Perhaps one of the worst example of noble excess throughout the last two hundred or so years can be claimed by the House of Montagu aka the Dukes of Manchester. The title, Duke of Manchester, came into being under George I. The family’s origin is Italian by way of France. The family’s fame came during the Normandy Invasion and under the rule of Charles I; their notoriety began about 170 years later.
By the time Lord Mandeville (the soon-to-be 8th Duke of Manchester) burst on the scene in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1875 he was already a well-known rake to the English aristocracy. Pictured to the left, he came by his profligate lifestyle honestly via a reckless father and a mother, (an attractive but decidedly unladylike German princess) whose guests “played cards for money after her dinner parties; [and] married women flirted and carried on with men not their husbands. The Duchess of Manchester was the sort of woman who went to a music hall with the Prince [of Wales] and danced the can-can.” –To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl. In any event, no respectable member of the British Aristocracy would encourage a marriage between their daughter and this particular English Lord. What was an extravagant playboy to do?
Saratoga was the perfect hunting ground for an American heiress and Lord Mandeville found one at the Grand Union Hotel when he met the “irrepressible” Consuelo Yznaga. Consuelo was great friends with Alva Vanderbilt and indeed Alva named her daughter after Consuelo (Consuelo Vanderbilt subsequently married the Duke of Marlborough through introductions from her godmother, the then Duchess of Manchester). Consuelo Yznaga’s father was a wealthy Cuban plantation owner and her mother was an American planter’s daughter. The family moved to New York after the Civil War and Conseulo became part of the New York social scene, though not accepted by the Knickerbockers set due to her un-American antecedents. Marriage to a Duke would solve all of that, or so she thought. Consuelo also had a good friend in author Edith Wharton who immortalized her story in The Buccaneers as the character, Conchita Closson.
It is said that Lord Mandeville fell in love with her as she nursed him through a bout of typhoid at the Yznaga home in Orange, NJ (Consuelo’s father was involved in Wall Street at the time). They married on March 22, 1876 in a lavish wedding at St. Grace’s church. “It was considered a great marriage for a poor girl who had been cruelly known as the heroine of the spare bedroom for her many sojourns to friends’ houses.” (August 19, 1892 New York Times) But fate dealt a cruel blow to House of Montagu when Consuelo’s father refused to give her a dowry as he disapproved of Lord Mandeville. In turn, the Lord Mandeville’s family were “exorcised” over the marriage, perhaps because the 7th Duke had wasted the family fortune and was looking to his son to save it.
By 1883 creditors were knocking. What started out as a marriage for love and produced three children in rapid succession, quickly devolved as Lord Mandeville returned to his old ways and blatantly took up with a male impersonator, the actress Bessie Bellwood. He was subsequently “ostracized” from London drawing rooms. By 1889 he filed for bankruptcy with liabilities of £600K. Consuelo and Lord Mandeville were now living apart. Lord Mandeville eventually tired of Bessie and sunk even lower in his licentious pursuits after being elevated to the title of Duke of Manchester upon his father’s death in March 1890. He inherited the title but his father had pretty much left a bankrupt estate. On August 18, 1892 the 8th Duke died of dissipation, just two years after becoming a Duke.
His and Conseulo’s son, William Angus Montagu, became the 9th Duke of Manchester. He followed his father in hunting for an American heiress to restore the family’s fortunes. He secretly married the society beauty, Helen Zimmerman, in 1900 whose father was involved in stock trading and who owned a large share of Standard Oil. While her money helped, as well as some money from his mother’s estate upon her death, the 9th Duke was also a spendthrift, like his father and grandfather. He spent much of his life abroad, running from creditors. A 1903 article in the NY Times describes a typical incident as it announces the seizure of 125 pieces of the Duke and Duchess’ luggage as they disembark from the Lusitania due to an unpaid $695 jeweler’s bill. His wife divorced him in 1932 after 32 years of dodging creditors. He declared bankruptcy more than once, tried to pawn his mother’s jewels, and was sentenced to prison for fraud. Not very noble, indeed.
When the 10th Duke of Manchester succeeded upon the death of his father in 1947, there wasn’t really any money left to inherit. He eventually landed in Kenya where he raised cattle and had a plantation. He was instrumental in selling off some of the family’s holdings to raise money to indulge his spending habits, but, unlike his father, his name wasn’t found on court dockets.
His eldest son who became the 11th Duke of Manchester in 1977 maintained his residence in South Africa and died in 1985 with no issue. Having been involved in a prolonged and ruinous legal battle with his stepmother, he sold off any remaining land holdings for a pittance of their value in the 1970’s. Upon his death, with no issue, the title passed to the younger brother who became the 12th Duke of Manchester—the title being pretty much all that was left to inherit. Very much in the family tradition, Angus Charles Drogo Montagu inherited the dukedom while he was awaiting trial for fraud at the Old Bailey in 1985.
“Described as a “business consultant”, he was accused, with several co-defendants, of conspiracy to obtain £38,000 by deception from the National Westminster Bank in Streatham, south London. Counterfeit American bonds had been offered as security for cash. Four months later, the Duke, who had denied the charge, was acquitted. He had, however, been described during the trial as “gullible and a bit of an ass”, and as “a very stupid person”. “On a business scale of one to 10,” said the judge, ‘the duke is one or less – and even that flatters him.’”-The Telegraph (UK), July 30, 2002
The 12th Duke of Manchester was not content to confine his misdeeds to Britain, however. In 1996 the Duke was found guilty by a Florida court of trying to defraud the Tampa Bay Lightning ice hockey team. The Duke “went on to serve 28 months in a state penitentiary – where he ran the laundry. His inmates, he said, were “hard men who wanted to try me out . . . but I stood up to them and they left me alone after that”. –The Telegraph, July 30, 2002. The Duke married four times but his eldest son from his first wife, an Australian, inherited the tarnished title of Duke of Manchester upon his father’s death on July 25, 2002.
Being the current and 13th Duke of Manchester with an unlucky number and an even more unlucky moniker, could Alexander Montagu do any worst by the title? Apparently the answer is yes.
The current Duke of Manchester has been imprisoned twice in his native Australia, was deported from Canada, committed bigamy, having both an Australian and an American wife for a period in the 1990’s, and has been married three times, and counting. Once friendly with Michael Jackson, he was a character witness at Jackson’s trial.
Not content to stay out of the limelight for long, in January 2012 he accused the Royal family of covering up the death of a young woman on their Sandringham estate.
The current Duchess of Manchester has a blog defending the Duke of Manchester legacy. For a picture of the current Duke check it out at http://theduchessofmanchester.blogspot.com/2012_03_01_archive.html
As for the Montagu family, this headline from the Mail on-line sums it up: Dukes of degeneracy: Fraudsters, drug addicts and jailbirds – the Dukes of Manchester have shamed the aristocracy for generations.
You can’t make this stuff up. Any noble scandals you’d like to comment on?
Anne Carrole writes about cowboys who have grit, integrity and little romance on their mind and the women who love them. Check out her contemporary novella, Falling for a Cowboy, and her western historical novella, Saving Cole Turner at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com or Kobobooks.com. Or find her at www.facebook.com/annecarrole, www.facebook.com/lovewesternromances or www.annecarrole.com