When the 17-year-old Charles March ploughed his mother’s MG 1100 into a tree on the family estate, another aristocratic family could have gone up in smoke. After all, often thanks to leaky roofs and even leakier libidos, many of Britain’s grandest families have lost their fortunes. Take the 7th Duke of Leinster. He was reduced to running a tearoom in Rye with his fourth wife, a caretaker. But March determined to drive better next time and, partly through a love of driving, went on to re-fuel the family’s great fortune, not least through his Goodwood Festival of Speed, now a huge success.
Enough blue bloods to fill a ballroom continue to head aristocratic families in Sussex, and far from tottering by gently, they grow ever richer. There can’t be many counties that boast a pairs of “graces” (“Your Grace” being the correct form of address next time you find yourself plonked next to a Duke at a Sussex dinner party). Yet our county boasts the Duke of Richmond, father of the aforementioned Earl of March, and Britain’s premier aristocrat, the Duke of Norfolk – who, confusingly, rather than that flat county in East Anglia, actually resides at Arundel Castle.
And if you thought these Dukes could lord it over everyone else in Sussex, think again: they struggle to keep up with the Joneses (or at least the Cowdrays, who live at one of the next door estates, where Lord C perches high on The Sunday Times Rich List). Cowdray wealth flows from the Pearson family, which has owned everything from The Financial Times to Chateau Latour, one of the world’s smartest wines. The family was given its ermine by Lloyd George, but rather than politics, the current Lord Cowdray became a self-declared hippy and film producer, making Sympathy for the Devil, starring Mick Jagger.
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