A British documentary producer and historian creates a bang-up detective story around mysterious gaps in the archives chronicling the sad tale of the ninth Duke of Rutland.
The master of the Belvoir Castle, commanding thousands of acres and priceless treasures dating from the 11th century, the Duke of Rutland—John Henry Montagu Manners—died of pneumonia in the bowels of his keep in April 1940, not long after a top-secret convoy of royal documents was delivered to the castle for safekeeping during the war. Bailey is truly a dogged detective in getting at the essential questions surrounding the reclusive duke’s labored death: What was he so keen on finishing before he would give up the ghost? An obsessive archivist, he had spent the last decades of his life carefully sifting through and cataloging the records pertaining to his family history, even before King George VI had sanctioned the evacuation of important national documents to the castle. In 2008, Bailey was allowed access to the duke’s private sanctuary, which had been sealed after his death. In her tireless digging, she discovered three important omissions of material encompassing three distinct dates in John’s life: August 1894, when he was 8 and his older brother, then heir to the dukedom, suddenly took ill and died; June 1909, when he was 22 and corresponding with his uncle in cipher about his father, who had attempted to sell off his inheritance; and, finally, during much of 1915, when he was supposed to be serving on the western front but instead returned home to Belvoir at the instigation of his mother. What Bailey essentially uncovers is an entire moribund way of life in the great aristocratic families and the shockingly self-serving privilege put before the sense of national purpose.
A compelling exposé on the once-almighty laws of ducal inheritance.