The Trentham Lady who almost became Queen

In the book ‘Royal Feud’ author Michael Thornton claims the Dowager Lady Hardinge of Penshurst, whose husband was at that time assistant private secretary to George V, and later private secretary to both Edward VIII and George VI, as writing of Edward and Rosemary “…he wished to marry…but there was opposition to the match…One can wonder forever how the history of our Monarchy in the twentieth century and after would have turned out, if the Prince of Wales had had his way in those early days.”

Lady Rosemary Millicent Sutherland-Leveson-Gower was the youngest of four children born to Lord Cromartie, the eldest son and heir of the 3rd Duke of Sutherland, and his wife Millicent St. Clair-Erskine. The couple were married in 1884 when Millicent was just seventeen, and Rosemary was born on the 9th of August 1893. It was during the summer of 1917 when Edward, the Prince of Wales, then aged twenty-three, met and fell in love with Rosemary when she was working as a Red Cross nurse in France.

In ‘Royal Feud’ Thornton also quotes from Lady Victor Paget, one of Rosemary’s closest friends, as saying of Rosemary “One day she came to see me and told me that the Prince had asked her to marry him.” When his father, King George V, announced that he was against the match, Lady Paget expressed that “The Prince was bitter and furious. I don’t think he ever forgave his father. I also felt that from that time on, he had made up his mind that he would never make what might be called a suitable marriage to please his family.” It may be something of a coincidence but Edward never courted anyone single or suitable after Rosemary. All his later relationships were with married women.

Lady Rosemary went on to marry William Ward, Viscount Ednam (and later 3rd Earl of Dudley), in 1919 and had three sons. However, one of these, John Jeremy, died in December 1929 at the age of seven when hit by a truck while riding his bike.

It was while returning from visiting her husband who was in Le Touquet, France, for the benefit of his health, that the plane, a Junkers W33, that she and five others were in crashed at Meopham in Kent on the afternoon of 21st July 1930. The other fatalities were Mrs Henrik Loeffler, the Marquis of Dufferin, Sir Edward Ward, along with pilot Lieutenant-Colonel George ‘Budgie’ Henderson, and reserve pilot Dr Charles Shearing. Mrs Henrik Loeffler, like Lady Rosemary, was a noted beauty. She had been giving a house party at her Le Touquet villa, and both the Marquis and Ward had been her guests. In a strange twist of fate, the pilot, Lieutenant-Colonel Henderson, a respected and experienced aviator, had written a book “A Complete Course of Practical Flying” which was published on the morning of the tragedy.

An eye-witness account was given by Harold Ward of Leylands Orchard, Meopham; “When I first saw the aeroplane it appeared to turn over and nose-dive. Then things that looked like small aeroplanes came from it. I thought at first it was a big aeroplane with small ones round it. The objects seemed about the size of a penny when I first saw them. I did not realise what they were until they fell lower, and then I saw they were human bodies. The wing of the aeroplane then parted and floated in the air like a piece of paper.” Other witnesses also gave similar statements.

The bodies were taken to a makeshift mortuary in a stable at the King’s Head at Meopham Green. It was here that an inquest was begun two days after the crash. The Duke of Sutherland attended and formally identified his sister. The inquest jury returned a verdict of death from severe injuries through falling from an aeroplane which broke up in flight. Despite an intensive examination into what caused the crash itself no single factor could be found to blame and the reason still remains unknown.

Memorial services for Rosemary were held a few days later at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, and at Dornock Cathedral and Golspie parish church. The Duke of Sutherland and Viscount Ednam received messages of sympathy from the King and Queen and other members of the Royal Family. The following year Prince Edward opened the Rosemary Ednam Memorial Extension at Hartshill. In Dudley, close to her marital home, the maternity hospital was re-christened in her honour.

Two of Rosemary’s granddaughters daughters went on to have successful acting careers. Rachel Ward, the daughter of the honorable Peter Ward, born in 1957, is best known for her portrayal of Meggie Cleary in the TV series ‘The Thorn Birds’ in 1983. Her other appearances on screen have included ‘Sharky’s Machine’ with Burt Reynolds in 1981 and ‘Against All Odds’ with Jeff Bridges in 1984. Rachel continues to act but spends most of her time involved with directing and screenwriting. Her sister Tracy Louise Ward, born in 1958, is perhaps best remembered as Tessa Robinson in the 1980s TV detective series ‘C.A.T.S. Eyes’ which also starred Jill Gascoine and Leslie Ash. She was also the first Miss Scarlett in the TV drama game show ‘Cluedo.’ She eventually married the Marquis of Worcester.

During the early 21st century a reminder of ‘the queen that might have been’ lives on in the creation of Rosemary Ednam Close in Hartshill, near to where she spent the latter part of her short life ardently involved in launching a £20,000 appeal for the building of a new out-patients department at the Hartshill orthopedic hospital.

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