Friday, May 6, 2011

Georgina, Lady Kennard

Georgina and Bunnie Phillips
"Lady Zia Wernher gave birth to a daughter in Edinburgh on October 17," reported the Court Circular on October 20, 1919.   (On the same day, the Court Circular reported  "The Grand Duke Michael has been confined to his house owing to slight indisposition."  The Grand Duke was Lady Zia's father.)

The baby was baptized on December 20, 1919, at the Chapel Royal, St. James's Palace.  Canon Edgar Sheppard, Sub-Dean of the Chapels Royal, was the officiant.   Georgina's godparents were the Countess of Airlie, Viscountess Curzon, the Earl of Medina,  and Lord Ludlow.

Shortly before Christmas 1919, the family settled into a new London home, Someries House (formerly Scudamore House) in Regent's Park.  Georgina was the Wernhers' second child.  George Michael Alexander "Alex" Wernher had been born on August 22, 1918.  A third child, Myra Alice, was born on March 8, 1925.

Georgina Wernher was nearly nine when she made her society debut.  Princess Mary, Viscountess Lascelles, visited Hampstead on July 25, 1928, where she "declared open the new Hampstead and North St. Pancras Day Nursery in Pond-street."    Princess Mary was presented with a "bouquet of pink roses" by Miss Georgina Wernher, whose parents, Colonel Harold A. and Lady Zia Wernher, were among the guests at the opening of the new nursery.

Georgina, the eldest daughter of St. Harold Wernher, Bt, and Lady Zia Wernher, made her debut in society, when her mother gave a dance for her at Someries House, Regent's Park, on June 30, 1937.  A month earlier, she was presented at the Court held by King Georg V and Queen Mary on May 6.  Georgina was presented by her mother, whose connections to society were impeccable.  Lady Zia -- short for Anastasia -- was the elder daughter of Grand Duke Michael of Russia and his morganatic wife, Countess Sophie Torby.   Her younger sister, Nada, was married to the former Prince George of Battenberg, a great-grandson of Queen Victoria.  In 1917,  George's father, Prince Louis of Battenberg, renounced his German titles and was created Marquess of Milford Haven, Earl of Medina, Viscount Alderney.

George was styled as Earl of Medina until he succeeded his father as the 2nd Marquess in 1921.

Michael's wife, Sophie, had been created Countess Torby by Grand Duke Adolphe of Luxembourg. This title was also used by Sophie and Michael's children.  Sophie was herself the issue of a morganatic marriage between Prince Nikolaus of Nassau and Natalya Alexandrovna Pushkina, daughter of famed Russian poet Alexander Pushkin.

The marriage between Countess Zia and   Harold Wernher on July 20, 1917, was an alliance between the aristocracy-cum-royalty and great wealth. Wernher, then a Major-General in the British Army, was the son of Sir Julius Wernher, Bt. who made his fortune in South African diamonds.  Two months after her marriage, Zia was accorded the style and precedence of a daughter of an earl by Royal Warrant.  She became known as Lady Zia Wernher.

Lady Zia and her husband, who owned Luton Hoo, were racing enthusiasts, an interest shared by the future Queen Elizabeth II, who became a lifelong friend of Georgina and her younger sister, Myra.  Their brother Alex was close friends with a handsome young Greek prince named Philip, whose guardian was his Uncle George, the Marquess of Milford.  The intimate circle also included George's son, David, the Earl of Medina, and Patricia and Pamela Mountbatten, the two daughters of Lord and Lady Louis Mountbatten,  Lord Milford Haven's younger brother. 

Gina's ball was "planned to be on a scale such as had not been seen since pre-war times," wrote Raleigh Trevelyan in his book, Grand Dukes and Diamonds.  The wedding was a "sparkling occasion," and the first time the new King George VI and Queen Elizabeth "had attended a private party since their accession."

The party ended at six in the morning.  The King and Queen had stayed until 5.  One columnist wrote: "There is no doubt that the beautiful Miss Georgina Wernher is a catch."     But Gina, who was "being groomed by her mother to marry a duke at least, to give her 'stability,'" made it clear that she had no intention of marrying anyone with a title, and "spending her life 'opening flower shows.'"  This did not stop the proposals.  She had received eighteen marriage proposals.

Zia considered Gina's coming-out ball to be the "most important event of the Coronation summer," according to Edwina's biographer, Janet Morgan.  Gina was "attractive, with a sweet smile and beautiful manners," the daughter of a rich man. Lady Zia was determined to find a titled husband for her elder daughter.

She decided that the heir to the Marquessate of Linlithgow would be "the one for Gina," but he already had a girlfriend, but his twin brother was keen on Gina.   When Gina was in Kitzbühl in March 1939, she wrote to her mother to say that the brother of Prince Hugo zu Windisch-Graetz was "too handsome for words."   

Lady Zia  "leapt to conclusions," and believed the worst.  Gina wrote back: "I have never been so surprised or annoyed in my life at the things you have imagined.... I really don't think you trust me a yard and I have never done anything that I should although when I receive a letter like that I feel I would like to..."

Gina was close to Prince Philip and her cousin David.  Zia had conniption fits when Philip and Gina wanted to go to a party.  Lady Zia said no.  Gina locked herself in her room, but she and Philip did go out.   David Milford Haven took Gina to a London nightclub.  Lady Zia was "scandalized."   Afterward, David wrote to his aunt: "I know you can trust Gina, so what is the objection of her going where she wants, whatever the place."

In September 1940, a landmine was dropped near Someries House.  The House was destroyed. The family settled into an apartment in the Dorchester.

  On October  17, 1944,  Georgina married Lieutenant Colonel Harald Phillips of the Coldstream Guards in a ceremony at St. Margaret's, Westminster.

Georgina wore a "gown of ivory satin, with a long tulle veil and a wreath of orange blossom," according to The Times.  She was given away by her father, and she carried a "shower bouquet of mixed flowers."   The bride was attended by two bridesmaids, Princess Alexandra of Kent, who "wore a long white net frock, with short, puffed sleeves and a star-shaped Juliet cap," and Miss Myra Wernher was dressed in a "shell-pink satin" gown, with a Juliet cap to match.

The wedding was a muted affair on several levels.  The ceremony took place during the war, and it was not the grand marriage that Lady Zia had wanted for her daughter.  The ceremony was also tinged with sadness, as two years earlier,  Georgina's only brother, Alex, had been killed in action.

The wedding did include several royal guests, including the King of the Hellenes, the Duchess of Kent, Prince Dimitri of Russia, and Prince Bertil of Sweden.  The reception was held at the Dorchester.

What was not publicly known was that the groom had been the lover of Lady Louis Mountbatten, whose late brother-in-law, George, was married to Lady Zia's sister, Nada.

Edwina had been in love with Bunnie Phillips for several years. He had accompanied her on "often arduous trips" before the war, sometimes with Nada Milford Haven, and sometimes with other friends.  Lord Mountbatten had considered divorce but acknowledged that he was very fond of the "Rabbit," as he called Phillips.

It was Edwina who pushed Gina and Bunnie together. A year before, Edwina and Gina were in London together, and Edwina asked Gina about "whom she would like to marry," and then she added: "I think you should marry Bunnie."

In August 1944,  Gina came out of the Dorchester and ran into Bunnie in Park Lane.  Edwina invited them to dinner and sat them next to each other.  Nada also "pushed the affair along." She invited her niece and Bunnie to her country home, Lynden Manor.   Bunnie proposed to Gina on the train, but Gina remained unsure.   Nada, for one, was not about to give up.  "Are you going to accept him or not?"  She left the room, and Gina accepted Bunnie's marriage proposal.

Everyone in the family knew about Bunnie's relationship with Edwina, and he went down to Broadlands to tell her about the engagement.  Lady Zia put on her bravest face and sat down and wrote a letter to Queen Mary to inform her about the engagement. "We are happy to think that is so charming and he will make a good husband."  She had tears streaming down her face when she wrote to Queen Mary.

Lady Louis did not attend the wedding.  It took her about two years to get over the loss of Bunnie.   The honeymoon was spent at Lynden Manor, and afterward, Bunnie returned to Washington, D.C., where he was seconded.   Gina joined him shortly afterward.   The couple's first child, Alexandra Anastasia, was born on February 27, 1946, in Tucson, Arizona, where the family lived.  Bunnie had a "touch of TB," and was advised to spend time in a dry climate.

The Phillips would have four more children, Nicholas, whose godfather was Prince Philip, born on August 23, 1947, Fiona (1951), Marita (1954), and Natalia (1959.)   Nicholas inherited Luton Hoo after the deaths of his grandparents.

After Bunnie died in 1980, Gina sold Checkendon Court, the Phillips family home for most of their marriage. She retained a flat in London and a house in Aberdeenshire. She succeeded the Countess of Brecknock as the Chief President of the St. John Ambulance Brigade and remained in this position until 1990. Two years later, she married Lt. Col. Sir George “Loopy” Kennard, Bt. She was his fourth wife. Gina was widowed for a second time when Sir George died in December 1999.

In a 2002 BBC documentary, Queen and Country, produced for Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee, Lady Kennard spoke authoritatively on the queen’s relationship with the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Lady Kennard said  the Princess was “very damaged by her background and childhood.” She added: “The Queen would never quite understand what Princess Diana was about – it would be impossible. I was always surprised that they didn’t get on ... the Queen would not have a row with anyone - but she was rather surprised by many things about Diana.”

Read more about the Wernher family: If you enjoyed this article

1 comment:

Paul Harten said...

Zia must surely have been pleased at the 'beaux partis' her grandchildren bagged - Duke of Abercorn, Duke of Westminster £££££, Earl of Dalhousie, a Prince Galitzine, a Count Pejacsevich, a Countess Czernin but the grandchildren seem to be marrying 'out' though sadly.