November 1, 2022 1.50 pm This story is over 17 months old

10 secrets The Accidental Duchess of Rutland revealed in her book

A tell-all book about how a farmer’s daughter became the Duchess of Rutland

By Local Democracy Reporter

The Duchess of Rutland has published an autobiography about her unlikely life progression from unassuming farmer’s daughter on the Welsh border to gatekeeper at one of the most iconic stately homes in the country – Belvoir Castle.

Emma Manners, born Rachel Emma Watkins, is best known these days as the Duchess of Rutland – and her life has been documented in a new autobiography showcasing her journey from the farms of the Shropshire/Wales border to esteemed running of Belvoir Castle near Grantham.

Her Grace’s new book, The Accidental Duchess, was published by Pan Macmillan on September 15, and explores the difficulties of life in a castle, as well as her unique progression through life and the obstacles she has faced along the way.

It is a revealing insight into a seemingly fairytale world that isn’t all it can seem, offering funny anecdotes of her marriage to The Duke of Rutland, from thinking he was a pub manager because he was referred to as the Marquis of Granby, to marriage proposals over the phone.

Here are some of the things we took away from reading The Accidental Duchess, which you can buy from the Pan Macmillan website or any major book store.

Name origins and family upbringing

The Accidental Duchess explores Her Grace Emma Manners’ unlikely journey through life.

The Duchess of Rutland was born Rachel Emma Watkins in September 1963, raised in a farming family within Radnorshire by the Welsh border with Shropshire.

The story of her name is a curious one. Her mother wanted to call her Emma because she liked the name, while her father opted for Rachel – a tribute to an aunt of his who did “what few girls did in those days” and pursued a career of her own as a nurse in London.

The parents settled on Rachel Emma as a compromise between the two options, but in her later life the Duchess picked Emma as her primary name.

Her first job was as an acting waitress at just 10 years old, at her Heartsease family home, which had been converted into a B&B as an extra income source. She would take breakfast orders and help make the beds for new guests.

Dyslexia and struggles with social interaction

Emma Manners, the Duchess of Rutland, has released an autobiography about her remarkable life.

Her Grace mentions in the book that she is adamant of her dyslexia despite being undiagnosed. She mentions difficulties with words and numbers at school, saying: “Numbers were incomprehensible to me. Just like letters, they would jump around the page like fleas, never staying in one place and impossible to pin down.”

Other children would pick on her for this, calling her ‘slow’ and ‘thick’, which caused her to “switch off” from classes and left her with very few friends in her early years.

There are regular admissions to being somewhat “different” during childhood in the book. She even had to write one girl a letter asking to be her friend at one stage, and would attend social gatherings as a teenager not knowing how to interact with boys.

Discussing the era she grew up and the way issues such as believed dyslexia were viewed, Her Grace writes: “There is no doubt that, if i were tested now, I’d be diagnosed as dyslexic. But fifty years ago, few people even knew the word, let alone what it meant. As far as everyone was concerned, Emma Watkins was ‘slow’.”

Marriage tales

The Duke and Duchess of Rutland were married in 1992, spending 20 years together.

The Duchess met David Manners, the Marquis of Granby, at a dinner party in 1990, while working as an interior designer. At this time, she was blissfully unaware of his family heritage, so much so that she assumed he was a pub manager when he referred to himself as the Marquis of Granby – due to the large number of public houses that share the name.

Her Grace recalls driving the Marquis home after the party, when he “lunged” in for a kiss which she swiftly declined given they’d only met that evening. The next day he sent a note and 200 roses to her house to apologise, which sparked their romance.

Less than a year after meeting, David proposed over the phone, which Her Grace called “appalling”. The next weekend he proposed in person and she agreed, but it wasn’t until months later that both sets of parents were informed.

The pair were married at Belvoir Castle in June 1992, with Emma wearing a dress inspired by the 5th Duchess of Rutland, and a tiara so valuable it was kept in a vault in London. They would then jet off around America for their honeymoon.

“Looked like a Walls pork sausage”

Long before she brushed shoulders with royalty, Her Grace had a colourful life story to tell.

Within the book there are occasions where Her Grace looks back at her earliest memories and recollections of what she calls “sex education”.

Her education on sex was “limited if practical”, she says. The Duchess reflects on going to see a musical of Grease with her family, only for her father to rush them out of the theatre as a sex scene begins to take place.

One of the more shocking stories in the book came during her school days, where she remembers walking in the street to see a man hiding in a bush, with his flies undone, holding “this pink thing that looked like a Walls pork sausage”.

The Duchess says she didn’t avert her gaze from directly in front of her as she walked past the man, before turning, grabbing hold of her umbrella and striking him “where it hurt”.

“I’m going to die”

The Duchess’ new book will explore her life from farmer’s daughter in Wales to running a 200-room stately home.

Shortly after her marriage, Her Grace joined a hunt in Belvoir on a November morning, leading the way on her horse in what she described as “the charge of the light brigade.”

Approaching a man-made wooden jump to clear a ditch, The Duchess fell off her horse and was tossed to the ground as this large herd of stallions galloped towards her. “I’m going to die”, she thought.

She somehow did a few more jumps after she was picked up, but that afternoon she was taken to hospital in Nottingham as all three of the ligaments in her leg snapped.

This incident meant The Duchess would have to spend her first Christmas as the Marchioness of Granby in a plaster cast – but it wouldn’t be long before her pain was replaced with joy…

Parenthood and miscarriages

The Duke and Duchess with three of their children – the couple would go on to have five.

Shortly after Christmas 1992, The Duke and Duchess found out they were expecting their first child, which “thrilled” Her Grace as she had always wanted a large family, but also haunted her as she discovered she was in the early stages of pregnancy when she fell off her horse in the previously mentioned incident.

When she eventually went into labour in August 1993, her family arrived at the hospital only for her father to take everyone for a Chinese meal, suggesting that cows give birth in the corner of a field while nobody watches. Two hours later, with her family eating at a restaurant, The Duchess gave birth to Violet Diana Louise Manners.

It wasn’t always plain sailing for The Duchess when it came to pregnancy. As she puts it in the book: “Over the years I had no problem getting pregnant. My problem was keeping them. I had five miscarriages and I really struggled carrying boys.”

Her Grace mentions the inner strength and acceptance it requires for women to come to terms with this loss, saying it is “devastating” but also nature’s way of “ensuring that only those babies with a good chance of surviving”. She relates this approach to her upbringing on the farm.

Death of a Duke and becoming the 11th Duchess

The Duchess with her loving pooches.

Charles Manners, the 10th Duke of Rutland, passed away on January 4, 1999. By this time, Emma and David Manners had three children, all young daughters, and were living at Knipton Lodge – but the death of the Duke meant a change of scenery and a new pressing role for them both.

The pair automatically became the 11th Duke and Duchess of Rutland following Charles Manners’ passing, and Her Grace says in the book that “nothing and everything changed” as a result.

By this, she means a quick move to Belvoir Castle followed, and David was to receive £11 million in inheritance tax from his father’s passing. “We were utterly at sea and only had each other to rely on”, she said.

The Duchess herself said she was “utterly out of my depth with anything more complicated than a petty cash box”, so was left stunned when she was handed the accounts for the Belvoir estate her and The Duke were now in possession of, as they completed the move to Belvoir Castle in July 2000.

Hugh Grant, Liz Hurley and the Beckhams: Tales of famous faces

The Duke and Duchess were no strangers to famous faces – as demonstrated here with Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley appearing at Belvoir Castle.

As you can imagine, being the face of one of Britain’s most recognisable stately homes opens up doors for circles of society that aren’t readily available for everyday people. The Duchess of Rutland had befriended TV fashion icon Susannah Constantine – best known as one half of Trinny and Susannah – who in turn invited a number of high profile guests to Belvoir for hunt walks.

One of those occasions saw invitations handed out to Hollywood giants Elizabeth Hurley and Hugh Grant, as well as one of the biggest power couples on the planet – David and Victoria Beckham.

For those wondering, Elizabeth Hurley is great at karaoke, David Beckham played football with The Duke and Duchess’ son Charles, while her daughters dressed as the Spice Girls and performed a routine for Victoria, and Hugh Grant was terrified of ghosts.

This sparked a prank to be played on the Love Actually star, as The Duchess’ children recalled stories to Grant about their ghostly experiences at the stately home, while he stayed with the family one weekend. The kids would make scratching noises on the wall and petrify Hugh Grant, before scurrying away before he could catch them.

Separated but still cohabiting

The Duchess of Rutland oversees and runs commercial events at Belvoir Castle.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of The Duchess’ more recent life experiences is her 2012 legal separation from The Duke, but mainly the decision not to divorce and to continue living at Belvoir Castle together.

Her Grace recalls a party in which David declined a dance, and was spotted dancing and smiling with another woman, someone whose child The Duchess had regularly driven to school given her close proximity to the castle.

“This wasn’t a flirtation gone a bit far like last time, he said. This was real.” The Duchess points to an incident which saw the Duke cheat on his wife some nine years before this, something she says she “thought we had got over”.

After being advised that the financial implications of divorce were nothing to worry about, Her Grace considered the prospect of leaving this life behind and moving out of the castle, but instead agreed a legal separation on the terms that she could remain as Belvoir Castle CEO until she retired at 65. The pair have cohabited at the site ever since.

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