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HistoryInsight

THE FOOTMAN: Fortune’s Good Fortune – The story of the Queen’s Mistress of the Robes as she celebrates her 101st birthday

Less than a handful of people can walk straight off the street and into The Queen’s private residences without having to show a Royal Household pass, if you are not yourself royal, that is!

Ladies-in-Waiting to Queen Elizabeth II are, as one would expect, notable and noblewomen. Each of The Queen’s Ladies are styled as a “Woman of the Bedchamber” – Her Majesty has several, including Baroness Hussey, Lady Elton, and the Honourable Dame Mary Morrison (known in royal circles as Mossy). Historically, their duties were to attend a Queen Regnant or Queen Consort to help her bathe, dress, and undress. Today, the role mainly consists of running private errands and answering certain private correspondence on behalf of The Queen. They are also in-attendance when The Queen is carrying out official engagements and can be seen collecting flowers from well-wishers two steps behind Her Majesty.  

There is, however, one Lady who still holds the most senior female Royal Household appointment in The Queen’s Court. Ann Fortune FitzRoy currently holds this most senior appointment. She is the Mistress of the Robes.    

The Mistress of the Robes is the position at Court originally created by Mary I around 1553 to take personal responsibility for The Queen’s clothes and jewellery. It was a political appointment, changing with the government of the day. Since Queen Victoria, the position has been reserved for appointment by The Queen herself. And today, as well as “waiting” on Her Majesty at important events such as the State Opening of Parliament, the role includes arranging the rota of The Queen’s Ladies, “in-waiting” across the royal calendar. 

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The Footman recalls: “Wearing a full-length dark woollen coat with bright multi-coloured Hermes silk headscarf, and black patent leather, low-heeled court shoes, I saw Her Grace sweeping across the gravel forecourt and up the few low, red-carpeted steps to the Privy Purse door, and into the Palace.”

Acknowledging the Page with a nod of her intention to attend Household Luncheon, the Page dutifully marking his list with a pencil in case of any amendments throughout the morning. All members of the Royal Household are required to sign-in for luncheon.    

To understand and appreciate the importance of her position in the Royal Household, it is useful to understand her background.    

Ann Fortune Smith was born on 24th February 1920 into an aristocratic family of Barons, financiers, and of the banking dynasty Smith’s Bank of Nottingham (founded in 1658 by Thomas Smith). After a period of transition, the bank became the National Westminster Bank Plc, and then finally, NatWest. A good pedigree indeed! 

Ann Fortune married Hugh FitzRoy, the then Earl of Euston, on 12th October 1946 after meeting him at a ball on his family’s ancestral home of the Euston estate in Suffolk, England. The Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) had already met Hugh FitzRoy in the 1930s while he was serving in the Grenadier Guards, and for whom she held in high regard. Ann Fortune became a “Woman of the Bedchamber” in 1953 and attended Her Majesty at the Coronation in the same year. She served in this role until 1967, when she was then promoted and appointed as Mistress of the Robes, succeeding the then Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.  

The plaque on the Smith’s Bank. By Andrewrabbott – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17198630

Being married to the Earl, Ann Fortune was the Countess of Euston up until 1970, when her husband succeeded his father to become the 11th Duke of Grafton, automatically elevating her to the style and title of Her Grace, The Duchess of Grafton. As the new Duchess, Ann Fortune was able to wear the Grafton Tiara (as it has come to be known).  This is a fine and regal family jewel. Traditionally, only married women or princesses are permitted to adorn a tiara. Worn by Her Grace on various official tours and State Visits, this glittering circular headpiece is almost always paired with a diamond riviere necklace, diamond chandelier earrings, and cluster brooch. 

Her husband, Hugh FitzRoy, was himself a direct descendant of a rather prominent person. The 1st Duke of Grafton, Henry FitzRoy, born in 1663 was an acknowledged (and subsequently ennobled) illegitimate son of King Charles II and his mistress Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland.

FitzRoy was the surname given to the ‘son of a king’. The Dukedom of Grafton (created by The King for his son) bears a Coat of Arms which has a Baton diagonally across denoting illegitimacy and marking a visible symbol of having no claim to the throne. The King did not produce any legitimate heir apparent but did father 12 illegitimate children, with The King’s Court being described at the time as a “merry monarchy” full of extravagance and amorous entanglements, one of the most hedonistic in English history.

The 1st Duke of Grafton was married to Isabella Arlington in 1672, who was the heiress of the Euston estate and a large estate in London known today as Fitzrovia, a fashionable area of the city, near Westminster. London Euston railway station was also named after the estate. Euston Hall and Estate have been the main Ducal Seat of Grafton for over 350 years.      

The 11th Duke and Duchess of Grafton, Hugh FitzRoy and Ann Fortune, had five children together: James FitzRoy, Lady Virginia, Lady Henrietta, Lord Chares, and Lady Olivia. The Duchess was widowed in April 2011 on the death of her husband and became a Dowager. Their grandson, Henry FitzRoy (known locally as Harry Grafton), succeeded as the 12th Duke of Grafton as their elder son (James) died in 2009. His mother (James’s wife), Lady Clare FitzRoy, Dowager Countess of Euston, is the current Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk, Her Majesty’s representative in the county.      

Ann Fortune has been the recipient of a number of prestigious royal honours; Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in 1965, Dame Commander (DCVO) in 1970, and later, invested as a Dame Grand Cross (GCVO) in 1980.  

The Footman recalls meeting The Duchess on several occasions: “Everything stops, of course, for the Ladies to enjoy Afternoon Tea, which is served in the Lady-in-Waiting’s sitting room, at precisely 5 o’clock.” He continued: “I remember The Duchess being very well-spoken with impeccable manners, just like Her Majesty, and always presented with a subtle application of make-up in natural colours, and the very sweet scent of Floris perfume – quite elegant.”      

It’s fair to say that Her Majesty The Queen will be missing her close friend and confidant, given that the royal diary has been on hold for some time. Her Grace, The Dowager Duchess of Grafton GCVO JP, Mistress of the Robes, is 101-years-old today – Happy Birthday, Your Grace!  

The Footman is formerly a Royal Footman to the Royal Household, attending senior members of The Royal Family, including The Queen and Princess Margaret.

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