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October 5 2019
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Ragley Hall.

If we didn’t know they were from Warwickshire, we might think the troubled Seymour family were a theatrical collaboration by two Williams—Shakespeare and Tennessee. The cold father, the controlling mother, the hapless son, the blameless bride, and the wicked aunt all hit their marks in a drama over a fabulous inheritance and an ancient title.

The inheritance is Ragley Hall, a 5,000-acre estate anchored by a Palladian manor with more than 100 rooms. It is valued at $106 million. The title is Marquess of Hertford, its present iteration created in 1793 but with medieval roots. Ragley Hall is home to the ninth marquess, Henry Seymour, and his Brazilian marchioness, Beatriz. Their eldest son, William, currently styled the Earl of Yarmouth, claims to have been promised since childhood that the title and the estate would be handed off to him on his 30th birthday. The evidence backs him up. In 1998, when William was just five, his father told the Birmingham Post about the 30-year plan. At 25, it seemed Lord William’s wait would be brief, his future secure.

The inheritance is Ragley Hall, a 5,000-acre estate anchored by a Palladian manor with more than 100 rooms.

Enter Kelsey Wells, a blonde beauty with a title of her own—non-executive director at Goldman Sachs. They met at a wedding. A year later, in 2016, William proposed. He tried to draw his middle-class princess into his aristocratic family’s circle. However, strange, seemingly contrived obstacles met his every effort. When he wanted to pick her up at the local train station, he was informed that the car had been lent to a servant. When he announced a plan for another visit, his parents promptly gave his bed to the new butler. William had to sleep on an air mattress.

The Marquess of Hertford at Ragley Hall in 1998.

Nevertheless, wedding plans went ahead. As the June 2018 date drew nearer, the marchioness sent a text to her son that left him “shocked and confused,” as he told the Daily Mail this past July. “As you know, darling,” she wrote, “there are no funds available for supporting two generations at the same time and you should prepare for that. There are no obligations as to when or what is handed over.” The marquess, as usual, remained silent.

When he announced a plan for another visit, his parents promptly gave his bed to the new butler.

“I’d tried so hard to be accepted by his relatives,” Kelsey said in the same interview. Luckily, she has a degree in psychology from London’s Regent’s University, giving her trained insight into the family’s hostility. “I do have the sense there is a pathological need for control and I have upset the control they have been able to exert over their son.”

Still, the determined couple posted invitations to the wedding, which would ultimately cost $100,000. Now the marquess’s sister Lady Carolyn Seymour attacked with a shocking R.S.V.P.

William, the Earl of Yarmouth, and his bride, Kelsey Wells, at Ragley Hall on their wedding day.

“My darling William,” she wrote, “the invitation is so embarrassingly awful, it’s almost laughable if it weren’t so tragic … ” She mocked the invitation’s dress guidelines: “Good God, what are you? Little Lord Fauntleroy?” She saved her deadliest drop of venom for her sign-off: “You pompous ass/t*t/p****—take your pick … Your ever so loving aunt.”

William and Kelsey soldiered on. On the eve of the Yarmouth wedding, Ragley was booked for a corporate fun day that would push their own preparations to the extreme last minute. They faced down this hurdle and the fun day was finally moved to a different venue on the grounds. The marriage took place as scheduled.

“The invitation is so embarrassingly awful, it’s almost laughable if it weren’t so tragic … ”

After the wedding, the couple moved into a cottage on the estate called the Bothy. A year passed. Kelsey felt the frostiness of her in-laws grow even colder. When she became pregnant, no congratulations came from the Hall.

On their first anniversary, with Kelsey four and a half months along, the Yarmouths took the final hit from the Hertfords. Aunt Carolyn, again acting as agent of the family rancor, wrote a letter informing them that they must vacate the Bothy, as it was needed to house a caregiver for William’s 86-year-old grandmother. “There are plenty of rooms to let locally and you can become someone’s lodger,” Aunt Carolyn added helpfully. By family diktat, the Earl and Countess of Yarmouth were evicted.

An Old English Tudorbethan house with two chimneys at Ragley Hall.

They moved out as ordered in June. A month later, no caregiver had appeared at the Bothy. At the end of July, the earl called the Daily Mail.

In the long run, of course, Ragley Hall will belong to his son, but the ninth marquess seems to have won this round. Selfishness, it seems, runs in the blood. In the 19th century, the fourth Marquess of Hertford famously pronounced, “When I die I shall at least have the consolation of knowing that I have never rendered anyone a service.” —Robin Olson

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