Obituary: Michael Bowes-Lyon, 18th Earl of Strathmore and businessman

Born: 7 June, 1957. Died: 27 February, 2016.

Michael Bowes-Lyon, Earl of Sthrathmore, clan chief and businessman who made castle an attraction. Picture: Contributed
Michael Bowes-Lyon, Earl of Sthrathmore, clan chief and businessman who made castle an attraction. Picture: Contributed

Michael Bowes-Lyon, 18th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne DL Clan chief and businessman. Born: 7 June, 1957. Died: 27 February, 2016.

The Earl of Strathmore,who has died of cancer at just 58, was the Royally-connected and thrice-married peer who made his family seat a successful tourist attraction, and whose lineage introduced Middleton blood into the Royal line centuries before the advent of Kate Middleton.

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Michael Fergus Bowes-Lyon, 18th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, was a parliamentarian in the Lords, a successful businessman, and soldier. He was a first cousin once removed of the Queen, and great-nephew to the Queen Mother.

But he led a life coloured by bouts of drinking and womanising, though with his third wife, he found the contentment he’d yearned for.

Lord Strathmore, given the middle name Fergus to remember his great-uncle Fergus, brother of the Queen Mother, and who died in action in the First World War, was educated at Eton, Aberdeen University and Sandhurst. Commissioned into the Scots Guards, he reached the rank of captain, succeeding his father as 18th earl in 1987.

Through Sir John Lyon of Forteviot, legend places Strathmore genealogy back to the 5th-century Irish hero Niall of the Nine Hostages. Sir John himself represents a more reliable starting point, being created Thane of Glamis by King Robert II in 1372. Glamis Castle, family home since then, is the setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and where the Queen Mother, then the Hon Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, spent her childhood.

Lord Strathmore’s 17th-century ancestor, Patrick Lyon, 3rd Earl of Kinghorne, married Lady Helen Middleton in 1662. Helen was the daughter of the 1st Earl of Middleton, himself descended from minor lairds near Luthermuir, Kincardineshire.

Thus when Prince William married Kate Middleton in 2011, he took Middleton lineage to her, just as she brought Middleton blood to him.

Patrick, 3rd earl, brought the additional title “of Strathmore” into the family in 1677. The heir to the earldom is traditionally known as Lord Glamis (which Michael Strathmore was until he succeeded in the earldom) rather than the factually correct Lord Lyon. This change in nomenclature draws clear distinction between the heir to the earldom and the office of the Lord Lyon, King of Arms.

A stockbroker with homes in County Durham and London, Michael married Isobel Weatherall in 1984. But after having three children including Simon Bowes-Lyon, heir to the earldom, the couple separated in 2003 and divorced in 2005.

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Later that year, Lord Strathmore married Dr Damaris Stuart-William, a clinical psychologist at Glamis Castle.

They met on the Orient Express, married at Glamis Castle, were separated within two years, and divorced in 2008. They had a son, Toby.

He moved out of his beloved Glamis “to put some distance between himself and his wife”. She continued to live there until the case was settled.

It was a difficult time for the earl. Known as Mikey to his friends, he suffered a series of personal problems, not unconnected with the fact that he was drinking heavily.

In 2012 he married his third wife, Karen Baxter née Orrock, a divorced mother of two daughters, an outcome at which his four sons and mother Mary, Dowager Countess of Strathmore, were said to be “delighted”. With Karen, Mikey reportedly found “complete contentment”. The current Countess of Strathmore had been separated from her first husband, the father of her two daughters, for a considerable time.

The couple met while Mrs Baxter was manager of David Irons, the ironmongers in Forfar.

The earl acquired the business while still married to his second wife. The earl’s purchase of the shop was celebrated by an appearance by actress Penelope Keith, a family friend.

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Not to be outdone, the earl, a great fan of The Two Ronnies, posed for a picture outside his new business clutching four candles and a fork handle, reminiscent of Barker demanding of Corbett’s put-upon shopkeeper “Four candles” while seeking a fork ‘andle.

Mrs Baxter later became financial manager of one of Strathmore’s companies and is said to have become a “highly positive” influence on the earl.

Down the years, Lord Strathmore astutely created an entertainment portfolio for Glamis Castle, ranging from orchestral concerts to classic car rallies. Bringing the castle to wider audiences has helped ensure the viability of the castle, and estate.

At the Queen Mother’s funeral, the earl walked behind Prince Charles and Prince William in the cortege of his great-aunt. He had been a page of honour to her for two years from 1971.

The earl, chief in arms and name of Lyon, was chief of Clan Lyon, though he did not play a very great part in clan affairs, preferring to devote his time to business interests centred on Glamis.

Aside from his two earldoms, Lord Strathmore held the subsidiary titles of Viscount Lyon; Lord Glamis, Tannadyce, Sidlaw and Strathdichtie; Lord Lyon and Glamis; Baron Bowes of Streatlam Castle, in the County of Durham, and of Lunedale, in Yorkshire.

The earl is survived by his wife, Karen, Countess of Strathmore; his mother Mary, Dowager Countess; and his four sons. Eldest son Simon, Lord Glamis, inherits the earldom as 19th of Strathmore and Kinghorne.