The 9th Earl of Coventry - George William
A Grand Old Man of Worcestershire, the 9th Earl of Coventry.
An Earl at the age of 4
George William Coventry was born in 1838, the son of George William, Viscount Deerhurst and his mother Harriet Cockerell. Both his parents had died by 1842 and in the same year, when he was only four years of age, he inherited the earldom from his grandfather William, 8th Earl of Coventry.
With his sister Maria, he was brought up by their maternal grandmother at Sezincote, in Gloucestershire, a house inspired by Mughal Indian architecture and designed in 1801 for their grandfather, Sir Charles Cockerell, 1st Bart by their great-uncle, the architect Samuel Pepys Cockerell.
George William’s grandfather had been an official and stockholder in the East India Company and a banker whose firm held interests in plantations in Mauritius. Cockerell personally received compensation for 52 enslaved people in 1837 and after abolition he was involved in the supply of indentured labour to Mauritius.
In 1859, when he reached 21, the 9th Earl took up his inheritance and responsibility for Croome’s extensive 15,000-acre estate. He fulfilled his duties with enthusiasm and treated all his tenants and employees fairly. He ran the estate efficiently and was well respected by all in its close-knit community and beyond Croome.
He took great pride in farming the estate, breeding a fine herd of prize-winning Hereford cattle who gained over three hundred prizes at the Royal Show.
In 1865, he married Lady Blanche Craven who became a society hostess, welcoming royalty and politicians alike to enjoy their hospitality at Croome. They had nine children, with their middle daughter Anne Blanche marrying Prince Victor Albert Jay Duleep Singh, son of the Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last ruler of the Sikh empire who as a child had been captured and later exiled to Britain. The marriage of his son Prince Victor in 1898 was the first between an Indian Prince and a member of the English aristocracy.
The Model Country Gentleman
Horses were the 9th Earl’s chief passion and when he was twenty he became the youngest ever steward of the Jockey Club. His racing colours were a brown body with blue cap and they were carried to victory in consecutive Grand Nationals by his horses: Emblem in 1863 and Emblematic in 1864.
He also enjoyed hunting and had his own pack of hounds, still known today as ‘The Croome’. Following her marriage, Blanche also took up riding and became an expert horsewoman.
The 9th Earl died in 1930 at the age of 92 having held the earldom for 88 years. He was and remains the longest serving English peer in the House of Lords.
" Whilst painting the Earl’s horse the artist Sir Francis Grant PRA wrote…He is a magnificent animal, as wise as a man & as gentle as a woman. He is the very best sitter I ever had and perfectly understands that he is sitting for his picture..."
The 9th Earl of Coventry took great pride in Croome Court and its estate of 15,000 acres, which was in his care for 71 years.
He was not a moderniser, but did maintain the property to a high standard.
A Respected Landlord
The 9th Earl was a great advocate for agriculture and rural communities in general. He spoke publicly in support of farmers and highlighted the need for the country to produce more of its own food. Locally, the Earl set up a jam and pickle factory.
The Baccarat Scandal
In 1890, the 9th Earl attended a house party where Sir William Gordon-Cumming was accused of cheating in a high-stakes game of baccarat, a popular card game at the time.
The Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) was also present. Gordon-Cumming denied the allegation, but, despite the efforts of the 9the Earl, the matter became public. Both he and the Prince were required to give evidence in the High Court where Gordon-Cumming was found guilty. However, the decision proved unpopular with the public and the Prince of Wales was booed at Ascot shortly after the trial.
Safeguarding his Ancestors' vision
At the end of World War I, the 9th Earl was concerned that his estate might be sold off and broken up after his death, so, in 1921, he placed the estate in the hands of the Croome Estate Trust.
This far-sighted action ensured that the 6th Earl’s original vision of the house and its landscape was restored for us all to enjoy today.
" ...Going into the Saloon and looking up at the beautiful decorations of the ceiling which have never been touched since 1760, one marvels at the skilled workmanship of that time and its wonderful beauty..."
Until Death Us Do Part
Within an hour of the Earl’s death on 13 March 1930, Blanche retired to her bed, not ill, but having no desire to go on living. She passed away three days after her husband at the age of 87. They had shared life together and had a joint funeral service.
Their coffins were draped with wreaths woven from orchids grown on the Croome estate.