Thursday, June 30, 2011

July 29, 1861 --- Death of a Bankrupt Duke

Richard Plantagenet Temple Nugent Brydges Chandos Grenville, 2d Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, who single-handedly squandered most all of a huge family fortune, dies alone in the inelegant surroundings of a railway hotel. He was 64.

Massive real estate purchases - using primarily borrowed money - and prodigious spending habits led to his ruin. The Duke's entertainments had been legendary. On her last visit to the Duke's magnificent Buckinghamshire seat at Stowe in 1845, Queen Victoria was offended by the extravagance: "I am sure I have no such splendid apartments in either of my palaces." Two years later, His Grace fled to the continent, escaping debts of some £1.8 million. The collapse was total.

Bailiffs held a 40-day auction at Stowe in 1848. Holbein portraits, Sevres china, everything went, "to be sold in shops, to glitter in the public rooms of hotels, or decorate the mansions of self-made men." Stowe was abandoned; its "fish ponds choking up, its lawns unshorn, its walks unkept." Sir Charles Greville paid a visit and thought it "altogether a painful monument of human vanity, folly, and, it may be added, wickedness, for wicked it is thus to ruin a great House and wife and children."

Buckingham's wife, daughter of the Marquess of Breadalbane, whose own fortune was drained dry, had left him. From exile, the Duke inquired as to the possibility of being named Viceroy in India. Prime Minister Derby demurred, noting privately that the Duke's "character and habits of life would render his appointment to high office discreditable to any Government." His only son - forced to become a "man of business" - rose to the post of Chairman of the Great Western Railway and found a room for his profligate pater in the company hotel at Paddington Station.  "From the splendor of a prince the unfortunate Duke descended to the grade of a lodger." At his death, there is little sympathy; i.e. The Times: "[He] flung away all by extravagance and folly, and reduced his honor to the tinsel of a pauper and the baubles of a fool."

His son assumed the title. While he was able to settle the remaining family debts, he died without issue, bringing the Dukedom to an end.

A sketch of the Duke, still flush, in 1845 from the Illustrated London News

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