Some New Year cheer, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph's obituaries column. The deceased, in this instance, is Lady Anne Cavendish-Bentinck, one of Britain's largest landowners who, had she not been born on the distaff side, would have been the Duke of Portland. Anyway...
Her grandfather, the 6th Duke, a younger half-brother of the Countess of Strathmore (mother of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother), had not been in direct line for the dukedom. He succeeded his eccentric second cousin, who had a horror of being seen and so supervised the digging of a network of underground passages and rooms at Welbeck – these included a tunnel 1¼ miles long, and wide enough for two carriages to pass.
He hid in a few interlocking rooms in the west wing, with a trap door giving him access to his network of tunnels, which was at times worked on by more than 1,500 men.
The 7th Duke, Lady Anne's father, was known as "Chopper" for having built himself a wooden house to live in at Welbeck. He had no sons, but while the title went to a distant relative, a discretionary trust set up by her grandfather meant that the ducal fortune passed to Lady Anne.
It is said that when she was a debutante she refused the hand of Prince Charles of the Belgians, later briefly Prince Regent of Belgium, by remaining in bed when he arrived to pay his suit. It has also been said that when she wished to marry the 11th Duke of Leeds and her family refused to permit the union, she vowed never to marry anyone else. Indeed, she never did marry.
There are times, it must be said, when even sensible people may have reason to question the virtues of the hereditary principle.
[Hat-tip: Bryan Appleyard.]