The Duchess – Property & Precious Objects from the Estate of Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe, Sotheby’s, 34-35 New Bond Street, London W1, 27th – 28th May 2015
This is a remarkable sale in that it reveals a way of life that has now vanished. The story is told through the seven hundred lots that make up this auction. Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe (1915-2014) was born into one of the great families; her father was Marquess of Crewe and her mother was Peggy Primrose, who was the daughter of the Earl of Rosebery, a British Prime Minister, and his heiress wife Hannah de Rothschild.
Mary Roxburghe, who was named for her godmother Queen Mary and whose husband George V was her godfather, was brought up in the glittering social world of her parents. Their London house was Crewe House in Curzon Street and they also had Crewe Hall in Cheshire. She became engaged to the Duke of Roxburghe at the age of 19, a fact celebrated by a ball at Crewe House and attended by the King and Queen at which the Crewe china and glass, featured in this sale, was used. The 1935 wedding was deemed worthy of being screened in cinemas across the land. The Duke and Duchess travelled extensively – some of the Duchess’s Cartier luggage is in the sale – and she spent part of World War II in the Middle East to be close to the Duke.
However after the war one day as she was sitting at breakfast with the Duke the butler presented her, on a silver salver (naturally), with her divorce papers. After a rather fraught period a settlement was reached and Mary Roxburghe then divided her time between her apartment in London and her parents country home West Horsley Place. The Crewe’s had bought the house in the 1930s after disposing of their other properties following the death of their son and heir. The house contains a melange of items from these other houses, although larger family pictures had also been sold and so when Mary inherited the house in 1973 it became a repository for her things too.
What a great selection there is; footmen’s livery, Coronation robes, paintings, furniture, silver, porcelain, jewellery and Objects of Vertu. All combine to be an integral part of a fascinating story that combines social and historical threads into a whole and tells the story of Mary Roxburghe’s life.
In the following second blog I will include a comment from Bamber Gascoigne, the Duchess’s heir, who is selling these items to help secure the future of this house and show a small selection of items on offer.