Saturday 24 August 2019

Revealed: the secret Sir Alfred Beit diaries that may tell of British royal family scandals

LIAM COLLINS SECRET diaries believed to contain the inside story of British royal family scandals have been suppressed by the late Lady Clementine Beit to protect Queen Elizabeth II from embarrassment.

The diaries, which are referred to in a special clause in Lady Beit's will, were written by her husband, the wealthy art collector Sir Alfred Beit, and are now held "under lock and key" by a Dublin solicitor.

In her will, which was published in Dublin two weeks ago, Lady Beit ordered that the diaries should not be revealed to the public until 21 years after the death of Queen Elizabeth or 70 years after Lady Beit's death, whichever period is the shorter.

The will of Lady Beit, who lived at Russborough House near Blessington, Co Wicklow, has now left a tantalising mystery as to what royal secrets her husband possessed and why they would be so damaging to the queen.

Both Sir Alfred Beit and Lady Beit, who was a cousin of the famous Mitford sisters, were at the heart of the British business, political and social establishment from the Thirties until their death.

Do the diaries contain details of the royal family's oft-cited links with the Nazi party in Germany before the war? Or is it something more personal, some sexual secrets of the royal family that Sir Alfred and Lady Beit want to keep hidden? Because of the "secret" clause in her will, we can now only guess.

The intriguing reference to the sensational diaries is contained in the Last Will and Testament of Lady Clementine Beit, published by the Probate Office in Dublin two weeks ago. It said:

"I bequeath my late husband's Diaries to my Executors and Trustees to be held by them upon the following Trusts:

"(a) To retain the same in their sole possession and custody under lock and key for a period which shall end 21 years from the date of the death of the last survivor living at the date of my death of the issue of his late Britannic Majesty King George VI or for 70 years from my death, whichever shall be the shorter."

Lady Beit's will then goes on to direct her current trustees, the Dublin solicitors Paul Guinness and Paula Fallon, not to allow a living soul access to the diaries for the period specified. She also includes a mechanism by which a new trustee can be appointed because the period that the secret must be kept is so long.

When the 'trust period' ends, the diaries of Sir Alfred Beit are then to be handed over to the National Library of Ireland.

But it is the specific clause "the last survivor living at the date of my death of the issue of his late Britannic Majesty King George VI" that fixes the contents of the diaries on the British royal family. He had two daughters, Queen Elizabeth II and her sister Princess Margaret. As the Queen is the only direct survivor of the family, the only conclusion that can be drawn from Lady Beit's will is that the diaries have been suppressed to avoid causing her embarrassment during her lifetime.

When Sir Alfred Beit died in 1994 he left "all my remaining books, diaries, personal papers" to Lady Clementine Beit and ordered that his trustees "shall not during the lifetime of my widow interfere with the custody management or control of all or any of the items" and they were told they could not "intermeddle" with them in any way.

Sir Alfred Beit, the second baronet, was the son of the wealthy Sir Otto John Beit who was born in 1865, the younger brother of the more famous Alfred Beit.

The son of a Hamburg Jew, Alfred Beit was born in Germany in 1853 and converted to Christianity. Along with Sir Julius Wernher, he became one of the 'Randlords' who controlled South Africa's wealth and what was then Rhodesia.

Between them they created the De Beers diamond company which controls the world's diamond trade to this day. With the fortunes they made they diversified into gold mining, railroads, farms, mining and other enterprises which made them among the richest men in the world.

Alfred Beit, a friend of the British empire buccaneer Cecil Rhodes (and executor of his will), was recognised as the most brilliant of the partnership. Luton Hoo, a fabulous mansion outside London bought by Julius Wernher, became the social centre of this fabulously wealthy set.

"Lady Zia (Wernher's wife) was related to virtually every royal family in Europe, and the Wernhers were particularly close to the Mountbattens and to Prince Philip,who was a frequent guest at Luton Hoo," said Wernher's biographer.

Alfred Beit died unmarried and childless in 1909. His brother Otto John Beit inherited his fortune and was knighted in 1924. When he died in 1930 his son Alfred Beit inherited his title and his great fortune.

Sir Alfred Beit, a conservative MP, married Clementine Mabell Kitty Mitford. She was born in 1915, months after her father, who would have been the second Lord Redesdale, was killed during the First World War.

Along with her cousin Unity Mitford, the young Clementine visited Germany in the late Thirties becoming acquainted with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi hierarchy. While her cousin became a fully fledged Nazi sympathiser and admirer of Hitler, Clementine seems to have kept a certain distance.

In 1939 she married the Conservative MP Sir Alfred Beit and they lived on 'Millionaires' Row' in Kensington Palace Gardens and at various palatial addresses in South Africa.

It would seem that whatever secrets are contained in the Beit Diaries date from that golden age of the late Twenties through to the abdication of King Edward VII in 1937 over his love of American heiress, Wallis Simpson, and the elevation of King George VI to the throne.

It now appears no coincidence that following the death of the king in 1952, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit sold their London mansion and moved to Ireland. They bought Russborough to house their sumptuous art collection which consisted of some of the most valuable old masters, like Rubens, Goya and Metsu, still in private hands. But the Troubles in Northern Ireland brought their problems for the Beits. Their Palladian mansion became the target of IRA gangsters and other criminals.

Over a period of 27 years, 44 individual paintings, many of them priceless works of art, were stolen. In the six raids the Beits were roughed up by the British heiress-turned-IRA activist Rose Dugdale and they were the target of the notorious Dublin criminal Martin Cahill, known as The General, and his gang.

Several paintings were still missing at the time of Sir Alfred's death in 1994. The thieves' love of raiding Russborough reached almost farcical dimension in 2002 when two art works were recovered in Dublin and, three days later, five more pictures were stolen from the house, including a Rubens.

After the last raid, Lady Beit moved to London where she died in a nursing home in 2005. The couple had no children, and their art work is now split between the National Gallery in Dublin and Russborough House. Their property and trusts are spread between Ireland, Britain and South Africa.

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