Obituary: Elizabeth, Dowager Duchess of Northumberland; Aristocrat who devoted her life to many charities
Born: 20 January, 1922, in St Boswells. Died: 19 September, 2012, in Surrey, aged 90.
LADY Elizabeth Montagu Douglas Scott was the elder daughter of the eighth Duke of Buccleuch and his wife, Mary (Mollie) Lascelles. Lady Elizabeth’s aunt was Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester. The family has one the proudest and most distinguished lineages in Scotland and Lady Elizabeth brought a zest and grace to the family traditions.
After her marriage to the Duke of Northumberland, Lady Elizabeth spent much of her life at Alnwick Castle, where she was a much respected figure throughout the community. Lady Elizabeth supported many charities and the local hunt, the Percy Hunt. The Master and chairman Charles Bucknall said yesterday: “The duchess was a great friend and supporter of the hunt as well as an intrepid mounted follower for many years.”
Lady Elizabeth was brought up in some splendour at the family seat Eildon Hall in St Boswells and during her youth at some of the fine Buccleuch houses – Boughton in Northamptonshire, Drumlanrig in Dumfriesshire and Bowhill at Selkirk. She was educated privately, but spent two years learning German in Munich and travelling to Italy and France. While in Rome she witnessed a meeting between Hitler and Mussolini. “Two unattractive stout people,” she recalled years later.
Her mother, the renowned Mollie Buccleuch, certainly ensured that she learned social decorum and manners. Lady Elizabeth was brought up to be polite and courteous to everyone – qualities she retained throughout her life.
As a young girl, Lady Elizabeth often attended formal dinners and her mother gave her firm instructions to speak to the guest on her right then on her left. There was often a whisper from her mother instructing her, “for goodness sake, hold up!” if she had not kept a straight back at table.
Lady Elizabeth did the last season before the war. In a BBC TV Timewatch programme, The Debutantes, rebroadcast this year, Lady Elizabeth remembered the season with a fond nostalgia. “It was like a fairytale,” she said in her spry and down-to-earth manner. “But all magical things come to an end.” She recalled evenings with “Deb’s Delights” and who not to travel with in a taxi. “I was so ignorant,” she concluded with a bright and winning smile. The war changed her life completely. She first worked on the estate – rising at dawn to deliver milk on a pony and cart. She trained in first-aid and worked in various canteens in the Borders. Lady Elizabeth joined the Civil Nursing Reserve and in 1940 worked in a military hospital in Dumfries before joining the Women’s Royal Naval Service.
In August 1943, she and two other Wrens were posted to the liner Mauretania to serve on a trans-Atlantic passage to New York. Such a voyage in wartime was a hazardous affair – the Atlantic was heavily patrolled by German U-boats and Lady Elizabeth had the responsible duty to decode messages about the movement of enemy vessels in the area.
In New York, they took on board 8,000 American servicemen and transported them safely to Liverpool. She served on the Mauretania on two other such crossings, to Boston and Nova Scotia.
Lady Elizabeth was promoted to Leading Wren and in advance of D-Day was sent for further coding experience at Chatham and then to Australia. She much enjoyed her two years in Australia – indeed the war years had changed her from, in her own words, “a dull, shy, country girl” into a more confident person with her own identity — “without being somebody’s daughter or somebody’s sister”.
In June 1946, she married Hugh, 10th Duke of Northumberland, thus uniting the Percys and the Douglases, who had been foes for centuries.
The ceremony was attended by the King and Queen, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. Hugh was the second son of the eighth duke, and had succeeded aged 26 when his brother, Alan, was killed in action in 1940.
Lady Elizabeth thus had to manage the affairs of Alnwick Castle, the duke’s ancestral home for 700 years, the grand Syon House on the banks of the Thames in west London and Albury Park in Surrey.
Lady Elizabeth’s closeness to the Royal Family was demonstrated in 1963, when the Queen asked the Northumberlands to host a dinner at Syon House for foreign royals who were in London for Princess Alexandra’s wedding. As the assembled royals emerged from their buses, the Queen commented that they looked like an excursion from the Women’s Institute.
Lady Elizabeth devoted herself to many local charities, notably the Red Cross, the Cullercoats Lifeboat and Children North East in Northumberland.
Her husband died in 1988. They had three sons and four daughters, one of whom died in infancy. Their eldest son, Henry, Earl Percy died in 1995. The next son, Ralph, is the 12th duke.
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Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 21 C
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Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
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