Thursday, 4 November 2010

Obituary: Diana, Duchess of Wellington (1921 - 2010)

The Daily Telegraph and The Times are carrying the obituaries concerning the recent death of a member of the Ascendancy by marriage, Her Grace The Duchess of Wellington, who passed away at the family home on November 1st, at the age of eighty-nine. The Duke, now a widower at the age of ninety-five, has expressed his grief at his wife's death only a few months before their sixty-seventh wedding anniversary, but a friend has remarked to The Times that "He is grateful that they had so many happy years together."

Born Diana Ruth McConnel in 1921, the late Duchess was the daughter of the Scottish Major-General Douglas Fitzgerald McConnel and his wife, Ruth (née Garnett-Botfield.) She was married to Arthur Wellesley, the heir to the duchy of Wellington, in 1944, when the future Duke (then Marquess Douro) was on active service for the British war effort. In 1972, following the death of his father, Gerald, Arthur inherited the family's main titles, becoming the eighth member of the Wellesley family to hold the title of Duke of Wellington, Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo, Duke of The Victory, Prince of Waterloo, Marquis of Torres Vedras and Earl of Morington. 

The main title of Duke of Wellington had first been awarded to the duke's ancestor, also called Arthur, a member of the Irish Protestant Ascendancy. It was given to him by King George III, in recognition for his military services to Britain during the Napoleonic Wars, in which Arthur was instrumental in securing Britain's eventual triumph and the liberation of the kingdoms of Portugal and Spain from Bonapartist occupation. He later served as British Prime Minister from 1828 to 1830 and again from 1834.

As a result of the duke's heroism on the battlefield which led to the destruction of the Bonaparte regime and the restoration of the French monarchy, the Wellesley family today are amongst a very rare group of aristocrats who hold titles in more than one kingdom - William I, the first King of the Netherlands, gave the family the hereditary title of "Prince of Waterloo," in honour of the great battle of 1815, against Napoleon. Ferdinand VII, King of Spain, gave him the title of "Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo" and Maria I, Queen of Portugal, awarded the family the rather magnificent title of "Duke of the Victory" and "Marquis of Torres Vedras." In addition to this, the dukes of Wellington also remain true to their Ascendancy heritage by holding a title in the Irish nobility - they are the hereditary earls of Morington, a title now usually used by the second in line to inherit the Wellington duchy. So, as well as holding titles in both strands of the British peerage (Great Britain and Ireland's), the dukes of Wellingtons are also Grandees of Spain, nobles of Portugal and jonkheers of the Netherlands. The family's subsidiary title, reserved for the heir-apparent, is Marquess Douro. Thus, the late Diana was the Marchioness of Douro between 1944 and 1972. The family's Spanish title - the duchy of Ciudad Rodrigo was abdicated by the current Duke of Wellington in March of this year and given to his eldest son, Lord Douro. The appointment of Lord Douro to the duchy was confirmed by the Spanish Royal Household and King Juan Carlos in the spring.

Lady Diana is survived by her husband, Arthur, Duke of Wellington and by their five children - Arthur, Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo and Marquess Douro (65) and his wife, Her Royal Highness Princess Antonia of Prussia (great-granddaughter of Kaiser Wilhelm II); Lord Richard Wellesley (61); film producer and author, Lady Jane Wellesley (59); Lord John Henry Wellesley (56) and his wife, Corinne (née Vaes); and Lord James Wellesley (46) and his wife, Emma. Duchess Diana is also survived by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The Daily Telegraph, which still carries aristocratic obituaries as a matter of course, reported that announcements concerning Lady Diana's funeral will be made shortly.

Diana Wellesley, The Most Noble Duchess of Wellington, Member of the British Empire for services to the Community of Hampshire, Princess van Waterloo and Duchess of The Victory, who passed away at the family home on 1st November, 2010.


  1. I am very ambivalent about this story. On one hand the idea of a family inheriting titles, wealth and status because of something great great grandpa did back in a forgotten 18th century war is archaic.

    On the other hand, this was and is a pretty impressive family!

  2. As an American, the aristocracy seems arcane to me as well. But, if that's what they do in Britain, that's what they do. She sounds like a wonderful woman and I always lioke reading about happy marriages.

  3. I think it's rather nice to merge the antique and the modern, rather than assume that one should trump the other. But, maybe that's a British thing. :)

  4. My Husband was the private gardener for the Duke and Duchess of Wellington between 2000 and 2006. She was a wonderful lady - always so thoughtful of others. It is with great sadness that we learnt of her death. We will always remember with great fondness the time we spent there.

  5. Cllr Matthew Riddle7 November 2010 at 20:51

    God bless the Duke and his family at this time.

  6. Mrs. Parris and Councillor Riddle, thank you for reading and commenting. Your comments are very much appreciated.

  7. I've never understood why even some Americans who are interested in British and European history seem to think that being American should shape their attitudes towards things like aristocracy. I'm technically American too, but have absolutely no problem with a hereditary nobility, in fact I think its absence is one of America's great weaknesses. I suppose I'm just living in the wrong country, but I for one tend to look longingly across the pond and try not to be "as an American" about anything.

    My identities as an Anglican Christian, a monarchist, a person of English descent, and a classical musician are all very important to me, but "American" is just what my passport says. I try not to let the technicality of my citizenship influence my thinking any more than necessary, except in the sense that I probably have more cause to resent the American Revolution which separated us from the Crown I love so much than our distinguished host Mr Russell, safely and enviably ensconced in the mother country, does.

  8. The Duke & late Duchess's daughter, Lady Jane was a one time girlfriend of the Prince of Wales, and one wonders how very different history would have been had they progressed onto marriage.

  9. I am so sorry to hear of Her Grace's passing, albeit rather belatedly. I am most impressed with the comments of Mr Theodore Harvey. So unusual to hear a thinking american who does not think the world revolves around that country and the rest of the world should be grateful for it. Also who is informed about the rest of the world.

    I hope His Grace is still in good health. I had the privilege to see him very briefly at Blenheim many years ago.


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