Why Is Prince Charles Buying Into Someone Else’s Family Feud?
Prince Charles wants to buy one of the U.K.’s most ancient estates—and in so doing he’ll be entering the choppy dramas of the St. Germans family.
Best known as home to a sophisticated annual arts festival and said to be the oldest continually inhabited house in the British Isles, the Prince’s forthcoming purchase of the house has caused bitter division between its current owners, Lord and Lady St Germans, and their widowed daughter-in-law, Lady Bianca Eliot, mother of the long-presumed boy-heir to the estate, Albert.
The estate is much more than just a festival site—it is a 6,000-acre idyll complete with its own church, Iron Age fort, tidal wetlands rich in bird life, a train station, viaduct, and boat house.
Just last year, Perry sold 800 acres of the estate for £4.7 million to Charles’s private estate, the Duchy of Cornwall.
The Prince’s office denied to The Daily Beast that the Prince had “bought anything” but admitted that the Prince’s Trust Charity was running “a feasibility study and period of consultation only” on buying the house and some of its gardens.
However, sources told The Daily Beast that the sale was being talked about as “a done deal” by the current owners of the house, the LSD-aficionado Lord Peregrine ‘Perry’ St Germans, who is one of the last great bohemian British aristocrats, and his wife Lady Catherine, known to all and sundry as Cathy.
A source also told The Daily Beast that while the sale is being advertised by the St Germans as a way to insure the future financial viability of the estate, which Cathy has reinvented as a bohemian cultural playground through her astute shepherding of the Port Eliot festival, there is a darker element at play: a plot to keep the St Germans’s disliked daughter-in-law Bianca, aka Lady Eliot, with whom the St Germans have been feuding for almost 10 years, out of the family.
Bianca, 38, a retired model, is the widow of the Earl’s son and onetime heir to the estate, Jago Eliot. But Jago, who was known in society circles for his high-rolling lifestyle, died aged 40 in 2006, drowning in a bath after suffering an epileptic fit.
Toxicology tests revealed at inquest showed he had traces of cocaine and marijuana in his blood when he died, although it should be noted that the coroner ruled that drugs played no part in his death and attributed the tragedy to natural causes.
Jago and Bianca’s son Albert was just 1 year old at the time.
The Earl is now 74 and in failing health, having had both a kidney and a lung transplant, and Lady St Germans, better known as Cathy, is just 45. She was originally a friend of Jago’s, but fell in love with her pal’s father after a weekend visit to the estate.
As his wife, the estate will pass to Cathy on his death, but by St Germans tradition, and the terms of the ‘entail’ that dictates the estate must be passed on to male heirs, she would only be holding it in trust for ‘Albi’ till he came of age.
This would, the St Germans fear, give Bianca—who nearly married Princes Diana’s brother Earl Spencer in 2010 until the wedding was called off at the last minute—plenty of opportunity to meddle in their affairs or, they fear, even attempt to take control of the estate.
“The whole problem is Bianca, that’s why it’s happening,” says a source. “It’s the old story. The St Germans just don’t get on with their daughter-in-law.”
Bianca has been voluble in her arguments with the family to have the estate passed intact to her son, making clear she believes the estate is her son’s birthright.
Lady St Germans is currently on holiday and was not available for comment to The Daily Beast, but has previously made little secret of her enthusiasm for the sale, saying, “It will mean the estate maintains its income and is relieved of the huge burden of running the house. Considering the alternatives, ie the National Trust, a fleeing oligarch or the house and contents being broken up, this is a sensational deal and a terrific turn-up for the estate.”
Sources say the St Germans will be allowed to continue living on the estate in the terms of the deal (although they won’t stay in the big house).
In Cathy’s defence, it should be noted that the estate—like almost all similar properties in Britain—is only borderline financially viable, despite the remarkable progress Cathy has made with the festival since marrying Perry in 2005.
If the St Germans really can cut a deal which enables them to carry on living on the estate whilst simultaneously selling it to Charles, they would be the envy of many a big house owner across the UK.
Disapproval by his peers is unlikely to trouble Perry, one of Britain’s most celebrated eccentrics.
He has always been an unorthodox and bohemian figure.
He hosted the legendary and deeply alternative Elephant Fayre festival at St Germans from 1981 to 1986, which attracted acts like The Fall, The Cure, and Siouxie and the Banshees.
The event—which attracted ‘crusties’ from around Europe—was almost as unpopular with locals as the new Port Eliot festival, begun in 2003 and attracting London’s free-spending middle class and cultural elite.
The event is generally recognized as being the best ‘grown-up’ festival in Europe with a consistently impressive lineup.
The palace, meanwhile, has made clear that the house and gardens will be operated along the same lines as Dumfries House in Scotland, which the Prince bought in an equally controversial private sale.
Charles headed a consortium of charities and heritage bodies—guaranteeing a £20m loan—which bought the house and its land in 2007. The loan has since been repaid, and the house now functions as a community hub.
The good news? The festival is safe, sources say, with Charles having given a guarantee it can continue—run by Cathy and her team—after the acquisition of the property.