Terrifying ordeal of Earl and Countess who were smashed over the head and tied up by robbers who fled with irreplaceable £700,000 haul of jewels
- Thieves stole items including £400k tiara and £200k diamond necklace
- Raid on Goodwood House, West Sussex – home of Lord and Lady March
- Emerald and diamond ring given to the mistress of Charles II also taken
- Police have arrested a 26-year-old man on suspicion of burglary
A masked burglar struck at one of Britain’s most famous stately homes, tying up the aristocratic owners and forcing them to open a safe full of valuable antique jewellery.
The robber, possibly part of a gang, hit the Earl of March with a blunt instrument before escaping with loot worth some £700,000, including a ring Charles II gave to a favourite mistress who was an ancestor of the earl.
Lord March and his wife remained tied up until the morning, when a member of staff arrived for work. The couple have been left ‘devastated’ by the attack and theft.
The raid took place at Goodwood House in West Sussex, which is famous for its horse racing meetings and the Goodwood motoring festival.
Police said yesterday that the burglary of the Grade I listed building, which began life as a 17th century hunting lodge, took place at 4.30am on Wednesday, and appealed for anyone with any information to come forward.
Sussex Police’s district commander for Chichester and Arun, Justin Burtenshaw, said a man – believed to have been wearing a full-face balaclava – used a ladder to break in through a first floor window.
The noise of the break-in woke Lady March, 54, who went to investigate and ended up running into the robber outside her door.
The intruder then pushed her back into her bedroom and when Lord March, 61, stepped forward to help her, the burglar hit him on the head with a ‘blunt instrument’, causing an injury to his ear.
The criminal then forced Lady March to open the safe and left the property with his haul. It is not known whether he was working with accomplices.
Along with the historic ring, he escaped with 40 antique items including an 1820 diamond tiara worth around £400,000 and a 19th century diamond necklace worth £200,000.
Several high-value watches, including a Rolex and Girard-Perregaux, were also taken, along with emerald, diamond and sapphire rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces.
Police inquiries will focus on whether the crime was planned during a visit to a part of the house sometimes open to the public and whether the burglar was targeting particular items of high value.
Mr Burtenshaw said: ‘Lord and Lady March were discovered by a member of staff who contacted the police. This was a terrifying ordeal for them and I would like to pay tribute to the courage of them both.’
Lord and Lady March are understood to have been left tied up for about two hours before they were found and the police were called.
Last night father-of-five Lord March – otherwise known as Charles Gordon-Lennox, Earl of March and Kinrara – said: ‘The last 48 hours have been challenging and I would like to thank Sussex Police, my team here at Goodwood and the local and national Press for their support.
‘I am pleased to tell you that we are both recovering and entirely focused on providing the police with anything that may help recover the stolen items, some of which have such personal significance and others such historical value.’
It is not known if the family seat has ever experienced such a high-value burglary before.
Detective Inspector Till Sanderson said: ‘The theft of these beautiful and treasured items has left Lord and Lady March devastated at their loss.
‘Forensic teams are working with detectives to investigate the circumstances and we are appealing for anyone who saw any suspicious activity during that night up until 7am or in the previous days to contact us.
‘We are doing all we can try to trace the stolen treasures, liaising with auction houses, stately homes, dealers and those with specialist knowledge. I appeal to anyone who may know anything to contact detectives.’
Sussex Police arrested a 26-year-old man from Hampshire in relation to the incident. He was last night released on bail pending further inquiries.
Treasures of dynasty descended from king’s mistress
To its owners, it is not so much a ring as the crown jewel which founded an entire dynasty. Other pieces in this historic collection glittered before the Duke of Wellington on the eve of Waterloo.
And now a major police hunt is under way following the violent theft of dozens of heirlooms from a family which has been at the forefront of national life for more than three centuries.
Starting with Charles Lennox, illegitimate son of Charles II and his French mistress Louise de Keroualle, this family would go on to acquire four dukedoms and a famous Sussex pile, along with Britain’s prettiest racecourse and a motor racing circuit in its 12,000-acre grounds.
The Dukes of Richmond, Lennox, Gordon and Aubigny have produced Cabinet ministers, generals, ambassadors, wastrels and war heroes. One codified the game of cricket while another is part of foxhunting folklore (the fox had its revenge when the 4th duke was bitten by a pet fox in Canada and died of rabies).
Their duchesses have been similarly illustrious, notably the wife of the 4th duke who staged one of the greatest parties in history. In June 1815, the Allies danced the night away at the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball in Brussels while Napoleon prepared for battle.
The family story is told through the paintings, sculptures and jewels which draw thousands to Goodwood House each year. But in the early hours of Wednesday an intruder escaped with several treasures after assaulting the current heir to the dukedom, the Earl of March, and forcing his wife to open a safe.
While police have put a value of £700,000 on the haul, one can only guess what an open auction would get for a piece like the ‘CL’ ring which Charles II presented to Louise.
‘The C is for Charles, the L is for Louise and it is integral to the whole history of Goodwood,’ explains a spokesman for the estate.
SO precious is the ring that it has seldom been on display and was last seen in public when Downton Abbey’s creator, Julian [Lord] Fellowes, was allowed to try it on while filming an ITV series on stately homes.
Charles II also gave Louise the title of Duchess of Portsmouth, and her descendants include the Duchess of Cornwall, and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.
Despite her royal affair, Louise – herself descended from a line of nobles – lived her final years struggling with multiple debts.
She left the ring to her son, Charles (named after his father the king) and it has gone down the male line ever since.
The boy started life with the ancient Stuart surname of Lennox. At the age three, his father gave him the title of Duke of Richmond, along with Richmond Castle in Yorkshire. A year later, he was given the Scottish dukedom of Lennox. By way of income, he also received 12p for every cauldron of coal shipped on the Tyne at Newcastle.
In due course, he would acquire Goodwood, a Jacobean house in Sussex for use as a hunting lodge. His son, the 2nd duke, introduced cricket there, along with the first set of written rules.
But it was the 3rd duke, founder of the Royal Ordnance Survey, who would stage the first horse race there and transform the house with two vast Regency wings – at ruinous expense.
As a result, the 4th duke spent much of his life abroad, avoiding his creditors. But his marriage to a future heiress would be a blessing for the 5th duke, who would serve at Waterloo and become ADC to Queen Victoria.
During her reign, Goodwood became embedded in the social calendar as the Prince of Wales descended each summer for the horse races, accompanied by a mistress or two and an ever-changing selection of hats. Thanks to him, the white top hat and the panama both entered polite society on the lawns of Goodwood. One heir to the dukedom was killed by the Bolsheviks while another was crippled by polio. It was the 9th duke, a trained car mechanic and mad keen racing driver, who established Goodwood’s connection with motor racing. Having served with the RAF during the Second World War, in 1948 he created the Goodwood Motor Circuit on the estate’s wartime airfield.
The track closed down in 1966 and the 10th – and current – duke and his wife chose to focus on historic house preservation and horses.
FOLLOWING their retirement to an estate house in 1994, the estate has been run by his son, the Earl of March, a former advertising photographer, and his wife, former fashion designer Janet Astor, who is daughter of the 3rd Viscount Astor.
The earl is the president of the British Automobile Racing Club, patron of the TT Riders Association, and president of the Motor Racing Cycle Industry Association.
On his watch, Goodwood has revived its great engineering legacy, reopened the circuit and gone on to become a centre of historic motoring and aviation. Rolls-Royce has a plant on the edge of the estate.
Hundreds of thousands of visitors attend annual events such as the Festival of Speed and the Goodwood Revival, while four-legged racing also remains as popular as ever.
And it all started with that ring. No wonder the family are so keen to get it back.