The Earl of Gowrie

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
11 September 1984 – 2 September 1985
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded byThe Lord Cockfield
Succeeded byNorman Tebbit
Minister of State for the Arts
In office
11 June 1983 – 2 September 1985
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded byPaul Channon
Succeeded byRichard Luce
Personal details
Alexander Patrick Greysteil Hore-Ruthven

(1939-11-26)26 November 1939
Dublin, Ireland
Died24 September 2021(2021-09-24) (aged 81)[1]
Political partyConservative
Alexandra Bingley
(m. 1962; div. 1973)

Adelheid Gräfin von der Schulenburg
(m. 1974)
ParentsPatrick Hore-Ruthven
Pamela Cooper
Alma materEton College
Balliol College, Oxford
Harvard University

Alexander Patrick Greysteil Hore-Ruthven, 2nd Earl of Gowrie,[2] PC, FRSL (Dublin, 26 November 1939 – 24 September 2021), usually known as Grey Gowrie, was an Irish-born British hereditary peer, holder of two distinct peerages. Lord Gowrie was also the hereditary Clan Chief of Clan Ruthven in Scotland. He was educated at Eton and Oxford, and held posts in academia for a period, in the US and London, including time working with poet Robert Lowell and at Harvard.

Gowrie was a Conservative Party politician for some years, including a period in the British Cabinet. He held ministerial posts in the areas of employment and Northern Ireland, and was Minister for the Arts, as well as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, with responsibility for Civil Service reform. Offered a promotion to full Secretary of State, with responsibility for education across the UK, he turned it down, causing some scandal when he said that the salary of ₤33,000 was not enough to live on in London, despite being three times the average salary in the city. Previously an arts dealer, he moved to Sotheby's for a reputed salary of ₤150,000, chairing parts of the art auction business. He later chaired the Arts Council of England (1994–1998).

He published several volumes of poetry, with a collected edition released in 2014, and a volume on the artists Derek Hill; he was also a contributing author for a book on British painting. He died at his home in Llanfechain, Wales in September 2021, after a long illness.


Early life and education

Lord Gowrie was born on 26 November 1939,[3] in Dublin, Ireland,[4] the elder son of Major The Hon. Patrick Hore-Ruthven - only surviving son of the 1st Baron Gowrie and his wife Lady Gowrie - and of Pamela Margaret Fletcher.[1] He had one sibling, younger brother Malise Ruthven, later a writer.[3] He was known as "Grey", short for his third forename, to most, and "Greysteil" to close friends.[3][2] One grandfather was a soldier and colonial official, the other an Anglican cleric.[1][2]

His parents were both active in Cairo during World War II, his father a major in the Rifle Brigade and his mother working for the intelligence services. His father was killed in action at Tripoli in 1942, while attached to the then-new SAS,[2] at which point he became his paternal grandfather's heir apparent; his grandparents played an active role in his upbringing thereafter.[1] When his grandfather, who had been the Governor General of South Australia, was created Earl of Gowrie in 1945, Grey became known by the courtesy title Viscount Ruthven of Canberra.[2]

He lived for a period at Windsor Castle, where his paternal grandfather was deputy constable.[3] He then returned to Ireland, living in Dublin and County Kildare, and, after his mother remarried (to Major Derek Cooper in 1952), in County Donegal.[5] He was educated at Eton, where he contributed poetry, fiction and prose to school magazine Parade and was elected to the elite Eton Society, more commonly known as Pop.[2] He then attended Balliol College, Oxford, and while there he succeeded Paul Foot as editor of Isis[1][3]


The young Lord Ruthven succeeded to the Earldom of Gowrie, named for the old Scottish area of Gowrie around Perth, on the death of his grandfather on 2 May 1955; at the same time he succeeded as the 2nd Viscount Ruthven of Canberra, and 2nd Baron Gowrie of Canberra and of Dirleton (in East Lothian).[1] On 16 April 1956, he further succeeded his great-uncle (his grandfather's elder brother) the 10th Lord Ruthven of Freeland as the 3rd Baron Ruthven of Gowrie (the Scottish lordship of Ruthven of Freeland passed instead via the female line). He matriculated his coat of arms with the Lord Lyon King of Arms in 1959.[5]

Academic and art dealer

Gowrie worked for the Times Literary Supplement for a short time, and taught, meeting his future wife while working in a girls' school. After marriage, he moved to the US, working as a visiting lecturer at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo from 1963 to 1964, then tutoring at Harvard University from 1965 to 1968, while also working with poet Robert Lowell.[1][3][2]

Gowrie returned from the US in 1969, as lecturer in English and American Literature at University College London;[3][2] he also trained as an art dealer in Bond Street, working with Thomas Gibson Fine Art.[2] Early deals included a portrait of Peter Lacey by Francis Bacon, which Gowrie offered first, at no commission, to the National Gallery of Ireland - when they rejected the work of "this disgraceful artist", he sold it to Elton John.[6] He dealt in Old Masters, Picassos, and David Hockney at an early stage, and on one occasion sold a Jackson Pollack to the National Gallery in Washington for £2 million. He produced his first volume of poetry, A Postcard from Don Giovanni, in 1972;[3] David Hockney produced a sketch of Gowrie for its front cover.[1]

Political career

Appointed a Conservative Whip in the House of Lords, in 1971 Lord Gowrie represented the British Government on the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations.[7] He joined the Conservative front bench under Ted Heath in 1972 as a Lord-in-waiting, a post he held until 1974. While the Conservatives were in opposition from 1974 to 1979, he was spokesperson on economic affairs.[3]

He later served under Margaret Thatcher, with his first appointment being Minister of State for Employment between 1979 and 1981. He followed his senior minister to Northern Ireland, working as Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) from 1981 to 1983, during the period of IRA hunger strikes; he was noted as "expressing quiet admiration for what he saw as the dying men’s misguided courage".[3][1] In 1983 he was sworn of the Privy Council and entered the Cabinet as Minister for the Arts. During his time as arts minister, he introduced a scheme which allowed donations of art to public galleries and museums to be offset against death duties. He was also Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster from 1984, with additional responsibility for personnel and management of the Civil Service, and held his ministerial posts until 1985.[1] Thatcher offered him a promotion to the post of Secretary of State for Education and Science but instead he resigned from the Cabinet in 1985, stating that it was impossible for him to live in London on the £33,000 salary provided for the post, a claim that caused some agitation, as it was three times the average London wage of the time.[1]

Gowrie was socially liberal but he has been described as an economic “dry” and an early convert to Thatcherite policies.[3] Denis Healey, his Government opponent (Chancellor of the Exchequer 1974 to 1979) said of him “Grey is the only Conservative who understands monetarism”.).[1]

Later career

After leaving government, Gowrie in 1985 took up a post as chairperson of Sotheby's International, overseeing the auction house's business in Europe and the Far East, at a reputed salary of £150,000. This followed rumours that he might take a senior role at Sotheby's major rival, Christie's, He was also brought on to the global board of Sotheby's use under Alfred Taubman; he worked for the company until 1994.[8][1] He was subsequently appointed chairman of the Arts Council of England - described as "the appointment of a Scot, born in Ireland and living in Wales" to a key English post. At the Arts Council, he secured the role as a distributor of funds from the National Lottery.[1] He supported, and later inaugurated, the Angel of the North sculpture. He chaired the Booker Prize panel which dismissed A Suitable Boy, of which he commented "we wanted the book to succeed ...we thought it was abysmally edited and tailored. ... promising lines of development and tension kept running out. The book needed cutting, like a movie.",[9] and awarded the 1993 prize to Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.[3]

Gowrie lectured on English and American literature at Harvard and University College, London.[4] He held the unpaid post of Provost of the Royal College of Art. He also made a number of television appearances, including in documentaries on Francis Bacon, artist and British folk revivalist and blues pioneer Rory McEwen, and the National Theatre, as well as multiple episodes of Question Time.[citation needed] He also opened a Bacon exhibition at the Central House of Artists in Moscow, Russia, for which he also wrote the catalogue introduction.[10][11]

Gowrie was a patron of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.[12] Together with Rowan Williams and Daniel Day-Lewis, he was also a patron of the Wilfred Owen Association, formed in 1989 to commemorate the life and work of the renowned World War I poet Wilfred Owen.[13] He was a founding director of the British Fund for the National Gallery of Ireland (later the International Friends of the National Gallery of Ireland), from 1996 to 2000, rejoining in 2003, serving as co-chairman, and stepping down in 2011.[14]


Gowrie published one volume of poetry in his 20s, Postcard from Don Giovanni[15] after a period working as an assistant to American poet Robert Lowell, and later co-authored a book on British painting, The Genius of British Painting, published in 1975.[citation needed] In 1987 he published a biography and artistic profile of the artist Derek Hill, Derek Hill: An Appreciation.[16]

In the summer of 1999, having been diagnosed with a serious heart condition, he received a heart transplant at Harefield Hospital and, after a long recovery, left hospital in 2000; his health remained frail thereafter. He became friends with his principal surgeon, Magdi Yacoub, and chaired the institute named for him. Following his release from hospital, he published his first book of poetry for decades, The Domino Hymn, which contains references to his illness - the title refers to the fact that he was a "domino patient", i.e. one who received a heart from a fellow patient undergoing a heart-and-lung transplant.[17] He later also released Third Day with a mix of new and collected poetry.[4] A "Collected Poems" was released in 2014, and reissued in 2017.

In 2003, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[18] In 2008 he accepted an invitation from CEO Farad Azima to chair the newly-formed Advisory Board of the Iran Heritage Foundation.[19]

Personal life


Gowrie inherited Castlemartin House and Estate at Kilcullen, County Kildare, Ireland, from his great-aunt Sheelagh Blacker in 1967, and later sold it to Tony O'Reilly.[3] He lived partly in Ireland until 1983, and then moved to the Llanfechain[20] in the Welsh Marches,[4] where he presided over the local show in 1998,[21] and attended the regional literary festival.[20] He maintained a London base throughout also, latterly a house in Kensington.[22]


Lord Gowrie married Xandra (Alexandra) Bingley, daughter of Colonel Robert Bingley, on 1 November 1962. They had one son:

Lord Gowrie and Alexandra Bingley, who became a writer and editor, divorced in 1973.[1][9]

On 2 November 1974, Gowrie married Adelheid Gräfin von der Schulenburg (b. 24 October 1943), sixth and youngest child and fifth and youngest daughter of Fritz-Dietlof Graf von der Schulenburg (1902–10 August 1944), a German Graf (Count) and one of the leaders of the 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler, and his wife Charlotte Kotelmann.[23] He was known to describe himself as "an Irishman with a Scots title, married to a German"[1] and to say "I am a Nationalist, not a Unionist".[24]


Gowrie remained friends with Lowell, his poetic mentor, and was a pallbearer at his funeral. He has also been closely associated with Edward Plunkett, the Anglo-Irish painter,[25] and was godfather to one of his sons, and purchaser of the Kent house of his famous grandfather, the writer Lord Dunsany.[citation needed] He described Margaret Thatcher, Francis Bacon and Andrew Lloyd Webber as among his best friends,[26] and was also friends with Boris Johnson, leading the pre-wedding dinner for Johnson's first marriage. [27] He had come to know Bacon later in life, but discovered that they had both partly grown up around the same small town, Kilcullen in County Kildare.[6] He participated in a television documentary about another friend, Guinness heir Garech Browne.[28] Auberon "Bron" Waugh pursued a decades-long public vendetta with Gowrie, over a romantic competition at Oxford which Gowrie had won;[29] despite this, when Waugh died, Gowrie described him as "The greatest journalist of my generation".[30]


Lord Gowrie died after long illness, at his home in Wales on 24 September 2021, at the age of 81.[31] He is survived by his widow, Adelheid "Neiti" Gowrie, his son and heir, generally known as Brer, his grandson, and by his brother.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Lord Gowrie obituary". The Times (of London). 24 September 2021. Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i (Telegraph Obituaries) (24 September 2021). "Lord Gowrie, politician, poet and leading figure in the arts who served under Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Bates, Stephen (24 September 2021). "Lord Gowrie obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d "Grey Gowrie". Sheep Meadow Press. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  5. ^ a b Mosley (ed.), Charles (1 December 2003). Burke's Peerage & Baronetage (and Knightage) (107th ed.). Burke's Peerage. p. 1615. ISBN 0971196621.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  6. ^ a b Keane, Madeleine (3 May 1992). "Art and Impulse". The Sunday Independent. p. 30.
  7. ^ Gowrie, Grey (1972). A Postcard from Don Giovanni. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0192118153. biographical note on back cover
  8. ^ Reif, Rita (24 October 1985). "Sotheby's picks new chairman". The New York Times. p. C16. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  9. ^ a b Lambert, Angela (23 October 2011). "Affair with Literature". The Independent (UK). London, UK. Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  10. ^ Sokolov, Mikhail (1 November 1988). "Francis Bacon in Moscow". Art Monthly (121).
  11. ^ Smiley, Xan (24 September 1988). "An alien culture comes to Moscow". The Daily Telegraph (Weekend).
  12. ^ "Elton John AIDS Foundation patrons". Archived from the original on 12 October 2013. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
  13. ^ The Wilfred Owen Association, official site
  14. ^ "International Friends of the National Gallery of Ireland Limited". Find and update company information service. Companies House (HMG). Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  15. ^ Gowrie, Grey (1972). A Postcard from Don Giovanni. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0192118153.
  16. ^ Bruce Arnold (author) (8 August 1987). "The Two Lives of Derek Hill". The Irish Independent. p. 11.
  17. ^ Pleasantville, Mount Pleasant, New York: Reader's Digest, October 2008, "Heartfelt: Grey Gowrie on living with another man's heart"
  18. ^ "Royal Society of Literature All Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Archived from the original on 5 March 2010. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  19. ^ Iran Heritage Foundation - 2008 in review. Iran Heritage Foundation. 2009. p. 3,4.
  20. ^ a b "Montgomeryshire Literary Festival". Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  21. ^ "Llanfechain Show - Presidents 1966-2018". Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  22. ^ Taylor (interviewer), Noreen (19 January 2002). "My New Heart Gave Me Purpose – Grey Gowrie". The Daily Mail Weekend Magazine. pp. 19–20.
  23. ^ Leo van der Pas. "Descendants of Herbert von Bismarck: Generation 21": Part XXI-88 (XX-49-1) Archived 6 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine and "Descendants of Herbert von Bismarck: Generation 22": XXII-88 (XXI-88-1); this however, mentions only two children out of six, per Countess Elisabeth von der Schulenburg's Daily Telegraph obituary. Count Fritz-Dietlof was himself fourth son (out of five sons) of Count Friedrich von der Schulenburg (d. 1939) by his wife Freda-Marie von Arnim.
  24. ^ The Daily Mail (Weekend), 19 January 2002, pp. 19-20, "How my new heart gave me purpose", the Earl of Gowrie in conversation with Noreen Taylor
  25. ^ Dublin, The Irish Times, 4 June 2011: Artist will be seen as 'very important if rather austere' - Edward John Carlos Plunkett
  26. ^ "Lord Gowrie obituary". The Times (of London). 26 September 2021. Retrieved 24 September 2021. Gowrie would describe Thatcher as one of his best friends, along with the artist Francis Bacon and the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.
  27. ^ "Lord Gowrie obituary". The Times (of London). 26 September 2021. Retrieved 24 September 2021. The two were on friendly terms, so friendly that in 1987 Gowrie hosted Johnson’s pre-wedding dinner when he married Allegra Mostyn-Owen, his first wife.
  28. ^ McGreevy, Ronan (17 December 2019). "Garech Browne: The spendthrift Irish aristocrat who burned through millions". The Irish Times. Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  29. ^ Geoffrey Wheatcroft (18 January 2001). "Auberon Waugh". The Guardian (UK). Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  30. ^ Eddie Holt (27 January 2001). "Brutish and British". Irish Times. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  31. ^ Ruthven, Heathcote (25 September 2021). "Gowrie, Grey". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
Political offices Preceded byHarold Walker Minister of State for Employment1979–1981 Succeeded byMichael Alison Preceded byHon. Adam Butler Minister of State for Northern Ireland1981–1983 Succeeded byThe Earl of Mansfield Preceded byPaul Channon Minister of State for the Arts1983–1985 Succeeded byRichard Luce Preceded byThe Lord Cockfield Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster1984–1985 Succeeded byNorman Tebbit Cultural offices Preceded byThe Lord Palumbo Chairperson of the Arts Council of England1994–1998 Succeeded byGerry Robinson Peerage of the United Kingdom Preceded byAlexander Hore-Ruthven Earl of Gowrie1955–2021 Succeeded byBrer Ruthven Preceded byWalter Hore-Ruthven Baron Ruthven of Gowrie1956–2021