Polesden Lacey was left to the National Trust when its owner Mrs Greville died childless in September 1942. Her total estate at that time was valued at over £1.5M which at today’s money would be over £200M, an enormous amount of money. She was one of the super-rich. In brackets are shown an idea of today’s values.
The Polesden Lacey house and grounds formed only part of the bequests of her will and it is interesting to see how and to whom the rest of her estate was divided. Her final will was dated March 1942. Mrs Greville over the years had made previous wills and in Shawcross’s biography of the Queen Mother it states that her will of the middle 1930s before the abdication of Edward VIII left Polesden Lacey estate to the Duke and Duchess of York, later George VI and Queen Elizabeth. When they ascended to the throne the situation demanded that the will should be changed as the new king and queen had inherited all the royal palaces.
The will makes monetary bequests of over £100,000 (~£15M) and it is intriguing to see how it was divided. A legacy of £20,000 (~£3M) was left to Princess Margaret and another of £25,000 (~£4M) to Eugenie, the Queen of Spain. These were major sums of money in 1942. Why such a gift was made to Princess Margaret is not obvious apart from being the daughter of the Queen Mother, a person with whom she had formed a close and personal friendship. Princess Margaret was only in her teens at the time of Mrs Greville’s death.
Queen Eugenie was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria and had been brought up in England as an Anglican -later marrying King Alfonso of Spain in 1906. The King and Queen were exiled from Spain in 1931 in the revolution – her marriage was not happy and afterwards Ena as she was known parted from her husband and lived partly in the UK but mainly in Lausanne. There are several photos of Eugenie in Polesden Lacey and the legacy reflected the relationship of friendship she had with Mrs Greville. Presumably she was also in need of the money to maintain her lifestyle.
Mrs Greville had thirteen god children and each was left £500 (£~70K) or in two cases £1,000 (~£150K). One of them stands out in history – Sonia Keppel born in 1900 (or Mrs Roland Cubitt as she later became) who was left £500 (~£70K). She was the daughter of George Keppel, a close associate of Mrs Greville’s husband, by his wife, Alice Keppel, who is renowned as the last of the mistresses of Edward VII – amongst his previous mistresses were Daisy, Countess of Warwick and Lillie Langtry. Note that Sonia was born in 1900 and her mother began her alliance with Edward VII in 1898 – was George Keppel really her father? Sonia Keppel is grandmother to the Duchess of Cornwall or Camilla.
One of the greatest bequests was all her major jewels and jewellery to Queen Elizabeth who we know today as the Queen Mother. This included the incredible Boucheron tiara and the Marie Antoinette necklace. Today’s value of these is many millions and they are now in the royal collection and on state occasions can be seen worn by Camilla or the Queen. They have already been the subject of an article in a previous Bulletin which can be found on the website.
Perhaps some of the most interesting sets of bequests were those made to her household, the servants, and those running her affairs. There were over 40 in the house and over 20 in the grounds. All of them were remembered in her will and even the meanest servants who had been with her any time at all were given seven years’ wages. The more personal staff were particularly remembered, with £1,000 (~£150K) to Bole the butler (termed Steward in the will) and £500 (~£70K) annuity for life and Sidney Smith, her chauffeur an annuity and all her cars. She also particularly names one of her personal maids. A personal friend Marie Adelaine Liron was also remembered by an annuity and her dogs put in her care.
These bequests reflect her thought and concern for the servants – she herself had been born to a housekeeper in her father’s house and her attitude must have reflected this background. She had risen from the illegitimate daughter of a housekeeper to one of the wealthiest in England and had maintained some sixty to seventy servants, providing them with a living, accommodation and food. True, they received small wages and normally only one day off a month but they had been looked after well. One must muse upon the hard fact that there is nothing like this today. The servant class has disappeared leaving the state to provide benefits in its place. The nouveau rich of today do not think of maintaining and housing sixty to seventy of the poorer people.
The will defines in detail what should be done to the Polesden Lacey Estate, where Mrs Greville’s grave should be close to her dogs’ cemetery and how the estate should be maintained, how the art collection should be exhibited and the care of her father’s grave in Bookham Church.
In addition to these bequests over £17,000 was left to charities including £10,000 (~£1.5M) to the Anti-Vivisection Society to protect dogs.