By: Tim Cogshell
On first blush, the life of a Lord of the Realm, a Peer to the English monarchy, a child born with an actual silver spoon in his mouth and an ancient estate to inherit, would seem wholly irrelevant to a commoner such as myself – and an American, no less. Yet the life of the man once known as Little Lord Montagu, as captured in director Luke Korem’s titular documentary, Lord Montagu, is one that fascinates both for its storied historical context and for the way the Little Lord lived it. Which required a good deal of bravery, ingenuity, and affection for the “common people” and the things we love.
At this writing, Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, is 88 years old. The film about his Lordship begins when he is only two years old, which is when his father, the 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, died in an accident and Little Lord Montagu came into his legacy – including the ancient English estate of Beaulieu.
By the time the Lord came of age in the ’40s, Beaulieu, like most of the old manor houses of the British countryside, was deteriorating around the relics of the Montagus’ glorious past. This is when the young Lord of Beaulieu innovated. Edward would become the first of the aristocratic Brits to open their homes to public tours – for a price – and Beaulieu was saved. For a while.
If the story of Little Lord Montagu stopped here this little documentary about him would be great fodder for tours of Beaulieu; perhaps running on a loop in the grand receiving hall. But the Lord’s life would take several turns to make it worthy of a feature documentary; turns that would involve at least two trials and a year in prison relating to accusations of homosexual behaviour.
The 1954 Montagu trials were on the order of the 1895 prosecutions of Oscar Wilde. The charges were literally the same: “conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offences with male persons.” In 1950s England, homosexuality was as illegal as it ever was in that country, and such charges were both serious and scandalous.
Indeed, it was in 1954 that the mathematician Alan Turing, decoder of the German enigma device, saviour of England from the barbarian hordes, and subject of the Hollywood movie The Imitation Game, committed suicide after being convicted on similar charges.
In the first trial, Montagu prevailed, though the charges alone were enough to ostracize him not just from high society, but from all of English society, high and low. Then, what one might characterize as a witch hunt ensued, and the Lord found himself in a second trial, in which he did not prevail. He was convicted on spurious charges, and spent a year in prison.
Publicly disgraced. Except not.
As it turned out Little Lord Montagu was tough as nails and didn’t give a damn what anybody thought about him or his occasional interest in men. Which, as it turns out, was only occasional. He married twice and has one son.
When he got out of prison he went about his life as a Lord – the youngest ever elected hereditary peer in the House of Lords. Ever enterprising, he launched the Beaulieu Jazz Festival (1958 to 1961) and extended his estate tours to include his father’s car collection, an endeavour that led to his founding the National Motor Museum on his estate.
Over the next 60 years, the name of Montagu became synonymous with British motoring; the Little Lord with the scandalous past became the people’s Lord and a respected entrepreneur. In the ’60s, he was at the center of Brit-pop; in the ’70s, the jet set flocked to Beaulieu; in the ’80s, he counted Michael Jackson and Princess Diana among his closest friends. He even appeared in television commercials selling paint.
And on Lord Montagu’s passing, his honoured title and the estate of Beaulieu – in his family since 1538, when they picked it up for a song from King Henry VIII – will be passed along intact to his only son, the Hon. Ralph Douglas-Scott-Montagu.
One thinks Oscar Wilde would have loved that.
Luke Korem. Scr.:
Luke Korem. Bradley Jackson.
Tobias. Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. Prince Michael of Kent. Jackie Stewart. Roy Strong. Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason. Earl of March. Andrew Lancel. Simon Howard. Ralph Montagu. Murray Walker. Stirling Moss. Peregrine Cavendish. Alexander