The dukes of Rutland are not the most famous dukes in British history. But as successful ducal families go, the Manners family got it right: they combined a solid land base with royal favour, regular service in politics and the military, and sustained their prominence across three centuries. You may not know the name, but you might recognise their main residence, Belvoir Castle, as it has featured in a number of well-known films, from Young Sherlock Holmes to King Ralph, and recently as a stand-in for Windsor Castle in the celebrated TV show, The Crown.
The name Rutland always makes English people smile, a little, as it is famously the smallest English county—only 18 miles by 17 miles—which disappeared off the maps, then re-appeared in 1997 after a popular campaign. As a dukedom, it is one of the few that is closely linked in name to the place it represents, sort of, as the bulk of the family properties are nearby in Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. As a family, the Manners have long been dominant in the East Midlands, with almost every earl and duke serving as Lord Lieutenant (the crown’s representative) in Leicestershire or Lincolnshire from the 16th century to the early 20th. Originally a northern family, they moved into the Midlands thanks to a spectacular marriage in about 1470, followed by another in about 1490 that made them close relatives to the royal family. Manners sons and daughters thereafter were close to successive Tudor and Stuart monarchs, and have maintained this royal affinity down to the present day. The height of their power was during the so-called ‘Whig Ascendancy’, when one political party dominated government for much of the 18th century, and the dukes of Rutland were amongst the tightly-knit clan of aristocrats at the head of Whig politics. By the later 18th century, the family were more successful as generals, notably through the Marquess of Granby, commander-in-chief of British forces in the Seven Years War, and the man for whom more pubs are named than anyone else, except perhaps ‘The Queen’s Head’. They are also one of the few families with two seats, both Belvoir (pronounced ‘beaver’) and Haddon Hall in Derbyshire.
Like so many aristocratic families in England, the family story is said to begin in Normandy, in the town of Mesnières (not far from Dieppe), but the documented history begins with a series of Northumberland barons who helped the Plantagenets defend the northern frontier against the Scots in the fourteenth century. In the middle of the Wars of the Roses, Sir Robert Manners, Sheriff of Northumberland and captain of Etal Castle (near the River Tweed) married Eleanor de Ros, the heiress of one of the oldest baronies in England. Her son became the 11th Baron Ros (or Roos), which was based at Helmsley in the North Yorkshire moors, and Belvoir in eastern Leicestershire. The new baron then took the family up one rung further in the social hierarchy through his marriage to Anne St. Leger. Her father was a relatively important Yorkist lord, but through her mother, Anne of York, she was the niece of kings Edward IV and Richard III. The Manners family were now blood relatives of the royal family, and from this point added the arms of England (the lions and the lilies) to their own coat-of-arms.
Of course, being related to the House of York after the Battle of Bosworth Field wasn’t exactly auspicious, but Thomas Manners managed to win the favour of his cousin Henry VIII, served as his Cupbearer at court, and was rewarded with the title Earl of Rutland in 1525 (a title which previously had been held by his grandmother’s brother, Prince Edmund of York), the office of Warden of Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, and loads and loads of formerly monastic properties in the 1530s. His son Henry, 2nd Earl, was a prominent military commander in the Scottish borders and in northern France, and was named President of the Council of the North by Elizabeth I in 1561. The 2nd Earl’s brother, John, married Dorothy Vernon who was the heiress of Haddon Hall and a junior branch was established. The 3rd Earl, Edward, was lord lieutenant of both Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire for Queen Elizabeth, but had no sons—the barony of Ros therefore passed to his daughter and through her to the Cecil family, until it returned (though lack of heirs) to the Manners in the next generation to the son of the 4th Earl (who was only earl for a year), Roger, the 5th Earl of Rutland. The 5th Earl is a fascinating character, one of the young guns who joined the Rebellion of the Earl of Essex against Elizabeth in 1600 and spent the next three years contemplating his folly in the Tower of London, then enjoyed great favour in the reign of James I as a man of cultivation and taste—he was a great patron of the arts and architecture, and has been proposed as one of the potential candidates to be the ‘real’ author of the works of Shakespeare. He married Elizabeth Sidney, daughter of the famous poet Sir Philip Sidney, but they had no children. His brother, the 6th Earl, was also a prominent courtier, but felt he had been cursed by three local Lincolnshire witches who had caused the deaths of his two sons. The barony of Ros once again passed out of the family, this time for good, so there are those who suspect foul play by the Duke of Buckingham who married the rich heiress of this barony…
The Earldom of Rutland, and Belvoir Castle, thus passed in 1641 to a cousin, to the branch residing at Haddon Hall. Another good marriage propelled them from the ranks of the major provincial landowning families, to one of the leading political dynasties of the next century. John Manners, son of the 8th Earl, had scandalised society by divorcing his first wife, Anne Pierrepont, in 1668—the first divorce since the Reformation—but his sisters had married in the major political circles of the period, including two Cecils and an Ashley-Cooper, founders of the Whig Party, and major supporters of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that invited William of Orange to take the throne and secure the dominance of Protestantism, limited monarchy and ‘country power’ of the great rural aristocracy. This political union was solidified through the marriage in 1693 of the Earl’s son, John, with Lady Catherine Russell, daughter of the martyred Lord William Russell, and Lady Rachel, a prominent courtier who was one of Princess Anne’s favourites. On the accession of Anne as Queen in 1702, Lady Rachael Russell pressured her to honour her daughter’s family with the elevation of the earldom of Rutland into a dukedom. This the Queen did, and Catherine’s father-in-law became the 1st Duke of Rutland in 1703, passing it on to his son and daughter-in-law when he died in 1711.
For the next fifty years the Manners family were at the centre of Whig politics, often serving at MPs for Leicestershire or Lincolnshire, and holding various posts in the royal household. John, 3rd Duke and his brother Lord William were both prominent in the ministry of their brother-in-law, Prime Minister Henry Pelham, with John being rewarded with the premier court offices of Lord Steward of the Household (1755), then Master of the Horse (1761-66), and seat in the cabinet. He had married an heiress, Bridget Sutton, of Kelham Hall in Nottinghamshire, and set up another cadet branch, Manners-Sutton of Kelham, which flourished on its own, providing an Archbishop of Canterbury (1805-28, the prelate who baptised the future Queen Victoria) and a Lord Chancellor of Ireland (1807-27).
It was the 3rd Duke’s son, John, Marquess of Granby, who was perhaps the family’s most famous son, described even by his enemies as one of the greatest military commanders of the age. Granby was the courtesy title used by the heir to the dukedom, to which he never succeeded. He rose through the ranks during Britain’s involvement in the major Continental conflict known as the Seven Years War, and was named Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in 1766. His brother Robert was also a soldier, but also maintained a prominent position in one of the family’s other major interests, hunting, being named Master of the Staghounds in 1744, and Master of the Harriers (Foxhounds) in 1754. Several of Granby’s uncles and cousins were also generals or sea-captains, and his second son, Lord Robert, was captain of the Resolution, which saw a lot of activity in the American War of Independence.
As the more conservative wing of Whig party transformed itself through the ministry of William Pitt the Younger, the Manners family went along with it. Charles, the 4th Duke of Rutland served Pitt as a member of his cabinet, and acted as Lord Steward of the Household (1783), Lord Privy Seal (1783-84), and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1784-87). As viceroy of Ireland, he was relatively popular, as he actually took an interest in the country and its people, touring the north and hosting lots of events at Dublin Castle. This popular touch in politics would manifest itself again in the mid-19th century, but the immediate generation to follow was more interested in high society and their favourite pastimes: the 5th Duke, John, was a prominent breeder of thoroughbred racers, and his younger brother Lord Robert was part of the fashionable set of the Prince of Wales and Beau Brummel. The 5th Duke is also notable for redeveloping much of the castle and gardens of Belvoir, though much of this should be credited to his talented wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard, whose fairly public affair with the Duke of York (the Prince of Wales’s younger brother) is highlighted, fairly blatantly, in one of the most memorable features I remember from touring the interior of Belvoir Castle: a ceiling painting in the main receiving room (the ‘Elizabeth Saloon’) that commemorates the love of Jupiter and Juno, with the Olympian couple overtly resembling the Duke of York and the Duchess of Rutland. The castle was rebuilt at this time by James Wyatt in the fashionable Gothic Revival style, so it looks more like what the Romantics thought a medieval castle ought to look like, hence its resemblance to Windsor Castle and usage in film and television programmes. There are peacocks in the gardens, designed by the Duchess, and in the images of her, as the symbol of the goddess Juno, but also appropriately, as one of the symbols of the Manners family since the 1520s, seen as the crest atop the family’s coat-of-arms (‘a peacock in its pride’) and in decorations all over Belvoir Castle.
With the 6th and 7th dukes, brothers Charles and John, we see a return to high politics. Both were leaders of the newly reborn Conservative party in its reformist wing in the 1840s: John in particular, was a leader of the ‘Young England’ movement (with Benjamin Disraeli) which aimed to regenerate the United Kingdom by paying attention to the needs of the people in the industrial north and in Ireland. Later in his career he held cabinet posts of Postmaster General and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1870s-90s) under the premiership of the Marquess of Salisbury (another Cecil).
His son, Henry, 8th Duke of Rutland, as a young man served as private secretary to the Prime Minister, and was known as ‘Salisbury’s Manners’, but was the last of the family to be so heavily involved in politics. Following the Great War, like many aristocrats, he sold much of his land in order to support the remaining properties and artworks, and it was the world of art that his children were known for: John, the 9th Duke, as a specialist in medieval art, and Lady Diana as a writer, actress and socialite, part of ‘the Coterie’ of bright young things in the years before the Great War. Considered one of the most beautiful women of her day, after the war Diana married Duff Cooper, and they remained leaders of the beau monde for much of the century—he was created Viscount Norwich, and their son became the well-known popular historian John Julius Norwich, whom I had the pleasure of meeting once in London before he died in 2018—and my high school friends still tease me about taking his enormous books on the history of Byzantium with me to Beach Week!
The 9th Duke of Rutland applied his interests in medieval art to the family’s other substantial property, Haddon House, in Derbyshire, which he redeveloped in the 1920s. It is worth a visit, usually bypassed by the tourists rushing to get to nearby Chatsworth, as a genuinely medieval building, with a number of beautiful later Tudor modifications, notably its long gallery and garden front. Simon Jenkins called it ‘the most perfect house to survive from the middle ages’.
Like his sister, the 9th Duke married into one of the leading social sets, well-connected to the royal family, in Kathleen Tennant, and their daughter, Ursula would continue this link as a maid of honour at the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1936, then keeping a high profile in the gossip columns as mistress of the Maharajah of Jaipur in the 1940s and of J. Paul Getty in the 1960s. Lady Ursula’s younger brothers, Charles the 10th Duke, and Lord John, returned to local politics in the 1970s, the elder as Chairman of the Leicestershire County Council, and the younger as High Sheriff of Leicester. John’s daughter Lucy was a lady-in-waiting to the Duchess of York in the 1990s, while the current Duke, David Manners, remains prominent as a host to high profile visitors to Belvoir Castle, including the royal family, but also as an avid supporter of the UK Independence Party. In photos he looks somewhat like the family’s mascot, the peacock, and he takes a keen interest in the filming that takes place at his home (and I am certain he can be spotted as a footman opening a car door to Princess Margaret—Helena Bonham Carter—in a recent episode of The Crown). The Duke has two sons, and his brother Lord Edward, who runs Haddon Hall, also has two sons, so the dukedom of Rutland is probably secure for at least another generation. The Duke also has three daughters, who have gained the dubious nickname in the tabloid press ‘the bad-Manners sisters’.
There are also a two main cadet branches of the Manners family. The Manners-Sutton branch generated a viscounty of Canterbury (for the son of the Archbishop, who was Speaker of the Commons, 1817-35), from 1835 to 1941; and the barony of Manners, 1807 to the present. An illegitimate son married in 1765 the heiress of the Scottish earldom of Dysart, and also heiress of the wonderful Ham House, near Richmond (on the Thames in western London). Their descendants changed their name to Tollemache, and generated some of the more eccentric members of the British aristocracy of the 19th century. The son of the 8th Earl, was a playboy and accumulated over £200,000 debt (and was briefly put in debtors’ prison in 1842); he eloped with his mother’s maid, Elizabeth Acford, then abandoned her and their three children. He then married for duty, had three children, then later resumed his relationship with Elizabeth (and had 2 more children), claiming that she was his actual wife so he wouldn’t have to pay her an agreed annuity—the courts did not agree. Lord Huntingtower (his courtesy title since he predeceased his father) had four more children with another mistress, then died in 1872, and the poor Elizabeth tried unsuccessfully to get her son Albert Acford (b. 1863) recognised as the 9th earl of Dysart. His cousin Ralph Tollemache had a great fondness for history, and gave an increasingly bizarre array of names to his massive family (15 children in all): Plantagenet, Saxon, Ydwallo, Lyonesse, Lyulph, Lyona, Lyonella, Lyonetta, and famously the WWI captain Leone Sextus Denys Oswolf Fraudatifilius Tollemache-Tollemache de Orellana Plantagenet Tollemache-Tollemache. His son Sir Lyonel Tollemache, 4th Baronet of Hanby Hall (Lincolnshire), inherited Ham Hall in 1935 from his cousin the last Earl of Dysart (in this family—it continues in another family via female succession). He lovingly refurbished the house then donated it to the National Trust in 1948, before he died in 1952. Ham House is still one of the best days out in London, and one of the real treasures of the National Trust.
Current titles: 10th Duke of Rutland and Marquess of Granby, 19th Earl of Rutland, 11th Baron Manners of Haddon, 5th Baron Roos of Belvoir.
Simplified genealogy for the Manners family:
(All images are either my own photos, or courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)