During the mid-1800s, former ducal huntsman James Cooper was want to note in his diary that, “A number of the quality were out with us today”.
He surely would have made such a note regarding our autumn meet at Scredington. In what sounds like a production of The Prisoner of Zenda, we welcomed Baron Jean-Christophe Von Pfetten with his cousin and joint-master, Prince Georg-Constantin von Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach. Try saying that after a second Martini.
The French hunting connection in Leicestershire began, of course, when first we were cowed by the Norman yoke. However, Baron Pfetten has more recent ties with the Belvoir, which began a mere 200 years ago. In 1817, the fifth Duke of Rutland gave Jean-Christophe’s ancestor, the Duke of Saulx, two foxhounds for The Equipage de Selore, the family pack of buckhounds.
Fast forward to 2017, and the Baron brought along seven couple of hounds from his pack of foxhounds — he has hunted both the buckhounds and the foxhounds for 27 seasons. So possibly the first Anglo-French joint-meet of foxhounds on British soil took place in Lincolnshire. Vive la France!
Language was no barrier for hounds, who hunted well together during a busy morning. However, the Ruritanian accents caused some concern among the car followers, who speculated whether the prince and the Baron, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Bonaparte himself, were part of a Franco-German attempt to frustrate Brexit. The Baron, also a prominent politician on the world stage, assured us that that is not the case and, in fact, he thought the UK had made a brilliant choice. Vive l’Angleterre!
Big shoes to fill
There are two momentous changes afoot in 2019 of which Brexit on 29 March is only one. By far the most important is that on 1 May, when the second most famous pack of hounds in the world, the Quorn, will be requiring a new huntsman. Peter Collins, who presently fulfils the position, has announced his intention to step down on that date.
Peter has filled this high-pressure role, dealing with unenviable problems which would have been unknown to his predecessors, with good humour and élan for the past 15 years. The Quorn country, like everywhere, has changed over the years, but still retains some lovely areas and a special reputation. I’m sure that competition will be fierce.
A lady from a different era
Another “member of the quality,” Lady Ursula d’Abo, died on 2 November, aged 100. The eldest daughter of the ninth Duke of Rutland was an avid hunter and crossed the vale of Belvoir alongside her friend, the future Edward VIII, during a different era, which seems like another world now.
I met Lady Ursula at Belvoir Castle when she was a mere 95 years old and still as sharp as a tack. She memorably told me that I was sitting in the same chair as Churchill had been when a footman brought in a silver tray, upon which was a telegram informing the First Lord of the Admiralty that war had been declared on Germany.
Time has marched on. Notwithstanding Brexit, we hunters are getting along just fine. Vive la différence!
Ref Horse & Hound; 7 December 2017