The Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry

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The Independent Online

The Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry [obituary, 6 September] was a man who saw himself as an interim guardian of his heritage and treasures, seeking to pass them on in a better state than that in which he inherited them, writes Hugo Vickers. He was a public servant, a considerate landlord to his tenants, and one who, until the House of Lords Act of 1999, made worthy contributions to the debates in the Lords.

Many will recall Buccleuch's polite rebuke to Jack Straw when he was accused of only being in the Lords because Charles II had begat a son on Lucy Walter, and created this boy a Duke. With that quiet courtesy for which he was noted, Buccleuch pointed out that his ancestors had been peers for many centuries before that. (In fact the Duke also descended from Charles II via Nell Gwyn, an ancestress of his mother, Mary Lascelles, granddaughter of the 10th Duke of St Albans).

He was sad to leave the House of Lords after so many centuries of service by numerous and varied ancestors. And the more so, as he said, with no one to even kiss the hereditary peers goodbye. Propelling himself from the chamber, he was confronted by a large lady life peer who, to his astonishment, planted a kiss on his cheek.

In one sense, Buccleuch lived a feudal existence, progressing between his various houses according to the season. From September until January he was seated at Bowhill, where he maintained his office. From February until May he was at Drumlanrig, and from May to June at his London house in Kensington. He spent July at Boughton, August in Elba, and then returned once more to Bowhill.

The Bowhill estate in the ancient Ettrick Forest at Selkirk in Scotland was originally given to the Douglas family by Robert the Bruce. Ettrick was later a favourite hunting ground of the Kings of Scotland.

It was evidently in a deep "cleuch" or ravine that a certain young Scott cornered a buck after it had turned on the King's hounds, and threw it by the antlers over his shoulder, hence gaining the name Buccleuch. In about 1720 a marriage between the Scotts and the Douglases restored the land to the family. The present house dates from 1812 and some of the works of arts were given by Charles II to his Straw-maligned son, James, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch.

Drumlanrig, the ancient Douglas stronghold, was not far away in Dumfriesshire, the present castle having been built by William, 1st Duke of Queensberry between 1679 and 1691. Until its theft in August 2003, Leonardo da Vinci's Madonna with the Yarnwinder was displayed in the Staircase Hall, and the Duke had told his staff that in the event of a fire, this picture should be rescued rather than himself.

Boughton, in Northamptonshire, was more the domain of Buccleuch's mother until her death in 1993. The original monastery was bought by Sir Edward Montagu, Lord Chief Justice to Henry VIII, in 1528. It came to the family through the marriage of the Duke of Montagu's daughter, Elizabeth, to the 3rd Duke of Buccleuch. Boughton had been unused between 1750 and 1900, as a result of which the 2nd Duke's elaborately laid-out canals, lakes and fountains in the park had fallen into disuse, but the 9th Duke restored these to their 18th-century glory.

In 1996, Buccleuch honoured his late father's wish to produce a handsome volume, Medieval Pageant, for the Roxburghe Club, depicting the Salisbury roll and the early investiture procedures in the Order of the Bath. In this connection I went to see him. When I mentioned that his aunt, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, was the first lady GCB, he at once sent her a copy of the book with a note that he was sure she was glad the early Bath ceremony of scrubbing had been discontinued.

On the way out, he showed me the robes he was intending to wear at the State Opening of Parliament. "I hope I've got the right ones," he said. One look proved that he had not – these were ducal Coronation robes, not parliamentary ones. So he sent for the correct robes. He later wrote that Ede and Ravenscroft could not provide him with Duke's robes, so he had had to wear Viscount's: "As I would not have known the difference I guessed that no one else would," he wrote optimistically.

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