The Daily Telegraph
Stout defender of the hereditary principle who courted controversy supporting reactionary causes
THE 7TH LORD SUDELEY, who has died aged 83, was a perennially be-tweeded Conservative hereditary peer who, in championing an array of unfashionable and reactionary causes, among them slavery and the assassins of Thomas Becket, appeared to conform to a Wodehousian caricature.
But he was earnest about his uncompromising approach to public affairs. His list of attachments gave a flavour of his politics: 17 years as chairman and president of the Right-wing Monday Club; president of the far-right group Traditional Britain; vice-chancellor of the Monarchist League; chairman of the Constitutional Monarchy Association; and patron of the Prayer Book Society.
Bankruptcy was a special interest. Sudeley was patron of the Bankruptcy Association – a concern motivated by a sense of injustice over the treatment of the 4th Lord Sudeley, who was foreclosed upon by Lloyds Bank in 1893, forcing the sale of the family seat, Toddington in Gloucestershire.
The gothic manor house, built between 1819 and 1840 to the designs of Charles Hanbury-tracy, the 1st Lord Sudeley, was bought in 2005 by the artist Damien Hirst; but with no sign of progress in its restoration, the property, encased in scaffolding and sheeting, has become a source of rancour among local residents, who have described it as an “eyesore” and a “white blob”.
While many would find his views extreme, Sudeley was too unworldly and eccentric to be sinister. He was fond of hunting and of wearing thick three-piece tweed suits throughout the year but, deprived of Toddington, had no country residence to match, making do with a flat in Dorset Square.
His modest lifestyle ensured that, when Conservative Party conferences were held in Blackpool, he stayed at a guesthouse where a 10 pence coin was required to work the shower. The water supply was liable to be cut off while he was still covered with suds. “It means you have to move fast,” he lamented. “But I don’t mind, as there is lots to do and you have to get on.”
Merlin Charles Sainthill Hanburytracy was born on June 17 1939 and became the 7th Lord Sudeley in 1941 at the age of two, succeeding his first cousin. He was not permitted to take his seat until he was 21.
He was educated at Eton, going on to read History at Worcester College, Oxford. While at university he declined an offer to take up a position teaching King Hassan II of Morocco how to hunt, swim and shoot – instead continuing with his studies.
His leadership of the Monday Club encapsulated Sudeley’s willingness to embrace controversy. In the 1970s it had been a pressure group which, although on the Right of the Conservative Party, enjoyed the backing of a considerable number of MPS, including Cabinet ministers. But by 2001 it was widely viewed as an assembly of extremists, and the new Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith threatened to make it a proscribed organisation.
At a “frank” meeting, the Conservative Party chairman, David Davis, told Sudeley he was severing the party’s links with the club until it stopped promoting such policies as the voluntary repatriation of ethnic minorities. At the club’s annual meeting Sudeley made a speech advising that “true though the fact may be that some races are superior to others”, it was not helpful for members to emphasise the point.
Among his writings was an unpublished history of slavery. Abolition of the slave trade was regarded by Sudeley as misguided. “Slaves have always had a good life,” he said, noting that his own family owned slaves for 700 years. “If you have a slave, he is your own property and you have to look after him, unlike a contract worker.”
In later years, however, defence of the hereditary principle was his predominant concern; he was an assiduous writer of letters to The Daily Telegraph on the subject. Sudeley objected to the House of Lords reform act of 1999, on the basis that it implied “that time should move forward when it does not have to do so”. He was not among the 92 elected hereditaries who survived.
In Who’s Who Sudeley listed “ancestor worship” as one of his recreations. Such was his devotion that he gave a number of lectures on family history. He was interviewed on the Today programme about his claims that one of his ancestors, William de Tracey, accused of murdering the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket in December 1170, had, in fact, merely been guilty of manslaughter.
The medieval historian Nicholas Vincent had told Sudeley at a conference that “the four knights initially intended no more than to arrest the archbishop.” The resulting death was due to “their overheated blood and Becket’s own refusal to come quietly. So what is commonly regarded as murder might be construed as manslaughter.”
Sudeley was delighted by this rehabilitation of the “Canterbury Four”. “I never believed that any of my relatives could have been involved in murder,” he said. “Naturally I am delighted that his name has now been cleared.”
A Channel 4 reality show, What the Butler Saw, featured Sudeley as a dinner party guest “to test out how the prole contestants would cope with a toff ”. He appeared staring blankly ahead, apparently anxious to leave as soon as possible. “I do feel that I was misled,” he later told the Evening Standard. “I had asked for a fee, but they said it was not possible. However, I decided to proceed as I was assured that it would give me an opportunity to give an exposition on the nature of aristocratic ideals. But in the programme itself this proved quite impossible.”
His books included Peers Through the Mists of Time: observations on the origin and evolution of the old House of Lords (2018) and Toddington: the unforgotten forerunner (2020).
Sudeley was thrice married, but had no children. He married first, in 1980, Elizabeth Villiers; the marriage was dissolved in 1988 and she died in 2014. His second wedding, in July 1999, to Margarita Kellett, at the Sudeley family chapel at Toddington, saw Sudeley, in his heavy clothing, waiting for an hour and half in the heat. His Russian bride’s beautician had been delayed.
He is survived by his third wife, Tatiana Dudina, a philologist, whom he married in 2010.
The 7th Lord Sudeley, born June 17 1939, died September 5 2022