Margaretta Armstrong Drexel (1889-1952)

Lady Margaretta (Drexel) Finch-Hatton, 14th Countess of Winchilsea & Nottingham

She was born in Philadelphia and brought up between there and London. She was a first cousin of the Princess de Braganza and heir to the immense Drexel banking fortune chiefly established by her grandfather, Anthony Joseph Drexel, partner of J.P. Morgan. On coming of age in 1907, she was introduced to society at London by no less a personage than King Edward VII's sister-in-law, Princess Louise, Duchess of Connaught, who was a close friend, confidante and great admirer of another well-married American, Lady Leonie (Jerome) Leslie. Stepping out, Margaretta was considered the most highly sought-after debutante that season and earned herself countless proposals from the cream of Europe's fortune-hunting titulados. She eventually fell to Guy Finch-Hatton, Viscount Maidstone (afterwards 15th Earl of Winchilsea & 9th Earl of Nottingham) whose dashing uncle was famously portrayed by Robert Redford in the classic film, Out of Africa (1985).

On June 8, 1910, at London, Margaretta and Guy (who was better known to everyone as "Toby") were married with ten bridesmaids (including Mildred Carter and a young Nellie Post) in front of 1,500 guests, with a crowd of 8,000 onlookers. Just the jewellery she was gifted that day was even then estimated to have a value of $243,000! The newly-weds took up residence with Margaretta's parents at their mansion in London, 22 Grosvenor Square, the ballroom of which her father had had redone in the style of "Louis XVI" by Sir Charles Allom, also having added marble floors and a marble staircase. They lived there until 1912 when her parents separated and her father moved permanently to Paris.

From 1913 to 1918, the Maidstones (as Margaretta and Toby were known) moved just around the corner to 19 Grosvenor Street. Since their marriage, Toby had resumed his career as a stockbroker and when War broke out in 1914 he joined the Royal Navy and was decorated for combat. But, in the early 1920s Toby had an affair and though Margaretta did not leave him, it severely soured their marriage to one of convenience rather than love. Neither of them had an appetite for divorce having only a few years previously (1917) been at the center of Margaretta's parents very public and very acrimonious divorce - caused by her father's affair. Because they had all lived together, both of them were asked to take the stand and bear witness in court to the various accusations that her parents were viciously hurling at one another - leaving a lasting impression.

The Earls of Winchilsea had abandoned their ancient family home in 1835 and since then had been seated at Haverholme Priory - where Toby's father kept a lion as a pet that wandered around as though it were a cat! In 1926, Toby and his father sold Haverholme to an American lady who all but entirely dismantled it stone-by-stone with the intention of rebuilding it in America. As the stones lay ready to be loaded at Liverpool, the lady was killed in a train accident and the abandoned cargo was put to use building further docks!

Having sold Haverholme, from 1926 Toby and Margaretta took up residence at their new country home, then called Buckfield House, at Sherfield-on-Loddon in Hampshire. Toby died in the same year that the Second World War broke out. Margaretta became a leader of Britain's Women's Land Army which trained 25,000 women to replace British farmers who had been called up for active service. During this time, she also gave Buckfield over to become a nurses home and two years after the war (1947) she sold it altogether when it became a private school for girls and was renamed North Foreland Lodge.

Toby and Margaretta had three children and the eldest two married children of American mothers with famous fortunes: (1) Christopher, married Gladys, daughter of Countess Gladys (Vanderbilt) Szechenyi of The Breakers; (2) Daphne, married Whitney Straight, daughter of Dorothy Payne (Whitney) Straight, who grew up at the Whitney Mansion; (3) Diana, married Peter Tiarks, uncle of the Duchess of Bedford of Woburn Abbey, the third son of Frank Tiarks, Director of the Bank of England and Anglo-Iranian Oil. 

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