Lady Ur­sula d’Abo

Spir­ited so­cialite who was a train­bearer at the 1937 Bri­tish Corona­tion and later a girl­friend of Paul Getty

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - DEATHS AND OBITUARIES -

LADY Ur­sula d’Abo, who has died a few days be­fore her 101st birth­day, was the last sur­viv­ing Maid of Hon­our to Queen El­iz­a­beth (later the Bri­tish Queen Mother) at the 1937 Corona­tion, and one of the last liv­ing peo­ple to have at­tended that cer­e­mony.

She was the first of six girls, with Lady Diana Legge, car­ry­ing the train, and was prom­i­nent and ac­tively en­gaged through­out the cer­e­mony when­ever Queen El­iz­a­beth moved from one po­si­tion to an­other. The Maids of Hon­our were dressed by cou­turier Nor­man Hart­nell.

She was pho­tographed be­hind and be­tween the Queen and Princess El­iz­a­beth on the bal­cony of Buck­ing­ham Palace, which pro­pelled her to a cer­tain fame at the time, and caused jeal­ousy among the girls in her set. An Amer­i­can called Lau­rence McKin­ney be­came fas­ci­nated by her ap­pear­ance on the bal­cony and dashed off a poem in­clud­ing the lines: “Here is roy­alty cheek to cheek… But who is that girl with the widow’s peak?”

Born to a life of priv­i­lege, Lady Ur­sula lived life to the full, mar­ry­ing twice and ex­cit­ing the in­ter­est of sev­eral “squil­lion­aires”, most no­tably Paul Getty.

She was born in Lon­don as Lady Ur­sula Is­abel Man­ners on Novem­ber 8, 1916, the el­dest child of the Mar­quess of Granby, later 9th Duke of Rut­land, and his wife, Kathleen (“Kakoo”) Ten­nant, niece of Mar­got Asquith. Her early life was spent at Wood Farm, her par­ents’ home in Der­byshire, and in Lon­don, and with her grand­fa­ther in the feu­dal at­mos­phere of Belvoir Cas­tle, run as a self-sup­port­ing em­pire, with 20 peo­ple work­ing in the kitchens.

The fam­ily ex­panded with Lady Is­abel (who mar­ried Loel Guin­ness and later Sir Robert Throck­mor­ton); Charles, later 10th Duke of Rut­land; and then her two younger broth­ers, Lord John, and Lord Roger (who died on Oc­to­ber 1, aged 92).

Ur­sula adored her grand­fa­ther, the 8th Duke, but the per­son to whom she was clos­est was her fa­ther. When he suc­ceeded to the duke­dom in 1925, he set about restor­ing the fam­ily’s sec­ond home, Haddon Hall, and she spent many hours along­side him, aged only eight, help­ing him work on the mul­lion windows and pick white­wash off medieval fres­coes in the chapel with a knife.

In Lon­don she had danc­ing lessons with the bal­le­rina Ta­mara Karsav­ina. Her ed­u­ca­tion, which started with a gov­erness, was com­pleted by a visit to Paris and nine months in Florence.

In 1934, back in Eng­land, she un­der­went the sea­son of a debu­tante, at­tend­ing so­ci­ety balls, the most mag­nif­i­cent be­ing that given by the Duchess of Northum­ber­land at Syon House on June 29.

She was pre­sented at court to King Ge­orge V and Queen Mary on May 15, 1934, at­tended the Derby in a pink crepe coat pat­terned with navy blue, and the open­ing night of the opera sea­son at Covent Gar­den, dressed in a gold se­quin dress with gar­de­nias in her hair. The par­ties con­tin­ued through­out the year, and her mother gave a ball at Belvoir for her and her sis­ter Is­abel on Jan­uary 11, 1935. The band, Colombo’s, played.

Is­abel was mar­ried soon af­ter­wards to Loel Guin­ness, un­til 1951, but Ur­sula did not marry then, though she was aware that she was ex­pected to find a hus­band within the peer­age in the tra­di­tional way. Rex Whistler was an early ad­mirer and she had trou­ble from some men of her par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion. Then came the 1937 Corona­tion at which, be­sides her role as train­bearer, the Duke of Rut­land car­ried the Scep­tre with the Cross, at­tended by his son Roger as page, and Ur­sula’s mother was one of the four Duchesses to hold the canopy over Queen El­iz­a­beth at her anoint­ing.

The Duke of Rut­land died in 1940, leav­ing Ur­sula’s mother to cope with Belvoir, and the wor­ries of hav­ing three sons serv­ing over­seas. Ur­sula be­came a Vol­un­tary Aid De­tach­ment worker, liv­ing in Aud­ley Square in Lon­don, clean­ing rail­way car­riages and nurs­ing at St Ge­orge’s Hos­pi­tal. Later she worked at a fac­tory in Gran­tham, over­see­ing 2,000 women mak­ing bul­lets.

In June 1943 she be­came en­gaged to Lieu­tenant An­thony Mar­reco, RNVR, who pressed her to marry him by threat­en­ing to kill him­self if she turned him down. Lady Ur­sula de­scribed him as “bril­liantly clever, con­ceited and sure of him­self” and added: “I was fas­ci­nated by him… I shared his love for the arts and felt very sen­su­ally aroused by him in all senses.” The mar­riage was set to take place at Belvoir on July 3, but was sud­denly post­poned, fi­nally tak­ing place on July 29.

Ac­cord­ing to her mem­oirs, the groom de­parted to serve in the Far East two days later. They did not meet again or have any com­mu­ni­ca­tion un­til 1946, by which time she con­sid­ered him a stranger. He then served as a coun­sel at the Nurem­berg Tri­als.

Ex­tremely at­trac­tive to women, he was the lover of Lali Horstmann and Louise de Vil­morin, and later Loelia, Duchess of West­min­ster. He and Ur­sula di­vorced in 1948 and he mar­ried twice more.

In 1946 she spent some weeks with the Ma­haraja of Jaipur in In­dia, which gave her a deep love for the coun­try. On her re­turn she was courted by the Earl of Dalkeith (later 9th Duke of Buc­cleuch) and Er­land d’Abo, a suc­cess­ful stock­bro­ker and noted lady-killer. She sur­vived a se­ri­ous car ac­ci­dent and the sur­geon Rains­ford Mowlem suc­cess­fully re-set her face. Of the two suit­ors, she chose d’Abo and they were mar­ried on Novem­ber 22 1951.

Later d’Abo was pur­sued by Pene­lope Kit­son, a mis­tress of that mean­est of mil­lion­aires, Paul Getty, but the d’Abos did not di­vorce. D’Abo died of a heart at­tack in 1970, aged 58, and soon af­ter­wards Paul Getty, al­ready mar­ried five times, came into the pic­ture (though Ur­sula was also pur­sued by Baron Heini Thyssen).

Mar­garet, Duchess of Argyll, claimed that she had in­tro­duced Ur­sula to Getty at the 80th birth­day party she hosted for him at the Dorch­ester in 1972, but Getty’s in­ter­est had al­ready been fired.

Ur­sula d’Abo be­came one of his close girl­friends, and was soon driv­ing him to meet­ings and fer­ry­ing him back to Sut­ton Place, the es­tate near Guild­ford he had bought from the Duke of Suther­land. There she could be found hold­ing cubs born to a li­on­ess he kept in an en­clo­sure.

Getty once de­clared his phi­los­o­phy in re­spect of women: “The ma­jor­ity of very wealthy sin­gle men will tell you sadly that most, though not all, women can be di­vided into two types, those that you pay to stay with you and those that you pay to stay away.”

Ur­sula re­vealed that she was his lover in an in­dis­creet ar­ti­cle in the Na­tional En­quirer in 1973. In her mem­oirs she de­clared: “We lived there [Sut­ton Place] as though mar­ried for five years un­til he died.”

De­spite be­ing an as­tute busi­ness­man, how­ever, Getty was also sus­cep­ti­ble to the pro­nounce­ments of for­tune tell­ers, one of whom warned him that he would die if he mar­ried for a sixth time.

To­wards the end, Getty’s doc­tor ac­cused her of en­dan­ger­ing the mil­lion­aire’s health and told her she had to go. Then a mem­ber of staff came to her room and in­formed her: “Lady Ur­sula, you must go.” As she came down­stairs, minded to ob­ject, a young de­tec­tive told her she was tres­pass­ing. Since he car­ried a gun, she was ter­ri­fied and left.

There­after, as Getty’s health de­clined, she was not al­lowed to see him. But one day she banged on the win­dow of the down­stairs room in which he was ly­ing.

She was al­lowed to see him one last time, his diary of June 2, 1976 record­ing: “U here for two hours.” Four days later he died.

In 1973 he had named Ur­sula, in a cod­i­cil in his will, as the re­cip­i­ent of 1,000 shares in Getty Oil; she had hoped to in­herit more. But de­spite Getty’s many faults, she con­cluded: “He made you feel like the only per­son in the world when you were with him. He had a great sense of fun.”

She bought a race­horse in 1989, con­tin­ued to live in Kens­ing­ton Square un­til 1999, cel­e­brated her 90th birth­day with a party at the Ritz in 2006 and lived to cel­e­brate her 100th a decade later.

In 2014 she pro­duced an en­ter­tain­ing book of mem­oirs, The Girl With the Widow’s Peak, which was more at­mo­spheric than ac­cu­rate. She con­tin­ued to be out and about on the Lon­don scene, ar­riv­ing alone at lec­tures and din­ners well into her late 90s.

As a friend, Sir Claude Hankes, put it: “She was a grand lady of an ilk of pos­i­tive, prag­matic com­mon sense with an in­quir­ing mind and a wicked sense of hu­mour and a flirt un­til she died.”

Lady Ur­sula, who died on Novem­ber 2, is sur­vived by her two sons and her daugh­ter and by sev­eral grand­chil­dren.

Photo: Hul­ton Roy­als Col­lec­tion/Getty

SO­CI­ETY BELLE: Lady Ur­sula Man­ners (back, right) on the bal­cony of Buck­ing­ham Palace with the Queen and Princess El­iz­a­beth af­ter Ge­orge VI’s corona­tion on May 12, 1937. An Amer­i­can ad­mirer wrote: ‘Who is that girl with the widow’s peak?’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.