'Lady of the manor' awarded £9m in landed gentry divorce


Click to follow
The Independent Online

A “lady of the manor” has been awarded nearly £9 million by a High Court judge after her 26-year marriage to a member of the landed gentry ended.

Mrs Justice Baron said the marriage broke down after the woman's husband - who owns a country estate estimated to have a gross value of more than £35 million and is a member of an "illustrious family" - became "very enamoured" with a "young artist/singer".

The 51-year-old woman and 53-year-old man had argued over money at a court hearing in London.

She wanted £11.2 million. He had offered £7 million. The judge awarded the woman a lump sum of £8.7 million.

Mrs Justice Baron said the woman's aspirations were "not outlandish or avaricious" but "borne of her lifestyle" and "expectations from birth".

The judge said she got the impression that the woman was "accustomed to leading a very cosseted life" and her job was "being a social asset".

And she said she got the impression that the man "had what he wanted whenever he wanted it".

Mrs Justice Baron, who said neither the man or woman could be identified, outlined details of the divorce fight in a written ruling.

The judge said the couple came from similar backgrounds. She said the man's ancestors included prominent military commanders.

She said the couple married when in their 20s, initially lived in a "modest" property on the man's family's estate before "taking over the mansion house".

"The husband is a member of an illustrious family with many successful forbears who managed to accumulate great wealth. In fact, his ancestors, who include prominent military commanders, made a large contribution to the life of the nation in the 19th century," said Mrs Justice Baron.

"They lived in (the mansion) for almost the entirety of their married life. I have seen photographs of the property - it is splendid. Beautifully designed, well-maintained and in a wonderful setting."

Mrs Justice Baron said the man became involved with another woman, his wife rented an apartment in London and the marriage ended.

"The wife learned of the husband's relationship with a young artist/singer who the husband told me has no assets. The husband is very enamoured of her," said the judge.

"The husband has lavished a great deal on her. But this is not a court of morals. Save to note it is part of the history."

She added: "This marriage lasted some 26 years. Apparently, as the husband said, it had been unhappy for some long time before the separation, with each spouse forming other attachments. Quite properly this assertion was not put to the wife and I mention it only to note that it is irrelevant."

Mrs Justice Baron said the couple mixed in the "highest echelons".

"The parties came from similar backgrounds. During the marriage they lived in an extremely privileged manner," said the judge.

"They were not flashy by nature but they were patrician and mixed in the highest echelons of English society.

"They moved with ease in those circles and were accustomed to giving and receiving gracious hospitality."

Mrs Justice Baron said the woman told how she was used to "running a full house with staff and planning the social life that goes with owning an important estate".

"Frugal in some senses (for example travelling (premium) economy), this family wanted for nothing," said the judge.

"I gained the impression that the husband in particular had what he wanted, whenever he wanted it.

"As an example he spent £85,000 on a Porsche motor car and sought to justify to me it as 'inexpensive' on the basis it was written down over eight years.

"This was obvious nonsense, although I do not criticise him for the purchase - after all he is a very wealthy man.

"It was, however, an interesting peep into his inner world as far as his perception of his own need was concerned."

She went on: "I have no doubt but that the lifestyle was smart, expensive and, of its kind, quite outstanding."

The judge said assets included family antiques and jewellery worth more than £2 million.

And she said the husband invested in the stock market.

"Essentially he undertakes spread betting. When analysed, he has lost 12% of the overall value of his investments in the years where an equivalent general market loss is 8%. To my mind, this would not indicate great success but the husband informed me these bare facts belie the entire truth," the judge added.

"He is obviously an optimist and an enthusiast. That stated I do have concerns, indeed doubts, about the level of his shrewdness as an investor in the stock market."

Mrs Justice Baron said the woman had given evidence with "dignity and was truthful".

"She was both charming and self-assured," said the judge.

"I had the impression that she was accustomed to leading a very cosseted life. She was not used to dealing with every day matters of finance.

"She lived in a grand house with a housekeeper/cook (who did the supermarket shopping); she had the use of an ironing lady and gardeners."

The judge said the woman's job was "being a social asset".

"That was what the husband wanted and I am confident that, whilst the marriage was successful, she was a partner of whom the husband could be justly proud," said the judge.

"I am sure that she fulfilled her role (as, essentially, the lady of the manor) with aplomb."

The judge added: "Hers was an old fashioned lifestyle with family retainers (to whom one owed a duty of care) and up-market friends.

"In short, it was an idyll redolent of English life of yesteryear.

"It was a life that few can afford now, with great privileges and prestige.

"To coin a fitting phrase, both parties lived as landed gentry.

"In addition the wife was accustomed to coming to London with her husband in pursuit of their joint passion for all things cultural including opera.

"In the later years the parties habitually stayed in the Carlton Tower, Knightsbridge."