Guinness heir's wife seeks her share of inherited fortune in a landmark divorce case
THE heir to the Guinness fortune, Prince Nicholas von Preussen, will face a legal challenge from his wife this week for a share of his multi million euro trust fund.
The claim by Princess Victoria, as part of the couple's divorce settlement, could lead to the first ruling in which a wife has won a large share of her husband's inherited fortune as well as the wealth created during the marriage.
In a series of recent so-called 'big money' divorce cases in Britain, the wives have won increasingly large shares of the husbands' wealth. Courts have departed from the principle that the wife should be given a share based only on her 'reasonable needs' and have increasingly taken account of the contribution to the marriage, and also of a husband's likely future earnings.
In another forthcoming case, Princess Begum Inaara, the estranged wife of the Aga Khan, is reported to be seeking up to half his assets and up to a third of his future earnings, which could take the amount to ?750m. The Aga Khan is trying to avoid huge losses by applying to have his case heard in France instead of Britain.
The Guinness case is the first to deal with what should happen to inherited wealth.
The Prince and Princess von Preussen were married in 1980 at a high-society wedding in London, followed by a honeymoon in Jamaica and New York. Victoria is the eldest daughter of the late Lord Mancroft, a deputy chairman of Cunard and chairman of the Tote. Her mother, Diana, was a beautiful and prominent social hostess in the 1960s and 1970s.
Prince Nicholas, whose family lost all their Polish lands during the Second World War, is a direct descendant of Queen Victoria. His mother is Lady Brigid Guinness, heiress daughter of the 2rd Earl of Iveagh. The former Scots Greys officer and would-be King of Prussia was born in a suite at the Dorchester in 1946 and was educated in England at Stowe School.
He worked in the wine trade and inherited Schloss Rheinhartshausen, a 200-acre German vineyard, from an uncle and worked for the Guinness family trust. His wife ran their Georgian residence in Somerset and looked after their four children.
After 25 years, the marriage broke up when Prince Nicholas left the home. He is now having a relationship with Sarah Macmillan, whose family were Somerset neighbours. She is divorced from Adam, second son of Viscount Macmillan.
The case is being watched keenly in legal circles. In July, a judge ruled in favour of the wife of Ray Parlour, a former Arsenal footballer, saying she should have up to ?2.5m of his future earnings.
Katharine Lowthian, a partner in family law at Dickenson Dees, said: "As yet there has not been a reported case in which the courts have dealt with inherited wealth on a percentage basis between the parties in a long marriage."
Courts will take account of inherited wealth, she said, to enable the husband to meet the wife's needs. But it has been the accepted practice of judges to expect that a wife's award will be from assets of the marriage.
"Our judges are constantly striving to do justice between the parties," she said. "However, some lawyers fear that in the attempts to introduce more fairness - and wives have in the past had a very raw deal indeed - the pendulum is swinging too far in the opposite direction. As a result, English law is perceived by many to be the most generous of all jurisdictions to wives."
She said that if Princess von Preussen won a huge slice of inherited wealth, that would be a landmark decision. "The net effect may be that wealthy people will not wish to marry at all. If they do, they will be strongly advised to protect their assets with a pre-nuptial agreement."