The Duke of Roxburghe, 18 Nov 1954 – 29 August 2019


Guy Innes Ker, the 10th Duke of Roxburghe, inherited the title in 1974 at the age of just 19 while serving in the British Army with the Blues and Royals in Cyprus.


He had won the Sword of Honour months earlier as the top officer cadet of his intake at the Sandhurst and was regarded by his peers as a high achiever and such a brilliant sportsman that some thought he might turn professional.

However, with the unexpected death of his father, and somewhat to his regret, the responsibility for managing the 60,000 acre estate, and at it’s heart the beautiful 18th century Floors Castle, came decades earlier than he had imagined.

Like many other ancient feudal estates, by the early 1970s the Roxburghe Estate was urgently in need of modernisation, overly dependent on agriculture and vulnerable to death duties. The safeguarding of this inheritance was to form a good part of the 10th Duke of Roxburghe’s life’s work. Guy Roxburghe brought determined practicality and considerable personal charm to managing these issues. At his death the estate was professionalised and diversified to encompass farming, forestry, commercial sport, bloodstock, tourism, renewable energy and property management.

He was among the first to open his family home to the public – though it always remained at heart a family home.

Guy Roxburghe’s energies were considerable and found many outlets. These included his greatest love; flat racing and breeding – he was the most successful Scottish thoroughbred breeder of modern times; the preservation of The Tweed River and its fisheries; efforts to sustain the local economy and communities in the borders; and, following a near fatal bout of cancer in 2009, the raising of large sums for charity.

 

Guy David Innes Ker, the 10th Duke of Roxburghe was born on 18th November 1954. His mother Elizabeth McConnel (formerly Mrs Church) was the 9th Duke’s second wife.

He was educated at Eton where he proved a seemingly effortless sportsman. He captained Eton’s First XI cricket but also excelled throughout his life at tennis, squash, golf (he played off a handicap of 3), riding, shooting and fishing. Two of his children would later become respectively a professional golfer and a professional event rider.

Guy Innes Ker won a place at Magdalene College Cambridge which he deferred under pressure from his father to take up a three-year short-service commission in the Blues and Royals. At Sandhurst, he graduated top of his intake before emergency deployment to Cyprus following the July 1974 Turkish invasion. He became the 10th Duke of Roxburghe as well as the 29th Baron Innes months later following his father’s untimely death on the 26th September 1974.

The Dukedom was a by-product of the Act of Union which had been bestowed by James VI and I in 1707 for support in the negotiations between Scotland and England. The older barony was granted to the Innes family in 1160 by King Malcolm IV of Scotland. The Innes and Ker families were united by marriage in 1812 and built their land holdings through a series of judicious marriages.

Guy Roxburghe completed his army career in 1977 following active service in Northern Ireland. He did not regard the army as a particularly interesting part of his life. The one significant consequence was that he met his first wife Lady Jane Grosvenor, the daughter of the Duke of Westminster, while serving in Northern Ireland. They married in 1977 and had three children, Lady Rosanagh (born 1979), Charles, Marquis of Bowmont, (born 1981) who now inherits the Dukedom, and Lord Edward (born 1984). The marriage was dissolved in 1990.

Guy Roxburghe’s land included 45 farms, extensive hill farming, two grouse moors, valuable salmon fishing and 2,500 acres of woodland. He set about putting the estate on a stable financial footing and opened the Floors Castle to the public in 1977. The gardens were expanded and visitor numbers soared after the Hollywood movie Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan was filmed at Floors Castle in 1984.

Over the next twenty years he converted a property bought by his father into a 22-room hotel and built the adjoining Roxburghe Golf Course, a championship course, which is regularly ranked among the 10 ten inland courses in Scotland. The course and hotel were sold to a German investment group in 2018.

Guy Roxburghe married his second wife, the interior designer Virginia Wynn-Williams, in 1992. There were two further children: Lady Isabella (born 1994) and Lord George (born 1996). She has been a popular chatelaine of Floors Castle for 27 years – managing all the tourism dimensions to the estate. It was a happy union and to the Duke’s lasting pleasure the children of both marriages remained exceptionally close and present in the life of the estate.

Guy Roxburghe’s greatest passion was horse racing and the Floors Stud, which had been founded by his father in 1947. The stud gained international prominence helped by a stellar filly – Attraction – born in 2001. The horse was an “ugly duckling” rejected by sales companies because of crooked forelegs. One prospective trainer remarked that “it looked like God had taken a day off when he created her.” But Guy Roxburghe never doubted her potential and put her into training himself with Mark Johnston.

Attraction was the first horse to win both the 1,000 Guineas and Irish 1,000 Guineas. In retirement the filly became a highly-prized broodmare. Roxburghe was regarded as a breeder both canny and thrifty and the most successful north of the border of modern times. The Floors Stud also produced Viva Pataca, one of Hong Kong’s most successful horses and a five times champion there.

Guy Roxburghe was a long serving horse racing administrator with the Jockey Club, chaired British Horse Racing Authority disciplinary board and became Chairman of the National Stud in 2017. He also held directorships in the City of London and was a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers and a Freeman of the City of London.

The Roxburghe Estates encompassed significant and valuable fishing rights on The Tweed and he was for more than 30 years a member of the Tweed Commission, charged with the preservation of its habitat and fish stocks. He was himself an accomplished fly fisherman, above all on the ‘Upper Floors beat’ close to his home. He once caught twelve salmon there on a November day in 1994. He also travelled widely to fish and on the River Alta in Norway managed to land two monstrous salmon of more than 50 pounds. In his later years he confessed to a growing unwillingness to kill those he caught, admitting to a friend recently that after looking one beautiful 15 pound cock salmon “in the eyes” he felt compelled to slip it quietly back into the water.

The Duke had a long term interest in renewable energy and was one of the first historic house owners to install a biomass heating system using woodchips from the estate. In 2001 he began exploring wind farming on his land. The Fallago Rig Wind Farm, built in 2013 in partnership with North British Wind Power, feeds 90,000 homes. It proved controversial with some parts of the community but ultimately received government approval after a public enquiry.

Roxburghe was heavily involved in the community and economy of the borders, where his estate employed around 100 people in the Kelso area. He was the President of the Border Union Agricultural Society and Director of Kelso Races. Through a fund established jointly with the developer of the Fallago Rig Wind Farm, more than £1million to date has been invested in community projects in the surrounding area.

The Duke was a lifelong supporter of equestrian sports locally as well as nationally. He hosted the local point-to-point, common riding and Buccleuch hunt on his land and, with his wife, he hosted the Floors Castle International Horse Trials.

In 2009 the Duke was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. He fought and beat the disease with steely resolve. He subsequently raised more than £1.3million with the former Sotheby’s chairman Henry Wyndham in support of the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital and a cancer research project at Brunel University. Friends said that the experience of the illness made him more reflective. He was already known as a generous host to a wide circle of friends and this aspect of his character became even more pronounced in his final decade. The cancer returned in 2019 and he died on 29 August.

Scotland’s Largest Inhabited Castle