Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For other people named Hugh Grosvenor, see Hugh Grosvenor (disambiguation).
His Grace
The Duke of Westminster
Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster.jpg
The Duke in early 1900s
Personal details
Born Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor
(1879-03-19)19 March 1879
Died 19 July 1953(1953-07-19) (aged 74)
Nationality British
Spouse(s) Constance Cornwallis-West
Violet Nelson
Loelia Ponsonby
Anne Sullivan
Children Lady Ursula Vernon
Edward, Earl Grosvenor
Lady Mary Grosvenor
Parents Victor Grosvenor, Earl Grosvenor
Lady Sibell Lumley

Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, GCVO, DSO (familiarly "Bendor") (19 March 1879 – 19 July 1953) was a British landowner and one of the wealthiest men in the world.

He was the son of Victor Grosvenor, Earl Grosvenor, son of the 1st Duke of Westminster, and Lady Sibell Lumley, the daughter of the 9th Earl of Scarborough.[1]

Nickname "Bend'Or"[edit]

Azure, a bend or, the ancient Grosvenor arms before the 1389 lawsuit Scrope v Grosvenor

From his childhood and during his adult life he was known within family circles as "Bendor",[2] which was also the name of the racehorse Bend Or owned by his grandfather the first Duke, which won the Epsom Derby in 1880, the year following his grandson's birth. The name is a jovial reference to the ancient lost and much lamented former armorials of the family: Azure, a bend or, which were awarded to the Scrope family in the famous case of 1389 heard before the Court of Chivalry, known as Scrope v Grosvenor. His wife Loelia wrote in her memoirs: "Of course everybody, even his parents and sisters, would normally have addressed the baby as "Belgrave" so they may have thought that any nickname was preferable. At all events it stuck, and my husband's friends never called him anything but Bendor or Benny".[3]


His ancestral country estate in Cheshire, the 54-bedroom Eaton Hall consisted of 11,000 acres of parkland, gardens and stables. The main residence had its walls hung with master works, paintings by Goya, Rubens, Raphael, Rembrandt, Hals, and Velázquez. An avid participant in the hunting life, the Duke owned lodges reserved for the sport in Scotland and France (the Château Woolsack). For sea excursions, he had his choice of two sailing vessels, “The Cutty Sark”, and a yacht, “Flying Cloud”. For ground transportation he had 17 Rolls Royce automobiles and a private train built to facilitate travel from Eaton Hall directly into London where his townhouse Grosvenor House was located. Grosvenor House was later leased to The United States for use as the American Embassy.[4]

Like many of his social class whose lives were ones of privilege and leisure, the Duke occupied himself in the pursuit of pleasure. He was described as “a pure Victorian who had eyes for his shotgun, his hunters, his dogs … a man who enjoyed hiding diamonds under the pillow of his mistresses …” [5] He did not, however, avoid military service, volunteering to fight as a front-line officer in both the Boer War and the Great War.

Military service[edit]

The Duke circa 1900

Lord Grosvenor had taken a commission with the Royal Horse Guards and was in South Africa serving in the Second Boer War, when in December 1899 he succeeded his grandfather. After a brief visit back home, he returned in February 1900 to serve with the Imperial Yeomanry, as an ADC to Lord Roberts and Lord Milner. He resigned his commission in December 1901,[6] and was appointed Captain of the Cheshire (Earl of Chester´s) Imperial Yeomanry the following month.[7] He subsequently invested in land in South Africa and Rhodesia.

In 1908, the Duke competed in the London Olympics as a motorboat racer for Great Britain. On 1 April 1908, he was named honorary lieutenant-colonel of the 16th Battalion, The London Regiment, a post he held until 1915.

In the Great War The Duke served with distinction, showing both initiative in combat and technical skill with motor-cars. While attached to the Cheshire Yeomanry he developed a prototype Rolls-Royce Armoured Car for their use. During their 1916 campaign in Egypt, as part of the Western Frontier Force under General William Peyton, the Duke (then a major) commanded the armoured cars of the regiment and took part in the destruction of a Senussi force at the Action of Agagia on 26 February 1916. On 14 March 1916, he led the armoured cars on a daring raid against superior forces that destroyed the enemy camp at Bir Asiso. Learning that the crews of HMT Moorina and HMS Tara were being held at Bir Hakeim, he led the nine armoured cars - with three armed but unarmoured cars and a further 28 cars and ambulances - on a 120-mile (190 km) dash across the desert to rescue them. The Senussi ran away rather than engage in a fight but their leader, a Moslem cleric nicknamed 'Holy Joe', was captured. He was hanged for abusing the prisoners by forcing them to labour for months in his fields, feeding them little but the snails in which the region abounded.[8] Grosvenor received the DSO for his exploits. He was subsequently promoted colonel and on 26 May 1917, he was named honorary colonel of the regiment.


Westminster and Chanel

In 1925, he was introduced to Gabrielle ("Coco") Chanel after a party in Monte Carlo and pursued her. He was as extravagant with her as he was with all of his lovers. He purchased a home for Chanel in London's prestigious Mayfair district, and in 1927 gave her a parcel of land on the French Riviera at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin where Chanel built her villa, La Pausa. His romantic liaison with Chanel lasted ten years.[9] An illustration of both Westminster’s extravagance and orchestrated technique in the courting of women has endured in the form of various apocryphal stories. He purportedly concealed a huge uncut emerald at the bottom of a crate of vegetables delivered to Chanel. Disguised as a deliveryman, Westminster appeared at Chanel’s apartment with an enormous bouquet of flowers. His ruse was only uncovered after Chanel’s assistant offered “the delivery boy” a tip.

Political ideology[edit]

The 2nd Duke's portrait bust at St Mary's Church, Eccleston

In 1931, the Duke, a Conservative, exposed his brother-in-law, William Lygon, 7th Earl Beauchamp (1872–1938), as a homosexual to the King and Queen. He reportedly hoped to ruin the Liberal Party through Beauchamp. The king was horrified, supposedly saying, "I thought men like that shot themselves."

During the run-up to World War II, he supported various right-wing and anti-Semitic causes, including the Right Club. "His anti-Semitic rants were notorious." [10] In her book “The Light of the Common Day,Lady Diana Cooper reminisces back to the day of September 1, 1939. She and her husband, Duff Cooper were lunching at London’s Savoy Grill with the Duke of Westminster. She recalls:

“‘when he [the Duke of Westminster] added that Hitler knew after all that we were his best friends, he set off the powder-magazine. "I hope". Duff spat, "that by tomorrow he will know that we are his most implacable and remorseless enemies". Next day "Bendor (Duke of Westminster)", telephoning to a friend, said that if there was a war it would be entirely due to the Jews and Duff Cooper'.” [11]

The Duke, known for his pro-German sympathies, was reportedly instrumental in influencing his former mistress, Coco Chanel, to use her association with Winston Churchill to broker a bilateral peace agreement between the British and the Nazis.[12] It was in late 1943 or early 1944 that Chanel, and her then current lover, Nazi espionage agent, Baron Hans Gunther Von Dinklage, did undertake such an assignment. Code named “Operation Modellhut,” it was an attempt through the British Embassy in Madrid, via Chanel, to influence Churchill, and thereby persuade the British to negotiate a separate peace with Germany. This mission as planned ultimately met with failure, as Churchill had no interest.[13]

Marriages and issue[edit]

The Duke's first wife in 1902

On 16 February 1901, the Duke married Constance Edwina (Shelagh) Cornwallis-West (1876–1970). They had three children:[1]

  • Lady Ursula Mary Olivia Grosvenor (21 February 1902[1] – 1978), married, firstly, William Patrick Filmer-Sankey in 1924 and was divorced in 1940. She married, secondly, Major Stephen Vernon in 1940. By her first husband she had two sons, Patrick (who married the film actress Josephine Griffin) and Christopher Filmer-Sankey, the younger dying in her lifetime. Her child by her second husband died young. Lady Ursula's descendants by her first husband are the sole descendants of the 2nd Duke. They reside in the UK, Australia and Sweden.
  • Edward George Hugh Grosvenor, Earl Grosvenor (1904–1909),[1] who died aged 4, after an operation for appendicitis.
  • Lady Mary Constance Grosvenor (27 June 1910 – 2000).[1]

On 26 November 1920, the Duke became the second husband of Violet Mary Nelson (1891–1983). They were divorced in 1926.

Westminster married Loelia Mary Ponsonby (1902–1993) on 20 February 1930. The couple were unable to have children[14] and divorced in 1947 after several years of separation.[15]

He married Anne (Nancy) Winifred Sullivan (1915–2003) on 7 February 1947. She outlived him by fifty years.[1]

The Duke was known for multiple love affairs and spectacular presents. After Coco Chanel he was fascinated by the Brazilian Aimée de Heeren who was not interested in marrying him and to whom he gave significant jewellery, once part of the French Crown Jewels.

Death and succession[edit]

The Duke died in 1953, aged 74, and was buried in the churchyard of Eccleston Church near Eaton Hall, Cheshire. He left two daughters. His titles and the entailed Westminster estate passed to his cousin, William Grosvenor, and thence to the two sons of his youngest half-uncle Lord Hugh Grosvenor (killed in action 1914). The title is now held by Gerald Grosvenor, 6th Duke of Westminster, who was born during the 2nd Duke's lifetime.



  1. ^ a b c d e f Lundy, Darryl. "The". The Peerage.  External link in |publisher= (help)[unreliable source?]
  2. ^ Loelia, Duchess of Westminster, Memoirs of, London, 1961, pp.172-4
  3. ^ Loelia, Duchess of Westminster, Memoirs of, London, 1961, p.173
  4. ^ Vaughan, Hal, "Sleeping With The Enemy, Coco Chanel's Secret War," Alfred A. Knopf, 2011, p.39-45
  5. ^ Vaughan, Hal, "Sleeping With The Enemy, Coco Chanel's Secret War," Alfred A. Knopf, 2011, p.41
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27382. p. 8560. 3 December 1901.
  7. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27398. p. 389. 17 January 1902.
  8. ^ Duncan N W, AFV Profile No. 9 Early Armoured Cars p6
  9. ^ Vaughan, Hal, "Sleeping with the enemy: Coco Chanel's secret war," Knopf, 2011, p. 36-37
  10. ^ Vaughan, Hal, "Sleeping With the Enemy, Coco Chanel's Secret War, " Alfred A. Knopf, 2011, p. 101
  11. ^, retrieved August 30, 2012
  12. ^ Vaughan, Hal, "Sleeping With the Enemy, Coco Chanel's Secret War, " Alfred A. Knopf, 2011, p. 161
  13. ^ Vaughan, Hal, "Sleeping With the Enemy, Coco Chanel's Secret War, " Alfred A. Knopf, 2011, p. 169-175
  14. ^ Anne Duchess of Westminster
  15. ^ Lady Lindsay of Downhill


  • Burke's Peerage & Baronetage (Various editions)
  • Debrett's Peerage & Baronetage (Various editions)
  • Leslie Field: "Bendor – The Golden Duke of Westminster" (1983)

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Earl Egerton of Tatton
Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire
Succeeded by
Sir William Bromley-Davenport
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Hugh Grosvenor
Duke of Westminster
Succeeded by
William Grosvenor