Old love, pride and prejudice

Books: AN UNLIKELY COUNTESS: Lily Budge and the 13th Earl of Galloway BY Louise Carpenter (HarperCollins, £18.99)

As everyone said at the time – 1975 – Lily and Randolph made an odd couple. He was 47, she was 59. She was the daughter of a Borders chauffeur, he was son and heir to the 12th Earl of Galloway, the southern branch of the great Stewart dynasty. She’d been married twice before, both times to working-class men and had four children. He was mentally fragile, to say the least, having in his time been extensively drugged, electro-shocked and lobotomised. In their different ways they were both damaged goods. The fact that their union met with bitter hostility from Randolph’s aristocratic family didn’t help. Randolph Stewart and Lily Miller didn’t have much going for them.

That their marriage lasted (after a fashion) from 1975 until her death in 1999 says a lot for the forbearance, guile, compassion, ambition and tenacity of Lily Miller. No matter what the Stewart family or Scotland’s toffs threw at her, the small-town girl from Duns held on to her husband – and to her title of Countess of Galloway. Lily Miller’s wayward, touching life is told by Louise Carpenter in this pain stakingly researched and very readable first book. Nobody could accuse Lily of being “important” but her tale sheds light into some very musty corners of upper-crust Scotland.

Lily Miller was born in 1916 into a working-class family in Duns, Berwickshire. Both her parents were strivers and Lily inherited the instinct. After a few years in “service” (which she hated) Lily married first a local butcher called Jock Millar and, when that failed, an Edinburgh labourer called Jimmy Budge. She divorced them both. Millar gave her two children and Budge one. The fourth she adopted. After she moved to Edinburgh she scraped a living running a bed and breakfast in Liberton and then a shop in Thistle Street selling dolls.

As Carpenter tells it, Randolph’s life could hardly have been more different. The only son of the 12th Earl of Galloway and his American-born wife, the boy was badly out of kilter from birth. She claims, probably rightly, that today Randolph would have been diagnosed autistic . After a calamitous school career (at Belhaven Hill in Dunbar and then Harrow) his parents arranged to have him lobotomised in 1952, at the age of 23. The result appalled them. Randolph was never the son they felt they deserved.

If it hadn’t been for God, Randolph and Lily might never have met. As she aged she grew seriously religious. By the mid-1970s she had become a member of the “Spiky Mikes”, the church of St Michael and All Saints in Edinburgh, Scotland’s most Anglo-Catholic congregation. Randolph, meanwhile, had been sent to live in the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Roslin. The two met on a church jaunt and a few months later married (at Newington registrar office and then at Spiky Mikes itself).

At which point things turned very nasty. Their enemy was Randolph’s father, the 12th Earl of Galloway. It’s hard to see him as anything but the worst kind of aristocrat: high-handed, arrogant, exclusive, terminally snobbish. The earl was convinced that Lily was a cheap little “gold digger”, and he tried to buy her out of the marriage. When that failed the bitter old man went on to extirpate his only (and very vulnerable) son from his will. The family’s Cumloden estate was left to a distant relative.

But Lily and Randolph struggled on. When the old earl died in June 1978, Randolph inherited the title (but little else) and, with Lily’s enthusiastic support, took his seat in the House of Lords. He never made a speech. Most days he didn’t seem to know where he was. The new Earl and Countess of Galloway had to make do in some of London’s cheapest hotels from which Lily wrote her letters on House of Lords stationery and played the part of the countess. Carpenter’s account of this oddly matched couple struggling to get along in Britain’s high society is sometimes amusing, sometimes touching, but just as often depressing.

It couldn’t and didn’t last. Before long they were back in Edinburgh where Randolph’s mental health continued to deteriorate. He was in and out of hospital. He became violent, twice attacked people in the street and then attacked Lily. The shame which these incidents induced is captured in one of his letters to her. “A disgraceful, disgusting, dishonourable and downgrading performance on my part,” he wrote. But she was the Countess of Galloway, and she stood by him, and tried to make ends meet from her little shop in Thistle Street.

In the end, I found myself quite liking Lily. She was plainly a determined social climber and something of snob herself. But she was hard-working, energetic and enterprising. And her affection for her catastrophically inept husband seems to have been genuine. When Randolph’s damaged mind let him down in polite company Lily was never embarrassed or mortified – she handled it. And very well, from all accounts. It’s to the credit of the Scottish gentry that some of them admired Lily for her sangfroid.

After a late flowering in Edinburgh society in the 1990s the unlikely countess bowed out in October 1999 at the age of 83. A funeral mass at Spiky Mikes was followed by a private cremation after which her ashes were buried beside her parents and her sister in Duns. Randolph Stewart, the 13th Earl of Galloway, lives on in sheltered housing in the south of Scotland as eccentric as ever. “He will often wear a dinner jacket over a charity shop jumper,” writes Carpenter, “with a cravat at his neck and his trousers are usually voluminous and far too long and made all the stranger for the pair of white trainers on his huge feet.”

On the evidence of this book, Louise Carpenter is a biographer of real promise. I look forward to her next foray into someone else’s life.

August 8, 2004

Galloway tale is all the way a riveting read


July 28, 2004

IT would make a cracking movie, the story of the Countess of Galloway, Lily Budge, and the 13th Earl of Galloway, Randolph Stewart. Indeed, two film directors are on to it already.

Meantime we have a riveting read in the book, An Unlikely Countess, publishing next week with a launch party at Prestonfield.

Shades of Madam Doubtfire in that there is a local interest. Lily, who died four years ago at 83, had a truly astonishing life ahead of her when she left her working-class family in Duns. Thrice married, she lived in Edinburgh for a long time as a dealer in porcelain dolls, and it was in jeweller Joe Bonnar’s Thistle Street shop where we first met.

Says Joe: "Lily was a client and a pal for 30-odd years. She was the salt of the earth, no airs, no graces. I’ll never forget the day she took me to tea in the Lords, where Carrington had just announced we were at war with Argentina. She knew and talked to everybody. I always believed there was a book in her."

Says Louise Carpenter, the Essex girl who has made this her debut book: "There were so many different aspects to Lily’s life, it was a complete joy to research and write about her. It’s a sad story but often funny in places. A film agency is working on it . . . a television drama series, perhaps, if not a movie."

The 75-year-old Earl lives in sheltered housing in south-west Scotland. Sad.

Outrageous fortune

The Scotsman July 18, 2004

THE BRIDE wore cream, with a high collar and lace trim. The third finger of Lily Budge’s left hand sparkled with "the three rocks of Gibraltar", a large and valuable diamond ring. It had been bequeathed to the bridegroom, Randolph Galloway, by his mother, in the unlikely event of him ever marrying.

Unlikely? At first sight the tall, well-groomed man, with his thick, wavy black hair and piercing blue eyes, slim and handsome in a new kilt, appeared to be quite a catch. But photographs of the happy couple after their wedding reception in Edinburgh’s Caledonian Hotel reveal that the bride was some years older than her aristocratic, Old Harrovian husband. And while she looked to be blessed with a mop of thick black hair (it was dyed) and two rows of straight, pearly white teeth (false), there was no disguising the fact that she was no beauty. Lily was on the cusp of 60, and she looked it; Randolph was just 48, and did not. He was, however, a lobotomised, drugged virgin, with no experience of women of the world. She had a touch more experience, being the mother of four sons and a grandmother to boot.

She must have married him for his money, speculated Scotland’s shocked upper classes when the scandalous news of the secret wedding ceremony leaked out. But Lord Garlies, then heir to the Earldom of Galloway, had 20p in his pocket and just £3 in the bank that October day in 1975, when he became the third husband of Mrs Lily May Budge, youngest daughter of the late Mr and Mrs Andrew Miller, of Duns, Berwickshire. The bride’s father, it emerged, had been in service as a groom and chauffeur at great houses in the Borders. Indeed, as Lily’s biographer, Louise Carpenter, reveals in her book, An Unlikely Countess, the new Lady Garlies and future 13th Countess of Galloway had been in domestic service herself, as a maid, at various points during her colourful existence.

Later, Lily would go to great lengths to provide proof that she was not an adventuress, and even wrote to her scornful father-in-law boasting of her capacity for hard graft. "I have scrubbed a floor for half a crown to give my son his lunch. I could do the same again for your son if the need arises."

The union of Lily and Randolph may have been the talk of Scotland’s society, but it was certainly not celebrated at his Kirkcudbrightshire family seat of Cumloden, near Newton Stewart. This converted hunting lodge, built in 1821 (the grand and imposing Galloway House was sold in 1908 due to the family’s dwindling fortune) was set in a great estate, which included a deer park and extensive lands.

The 12th Earl of Galloway did not attend the reception, refusing to bless the match between his only son and heir and the woman Randolph had met just seven months earlier while travelling by bus from Edinburgh to Coatbridge.

The marriage of this oddly matched pair was to lead to a bitter family feud, Randolph’s disinheritance, a Dickensian legal wrangle, an attempted murder, and the eventual emergence of Lily, Countess of Galloway, as the toast of Edinburgh society.

It is a corrupted fairy story, says Carpenter, whose book tells the desperately sad, sometimes comic, story of Lily and her "poor love", Randolph.

Randolph Galloway, recognised by the Stewart Society as head of the Stewart clan, noted in Burke’s Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage as the 13th Earl of Galloway, Lord Garlies, Baron Stewart of Garlies and a baronet, had long disappeared from Scottish society when Lily Budge met him on that fateful bus trip - a pilgrimage in aid of Our Lady of Walsingham. As a member of one of Scotland’s oldest and proudest noble families, Randolph’s ancestry has its roots in the Lord High Stewards of Scotland, whose line also produced the Stuart monarchs, while Queen Elizabeth II is a direct descendant of the royal Stewarts through the female line. Lily knew none of this when she met him; she always maintained that she thought he was a tramp, so tatty were his clothes and so eroded was his confidence - although, she said, his manners were impeccable.

BORN on October 14, 1928, Randolph was a physically perfect baby. His mother, Philippa Wendell, was an American beauty who had brought wealth and glamour to the cash-strapped Stewart dynasty. Randolph’s childhood was privileged, but emotionally lacking - he once told Lily that the only time he got a cuddle was from a kindly laundry maid. A slight, sickly child, he grew increasingly odd and eccentric, throwing tantrums, fussing about and repeatedly breaking wind. His parents consoled themselves with the thought that he would grow out of it. He did not.

These were anguished times for Randolph and his family, since he periodically lost control and became violent (episodes that would be repeated years later, when he was charged in Edinburgh Sheriff Court in 1979 for attacking a woman - a stranger - in an Edinburgh street, while the following year he even tried to strangle Lily).

After being sent away to prep school and then Harrow, where he was so miserable he refused to eat, Randolph was diagnosed as schizophrenic and subjected to insulin coma therapy, a procedure now regarded as a highly dangerous quack remedy. In Randolph’s case it was a spectacular failure, although it was nothing to the butchery that followed.

In 1952, when he was 23, Randolph’s parents told him to pack a trunk for a stay down south. He assumed he was going on holiday to the seaside. In fact, he was taken to St Mary’s Hospital in London, where he was lobotomised - a hole was drilled in the top of his skull and the frontal lobe severed - in an attempt to control his behaviour. He spent the next 15 years in the mental wing of the Crichton Royal Infirmary, in Dumfries. The lobotomy changed him forever; "I was never the same again," Randolph told Carpenter.

In 1970 his parents placed him in the Monastery of the Transfiguration, in Roslin. It was while he was living with the monks, on a diet of prayer and sheep’s heads, that his path crossed that of Lily Budge. "He was a bird with a broken wing when he met Lily," says Carpenter, who has befriended Randolph, now aged 75 and living in sheltered housing in south-west Scotland, while researching and writing the book.

A 33-year-old writer and editor from Essex, Carpenter was inspired to write An Unlikely Countess after reading an obituary of Lily in the Daily Telegraph, following her death from heart problems in 1999 at the age of 83. The headline read: "Wife who remained loyal to the heir to the Earl of Galloway’s fortune and Scottish estate even after he was disinherited."

Carpenter had no idea just how remarkable a life Lily had lived until she began her two-year-long investigations. She was aided by the discovery that Lily was a hoarder, who kept love letters, endless bills and receipts, bank statements, convoluted legal correspondence and, indeed, every yellowing scrap of paper that had ever wafted into her life. She had countless cuttings about the ructions the marriage caused within the Stewart clan, as well as albums full of faded photographs, and had written an 11-page self-dramatising memoir. Carpenter also gained access to documents relating to Randolph’s legal action contesting his father’s will, and gained great insight into Randolph through his own recollections of his childhood, which he had written about in minute detail.

In less sensitive hands, the story of Lily, with her thick Borders accent (which some snobbish Scots deemed "common as muck"), might have read like a poor attempt at a Catherine Cookson bodice-ripper. "Born into poverty, she died a countess" was the way one tabloid put it. Lily’s life took strange twists and bizarre turns, while the gallimaufry of characters whose lives collided with hers range from the flamboyantly smart Edinburgh jeweller Joseph Bonnar to A J Stewart, who believes herself to be the reincarnation of James IV; from the late Margot Grahame, faded Hollywood diva, to the Countess of Mayo, famous for her love of gin and diamonds. Lily’s declining years were spent in Edinburgh, living with William Mowat Thomson, the famous collector of Georgian antiques, at his home in St Bernard’s Crescent.

Lily was herself in the antiques trade, in Thistle Street, and was doing quite nicely when she met Randolph. Life had dealt her many blows, but she always managed to bounce back. Her two marriages, the first to Duns butcher Jock Millar, and the second to gardener Jimmy Budge, had ended in tears. Nonetheless, they produced three sons, Brebner (now 67) and Andrew Millar (64), and Benjamin Budge (52). By dint of sheer hard work, Lily hauled herself on to the property ladder, taking in lodgers and a menagerie of pets, while running a kindergarten and fostering children, one of whom she adopted.

In the 1970s she began attending the church of St Michael and All Saints, in Tollcross. Fanatical in her devotion to high Anglo-Catholicism, she became chairman of the Society of Mary, which was what led her on that fateful Coatbridge pilgrimage.

The courtship with Randolph was platonic - he was still on drugs, although she weaned him off them - and the marriage could not be consummated, he insisted, until they had a church blessing. In response to gossip and speculation, however, Lily soon let it be known that they enjoyed a full marriage.

Shortly after the wedding, they were summoned to Cumloden. Randolph was sent to his bedroom and his father, the Earl, flipping open his cheque book, told Lily, whom he thought irredeemably vulgar, that the marriage must be annulled. He could not buy her off, she told him; she loved Randolph. "How can you love him?" asked the Earl. "It is not love you feel, it is pity." Lily allegedly spat back, "You may be a belted earl, but you are not fit to lick my bootstraps." The following day, as they prepared to leave, Lord Galloway told Lily, within earshot of Randolph, "Well, he’s your problem now."

The embittered Earl disinherited his son, and Cumloden, its contents and its lands, and the entire Galloway fortune, were made over to the son of a distant relative, Andrew Stewart, who will inherit the title on Randolph’s death. Randolph was to receive nothing, or as little as Scotland’s laws of inheritance would allow - one half of a half of the moveable estate.

The protracted legal battle that ensued took an enormous toll, both emotionally and financially, on the couple. Perhaps in a bid to take his mind off these troubles, Lily insisted that he take his seat in the House of Lords. And it was during one of their sojourns to the upper house (where he rarely spoke) that Randolph attempted to strangle her in their small room in a shabby London hotel in May 1980. He also hit her in the face and tore her nightdress. The attack was brutal and uncontrolled. Lily was devastated and spoke of it as an attempt on her life. Randolph later wrote an incoherent apology for his "diabolical, barbarous and wicked" behaviour.

They never lived together again. Randolph was admitted to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, although Lily remained utterly devoted to him as he went on to live in a series of care homes. In her late 60s, she was broke but determined to leave Edinburgh and its bad memories behind. She moved to London, where she became housekeeper to Margot Grahame, an ageing Hollywood glamour girl who claimed Clark Gable among her lovers. Now, though, Grahame was a drink-raddled, potato-shaped woman with a collection of jewels from Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier that were, according to Joseph Bonnar, the same size as her considerable bosoms. Grahame adored Lily - and, if nothing else, she helped distract her ladyship from her own woes. After Grahame’s death in 1982, Lily moved back to Edinburgh and discovered new places to wear her own diamonds.

In fact, by the 1990s, everyone who was anyone wanted the Countess of Galloway on their guest-list, especially the late socialite and society photographer Broderick Haldane. Lily was fêted by the capital’s arty demi-monde at the sort of giddy events where the Countess would turn up dripping in borrowed diamonds.

Having originally met through the antiques business in the 1970s, Joseph Bonnar regaled Lily with tales of his "florid nightlife", describing her as "possibly the naughtiest, least self-conscious woman" he had ever encountered. She would turn up at parties, gallery openings and concerts in a cloud of Givenchy Shalimar, her ankles laced into a pair of Kurt Geiger boots, with a Versace jacket (Jenners’ sale) hanging off her tiny frame and a sable coat thrown over the top, often worn with a large, matching hat.

She had inherited Margot Grahame’s mink, but the rest came from charity shops. She carried a stick and sometimes wore a silvery hip flask, containing brandy and monogrammed with a G. Invariably accompanied by one of her walkers - young, handsome, homosexual "handbag carriers to the House of Stewart" - she was mad about her "boys".

TODAY, a photograph of Lily remains by Randolph’s pillow, and there are two more by the fireplace. One is a photograph of her portrait, which she commissioned in her mid-70s from one of her boys, Roland Wallis, then a part-time art tutor at Fettes College. It was a difficult commission. Old age, cigarettes and the legacy of a teenage illness had rendered the skin on Lily’s face as tough as a leather slipper. Curled around the edges was her inky hair, which the boys claimed was dyed with the aid of Nambarrie teabags, her favourite tipple.

Lily is dressed in floor-length cream lace in this curious portrait, and holds a swag of Stewart tartan in her right hand. She gazes out of the picture with an imperious air. "There is no hint of her exuberance or her humour," writes Carpenter. On the third finger of her left hand she wears not the Galloway diamonds (they were safely stowed in the bank), but a large 19th-century, rose-cut diamond ring.

Unveiled at a champagne launch in Edinburgh, attended by the boys and Lily’s son Brebner, the portrait was briefly displayed in Joseph Bonnar’s sumptuous drawing-room before being exhibited in Musselburgh. Eventually it moved to Lily’s flat in Home Royal House, where it dominated the room and set about "haunting" her.

She first voiced her fears about the painting to Brebner, insisting that a shadow was creeping up the lower part of her skirt, travelling slowly into the painting’s centre. She became convinced that her right hand, the one holding the tartan, was melting and that blood was dripping from her fingers. Lily spoke of this incessantly to anyone who would listen. The artist was called and he offered to return her £1,000 fee, which she refused. She just wanted the painting as it had been.

Shortly afterwards, Lily had a cataract removed and it was concluded that her eyesight had been to blame for her bizarre obsession. But she was adamant that it had been the painting: it had a life of its own. Today, the portrait hangs in Brebner’s Edinburgh home, a constant reminder of his mother’s amazing life, a woman who, according to one obituary, "may not have been born into the upper crust, but she certainly showed them how it was done".

As for the Galloway diamonds, the ring was the most important bequest in Lily’s will. Made over to her teenage granddaughter, Laura Anne Budge, it was not to be sold but kept in the family and handed down through the generations. It has, however, been disbanded. Laura suggested that, in the interest of fairness, each brilliant-cut diamond be lifted out of the mount and shared between Lily’s three granddaughters.

Since An Unlikely Countess is a book about the living as well as the dead, Carpenter concludes the story by accompanying Randolph to All Saints, Challoch, Newton Stewart, where a corner of the graveyard is dominated by Stewart family tombstones. Would he like to be buried here? "I don’t think it will be allowed," he responded. Might he want to be buried with Lily? He did not reply. Much later, though, he admits, "Perhaps I would like half of me to be buried with my wife - and the other half here."


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