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The Earl Fitzwilliam

The 7th Earl Fitzwilliam
BornWilliam Charles de Meuron Wentworth-Fitzwilliam
25 July 1872
Died15 February 1943, age 70
Spouse(s)Lady Maud Frederica Elizabeth Dundas
Children5 (including Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 8th Earl Fitzwilliam)
Parent(s)William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, Viscount Milton
Laura Maria Theresa Beauclerk

William "Billy" Charles de Meuron Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 7th Earl Fitzwilliam, KCVO, CBE, DSO (25 July 1872 – 15 February 1943), styled Viscount Milton from 1877 to 1902, was a British Army officer, nobleman, politician, and aristocrat.[1]

Early life and controversy

He was born in Pointe de Meuron, Ontario, Canada, to William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, Viscount Milton and Laura Beauclerk, granddaughter of William Beauclerk, 8th Duke of St Albans. The unusual circumstances of his birth in a remote part of Canada's frontier lands were later to cause major controversy within the family. The accusation was that he was a changeling: an unrelated baby inserted into the family line, to purge the bloodline of the epilepsy from which his ostensible forebears had suffered, and to provide that arm of the family with a male heir to inherit the earldom.[2]

His birth was registered in Thunder Bay, Ontario, on 20 August 1872. It was noted in the remarks that his parents were visiting the district "for the benefit of the health of the father, Lord Milton."[3]

Biography and career

He sat in the House of Commons for Wakefield from 1895 until 1902, when he inherited the title Earl Fitzwilliam on the death of his grandfather William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 6th Earl Fitzwilliam. His father William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, Viscount Milton had pre-deceased him.

On his succession to the Earldom, he became one of the richest men in Britain, inheriting an estate of significant land, industrial and mineral-right holdings worth £3.3 billion in 2007 terms.[4] His sister Lady Mabel Fitzwilliam criticised his lifestyle: "he had so much and everyone else had so little".[5]

He served 1893–94 as Aide-de-camp to Lord Lansdowne, Viceroy of India. He was promoted to captain of the 4th (Militia) Battalion of the Oxfordshire Light Infantry on 11 April 1896. Following the outbreak of the Second Boer War in late 1899, he volunteered for service with the Imperial Yeomanry where he was commissioned lieutenant on 3 February 1900,[6][7] serving with the 40th (Oxfordshire) Company in the 10th Battalion. He left London the same day in the SS Montfort,[8] and arrived in South Africa the following month. Later that year he received a staff appointment, as captain on the headquarters staff in South Africa.

In May 1902, Lord Fitzwilliam was employed on the staff of the Duke of Connaught, who was in charge of military events during the Coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. His main duties were in organizing the auxiliary forces during the celebrations.[9]

He was High Sheriff of Rutland for 1898–99.[10] and Lord Mayor of Sheffield for 1909-10


On 24 June 1896, at St Paul's Cathedral, he married Lady Maud Frederica Elizabeth Dundas (9 July 1877 – 15 March 1967), the daughter of Lawrence Dundas, 1st Marquess of Zetland and Lady Lillian Selina Elizabeth Lumley. They had five children;

Mining and business interests

The family operated coal mines, reputedly employing over 2,000 men at their peak, along with interests in glass, pottery, tar, chemicals and cars. On-going real estate investment developed the estate into one of England's most significant landholdings. Nationalization of coal in 1947, coupled with successive death taxes "reduced the estates during the latter half of the twentieth century from over 20,000 to 15,000 acres today."[13]

Earl Fitwilliam, known as "Billy", ruled with a gentle touch, ensuring the Fitzwilliam collieries were the safest, and that his workers received help during economic blights, including the 1926 General Strike, when he taught miners on pit ponies how to play polo on his front lawn, and fed them during their eight months without pay.[14]

The Countess Maud Fitzwilliam was an avid horsewoman who had also become a champion for pit pony rights, serving as president of the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Pit Ponies. She was also a benefactress of mining families working in her husband's collieries.[15][16]


He died at the family's seat, Wentworth Woodhouse, on 15 February 1943.


  1. ^ Venn, John (2011). Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students. Cambridge University Press. p. 424. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  2. ^ Bailey, C (2007). Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty, pp. 14–35. London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-670-91542-2
  3. ^ Ontario, Canada Births, 1858-1913 for William Charles Wentworth de Meuron Fitzwilliam; Thunder Bay 1872
  4. ^ Bailey, C (2007). Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty, London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-670-91542-2
  5. ^ Bailey, C (2007). Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty, page 399. London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-670-91542-2
  6. ^ "No. 27160". The London Gazette. 2 February 1900. p. 692.
  7. ^ "No. 27163". The London Gazette (Supplement). 9 February 1900. p. 910.
  8. ^ "The War - The Imperial Yeomanry". The Times (36056). London. 3 February 1900. p. 12.
  9. ^ "The Coronation". The Times (36767). London. 14 May 1902. p. 12.
  10. ^ "No. 26945". The London Gazette. 8 March 1898. p. 1414.
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Lady Helena (Alberta Maria Gabriella) Fitzwilliam, later Lady Hilton-Green and, since 1966, Lady Daresbury (1907-70)". V&A Lafyette.
  13. ^ Wentworth Estate "Fitwilliam Wentworth History", Wentworth Estate, 2018. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  14. ^ Express "Scandals and feuds that cost family a home bigger than the Queen's", Express, 9 June 2013. Retrieved 24 March 2018.
  15. ^ BBC "Elsecar 19", Bargain Hunt, BBC, Series 46, Episode 30 (16:20 - 19:00), Youtube, 20 September 2017. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  16. ^ Coyle, G.The Riches Beneath Our Feet: How Mining Shaped Britain, by Geoff Coyle, OUP Oxford, U.K., 2010, page 197. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Albany Charlesworth
Member of Parliament for Wakefield
Succeeded by
Edward Brotherton
Preceded by
Thomas Bartholomew Curran
Baby of the House
Succeeded by
Samuel Scott
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by
William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam
Earl Fitzwilliam
Succeeded by
Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by
William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam
Earl Fitzwilliam
Succeeded by
Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam