11th Duke of Marlborough 1926-2014

by Richard M. Langworth on 19 October 2014

Photo by Allen Warren, 1984.

Photo by Allen War­ren, 1984.

“You mustn’t address him as ‘Your Grace.’”

It was 2005. Lady Soames was help­ing me write to her cousin the Duke, ask­ing (again) for the lease (at another friend-of-the-family dis­count) of the Great Hall at Blenheim Palace for a black tie din­ner to crown the 13th Churchill Tour.

“What should I call him then? I can’t say ‘Sunny,’ as you do!” (The fam­ily nick­name stemmed from the Duke’s first title, Earl of Sun­der­land.)

“Of course not. But ‘Your Grace’ is too for­mal, or for ser­vants. Why not write, ‘My Dear Duke’?”

“Sounds pos­i­tively medieval,” I said, draw­ing a snort from Win­ston Churchill’s daugh­ter. “Well,” she said, “if you want to be com­pletely unimag­i­na­tive you can write ‘Dear Sir,’ But it will sound like a solicitor’s letter.”

Duchess and Duke receiving Marcus and Molly Frost, Churchill Tour XIII, 2006. At right, Paul Duffie.

Duchess and Duke receiv­ing Mar­cus and Molly Frost, Churchill Tour XIII, 2006. At right, Paul Duffie.

Duti­fully I wrote “My Dear Duke,” and he quickly replied (Dear Richard…Yours, Sunny). Of course we could have the Great Hall; yes, at lower cost; yes, he and the Duchess would be happy to attend. Just one thing, he added: “This will have to be the last time at that price. I have to answer to my trustees, and they sim­ply don’t under­stand my mak­ing exceptions.”

I remem­bered that episode when I heard he’d left us, because it illus­trates not only what a gen­er­ous man he was, but how much he cared about Blenheim, so often run down in the past, which waxed glo­ri­ous thanks to his atten­tion to detail, his busi­ness acu­men. And to assure con­ti­nu­ity, he had orga­nized a new board of trustees, to whom even he paid def­er­ence, know­ing that they were devoted to its sur­vival as the national mon­u­ment to John Churchill, First Duke of Marl­bor­ough.

Make no mis­take, it is no easy task. I once asked him why, every time I vis­ited, there was scaf­fold­ing up some­where around the build­ing. “Because,” he said with a smile, “every time we fin­ish paint­ing the win­dow sash, it’s time to start all over again.” I had to think he was speak­ing fig­u­ra­tively, but it did empha­size the work needed to pre­serve an 18th cen­tury palace.

The Marl­bor­oughs were com­mit­ted at every level. “I think peo­ple visu­al­ize me loung­ing on a divan in leop­ard­skin leo­tards, with a long cig­a­rette holder,” joked his wife of thirty-six years, the for­mer Count­ess Rosita Dou­glas, in the Orangery dur­ing a lesser but by no means ungrand Churchill ban­quet. She ges­tured toward the ceil­ing: “Trust me, I’ve been up there on the scaf­fold­ing scrub­bing the den­tils with a tooth­brush like every­body else.” Rosita, his wife from 1972 to 2008, was as wel­com­ing as he was.

For our first Great Hall din­ner in 1996, warned that the Duke was noto­ri­ously hard to con­verse with, I seated at his right my secret weapon, Mrs. Bar­bara Lang­worth, who is capa­ble of engag­ing with any­body. The two of them chat­ted gaily through­out the meal. “I thought he was hard to talk to?” I asked her after­ward. “How did you do it?” “Cows!” she said. We then lived next to a New Hamp­shire dairy farm; Bar­bara merely men­tioned cows, and the Duke was off and run­ning on the fine points of bovine husbandry.

Churchillians came to Blenheim not to gape at its won­ders but because it was the birth­place and some­time habi­ta­tion of Win­ston Churchill. Twice we dined in ulti­mate splen­dor in the Great Hall, the Duke and Duchess in the receiv­ing line, putting every­one at ease. Another time it was the Orangery, as always orga­nized by the Duke’s indis­pens­able man­ager Paul Duffie. Once it was the Spencer-Churchill Con­fer­ence Room, which the Duke made avail­able for our aca­d­e­mic sym­po­sium on Marl­bor­ough: His Life and Times. Yet again it was the Blenheim Muni­ment Room, off lim­its except to schol­ars, where we were shown the Marl­bor­ough archives that Churchill had perused while writ­ing the great biog­ra­phy of his ances­tor. At every one of those occa­sions the Duke and Duchess made them­selves avail­able, even when pressed by other con­cerns, to wel­come us to their home.

The Long Library at Blenheim is dom­i­nated by an 1891 Henry Willis organ, which bears a poignant leg­end: “In mem­ory of happy days & as a trib­ute to this glo­ri­ous home, we leave thy voice to speak within these walls in years to come, when ours are still.”

DSCN0141The 11th Duke of Marl­bor­ough went to his rest know­ing that his work to pre­serve and pro­tect a Churchillian mon­u­ment goes on under his trustees. I am con­fi­dent that his voice will speak, through their exam­ple, in years to come, when ours are still.


He drank 42,000 bottles of champagne?

October 4, 2014

It’s nice to be quoted, even if it’s only your pen name, in my case “Michael Richards.” In “Churchill’s Leg­endary Thirst,” The Her­ald (Scot­land) of 4 Octo­ber 2014, drinks colum­nist Mr. Tom Bruce-Gardyne kindly quotes me while reveal­ing the aston­ish­ing cal­cu­la­tion that Churchill drank 42,000 bot­tles of cham­pagne!…. The claim is one of a stream culled from a new book by the […]

Read the full article →

Benjamin Netanyahu on #Churchill

September 17, 2014

Prime Min­is­ter Netanyahu pays Sir Win­ston Churchill a com­pli­ment (and this writer a smaller one), in his thanks for a gift of an inscribed copy of my book, Churchill In His Own Words, a col­lec­tion of 4000 anno­tated quo­ta­tions (which Churchill really said), along with a short appen­dix of the pop­u­lar apho­risms he never said, but is fre­quently cred­ited with (Churchillian Drift). […]

Read the full article →

Churchill’s Term “Christian Civilization”

September 15, 2014

An ear­lier post here on Churchill and Reli­gion has been picked up (in con­text albeit some­what abbre­vi­ated) by Wal­lace Hen­ley in “The Global Tsunami on ‘Good’” in CP News. “I am not argu­ing for a Chris­t­ian theoc­racy,” Mr. Hen­ley writes, but for adher­ence to the basic doc­trines of life, love and care described in Scrip­ture. Win­ston Churchill […]

Read the full article →

“Squeeze Germany until the Pips Squeak”

September 14, 2014

Writ­ing in the Ari­zona Repub­lic, Clay Thomp­son prop­erly cor­rects a reader who believes it was Churchill who coined the phrase, “we shall squeeze Ger­many until the pips squeak” when he was “sec­re­tary of the navy.” Mr. Thomp­son cor­rectly replied that this was not Churchill but, among oth­ers, Sir Eric Campbell-Geddes, who served as First Lord of the […]

Read the full article →