'Black sheep' becomes English duke but palace in doubt

The Duke of Marlborough died Thursday, meaning the troubled son he once described as the "black sheep of the family" inherits the historic English title -- but not necessarily the palace that goes with it.

AFP| Last Updated: Oct 17, 2014, 00:55 AM IST

London: The Duke of Marlborough died Thursday, meaning the troubled son he once described as the "black sheep of the family" inherits the historic English title -- but not necessarily the palace that goes with it.

John George Vanderbilt Henry Spencer-Churchill was 88.

One of Britain's richest men, he was a cousin of wartime prime minister Winston Churchill -- who was his godfather -- and related to Diana, princess of Wales, born Lady Diana Spencer.

"With great sadness, we announce that the 11th Duke of Marlborough passed away peacefully this morning," said Blenheim Palace, his massive country seat in Oxfordshire, southern England.

His eldest surviving son Jamie, hitherto the Marquess of Blandford, inherits the prestigious aristocratic title and becomes the 12th Duke of Marlborough.

But a Blenheim Palace spokesman said he could not comment on whether the new duke would inherit the palace estate, worth around 100 million pounds (USD 160 million, 125 million euros).

The Marquess of Blandford spent much of the early 1990s splashed across the British newspapers as he battled drug addiction.

He had several prison spells for driving offences, was fined for assaulting a policeman and for breaking into a pharmacy.

In a bid to safeguard the Blenheim Palace estate from his excessive behaviour, his father won a court battle in 1994 to ensure he never won control of the family seat.

The 11th duke said of his son: "I think there have been black sheep in every family and there's nothing new about that. We have had some good 'uns and some bad 'uns. He's had every chance, hasn't he?"

But they repaired their relationship in 2012 when the duke said: "Things are looking much more settled at the moment.

"Trying to keep Blenheim going is a very important part of the family's history.

"I am fully confident that James will be able to keep this place going. But over the top of him -- and over the top of me -- are trustees."

The 11th duke married four times and has four surviving children.

The Sunday Times newspaper's Rich List 2014 ranked him the 751st richest person in Britain, with an estimated wealth of ?120 million.

Built in the early 18th century in the opulent baroque style, Blenheim has 187 rooms. The estate, with gardens landscaped by Capability Brown, covers 12,000 acres (4,800 hectares).