Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - DOREEN BERGER

BORN LON­DON, MARCH 23, 1915. DIED, SUR­REY, JULY 2, 2014, AGED 99

WHEN THE Ger­man Am­bas­sador to Eng­land, Dr von Dir­ck­son, ob­served to the at­trac­tive Duchess of Roxburghe at a din­ner party shortly be­fore the Sec­ond World War: “I sup­pose that you get your fine black eyes from your Scot­tish an­ces­try?” he was taken aback when she replied, “No, it is my Jewish an­ces­try to which I owe them”.

The Duchess, for­merly Lady Mary Eve­lyn Hunger­ford Crewe-Milnes, was the only daugh­ter of the mar­riage of Robert Crewe-Milnes, the first and last Mar­quess of Crewe, to Mar­garet Éti­enne Han­nah Prim­rose, daugh­ter of the fifth Earl of Rose­bery, Lib­eral Prime Min­is­ter from 1894-95.

The Jewish an­ces­try to which the Duchess was re­fer­ring was that of her ma­ter­nal grand­mother, Han­nah, daugh­ter of Juliana Co­hen and Mayer de Roth­schild, thus mak­ing her a di­rect de­scen­dant of Levi Bar­ent Co­hen, head of one of the most im­por­tant families in An­glo-Jewish his­tory, and of Nathan Roth­schild, the founder of the English house of Roth­schild.

She was named af­ter her god­mother, Queen Mary, and raised at Crewe Hall in Cheshire and at the fam­ily man­sion, Crewe House, in May­fair. A pop­u­lar déb- utante of the 1933 Lon­don sea­son, her en­gage­ment was an­nounced in June, 1935 to the young Duke of Roxburghe, of the Royal Horse Guards.

The duke­dom of Roxburghe was cre­ated in 1707, the last duke­dom of the Scot­tish peer­age. The fam­ily for­tune had been se­cured by the Duke’s grand­fa­ther when he mar­ried an Amer­i­can heiress, and this wealth had been in­her­ited by Mary’s bride­groom, Ge­orge Vic­tor Robert John Innes Kerr, the ninth Duke, in 1912. Their mar­riage at West­min­ster Abbey took place on Oc­to­ber 24, 1935 and was con­sid­ered to be one of the most im­por­tant soci- ety weddings of that year, with Queen Mary and the Duke of Kent at­tend­ing the re­cep­tion at Crewe House. Two years later, the Duchess was one of the four train bear­ers to Queen El­iz­a­beth at the coronation of King Ge­orge the Sixth, cho­sen be­cause of her strik­ing,brunette looks and de­port­ment.

In spite of an aus­pi­cious start, even in­volv­ing an il­licit pas­sage to meet up with the Duke, when he was posted to Pales­tine dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, the mar­riage floun­dered.

There were no chil­dren and in 1953 the Duchess en­dured a six week siege at Floors, the Duke’s cas­tle over­look­ing the River Tweed, when her hus­band cut off the tele­phone, elec­tric­ity and gas and at­tempted to turn off the hot wa­ter, in or­der to drive her out.

It was his con­tention that un­der Scot­tish com­mon law a wife lived in her hus­band’s house by li­cence only. The mar­i­tal dis­pute split the Bor­der re­gion, the Duchess had to be sup­plied with food, can­dles, matches and paraf­fin by her friends, who in­cluded Sir Alec Dou­glas-Home and the Duchess of Buc­cleuch, while her hus­band was sup­ported by the Duke of Buc­cleuch. The pic­turesque cas­tle at Floors would later be the venue that Prince An­drew would choose for his pro­posal to Sarah Fer­gu­son.

The dis­pute was even­tu­ally set- tled out of court; the Duchess left for Lon­don and was granted a di­vorce in De­cem­ber, 1953 be­cause of her hus­band’s adul­tery.

The fol­low­ing month the Duke mar­ried El­iz­a­beth Mar­garet Cun­ning­ham Church, the di­vorced wife of an army of­fi­cer. This gave rise to the quip, “Where is the Duke?” “He’s gone to Church”. The Duke be­came a step­fa­ther to her two chil­dren and af­ter­wards the fa­ther of two fur­ther sons.

Af­ter the di­vorce, the Duchess set­tled down well in a large apart­ment over­look­ing Hyde Park, de­vot­ing her­self to char­i­ta­ble works. Among them was her pres­i­dency of the Na­tional Union of Townswomen’s Guilds, she be­came a pa­tron of the Royal Bal­let and in­volved her­self in the Royal So­ci­ety of Lit­er­a­ture. She in­sisted on en­ter­tain­ing with the same Roth­schild style of her par­ents and liv­ing up to her fam­ily motto, “I know whom I have be­lieved”. Her view of the back­ground which had en­dowed her with such wealth was that of the born aris­to­crat.

In­formed in 1983 that Crewe House, sold for £90,00 by her fa­ther in 1937, was on the mar­ket for £50 mil­lion, she said: “I will bear the news with for­ti­tude”. At the time of her death she was the last de­scen­dant of the two daugh­ters of Han­nah de Roth­schild and the Earl of Rose­bery.

PHOTO: RON STILL­ING AS­SO­CI­ATED NEWS REX

Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe: her mar­riage to Scot­tish peer turned sour

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