Tories in Turmoil: Aristocrat steeped in politics: Lord Caithness: The latest member of Government to resign was regarded as a 'safe pair of hands'. Stephen Ward reports

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The Independent Online
THE MARRIAGE at Wellington Barracks, in 1975, of the 20th Earl of Caithness to Diana Coke, joined two aristocratic families. She was the daughter of Major Richard Coke, of Wessenham Hall, King's Lynn, Norfolk. Her father is deputy Lord Lieutenant of the county, and connected to the Earl of Leicester.

One family friend described her last night as a 'steely' woman. Another said she was 'highly strung'. She was a keen rider and a member of the Heythrop hunt.

Lord Caithness, 45, who succeeded to his title as a teenager, has held a succession of ministerial posts since 1984, and steered several difficult Bills through Lords revolts. His first appointment, at the age of 36, was to the joint posts of Chief Whip in the Lords and spokesman on health and social security and on Scotland.

In 1985 he became a junior transport minister and Minister of State for the Home Office. The following year he took up posts at the Department of the Environment, during passage of the poll tax Bill, and at the Foreign Office until 1992.

His wide-ranging responsibilities were a sign he was regarded as a safe pair of hands, although the last move, two years ago to the Transport Department, was a step downwards. He is also president of West Oxfordshire Conservative Association, and a close friend of Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary.

Although inheriting a title dating from 1455, with a seat at an ancient castle, Girnigoe Castle, Caithness, he was not wealthy by the standards of his class. His ministerial salary was pounds 44,945, and he described the castle as 'crumbling'. There is thought to be little in the way of private income.

Their daughter, 19, and son, 12, are both at private schools, while the couple lived in a comfortable but not ostentatious house near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.

Lord Caithness, who trained as a surveyor at the Royal Agricultural College, in Cirencester, after Marlborough School, was known since his effective demotion to have been looking for a job outside politics as insurance in case his career in Parliament came to an end.

He is a friend of the hunting wing of the Royal Family - his father held an appointment at Balmoral - and prior to his marriage he was the Princess Royal's escort at many society functions.

(Photographs omitted)

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