Laird, Royal confidant and a caring human being, the Duke of Buccleuch dies, aged 83

BRITAIN'S biggest landowner, the Duke of Buccleuch, died yesterday. He was 83.

The duke had been being treated for a short illness at Borders General Hospital but insisted on going home to his estate at Bowhill, near Selkirk, where he died.

The Sunday Times Rich List estimated his wealth at 85 million, making him the 51st richest person in Scotland and 798th in the UK.

The duke was chairman of the Buccleuch Group, which manages five estates extending to 400sq miles of countryside and contains more than 1,000 properties, 200 farms and four mansion houses.

Walter Francis John Montagu Douglas Scott, known as Johnnie, was born in 1923.

He first showed his mettle while at school at Eton College in 1940 when he extinguished a fire in his house after a German warplane bombed the area.

In 1942 he joined the Royal Navy as an ordinary seaman, was commissioned the following year and saw action including U-boat sinkings.

After the war he studied agriculture and forestry at Oxford, and became director of the Buccleuch Estates in 1949.

He was a devoted escort of Princess Margaret when he was one of the country's most eligible bachelors, before marrying the beautiful Jane McNeill - one of the original supermodels - in 1953 at St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh, in a ceremony attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Between 1960 and 1973 the duke represented Edinburgh North as a Conservative MP, spending much time trying to improve relations between town and country.

But in 1972 he fractured his spine in a hunting accident when a horse somersaulted, and two years later his career as an MP was cut short when he succeeded to the dukedom on the death as his father. The duke worked with various bodies on behalf of the disabled.

After Lords reform in 1999 he declined to stand as an elected hereditary peer. A keen art collector, the duke once remarked that if fire broke out at his Scottish castle, then the Rembrandts and Da Vincis should be saved before him. He joked: "They have a long life and I could drop off my perch at any time."

Four years ago thieves struck at Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire and fled with the 16th-century masterpiece Madonna and the Yarnwinder by Leonardo da Vinci - valued at up to 30 million.

It has never been found and the 1 million reward for information leading to its return remains on offer. The painting stands at No7 on the FBI's most wanted list of stolen artworks from around the world.

Despite owning sprawling estates at Bowhill, Langholm and Queensberry in the Borders, Drumlanrig, at Dalkeith, near Edinburgh, and Boughton in Northamptonshire, the duke constantly played down his wealth.

He always pointed out that if his art collection, valued at 405 million, was ever sold, 80 per cent of the profits would go into the Treasury coffers.

The duke's funeral will be held at Melrose Abbey on Tuesday.

A memorial service will be held later at St Giles' Cathedral.

• Sir Hamish Forbes of Newe, the chieftain of the Lonach Gathering and a Second World War veteran, has died, aged 91.

The Lonach Highland and Friendly Society was formed in 1823 to preserve Highland heritage and culture.

Sir Hamish was unable to attend this year's games due to illness. His funeral will be held in the parish church in Strathdon, Aberdeenshire, on Monday.

• PUBLIC figures last night paid tribute to the late duke.

Former Liberal Party leader Lord Steel, who lives near the duke's Selkirk estate, said: "His was a long and distinguished public life of which his wife Jane and his four children must be immensely proud. He was a dear friend and neighbour.

"Johnnie Buccleuch was a highly public-spirited man and a noted sponsor of the arts and education through the establishment of his Heritage Trust. His personal courage, vigour and humour after he was confined to a wheelchair was remarkable." David Mundell MP, Scottish Conservative chairman and shadow secretary of state for Scotland, said: "This is extremely sad news.

"The duke was a truly great man who was an inspiration for many people in a variety of ways, from the way in which he campaigned for disability rights to the way he overcame disability, to his pioneering work as a landowner and environmentalist.

"He was a truly great Scot who always had in mind the common good and was a man who particularly looked to improve the landscape and habitat of Scotland. His work will leave an enduring legacy."