Title Deeds by Liza Campbell

History ran in rivulets down the battlements
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The Independent Culture

Campbell's father, Hugh, was 25th Thane of Cawdor. His death in 1990 and the subsequent, unexpected, "dirty bomb" of his will, which effectively disinherited Campbell's brother Colin, the 26th Thane, and instead bequeathed the castle (although not its contents) and estate to their stepmother, unleashed a torrent of misery, anger and feuding which continues to this day. It has been further fuelled by the publication of this book. Partly written to understand a father both fiercely loved and feared, it is also a very personal, painful and public diatribe against someone who cannot answer back. Of the moment she first heard news of his death, Campbell writes: "Part of me felt vertiginous from loss; but part of me felt thankful that this intimidating central figure in my life was gone." It's not an unfamiliar sentiment, but from Campbell's account, this particular parent was more intimidating than most.

Hugh Campbell's parents had a marriage "as brittle as a biscuit"; subject to his father Jack's "carbon moods", he endured a frozen relationship with his mother, a decidedly odd relationship with his nanny and a conspiratorial one with his younger sister, Carey. Brought up in immense privilege, Hugh loved drinking, fast cars - most of which he wrecked, miraculously emerging unscathed from accident after accident - women, gurus, and, as Campbell later asserts, cocaine. His marriage to the society beauty Cathryn Hinde was passionate, volatile and violent. It survived the birth of five children and numerous mistresses; only after years of protracted physical and verbal abuse did the first Lady Cawdor leave him. The exotic Angelika Lazansky, depicted here as nothing less than Cruella de Vil, won the battle of the mistresses to succeed her.

According to the rule of primogeniture, simply by dint of gender Campbell's younger brother was groomed to inherit title and estate. Liza and her sisters, meanwhile, were told to make sure not to damage their faces (difficult to avoid, given Hugh's motoring habits) in order that they attract rich husbands as soon as possible. Their other brother, Fred, was virtually ignored.

In 1970 Hugh's father died and the family and its bizarre entourage moved to draughty Cawdor, a castle so steeped in history it practically ran in rivulets down the battlements. Campbell memorably describes the antics of the local lairds: "Treachery, clan warfare and shifting allegiances were like oats and whisky to the populace." Shooting, dancing and hard drinking were the pastimes; obviously proud of her ancestry, Campbell laces her memoir with stirring anecdotes from recent and remote history.

A typical passage might begin with a jolly Nancy Mitfordesque sentence such as "Aunt Carey and her husband Uncle Peebles were frequent guests, stopping off on their way to and from London with their children Boojum and Alexander and their dog Potting Shed," then blithely continue with an account of the infamous Campbell-led massacre at Glencoe, or the bloody goings-on of "Joyless John", the 18th Thane. Campbell admits: "We were brought up proficient in the art of talking about what we thought, but not in the messier art of how we felt. The vacuum was filled by a love of facts."

Facts could not however hide her father's disintegration. The almost-simultaneous deaths of four important female family members - including Hugh's much-loved sister - seem to have sent him into a vicious spiral. By the time of his demise, all his children bar one were living in far-flung corners of the world; he appears to have made peace with none of them. Yet such was the effect of his loss that Liza's marriage broke up soon afterwards. This is a sad book; yet Campbell's lack of sentimentality and needle-sharp wit make for a guiltily voyeuristic read.