After a lengthy, drawn-out separation, the Duke has declared he is finally to divorce his first wife of 30 years and re-marry in the spring. The news was broken in a public pronouncement at the eponymous Duke of Beaufort annual hunt ball, attended by 800 guests.
Under aristocratic protocol, the prospective wife number two, the journalist Georgia Powell, will become the Duchess of Beaufort while the current Duchess of Beaufort, formerly the actress and model Tracy Ward, can use the title Tracy, Duchess of Beaufort.
If that’s not confusing enough the Duke’s stepmother – the second wife of the 11th Duke – is addressed officially as Miranda, Duchess of Beaufort.
Captain Ian Farquhar, joint master of the Duke of Beaufort hunt, announced the forthcoming wedding to ball guests that included the 65-year-old Duke, his soon-to-be divorced first wife and his soon-to-be second wife.
The Duke told The Daily Telegraph last night: “I can confirm that we are engaged and we will be getting married in the spring.”
Public documents show that the Duke – under his official name Henry John Fitzroy Somerset – and the current Duchess were issued by the family courts with a decree of judicial separation at the end of July.
A little over two weeks later on Aug 16, the 11th Duke of Beaufort died at the age of 89,leaving his eldest son to inherit the estate and the title, created in 1682 by Charles II.
The Prince of Wales, an old family friend, was among the mourners at his funeral.
The judicial separation – described by one legal expert as ‘a Diet Coke divorce’ or ‘divorce lite’ – is a relatively rare legal manoeuvre that provides for a financial settlement between a couple but does not officially end the marriage.
As few as 200 decrees of judicial separation are issued each year compared with more than 100,000 divorces.
The Duke must go back to court to obtain a full divorce before he can marry Ms Powell, 48, granddaughter of the novelist Anthony Powell, and The Telegraph’s deputy obituaries editor.
The present duchess has signalled she will not stand in their way of the new arrangements and relations are described as “entirely amicable”.
The duchess, the sister of the actress Rachel Ward, will retain a family home in London as well as a cottage on the Badminton estate in Gloucestershire. Tracy, Duchess of Beaufort, who is 59, is an environmentalist committed, among other things, to ending cruelty to pigs.
The Duke and his bride to be will now move in to the main Badminton House, a 17th century mansion with 38 bedrooms and an art collection that includes two paintings by Canaletto. The deer park hosts Badminton Horse Trials while the game of badminton was invented in the house in 1863.
The Duke of Beaufort – known to friends as Harry or else by his nickname Bunter – is one of Britain’s more colourful aristocrats. Educated at Eton College, he is an occasional singer and songwriter with his own band The Listening Device, which recently released its fifth album Visions of Imaginary Furniture.
Unusual for a duke, he is also a user of Twitter, describing himself as “father, landowner, rock god, talentless golfer, people person.”
In the past week, he has passed judgment on everything from the Cabinet Minister Andrea Leadsom – “I have an illogical, but probably correct, feeling that she is an unpleasant woman” – to the thorny subject of transgender politics – “I may have led a protected life but until a few years ago I thought transgender was an extremely rare condition. Now we are told it is rampant,” the Duke said.