Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster (1879–1953), known as ‘Bend’Or’: A Reappraisal.

Dykes, Christina (2021) Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster (1879–1953), known as ‘Bend’Or’: A Reappraisal. Doctoral thesis, University of Buckingham.

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The 2nd Duke of Westminster, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor (known as ‘Bend’Or’), is usually seen as a super-rich landowner and spoilt playboy. This was the view of contemporaries, and previous biographers have reinforced it. Economic historians have analyzed the Grosvenor Estate, but this thesis is not concerned with the creation, husbandry or growth of the Grosvenor millions. The primary aim of this thesis is to reassess Bend’Or’s reputation. It traces the life of a duke faced with the changing circumstances of the aristocracy in the early twentieth century. Access to the Grosvenor family archives has been fundamental to the task of re-evaluating the career of the 2nd Duke. By generous permission of the late Duke and the present Duke, I was granted approval to read private family papers. Various historians have visited the Grosvenor archive to research specific topics, but none has been given the breadth of access needed to write a sourced and researched biography on Bend’Or. The archive has yielded rich findings, especially on Bend’Or’s early life. Bend’Or’s childhood was outwardly idyllic, but my research shows that his family circumstances were not auspicious. His father died when Bend’Or was an infant. The correspondence between his mother Sibell and her second husband, George Wyndham MP, reveals that the 1st Duke gave consent for their marriage only on condition that Wyndham agreed to relinquish all authority over the young Bend’Or. Bend’Or was left exposed to an overprotective mother and the limited vision of the 1st Duke. Their folly contributed to Bend’Or’s inadequate education, causing him to suffer for most of his adult life from a chronic lack of confidence and self-belief. It rendered him unable to navigate successfully the web of obligations and duties that his social station demanded. Nevertheless Wyndham emerges as a major influence on Bend’Or. It was Wyndham who stepped in to rescue Bend’Or when he failed to qualify for university or the army. Wyndham encouraged Sir Alfred Milner, High Commissioner for Southern Africa, to take the young Bend’Or to Cape Town as his aide-de-camp. Bend’Or’s letters, stored in the Grosvenor archive, offer significant insights into the attitudes held in Government House as the Second Boer War approached. They reveal Milner’s responsibility for precipitating a war for which the British were neither ready nor equipped to fight. After the war, Bend’Or bought an estate on ex-Boer territory. The enterprise began well but its success was overtaken by politics. Material in The National Archives has been found which shows that Winston Churchill, then Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, misjudged the strength of surviving Boer sentiment in southern Africa when framing policies for a post-war constitutional settlement. The Boers were successful in the election of 1907 and came to dominate the future of the new South Africa. Material from the archive of Wyndham’s biographer, John Biggs-Davison MP, including a hitherto closed file opened for the author, reveals the extent to which Wyndham leaned to the politics of the Conservative right. Wyndham’s influence on Bend’Or meant that Bend’Or was associated with diehard politics. It was not until Bend’Or came under the influence of a stronger character, Winston Churchill, that he abandoned Wyndham’s style of politics. Churchill and Bend’Or’s friendship stemmed from the Boer War but it was strengthened during the First World War. In spite of the mayhem, the war represented a contented period for Bend’Or. The thesis shows the extent to which Bend’Or and Churchill collaborated at the beginning of the war. Bend’Or used the opportunities afforded by his social position and wealth to progress the future of armoured cars and the tank. Archival documents reveal the depth, and success, of Bend’Or’s involvement in the development of warfare weaponry; a topic which remained an abiding interest for him up to the Second World War. In the 1920s and 1930s Bend’Or largely based himself abroad, for which he was widely criticized. My research suggests that the reason he abandoned London Society was because he had been ostracized by the King from Court. In 1920 Bend’Or resigned as Lord-Lieutenant of Cheshire. The apparent reason for Bend’Or’s resignation was his recent divorce from his first wife. My research in the Royal Archives reveals that the real reason was George V’s insistence on pre-war standards and behaviours being maintained amongst his courtiers, especially from a duke such as Westminster, whose family was close to the throne. Exclusion from Court was a public humiliation from which Bend’Or found it hard to recover, and it left him rudderless as a duke. If Bend’Or found himself at odds with the King, he was also uncomfortable in the emancipated post-1918 society. Once hailed a war hero, Bend’Or became ten years later the butt of societal re-evaluation. His difficulties were compounded by his third marriage, to a woman twenty-three years younger than him. The marriage broke down largely because of generational differences. The Duchess’s subsequent memoir did much to destroy Bend’Or’s reputation. It is well known that before the Second World War Bend’Or was an appeaser. What has not been explained in previous biographies is why. Although Bend’Or may have had opinions which would be unacceptable today, I argue that his Nazist sympathies have been exaggerated by his critics. The thesis concludes that his attitudes were culturally ignorant rather than politically menacing. Bend’Or’s friendship with Neville Chamberlain has never been acknowledged by historians. Chamberlain’s letters to his sisters, in the Cadbury Research Library, Birmingham, confirm that each August during 1937–1939 Neville Chamberlain holidayed with Bend’Or in Scotland. It was personal loyalty to Neville Chamberlain that made Bend’Or support Chamberlain’s politics. In 1940, once it became apparent that appeasement would not restrain Hitler, Bend’Or returned to Churchill’s fold.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Biography ; History ; Aristocracy ; British History ;
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Divisions: School of Humanities & Social Sciences > History and History of Art
Depositing User: Nicola Button
Date Deposited: 03 Mar 2022 11:41
Last Modified: 03 Mar 2022 11:41

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