IT IS the ultimate riches to rags story – from dowager countess to applying for work as a cleaner in her local hospital.
Lady Caroline Minto, 58, was the embodiment of upper-class refinement for 14 years as the wife of the 6th Earl of Minto.
Sadly, the former model is now ?150 overdrawn and fretting over how to pay the bills to keep her modest flat in the Italian spa town of Chianciano Terme.
She was left 100,000 in her former husband's will but received just 10,000. At the time, solicitor Douglas Connell said there was not enough money left in the estate of the 6th Earl – Gilbert Edward George Lariston Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, or Gibbie Elliot – to pay the remaining 90,000.
But Lady Minto says that in 2001, her late husband signed over personal holdings worth 300,000 to the Minto Trust and believes her legacy should be paid out of this.
The mother-of-three is now planning to return to Scotland this summer to speak to solicitors about bringing a civil case against her stepson, the 7th Earl Timothy Melgund, and Connell.
Despite falling on hard times, the cut-glass accent remains and the British stiff upper lip is evident in her steely determination to fight on against the odds.
"I've been told I've been beaten but I haven't. It's still possible," she said. "I feel as though I can't keep going much longer, but I can't just let go."
The former nurse admits she received strange looks when she asked for work at the hospital near where she lives in Tuscany.
"I went in and they looked at me and said, 'This is for cleaning.' I just told them I'm very good at cleaning, extremely good.
"They don't have anything at the moment but I filled in a form. They asked me if I was OK cleaning up blood and I said I would, I could clean the operating tables.
"They said that was good as it's harder to get people to clean things that are totally bloody.
"I have bills to pay. I go to bed at night worrying about where I will find the money to feed myself and my son.
"If I lost my flat I think I would lose my mind. It's all I have for my children, for the future. The only way is to fight and win.
"My husband left me provided for – I'm fighting this for both of us."
She met the widowed earl, whose family seat was near Hawick, at an art exhibition in 1991 when he dropped his spectacles and she picked them up.
They were married within months and were together until 2004, when they divorced. During that time the earl became ill and his condition deteriorated until he needed permanent oxygen treatment.
Friends of the couple say Lady Minto doted on him and they remained good friends until his death in September 2005. However, Melgund accuses her of deserting him when he fell ill, something she emphatically denies.
She hopes that a civil court case this summer will not only help her financially but be a way of bringing out the truth.
"It's just a matter of getting someone to take my case to the civil court," she said.
"I'm entitled to legal aid and afterwards I would be able to pay them. When you know the truth you have to fight for the truth."
Part of her case centres on two paintings which she says were the work of French old master Jean-Antoine Watteau. In 2008, another of his works, La Surprise, sold for 12.3 million at auction.
However, Melgund has denied the estate ever contained paintings by Watteau and they were not listed in the inventory.
A spokeswoman for solicitors Turcan Connell said: "Client confidentiality is at the heart of the Turcan Connell ethos and as a total rule we never make comment on any aspect of client business.
"If Lady Minto wishes to take the matter further then she should instruct her lawyers to contact us."
Melgund declined to comment last week. However, in 2008 he said: "My ex-stepmother deserted my father when he became bedridden and ill.
"He was then supported by the local authority until I managed to have him moved into a home where he became very happy again and unfortunately died in 2005.
"The perception that my family is a rich family is just a nonsense, I'm afraid. My father left a legacy in his will, but he just did not have that amount of money."