“More a town than a house” Vita Sackville West “Half as big as Cambridge” Virginia Woolf. These two women were referring to Knole in Kent: a palace that boasts 365 rooms spread over four acres, 52 staircases, 12 entrances and 7 courtyards. For most of us that would be big enough for anybody and everybody. Knole it seems was not massive enough to accommodate the disinherited. As Tolstoy said “all happy famlies are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” On Monday night, Robert Sackville-West, the 7th Lord of Sackville recounted the way in which his ancestors were unhappy. His new book, The Disherited A Story of Family, Love and Betrayal is a tale of disintegration and loneliness.
You do not expect the 7th Lord of Sackville to be a captivating storyteller, especially when it comes to divulging the underbelly of his own family. Lionel, his great-grandfather formed a long-term liaison with Pepita, a married Spanish dancer, who bore him five illegitimate children. These children and Pepita, herself were to remain in the shadows. Once their mother passed away, the girls were shuttled off to convent schools and the boys to a farm in South Africa.
In the 19th century, having a chatelaine was totally acceptable, as long as the relationship and the children of that alliance were kept under wraps. Victoria, the oldest daughter of Pepita, out maneuvered not only her siblings, but those in society who would have rejected her: She married her third cousin, the heir to Knole, the 3rd Lord Sackvile.
“It was all a great muddle” 7th Lord Sackville. Vita Sackville-West put it differently: They were “a rotten lot and nearly all stark staring mad”. All 5 siblings of the third Lord Sackville were despondent and miserable. Some committed suicide, some became recluses and some lived out their lives in bitterness and despair. The 7th Lord Sackville-West, who lives at Knole with his family, left the audience with these last words “I only hope that Knole will not weigh heavily on the souls of future generations that inherit the house.”
Robert Sackville-West is a great raconteur. Instead of sitting in a seat at Scandinavia House, I wished to be at home, in bed, in pajamas with a cup of tea listening to this tale.
Royal Oak Foundation
The Sackvilles at Knole: The Disinherited
Monday, March 9, 2015