Harry Cust

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Henry Cust
Henry Cockayne-Cust.jpg
Henry Cockayne-Cust
Born Henry John Cockayne Cust
(1861-10-10)10 October 1861
London, England
Died 2 March 1917(1917-03-02) (aged 55)
London, England
Education Trinity College, Cambridge
Occupation Politician and editor
Spouse(s) Emmeline Mary Elizabeth (Nina) Welby-Gregory (1893–1917)
Children Lady Diana Manners (illegitimate daughter)
Relatives Adelbert Brownlow-Cust, 3rd Earl Brownlow (cousin)
For his father, see Henry Cockayne-Cust.

Henry John Cockayne-Cust, JP, DL (10 October 1861 – 2 March 1917) was an English politician and editor who served as a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Unionist Party.


Cust was born to Sara Jane Cookson and Henry Cockayne-Cust,[1] and was educated at Eton (where he was captain of the Oppidans) and Trinity College, Cambridge.[2] While at Trinity, he was elected to the Apostles and graduated with second-class honours in the Classical Tripos with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.). Initially pursuing a legal career, Cust was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1888 but was not called. Instead he decided to enter Parliament, and won a by-election in 1890 for Stamford, Lincolnshire. He left Parliament at the general election of 1895, but returned five years later in 1900 when he won a seat in the constituency of Bermondsey, remaining until 1906. Meanwhile, he served as Justice of the Peace (J.P.) for Bedfordshire and as Deputy Lieutenant (D.L.) of Bedfordshire, as well as Justice of the Peace (J.P.) for Lincolnshire.[3]

Cust was one of The Souls and was attached to Pamela Wyndham, who later married Edward Tennant. Others in the same clique were Margot Asquith, Arthur Balfour, George Nathaniel Curzon, Alfred Lyttelton, Godfrey Webb, and George Wyndham. Considered a brilliant conversationalist by his contemporaries, he had a reputation as a womaniser and was the natural father of the socialite and philanthropist Lady Diana Cooper, by the Duchess of Rutland, although this was not acknowledged until much later. Cust was also rumoured to be the father of Beatrice Ethel Stephenson, born in 1889, who married in Grantham, Wesley Chapel, on 28 May 1917, Alfred Roberts, born in Ringstead, Northamptonshire, in 1893, and became the mother of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and although there was no solid proof of this connection, Lady Diana Cooper often jokingly referred to Mrs. Thatcher as her niece.[4]

In 1892, Cust met William Waldorf Astor, who invited him to edit the Pall Mall Gazette. Despite lacking any background in journalism, Cust immediately accepted. He soon transformed the newspaper into the best evening journal of the period, thanks in part to his securing contributors including Rudyard Kipling and H. G. Wells. Yet Cust rejected contributions submitted by Astor himself, who had literary aspirations; and this, coupled with political disagreements, led to Cust's dismissal in February 1896.[5]

After leaving the Pall Mall Gazette, Cust continued his career as an author. He wrote several poems, most notably "Non nobis domine".[6]

During World War I Cust was active in propaganda on behalf of the British Government. In August 1914, he founded the Central Committee for National Patriotic Organizations.[7]

Memorial to Henry John Cockayne Cust in St Peter and St Paul's Church, Belton, Lincolnshire

He died in 1917 of a heart attack at his home in Hyde Park Gate, London. He was heir to the barony of Brownlow, a position which at his death fell to his brother, Adelbert Salisbury Cust (b. 1867).[7]


As the result of a purported pregnancy, he married on 11 October 1893 Emmeline Mary Elizabeth Welby-Gregory (1867 – 29 September 1955), known as Nina, who was the daughter of Sir William Welby-Gregory, 4th Baronet, and Victoria, Lady Welby. The pregnancy was either false or a misrepresentation, and the couple, whose marriage was thereafter contentious, did not have any children. Nina Cust was a translator and editor of her mother's papers. She and her husband are buried together in Belton, Lincolnshire, with a monument designed by her.

Illegitimate descendants[edit]

His best-known lovechild was Lady Diana Manners, legally the daughter of Henry Manners, 8th Duke of Rutland. Internationally famous for her beauty, she married the politician Duff Cooper in 1919. In a curious twist of fate, it came to light in 2009 that Diana's son John Julius was the biological father of the writer Allegra Huston, whose legal father was the celebrated American film-maker John Huston; thus Henry Cust is Allegra Huston's great-grandfather.

A long-standing rumour has held that Cust had an affair with a servant at Belton House called Phoebe Stephenson, who consequently gave birth to a daughter named Beatrice, who married Alfred Roberts, a grocer in nearby Grantham; they were the parents of Margaret Thatcher.[8] In the 1980s, the very elderly Diana Cooper referred to Thatcher as "my niece, the Prime Minister".

Anita Leslie, in her book Marlborough House Set, implies that Cust had many more children with aristocratic lovers than just Diana Cooper. She writes (pg. 248):

so much of the Cust strain entered England's peerage, and that from such a number of cradles there gazed babies with eyes like large sapphires instead of the black boot buttons of their legal fathers.



  1. ^ Ancestry of Harry Cust
  2. ^ "Cust (Cockayne-Cust), Henry John Cockayne (CST881HJ)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  3. ^ http://thepeerage.com/p18488.htm#i184871
  4. ^ John Campbell The Grocer's Daughter
  5. ^ Damian Atkinson, "Cust, Henry John Cockayne", in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), v. 14, p. 819.
  6. ^ http://www.bartleby.com/101/876.html
  7. ^ a b c d Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Cust, Henry John Cockayne". Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York. 
  8. ^ http://www.granthammatters.co.uk/roberts-beatrice/

Further reading[edit]

  • Anita Leslie, The Marlborough House Set, Doubleday, New York, 1973 - Contains an entire chapter on Cust (Chapter 23, pp. 241–248)

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Compton Lawrance
Member of Parliament for Stamford
Succeeded by
William Younger
Preceded by
Alfred Lafone
Member of Parliament for Bermondsey
Succeeded by
George Cooper
Media offices
Preceded by
Edward Tyas Cook
Editor of The Pall Mall Gazette
1892 – 1896
Succeeded by
Douglas Straight