Blanche Somerset’s marriage to John, 6th Earl of St Germans in June 1918 was followed in February 1919 by the birth of her first child, Rosemary. In April 1921, when Blanchie was six months pregnant with her second child, her husband took part in a point-to-point steeplechase of the Dartmoor Hunt at Wrangaton, Devon. His horse, Harkaway, fell at a bank and rolled over onto the rider, fracturing his pelvis and leaving him in a critical condition. After a lengthy operation John lay in hospital for many weeks fighting for his life. By June, he had recovered sufficiently to go into a nursing home in London, where he remained for a month. He returned home to Penmadown House in Cornwall in time for the birth of the couple’s second daughter Cathleen in July.
As the hunting season approached, Blanchie deputized her husband as Master of the East Cornwall Hunt. In February 1922, John made his first public appearance since his injury. He returned to the saddle and took part in the winter shooting on the family estate. To speed his recovery, his doctors sent him to South Africa to recuperate. In mid-March, John caught a chill while motoring from Johannesburg to Pretoria to see a Gaiety Company performance of the play A Night Out. The cold developed into acute pneumonia, and he died in Johannesburg on 22 March 1922, aged 31.
Two years after her first husband’s death, Blanchie married George Francis Valentine Scott Douglas (b. 1898), known to the family as Angus. Her second marriage was an eerie replication of the first. In June 1930, when she was five months pregnant with her third child, her husband took part in the Young Cup polo competition at Templeton House near Richmond Park, Roehampton. Having passed the ball, Angus was going through the goal and turning to get back into the game when his polo pony slipped and fell, trapping Angus underneath. After a few seconds, the pony got up and put one of its hind legs in Angus’s face, which fractured the base of his skull. He was still alive when he was picked up and taken to hospital but died soon after without recovering consciousness. He was aged 32.
After the death of her second husband, Blanchie chose not to marry again. Her third and last child, James (‘Jamie’) was born in October 1930. In typical fashion of many prominent hunting families, children were not high up on Blanchie’s priorities. Horses remained her first love, a passion she shared with other family members. When her father, the 9th Duke of Beaufort could no longer hunt, he followed the hounds in his Rolls Royce; her brother Henry, the 10th Duke, kept hunting well into his 70s. Blanchie did however develop another rather unusual interest in the 1930s, when she learnt to fly at Bristol and commuted to and from London by plane by following the Great Western Railway line. She had a near death experience when she flew out to India to visit her friend Jagaddipendra Narayan, Maharajah of Cooch Behar, and was forced to make an emergency landing in Bushehr, Iran.
Blanchie died on 30 August 1968 in a nursing home in Bath at the age of 71, and was buried on 4 September in Little Badminton in Gloucestershire.
Blanchie’s son Jamie inherited his mother’s adventurous nature and became a racing driver of note in the early 1950s. Enjoying a rather hedonistic lifestyle, he got through his substantial inheritance rather too quickly and contemplated moving to Argentina where he planned to buy a farm. However, the windfall of another inherited fortune enabled him to continue his usual lifestyle at home. As funds ran low once more, he earned a living as a bus driver and later by selling advertising space for the Daily Express. Jamie suffered from a congenital disorder which made it difficult for him to control his weight. He died from a heart attack in July 1969, aged 38.
Our thanks go to Blanchie’s grandchildren for providing us with images and family anecdotes.