The Duke of Grafton is a title in the Peerage of England first granted in 1675 to Henry Fitzroy, the second of three sons born by Barbara Villiers. Although it is commonly asserted that Henry's father was none other than king Charles II, it seems far more likely that one Henry Jermyn, Earl of Dover was the true father. Indeed it is known that king Charles initially denied paternity and only acknowledged the young Henry as his son when Barbara threatened to dash out the brains of the young boy. In any event Henry Fitzroy born 1663, was at least informally acknowledged by the king as his son, who arranged for him to be married off at the age of nine to Isabella Bennet, daughter and heiress of the Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington. In consequence of his marriage young Henry was created the Baron Sudbury, Viscount Ipswich and Earl of Euston on the 16th August 1672; the Euston estate being amongst the valuable properties that would eventually pass into his hands in due course. He was the created the Duke of Grafton on the 11th September 1675, and the honour of Grafton, which comprised a number of Crown estates in the hundred of Cleley and elsewhere in Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire, was later granted to the young Duke in 1672.

The 1st Duke was Vice-Admiral of England in 1682-1689, Governor of the Isle of Wight in 1684-1690, and Lord-Lieutenant of Suffolk in 1685-1689, and also served as Lord High Constable at the coronation of James II. He supported the king during the Monmouth Rebellion, but was subsequently amongst the first to abandon his uncle and joined with John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough in support of William of Orange during the Glorious Revolution. Having distinguished himself at battle of Beachy Head on the 30th June 1690, he later died on the 6th October from the wounds received leading William's forces during the siege of Cork in that same year.

He was succeeded as 2nd Duke by his son Charles who was a great favourite of George II and was described as "the great courtier of his time", although Jonathan Swift said that he was "without one good quality", and he was regarded by many as little better than an idiot. His son and heir apparent was even less well regarded and considered to be something of a brute, mainly due to his treatment of his young wife Dorothy Boyle whom he drove to a early grave after only seven months of marriage. It was therefore a relief to many that the Lord Euston predeceased his father by on the 7th July 1747, and so the title passed to a grandson, Augustus Henry with the 2nd Duke's death on the 6th May 1757.

Augustus Henry Fitzroy, the 3rd Duke, was a politician who rose to the heights of Prime Minister, although he is generally regarded as being amongst one of the least successful holders of that particular office. He was far more successful at breeding; both in terms of his own progeny, some sixteen legitimate children from two marriages and as many as eighteen illegitimate offspring; and in terms of horses, where his racing stud at Euston Hall produced a string of winners of the Classic races. Together with his son George Henry Fitzroy, the 4th Duke, who shared his passion for the turf, the Euston Hall stud regularly produced winners of both the Epsom Derby and Oaks, managed to win the 2,000 Guineas five times, and the 1,000 Guineas every year between 1819 and 1827, except for 1824. Between them, the 4th Duke and his father managed to win an estimated £250,000.

The 4th Duke, who succeeded at his father's death on the 14th March 1811, was also something of a politician, but far less prominent than his father. As the Lord Euston he sat in the House of Commons from 1784 to 1811 as the member for Thetford and then Cambridge University without making much of an impact. Initially a Tory, he became a Whig from 1802 onwards, and was one of the more vocal opponents of the bill of pains and penalties introduced against Queen Caroline in 1820. He later died at Euston Hall on the 28th September 1844.

The 5th Duke, Henry, was a Whig like his father, who had sat in the House of Commons between 1814 and 1842 as the member for Bury St Edmunds and then Thetford, and died on the 26th March 1863. His eldest son William Henry was briefly the attaché to the legation at Naples in 1841, and was the Liberal Member of Parliament for Thetford between 1847 and 1863, before succeeding as the 6th Duke. He died of typhoid on the 21st May 1882, and despite being married left no issue whatsoever. The title duly passed to his younger brother Augustus Charles, who had earlier sought a career in the army and served as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Coldstream Guards in the Boer War where he was severely wounded at the battle of Inkerman and eventually retired as an honorary general in 1881. It was the 7th Duke who had to face the embarrassment of finding that his eldest son Henry James Fitzroy, Earl of Euston was named in conjunction with the Cleveland Street Scandal, and also that he had married an actress named Kate Cooke. However as it happened Henry predeceased him without issue, having succumbed to the dropsy on the 10th May 1912, and so with the death of the 7th Duke on the 4th December 1918, the title passed to his younger son Alfred William.

The 8th Duke had followed his father into the Coldstream Guards where he became a Lieutenant. His eldest son William Henry served with the Royal Air Force during World War I, but was killed in an air crash on the 23rd April 1918, and so with his own death on the 10th January 1930, he was succeeded by his grandson John Charles. The 9th Duke inherited the title at the age of sixteen and had ambitions of becoming a racing driver, but was killed in a car crash at the Limerick Grand Prix at the age of twenty-seven on the 4th August 1936. He died without issue and whilst the dukedom passed to a cousin, some of his other titles namely those of the Baron and Earl of Arlington and that of the Viscount Thetford, fell into abeyance between his two sisters Jane Nelson and Mary Rose Williams. The 10th Duke, Charles Alfred Euston, was first cousin to his predecessor, and a Major in the Royal Welch Fusiliers who had served as Aide de Campe to the Governor-General of South Africa. He was unfortunately forced to sell of some 10,000 acres of land to meet death duties, and later demolished two thirds of Euston Hall as he lacked the funds for its upkeep. He later died on the 11th November 1970, being succeeded by his eldest son.

Hugh Denis Fitzroy, late of the Grenadier Guards, and former Aide de Campe to the Governor-General of India from 1943 to 1947, is the present and 11th Duke of Grafton and also holds the titles of the Earl of Euston, Viscount Ipswich and Baron Sudbury of Sudbury, as well as being the hereditary Ranger of Whittlebury Forest. Over the years the Duke has been the trustee of the National Portrait Gallery and the London Museum, and served in various capacities with such bodies as the National Trust, English Heritage and the East Anglia Tourist Board. Until disqualified by the House of Lords Act 1999, he regularly attended the House, where he demonstrated his passion for conservation and his detailed knowledge of Victorian buildings, having been the president of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings since 1982.

His heir apparent is his elder son James Oliver Charles Fitzroy, Earl of Euston, and the next in line is the Lord Euston's eldest son Henry Oliver Charles Fitzroy, known under his courtesy title of the Viscount Ipswich


THE DUKES OF GRAFTON

FITZROY


SOURCES

  • George Edward Cokayne, Vicary Gibbs, et al, The Complete Peerage (St Catherine's Press, 1910-1959)
  • The entry for GRAFTON from Burke's Peerage and Baronetage 107th Edition
  • Brian Masters The Dukes: The Origins, Ennoblement and History of 26 Families (Blond and Briggs, 1975)
  • E.S. Turner Amazing Grace: The Great Days of Dukes (Sutton Publishing, 2003)
  • Thoroughbred Heritage - The Dukes of Grafton: The Dukes, http://www.tbheritage.com/Breeders/Grafton/Grafton2.html

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.