemy put in six desperate counter-attacks. Harvey’s HQ came under intense shelling, but he sent back precise reports over the wireless which enabled his CO to commit his reserve company at exactly the right moment and to turn a precarious foothold into a permanent bridgehead.

The third obit arrived in my inbox this morning from Rev. George Rutler, unoffical chaplain to this happy Corner. Fr. Rutler notes the death at 98 this past autumn of the woman the headline in the London Times called “Lady Sibell Rowley, Last of the Madresfield Lygon sisters whose family home inspired Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.” From the Times obituary:

She was born Lady Sibell Lygon, the second daughter of Lady Lettice Grosvenor and the 7th Earl Beauchamp. In 1899 he was sent out to Sydney by Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, as Governor of New South Wales. He was only 27, and admitted that he “scarcely knew where was the colony and certainly nothing about it”. In the event his short term proved unremarkable. In 1902 he married the sister of Europe’s richest man, “Bendor”, the 2nd Duke of Westminster.

The Beauchamps had seven children. Life at Madresfield, with twice-daily chapel, was an extraordinary combination of piety, formality and frugality (Lord Beauchamp addressed his children as Lord Elmley and Lady Sibell, while they were dressed in their cousins’ hand-me-downs).

Lord Beauchamp had twice been Lord President of the Council and was appointed leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords, in 1924. Then, in 1931, Bendor, as ferociously homophobic as he was single-mindedly Tory, denounced his brother-in-law as homosexual and demanded his arrest. His wife, unable to grasp what was alleged, sighed: “Bendor says that Beauchamp is a bugler.”

Beauchamp decamped to the Continent, while his wife took her youngest child, Richard, with her, leaving Madresfield to the other children.

Later that year, Evelyn Waugh visited Madresfield, a red-brick moated manor house lived in by Lygons for centuries. He fell in love with the family and spent much time there in the early Thirties. He wrote much of Black Mischief there and dedicated it to Sibell’s two younger sisters, Dorothy and Mary. Mary was the family beauty, Dorothy the sweetest and Sibell, at least 6ft tall, the most striking….

Sibell’s great passion, hunting, endured for the rest of her life. She embraced with real enthusiasm the family motto, Mea fortuna in bello campo. While her sisters hunted side-saddle, no-nonsense Sibell rode astride. On her husband’s death in 1952, she became Master of the Ledbury Hunt….

Early this year she was present at a lawn meet of the Croome Hunt at Madresfield, the last before the ban [on hunting, enacted by Tony Blair's Labour Party] and almost a century since the first she had witnessed.

“One trusts,” wroter Fr. Rutler in his email, “that neither of us will ever be condemned for ‘bugling.’”


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