Shed a tear for three British aristocrats, with their millions of pounds and stately homes, who suffered such misfortune, one might barely distinguish them from commoners
Privileged aristocrats are human and so suffer poor luck and judgement like the rest of us. But for us unwashed masses there is a certain guilty pleasure in seeing them fall from grace.
Here are three nobles who may have been born with silver spoons in their mouths, but ended up shopping for plastic cutlery at their local supermarket.
Sir John Stuart Knill, 3rd Baron Knill
The Knill Barony was founded relatively recently in 1893. Stuart Knill was head of the ‘John Knill and Co’ wharf company. (wharfingers, to use a technical term) He rose to become such a prominent citizen of the capital he served as Sheriff of London then Mayor of London — the first-ever Roman Catholic Mayor of London since the Reformation.
His son the 2nd Baron also served as city mayor from 1909–10.
It was the 3rd Baron, however, who lost it all.
Sir John Stuart Knill rose to the rank of Captain in the Machine Gun Corps during the First World War but later managed his family fortune so badly he lost the family home – Knill Court in Herefordshire.
Was he eccentric, a fool, adversely affected by the brutalities of that terrible war in the trenches? It’s hard to say. It’s possible he was a bit loopy, as we’ll see later.
Knill fell back on his expertise on antiques to open an antiques shop yet he couldn’t keep that in business either.
By the 1930s Knill was reduced to running a Bric-a-Brac stall in London but even that went under, and he swept streets on the weekends to make ends meet.
Knill continued his decline down an itinerant path as a postman then a DIY cat breeder. By the 1950s, Knill became the first-ever aristocrat to live in public housing, to the glee of sections of the London press.
Even his wife, Lady Ruth Evelyn Knill, worked as a mill girl and once quipped: “We’ve lived hard and now we are down to rock bottom. I’m living up to my name. Of money, we have Knill.”
Knill continued to attract minor fame for all the wrong reasons, and, it seemed, he might’ve been a sandwich short of a picnic after all. Knill was reported to be trying to win the ‘Pools’ (a British lottery, of sorts) by hypnotizing his wife to stare at a blank screen and ‘see’ the winning number combinations.
His son, the 4th Baron, regained some dignity for the Knill family line by championing the preservation of local canals. Yet, he is best remembered for his eccentricity around his hometown of Bath, whizzing about in a wheelchair with its astonishing system of levers, pulleys and cranks.
Today, all evidence suggests the living Knills are ‘regular joes’ who don’t hold any titles of peerage.
Angus Montagu, 12th Duke of Manchester
The Dukedom of Manchester was created in 1719 for the Montagu family. Charles Montagu had served his king as a diplomat over the years and was created the 1st Duke of Manchester upon being appointed to King George the 3rd’s Household.
His successors served in various esteemed positions through the centuries as the British Empire grew and prospered, and so did the family’s fortunes.
Yet the 7th, 8th and 9th dukes were lavish spendthrifts, the numerous properties, the land, the profligate business deals exhausted the once huge family fortune. William Montagu, the 9th Duke spent much of his life abroad ducking and diving and networking amongst his wealthy circle of friends for money.
By the 1950s the family’s financial mismanagement meant that the 10th Duke had had to sell the family home of Kimbolton Castle and most of his lands and properties, although he managed to keep up appearances, at least, with his 10,000-acre farm in Kenya.
Yet by 1985, Angus Montagu stepped up to inherit the 12th Duke of Manchester title and, of the millions his family once hoarded, he inherited just £70,000 at his father’s death.
In his early years, Angus had a patchy education growing up and didn’t last long in the Royal Marines because he stood out like a sore thumb with his silver-spoon upbringing.
So, he travelled around the Commonwealth working variously as a clothes salesman, a barman, and even a crocodile wrestler in his younger years.
It was to his ultimate detriment Angus was nice, but dim. He was a gullible man; Fraudsters fleeced him not once, but twice as a result. As he got ever more desperate to arrest his slide away from privilege, he got involved with all sorts of dodgy dealings; he even courted the Mafia.
In the same year the Duke exercised his right to sit in the House of Lords, in 1991, Angus was arrested for conspiracy to commit fraud against the National Westminster Bank for £38,000. But he dodged a guilty verdict. The trial judge didn’t credit him with the intelligence to organise such a high jinx crime; the judge figured the Duke had been duped by others to take the blame.
In the judge’s words, “…on a business scale of one to ten, the Duke is one or less, and even that flatters him”.
Unable to pay significant debts, it was in the USA the 12th Duke was convicted of fraud in 1996, and even at the trial his defence lawyer argued that he was the victim of a confidence trick by a business partner due to his gullibility, vanity, and foolishness. He was jailed for 28 months before being deported back to Britain.
His son Alexander Montagu, the 13th Duke of Manchester sank even lower. He is the current incumbent of the Dukedom, yet his life is one more like a degenerate celebrity’s than an aristocrat’s
This bigamist has been married just three times (to date) compared to his father’s four marriages.
The first of those to Marion Stoner, an Australian model who was 20 years older, lasted 2 months — she left him after Alexander shot at her with a speargun, which fortunately missed.
In the same year his dad inherited the Dukedom, his son was sentenced to three years in prison after being convicted of 22 charges of fraud, and in 1991, the same year the 12th Duke was acquitted of fraud charges the later 13th Duke was arrested again in Brisbane after he sold a car he had rented.
His other career highlights include bigamy charges and another run-in with the law for knowingly passing a $3,575 check without ‘funds, property or credit’ in 2011. For this, he was jailed from 2013 to 2017.
David Brudenell-Bruce, Earl of Cardigan
The convoluted and anarchic rules on inherited peerages means David Brudenell-Bruce is called the Earl of Cardigan, but officially he is 8th Marquess of Ailesbury in waiting.
David is also the 31st Hereditary Warden of Savernake Forest — the only privately owned forest in England, and an estate never sold in almost 1000 years.
David’s family history is largely free of the financial turbulence the other nobles here suffered. Aside from a degenerate gambler in the 19th Century, the financial affairs of the Brudenhall-Bruces were eerily stable.
The first of his ancestors honoured with the Marquess of Ailesbury is Charles Brudenell-Bruce; a career politician given the peerage in 1821 in no small part because his father had been Governor to King George IV.
Another ancestor of his was James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, who led the legendary Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854.
For the Earl of Cardigan, his family fortunes only plummeted after the 2008 Banking Crisis. His family estate, including the ancestral home of Tottenham House, are part of the Savernake Forest which places it in the care of a board of trustees.
Back in 2005 whilst the economy appeared evergreen, Earl Cardigan’s family trust granted a commercial lease to a US-based hotel corporation to turn his ancestral home, Tottenham House, into a 5-star luxury golf resort.
Once the economic bubble popped, however, the American company failed to pay its rent and ceased trading.
This plopped the estate into a financial morass and triggered a saga of bitter legal disputes between the Earl and members of the trusteeship over how they were managing and selling his family assets in their attempts to right the ship.
The legal costs mounted and by 2011, the estate was about to go under if something drastic wasn’t done. In the same year, the Earl married his 2nd wife in Arizona but, whilst abroad, the trust, with his son, Thomas Brudenell-Bruce, Viscount Savernake’s consent, sold Tottenham House.
One can only imagine how Brudenhall-Bruce Sr. felt upon returning to blighty with his new American wife to find out his family home was no longer his.
Then he hit rock bottom; the courts froze David from access to any of his family revenues, so by 2013, he was living on benefits of £10 per day and training to be a Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) Driver.
Later, the Earl was scandalously caught failing to stop when he hit a nurse’s parked car, and for that, he was fined even though he ‘failed’ to go to court for it.
Since 2017 his circumstances have improved; he is still warden of the Forest, and so lives on a lodge within the estate with access to some of his finances re-acquired.
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