Caroline Agnes GRAHAM, Duchess of MONTROSE (1818 – 1894)
‘Carrie Red’, as the Duchess was known owing to the racing colours of her second husband, had a strong and imposing personality that could aptly have been described as eccentric.
Caroline had wealth and used it to lead life to the full: she had three husbands, two of whom died while she was alive.
The following is taken from her obituary written by the London correspondent of The Auckland Star (16th January 1895 edition) which aptly sums up her personality.
“Caroline, Duchess of Montrose, known to her intimates as ‘Bob’ and to the Turf world as ‘Mr Manton’ was a redoubtable dame and will be talked of in sporting circles for many a long day to come.
In temperament she was a thorough Irishwoman, warm-hearted cheery and genial but afflicted with a hasty and ungovernable temper. Her Grace had little of the Duchess about her. She was a tall and buxom lady with sandy hair, a high complexion, fine teeth, a horsy manner and a jovial laugh. A more enthusiastic sportswoman never lived, but she was too impulsive and too hot tempered to be fortunate in racing.
Jockey after jockey tried to endure her gusty furies for the sake of her big retaining fees but either she dismissed them or they sent in their jackets, and finally she could get none of the celebrities to ride for her.” On her dress sense it was said that her indulgences bordered on caricature.
Newmarket in the second half of the nineteenth century was a town much influenced by wealthy, often titled, aristocrats with a passion for racing and the money to indulge their sport. These wealthy patrons of racing were the people who built many of the grand houses and racing stables that exist today.
Some were themselves the owners of racing stables. These were often people of inherited wealth and high society breeding, or perhaps with distinguished military or parliamentary careers, usually owning other properties in the fashionable parts of London.
Of great significance was the linking of the railway to Newmarket in 1851, which for the first time allowed travel between their London and Newmarket residences in comparative comfort.
Newmarket was a town of high stakes gambling, corruption, gossip, and intrigue, although by the 1870s the upstanding Admiral Henry Rous had brought some necessary regulation and control to the many corrupt practices in the betting world.
A gulf existed between this racing aristocracy and the working classes – the servants, stable workers, clerks, shopkeepers and tradesmen who were often looked upon as the lower orders of society, there to serve their betters. Successful jockeys and even trainers were often treated as superior kinds of servants who could be hired or dismissed at will.
Of course, there were the wealthy who treated their staff kindly and well, but the quick-tempered Duchess was not one of them, she was said to have changed her jockeys and trainers “as often as her dress” and her servants in her Belgrave Square London residence were seldom the same two seasons running.
The Duchess was the 3rd daughter of John Horsley-Beresford, Lord Lieutenant of Stirlingshire, born on 23rd January 1818 in Bolam. She inherited her title from her first husband James Graham, the 4th Duke of Montrose (born 1799) who she married in 1836. The Duke had been educated at Eton and Trinity College, was MP for Cambridge (1825 – 32), held various parliamentary positions and was a privy councillor and Postmaster General.
They had 3 daughters and 3 sons, but only three outlived their mother. The third son, Douglas Beresford Malise Ronald Graham, became the 5th Duke of Montrose on the death of his father. The Duchess was 56 when her husband died in 1874, he was buried in Cannes.
By 1876 The Duchess had married again, this time to the very wealthy racehorse owner William Stuart Stirling-Crawfurd (1820 – 1883) and this brought her to Newmarket.
From an early age he had inherited his wealth from his family the Stuarts of Castlemilk, and used it to become a very successful owner/breeder of racehorses (right: caricature of Craw from a contemporary issue of Vanity Fair).
By all accounts the marriage was a happy one. He took a lease on the impressive Sefton Lodge and stables in Bury Road and had additions to the original building of 1872 carried out to suit his wife. ‘Craw’. as he became known in the racing world, pandered to her eccentricities, her interference and often perverse decisions that in his later years tarred his good name in the racing community.
One of her biggest racing indiscretions occurred when her favoured horse Thebais was due to run in The Cambridgeshire. By the time she came to lay her stake the odds had shortened and in a fit of pique shortly before the race she ‘scratched’ (withdrew) her horse. This was just not done, and she was afterward booed and hissed when her colours appeared on the course.
When Craw died in 1883 while in Cannes, she was inconsolable, and she sold the stable with its thoroughbred horses and retired from racing.
To his memory and as a mausoleum she built the exquisite St Agnes Church in Bury Road, just a short walk from Sefton Lodge. No expense was spared in its building. A description of it in the Supplement to Cautley’s Suffolk Churches speaks of “the lavish interior embellished with a great deal of Salviati mosaic and a majolica-tiled dado”, and draws attention to “an oil painting of the Last Supper in a fine late seventeenth-century frame and an elaborate marble reredos by Boehm in Renaissance-manner depicting the Assumption of St. Agnes over the Coliseum at Rome. All the windows are of stained glass, and it is said to be the only example of the high Victorian use of such elaborate tile and mosaic work in Suffolk”.
A large cross behind the Church marks the tomb where Craw’s body was re-interred in 1888. She is reputed to have visited the mausoleum every day.
St Agnes Church
Only 8 months after her husband’s death another chapter opened in the indominatable lady’s life and she was back in the racing scene, having adopted the title ‘Mr Manton’ to circumvent the Jockey Club’s rule that trainers were a male only province.
Manton was the name of a famous training centre on the Wiltshire Downs. Even as ‘Mr Manton’ Jockey Club rules meant that she could not obviously own or train horses (nor could any woman) – so women’s representations at races, or even bets. had to be made by the trainer or Head Lad.
The Duchess is depicted as the large lady standing behind the Prince of Wales. This may explain her unkindly given nickname ‘Six Mile Bottom’. No doubt the then fashionable bustle emphasized that particular feature of her anatomy.
The jockey in the caricature is Fred Archer – which could explain the Duchess’ gaze & smile! Her eccentric dress looks rather like the one in the famous portrait of her.
An intriguing speculation, could the lady chatting to the Prince have been Lillie Langtry? The artist / caricaturist was Liborio Prosperi (1854 – 1928) a regular Vanity Fair illustrator.
She used her great inherited wealth to make an impact on racing, but her vanity, impatience and bad temper overcame her judgement. Jockeys and trainers who displeased her were summarily dismissed. However, she did not always get the better of her exchanges and the following tale is related in Frank Siltzer’s book ‘Newmarket’.
“Mr Manton (The Duchess of Montrose) is said to have accosted the trainer Richard Marsh with: ‘Well, Marsh, what will win these two races to-day?’ mentioning a couple of events. ‘Well, Your Grace,’ said Marsh, naming two horses he fancied. ‘I think so-and-so win the first and so-and-so the second.’ ‘But’ retorted the Duchess, ‘these are newspaper tips’; and she turned away superciliously.
It so happened that the two horses named by Marsh won their respective races; and so on the following day the Duchess again asked him: ‘What will win these two races to-day?’ With a touch of latent humour Marsh replied: ‘Oh, Your Grace, I regret that I haven’t seen the newspapers this morning and so can’t tell you.'”
The Duchess was robust and full of vigour right up to her final days and was said to have looked twenty years younger than her real age. Although the story has not been substantiated it was rumoured that during her time as Mr Manton, she made matrimonial proposals to Fred Archer. What followed gives some credence to the story.
In August 1888, when the Duchess had turned 70, an event occurred that took the world of high society by storm. It was perhaps the most extraordinary happening in this unpredictable lady’s life when, without prior notice, she eloped with a man aged 24, young enough to be her grandson. It appears that she needed a man in her life to advise her on her financial affairs.
Mr Marcus Henry Milner (right: caricature from Vanity Fair) was a young man who had come from good country stock and who held the respected position of an assistant stockbroker in The City. Whatever the Duchess’ motives for the match, there is little doubt a generous marriage and life settlements were Mr Milner’s main objective. Her racing stud now ran under his name.
Not surprisingly this mismatch did not last for long. He was berated for his lack of judgement on racing matters, and she was unwilling to take his good advice on finance. Soon Milner had had enough, he departed from her household never to return, although they never divorced. The enraged Duchess tried to get the marriage settlements overturned, but without success.
Milner later served in the South African and the Great War, achieved the rank of Major, was a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) and was awarded a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the Belgian Croix de Guerre.
For a few years the Duchess continued to make her mark on racing but in 1894 at age 76 her good health deteriorated and although she was expected to make a recovery, she finally gave up the reins on 16th November 1894 in London. She was buried beside her beloved Craw behind the little Church that she had built as a mausoleum to his memory.
- The NLHS 2 Vol. History of Newmarket and its Surrounding Areas
- Sandra Easom
- Tony Pringle
- Fr. Geoffrey Smith
- Various online sources of pictures and information