Constance Lewis

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Constance Lewis

Constance Edwina, Duchess of Westminster.jpg
The Duchess in 1906
Constance Edwina Cornwallis-West

(1875-05-16)16 May 1875
Died21 January 1970(1970-01-21) (aged 94)
(m. 1901; div. 1919)

John Fitzpatrick Lewis
(m. 1920)
Parent(s)William Cornwallis-West
Mary FitzPatrick Cornwallis-West
RelativesDaisy, Princess of Pless (sister)
George Cornwallis-West (brother)
Medal record
Representing  Great Britain
Olympic Games Olympic rings without rims.svg
Bronze medal – third place 1908 London 8 Metre

Constance Edwina Lewis, CBE (formerly Grosvenor, née Cornwallis-West; 16 May 1875 – 21 January 1970), also known as Shelagh, was an English socialite and peeress.[1]

Early life[edit]

Constance Edwina Cornwallis-West was the youngest child of William and Mary "Patsy" FitzPatrick. Her father was Member of Parliament for Denbighshire West and served as Lord-Lieutenant of Denbighshire from 1872 to 1917 and his mother was known as a great beauty and leading socialite. She was very close to her sister, Daisy, Princess of Pless (wife of Hans Heinrich XV von Hochberg). Her brother was George Cornwallis-West, the second husband of Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Winston Churchill.

Her maternal grandfather was Reverend Frederick Fitzpatrick and her paternal grandfather was Frederick Richard West (son of the Hon. Frederick West, younger son of John West, 2nd Earl De La Warr).[2]

Olympic career[edit]

The Duchess was one of only two women to compete in sailing at the 1908 Summer Olympics as owner and extra crewmember of the 8-metre bronze medal-winning yacht Sorais.[3] She distributed the diplomas of special merit to the competitors of the other Olympic sports on 25 July 1908.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

At a party at Blenheim Palace, Mary asked the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) to convince Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, to marry her daughter. The pair were married on 16 February 1901 and moved into Grosvenor House on Park Lane, a mansion that the Duke had inherited from his grandfather.[4] Later they lived together at Eaton Hall, Cheshire.[4] The Duke was one of the richest men in the world.[5] Together, they had three children:[6]

  • Lady Ursula Mary Olivia Grosvenor (1902–1978), whose descendants are the only descendants of the Duchess and of the Duke.[6]
  • Edward George Hugh Grosvenor, Earl Grosvenor (1904–1909), who died young.[6]
  • Lady Mary Constance Grosvenor (1910–2000), who never married and became a motor racing and rally driver.[6]

The marriage was happy at first and the couple shared many interests, including yachting and motor racing. However, her parents' expectation of personal financial gain through the marriage and her own long absence from home affected her marriage to the conservative Duke.

"Beautiful Duchess Gets Divorce" (July 12, 1919)[7]
The Duchess of Westminster in 1902
The Duchess in 1907

In 1909, the couple's only son and heir apparent to the dukedom died following an operation for appendicitis while the Duchess was away. The Duke accused her of neglecting the child, and the Duchess did not attend the boy's funeral.[4] It was rumoured that the Duchess was having a secret liaison with the Duke of Alba,[4] whilst her husband had what he described as his own "nocturnal adventures".[4] Nonetheless, the couple appeared together at social events until the birth of their youngest child, Lady Mary. In 1913, the Duke requested separation but, with the outbreak of the First World War, the couple turned their attention to war service – the Duke joined his regiment and the Duchess sponsored a military hospital in Le Touquet, housed in a local casino.[5][8]

In 1918, the Duchess was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her service in the war. The couple were divorced – on the grounds of the Duke's adultery and desertion – the following year, with the decree being made absolute 19 December 1919.[5] The alimony settlement of £13,000 a year he made upon her was then the largest in British legal history.[9]

After their divorce, the Duke married three more times, including to Violet Cripps, Baroness Parmoor, Loelia, Lady Lindsay, and Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster. The couple remained on friendly terms after 1919, hosting their daughters' debut balls together. Because their subsequent interactions were amicable, it has been surmised that both parties collaborated to achieve the divorce because each wanted to end the marriage and to remarry.[10]

Second marriage[edit]

St Mary's Church, Eccleston, Old Churchyard – plaque commemorating Constance Edwina (née Cornwallis-West, 1877−1970)

On 14 January 1920, aged 44, the former Duchess of Westminster secretly married her private secretary and agent, Captain John Fitzpatrick Lewis, then in his thirties, at Lyndhurst, Hampshire. She had met Lewis early in the war, while he was being treated at her hospital in Le Touquet.[11] They had no children.[12]

The former duchess died on 21 January 1970, aged 94.[6]

In popular culture[edit]

Dennis Wheatley dedicated his 1961 thriller Vendetta in Spain to her.[citation needed]


Constance Cornwallis-West ancestry
16. John West, 2nd Earl De La Warr
8. Frederick West
17. Mary Wynyard
4. Frederick Richard West
18. Richard Myddelton
9. Maria Myddelton
19. Elizabeth Rushout
2. William Cornwallis-West
20. Thomas Whitby
10. John Whitby
21. Mabella Turton
5. Theresa Whitby
22. Thomas Symonds
11. Mary Anne Symonds
23. Elizabeth Mallett
1. Constance Lewis
24. Joseph FitzPatrick
12. Frederick FitzPatrick
25. Mary Persse
6. Frederick FitzPatrick
26. Thomas Stone
13. Edwina Stone
27. Anna Maria Edwin
3. Mary FitzPatrick
28. Thomas Taylour, 1st Marquess of Headfort
14. Thomas Taylour, 2nd Marquess of Headfort
29. Mary Quin
7. Lady Olivia Taylour
30. Sir John Stevenson
15. Olivia Stevenson
31. Anne Morton


  1. ^ "Princess Daisy of Pless: the happy years".
  2. ^ "Headfort, Marquess of (I, 1800)". Heraldic Media Limited. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
  3. ^ Toms, Jan (11 May 2012). "Olympic Ladies – the 1896, 1900, 1904 and London's 1908 Olympiad". Suite101. Vancouver BC. Retrieved 20 October 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e Picardie, Justine (2010). Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life. London: HarperCollins. pp. 149–57.
  5. ^ a b c Harris, Russell (2011). "Lafayette L5112". Princess Daisy of Pless: The Happy Years. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Retrieved 20 October 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Westminster, Duke of (UK, 1874)". Heraldic Media Limited. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
  7. ^ Donovan, Henry. "Chicago Eagle". Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  8. ^ "Le Touquet Paris-Plage  – History". Le Touquet Holidays. 2011. Archived from the original on 8 July 2012. Retrieved 19 October 2012.
  9. ^ The Guinness Book of Records. Guinness Superlatives Ltd. 1972. p. 200. This record stood as late as the 1970s. According to National Archives currency converter, this figure in 1920 (nearest year to the divorce) was worth £275,730 a year in 2005.
  10. ^ Lady Mary's debutante ball 1928 was jointly hosted by the Duke (now married to Loelia Ponsonby and Mrs John Fitzpatrick Lewis (Constance)."Lady Mary says:--". The Sunday Morning Star. Wilmington DE. 1 July 1928. p. 23. Retrieved 20 October 2012.
  11. ^ "Duchess married to army aviator" (PDF). The New York Times. 24 January 1920. Retrieved 24 October 2012.
  12. ^ "Duchess of Westminster; a secret marriage". The Press. 23 January 1920. p. 6. Retrieved 24 October 2012.