Ethel Countess Beatty 1874 – 1932
Ethel was the only daughter of American millionaire Marshall Field founder of the Chicago based department stores Marshall Field and Company.David and Ethel met at the beginning of 1899 whilst out hunting in Newmarket during David’s home leave following the Sudan campaign.
Ethel was beautiful, fabulously wealthy, bold to the point of recklessness on the hunting field, still married, though separated, to her first husband Arthur Tree and the mother of a young boy. David is reported to have fallen head over heels in love with her and despite the social risks involved in a relationship with a married woman and the potential damage to his career, they embarked upon a discreet affair.
In 1901, Arthur Tree divorced Ethel on the grounds of her desertion and ten days later on 22nd May 1901, Ethel and David were married by special licence at St George’s Hanover Square Registry Office, London.
Ethel received a large allowance from her father and the Beattys lived very comfortably on it, they were popular in social and sporting circles and mixed with royalty and the aristocracy. In 1905 Ethel gave birth to their son David and to their second son Peter in 1910. Ethel was naturally extravagant and used her wealth to buy and rent houses (including Brooksby Hall), acquire a grouse moor in Scotland and eventually a steamer called The Sheelah.
Ethel was vivacious, elegant, wilful and generous. She was a happy and generous hostess, noted for her kindness and thoughtfulness for others less fortunate than herself. She had a notice erected on the main Melton to Leicester road during a particularly bad winter in 1908/09 inviting stranded travellers down to the Hall for food.She and David led the charmed lives of the Edwardian upper classes.
Initially the marriage was happy but Ethel was volatile and demanding and very soon she had the first of many breakdowns which resulted in bouts of severe depression. Ethel’s illnesses put a tremendous strain on the marriage and family life and as her health deteriorated she spent more and more time abroad in search of a cure. It is said that only on board The Sheelah could her restless spirit find peace.
The relationship with Ethel caused David much pain and he once admitted that “I have paid a terrible price for my millions”. Neither David nor Ethel was faithful to each other and the marriage was turbulent. In late 1916 David began a long-term affair with Eugenie Godfrey-Fausset, the wife of a naval officer and royal equerry and it is known that he fathered a son with a parlour maid working at Brooksby Hall. Ethel was unfaithful at least as many times as David. However David remained devoted to Ethel and loved her to the end. It is said that he never considered leaving her and that he dealt with her illness with patience and kindness. When they were apart David wrote to her almost every day and Ethel preserved these letters, even if she sometimes replied to them by telegram.
Ethel was always jealous of the amount of time the navy demanded of David and resentful of the time he spent away from her at sea but when the First World War broke out she put her immense wealth to good use.
In August 1914 The Sheelah was presented to the Admiralty for use as a hospital ship. Ethel paid for much of the fitting out and engaged Sir Alfred Downing Fripp, an eminent surgeon, to design the medical layout. His ideas became the template for other hospital ships. Brooksby Hall became part of the 5th Northern General hospital and was turned over to a convalescent hospital staffed by nurses from the Voluntary Aid Detachment; many of the survivors of the Battle of Jutland recovered there. She ran two Y.M.C.A. huts for sailors at the Fleet base on the Firth of Forth and raised a considerable sum of money via “Lady Beatty’s Jutland Fund” for the widows and orphans of men killed in the battle.
Ethel’s ill health continued throughout her life and late in the summer of 1931 her health became even more fragile. On 17th July 1932 she died in her sleep at Dingley Hall, their house near Market Harborough. Ethel is buried in the Church at Dingley.
The following quote seems to sum up David and Ethel Beatty and their marriage “….they were well matched: fast, dangerous people who burnt everything they touched, including each other.”