Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott

Châtelaine of Abbotsford and long-serving Lady-in-Waiting to Princess Alice
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The Independent Online

Jean Mary Monica Maxwell-Scott, landowner and courtier: born 8 June 1923; Lady-in-Waiting to Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester 1959-2004; CVO 1969, DCVO 1984; died Abbotsford, Roxburghshire 5 May 2004.

When Sir Walter Scott knew his death was close in 1832, he was in the Mediterranean where friends had taken him in a hopeless effort to renew his energies, sapped by ferocious overwork and a series of strokes. Since his sudden financial ruin in 1826 Scott had worked himself without mercy, writing furiously to pay off the accumulated enormous debts he had run up in the building and adornment of his mock border castle, Abbotsford near Galashiels, and it was to Abbotsford that he begged to be taken to die. There, serene at last in its grounds and woods, within earshot of the River Tweed, Scott died peacefully.

So too his last direct descendant, Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott, experienced the same peaceful final few hours in Abbotsford when, after a long and vexatious hospital illness, she was allowed home to the castle she had devoted her life to, where she died quietly during the night within earshot of the Tweed.

For thousands of visitors over the years the Maxwell-Scott sisters Patricia and Jean had been the first welcome they had to Scott's home, a tourist mecca for those who know Scott's work (and of all Scottish writers he must be the most internationally known) and for those who simply wished to see one of Scotland's most extraordinary houses. The sisters not only lived in the castle (and for the castle), but they were there to show them round and answer their questions. Many were welcomed to tea in the family quarters, to admire the pictures, to hear about the generations of Scotts, to be helped in their researches and their writings - for Abbotsford held, and holds, a unique library of Scott books and artefacts.

To see Scott's daily surroundings was one thing: to see them in the presence of his descendants, quite another. The sisters' private library and picture collection was shared with many enquirers: Abbotsford is an open castle to an extraordinary extent, and has suffered for being so in the occasional theft. Scott (a busy working lawyer in Edinburgh most of his life) came to it whenever he could at weekends and in vacations, relished its views (he longed to own all the land he could see), worked in the woods despite his physical disability (he had a deformed foot), and entertained widely the rich and the famous, many of whom were to write of the experience, the hospitality, their astonishing host who appeared to spend all day and much of the evening with his guests, yet find time to pour out the extraordinary productions of "the author of Waverley" in the early hours before the guests were up. His own incomparable journal (most recently edited by W.E.K. Anderson in 1972, a "Canongate Classic" in 1998) brings the life of Abbotsford vividly back to the reader today.

All these remains of Scott's career were open to the public in the summer months, and Abbotsford has opened again in 2004 despite Dame Jean's illness. The coachloads will return after the funeral, the work of editing Scott's novels will continue (the Edinburgh University "Edinburgh Edition" of the Waverley novels, under the general editorship of Professor David Hewitt, of Aberdeen University, is now more than half complete), the Scott library at Abbotsford will continue to be catalogued (under a team directed by Professor Douglas Gifford of Glasgow University). But declining visitor numbers were a real concern, and without a direct descendant in residence things will change. How, is not yet clear.

Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott was 80, and had been at the heart of Abbotsford since 1954 when the sisters inherited it from their father, Major-General Sir Walter Constable-Maxwell-Scott Bt. (Her mother, Mairi, daughter of Lt-Col Stewart MacDougall of Lunga, died when Jean was 15 months old.) Patricia had been briefly married; Jean never married and there are no children. Together, they made running the estate their lives and Dame Jean continued the tradition on the death of her sister, two years her elder, in 1998.

In their hands the gardens and grounds were developed, the interior tactfully modernised and business encouraged - for keeping Abbotsford open was a business, one which suffered badly in the aftermath of terrorist attacks and foot-and-mouth scares. Both sisters cultivated a slightly other-worldly air which belied shrewd business sense. Both showed exceptional kindness and generosity to scholars and students, and acknowledged their responsibility to Scott's reputation.

Dame Jean cheerfully allowed access to her private library, answered countless questions from media and newspaper sources as well as from individuals. It was entirely fitting that she should have been chosen as President of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club for 2003-04, and a real disappointment to all that she was unable to deliver the presidential address in March 2004.

Jean Maxwell-Scott was a retiring person, but she lived a full life. Educated at a strict Roman Catholic convent, the Couvent des Oiseaux in Westgate-on-Sea, Kent, she served in the Second World War as a VAD Red Cross nurse, at Keir in Perthshire. As Lady-in-Waiting since 1959 to Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester she took a full part in public life: she was a popular public figure in the Borders. (Princess Alice - "my boss" - used to come and stay for a week at Abbotsford every summer until she was 100.)

She had a keen interest in horses, a keen interest in gardens. Her home was full of family photographs, many of them recent. She was a gracious hostess, a devoted and hard-working guardian of her family's legacy, diffident, charming, a marvellous friend.

Ian Campbell