The Duchess of Rutland: A Home For Heritage
The Duchess of Rutland talks about highlighting the unheard stories of women leading some of the most historic homes in Great Britain.
Growing up in the Welsh borders as part of a farming family, offering bed and breakfast in the house, Emma Manners, the Duchess of Rutland, grew up far from aristocracy.
At 18, she left the farm for London, to start training as an opera singer at the Guildhall School of Music. However, she instead decided to train as a land agent and ended up following a career in interior decoration. Then, age 28, she met the 11th Duke of Rutland, David Manners, at a dinner party in London.
On 6 June 1992 they got married, and so began her introduction to a new world, where she wasn’t just responsible for her family and raising five children, but preserving Belvoir Castle.
Translating to “beautiful view” in French and pronounced today as “beaver,” the name Belvoir does the place justice. Situated on the top of a hill, the castle, in the English county of Leicestershire, is often described as something lifted from the pages of a fairy tale, with 16,000 acres of woods and arable land, and sweeping views of Leicestershire and the surrounding counties of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. It’s also where the Duchess resides today.
“Living in private heritage, in order to keep it together for the public, the future and everyone to enjoy, it’s a full-on job. I wouldn’t say you sit in your ivory tower and have your nails painted and wait for breakfast in bed. You hit the road running every morning until night, and often in the evenings we have events and dinners.”
At the time of our interview, the Duchess talks about two weddings that are upcoming on the weekend, the catering operation, the garden tours and exclusive groups who get the opportunity to stay at the castle.
She shares that she starts her day at 5:45 a.m. and, after a cup of tea and a three-mile run, is at her desk by 8 a.m. She also talks of her charity work: she is patron of a hospice in Leicestershire and set up her own charity that brings young people from local cities to visit the home and learn about the countryside and heritage.
It’s all of these experiences and anecdotes that the Duchess pours into Duchess, a podcast founded with her daughter Lady Violet Manners in 2020. “It was my daughter Violet’s idea. She went to university in Los Angeles and was nostalgic for everything that surrounded her at home, as well as after-dinner conversations she’d hear,” the Duchess shares.
“She realized there’s so much that happens in private heritage that she’d like to share with people through the spoken voice, and I was learning about my job through the help of other women who’d been in it longer or been born into it all the time. Violet thought it would be wonderful to have that become a podcast.”
To date, the series has had an impressive roster of guests. In May of 2022 alone, the Duchess spoke with Alice Kennard of Forde Abbey, which was founded in the 12th century and used as a monastery for 400 years, and Lady Inglewood of Hutton-in-the-Forest, a Grade I listed historic house with parts built as early as c. 1350. Together, they discuss everything from the history and hidden treasures of these grand places they call home, to the gardens on the properties, as well as the trials and tribulations of being a woman living a life balancing family and the weight of the past.
“There’s A Sense Of Stability With Heritage”
When it comes down to heritage, the Duchess describes it as “something money can’t buy,” recalling a time when Victoria and David Beckham stayed at Belvoir Castle and were “blown away with it all.” She continues to talk of the layers of history that come with heritage, particularly when the same family has been living in it for hundreds of years.
For context, the Manners family has been living at Belvoir for over 500 years. “In times of difficulty, you look at castles and stately homes and halls and monasteries. You see they’ve survived all the famine and wars of the last thousand years,” she says. “There’s a sense of stability with heritage.”
One project steeped in history the Duchess is currently working on is restoring the gardens from plans originally drawn up by Capability Brown for the 4th Duke of Rutland in 1780, recently discovered in the Belvoir archive. “We found the plan,” the Duchess says, looking over to where it’s hanging on the wall, “and I’ve spent the last 20 years restoring this lost landscape.”
The Duchess’s journey from Wales to Belvoir has been a fascinating one. The work is ongoing, for the castle, its grounds and the podcast, but it’s clear the Duchess loves it. “I’ve had a sweet life and been absolutely gifted. I’ve been given fi ve wonderful children. I live in a magical place. Every day, I feel incredibly grateful.”
Interview by Estelle Zentil