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OBITUARY: The Dowager Duchess of Grafton, the Queen’s most senior Lady-in-Waiting, who has died aged 101

The Dowager Duchess of Grafton 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).

Born Ann Fortune Smith, Her Grace 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.  

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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.  

In 1967, the Dowager Duchess of Grafton was named Mistress of the Robes to Queen Elizabeth II, making her only the second woman to hold the role during The Queen’s nearly 70-year reign. Mary Cavendish, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire held the post from 1953 to 1967.