What happens to the Duke of Westminster’s titles if he doesn’t have a male heir?

Hugh Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster, is 33 years old. His bride Olivia Henson, now the new Duchess of Westminster, is 31 years old. This has become more of a regular thing in the British aristocracy – titled toffs waiting until their 30s to marry, and marrying generational peers to boot. It feels like a very small accomplishment, that the Duke of Malarkey or the Lord Bumfuddle no longer seek virginal teenagers as their brides. Now, the same old expectations are there: Olivia, the new duchess, basically has to provide an heir as soon as possible. That’s the way all of this works. That’s primogeniture. “Duke of Westminster” is a hereditary title going to the firstborn son. With the title comes all of the loot, the $9 billion real estate fortune, the 11,000-acre Eaton Hall, the whole shebang. But as it turns out, if Olivia and Hugh have zero sons, a secondary/subsidiary title will be passed along to a distant relative. A distant relative of whom, you might ask. Well, funny story. The distant relative is related to both Hugh AND Olivia. Ah, the British aristocracy.

A 90-year-old academic living in Australia could become the saviour of the Duke of Westminster’s family title, first bestowed on his ancestors at William IV’s coronation in 1831.

If newlyweds Hugh Grosvenor and Olivia Henson do not have a son, the historic Duke of Westminster title will die with him. However, his subsidiary title, the Marquess of Westminster, will live on through the Earl of Wilton, his fourth cousin once removed.

The 8th Earl and heir presumptive also happens to be distantly related, through marriage, to Ms Henson, as her step-first cousin twice removed.

The Eton-educated academic, more commonly known as Francis Ebury, lives in Melbourne, where he settled after pursuing a career in the financial industry that took him from London to Hong Kong. He took a doctorate in Philosophy-Arts at Melbourne University, where he also taught, and served as a director of the city’s Victorian Opera until 2017.

[From The Telegraph]

Okay then. Update your copies of Debrett’s Peerage. What I don’t understand is how in the world the subsidiary title would pass to this super-distant relation of both Olivia and Hugh, all while Hugh has plenty of nieces and (more importantly) nephews. Hugh has three sisters, all of them married, and he has at least three nephews (I’m not doing a deep dive on this, don’t hate me). Why would a subsidiary title not pass to one of Hugh’s nephews in a situation where Hugh had no male heirs? Sigh… this page of Debrett’s is going to have a lot of annotations.

Photos courtesy of Cover Images.

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79 Responses to “What happens to the Duke of Westminster’s titles if he doesn’t have a male heir?”

  1. Mel says:

    Stop expecting logic from antiquated ridiculousness.

    • Andy Dufresne says:

      Hahaha! 💯 agree with you on this one, @Mel.

    • BayTampaBay says:

      The 8th Earl of Wilton is NOT a male line descendant of the 1st Duke of Westminster. However, he is the senior male line descendent of the 1st Marquess of Westminster through his second son, Thomas Grosvenor who took the name Egerton upon marriage.

      1st Marquess of Westminster was the grandfather of the 3rd Marquess of Westminster who became 1st Duke of Westminster.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_of_Westminster

  2. Polly says:

    I’m hoping the peerage system (along with the monarchy) will be abolished long before this even becomes an issue.

    • bumbles says:

      I agree 1000%. Someone, everyone, please abolish the misogynistic, racist, classist, and parasitical entity called ‘the monarchy’ with their legacy of countless atrocities.

  3. seaflower says:

    As long as the lands and therefore revenue don’t pass to the crown.

  4. Tina says:

    I’m guessing (please correct me if I’m wrong) that the nephews don’t ‘count’ as they are related to the family through a female member (barf). The Australian distant cousin is likely the next male relative related through a male family member. What an antiquated and silly system.

    • Bettyrose says:

      This is it exactly. If anyone doesn’t remember the finer details of Pride and Prejudice from high school, Downtown Abbey is a fun romp to through the absurdities of primogeniture.

      • Talia says:

        This. A title has to be specifically created to pass via the female line and most aren’t written that way. Interestingly enough, one title that can pass via women (but only if no men are available) is the Mountbatten title. Lord M had 2 daughters and no sons and wanted to make sure his daughter inherited.

      • BayTampaBay says:

        @Talia – “The Duke of Marlborough” title can pass through and too a female also.

    • Brassy Rebel says:

      Don’t forget misogynistic! You’re probably right that males related through females don’t count when passing on titles. As for the need for Olivia to provide a male heir ASAP, you would never know that these people are living in the 21st century. They would all be more comfortable in the 12th I’m sure.

      • ML says:

        Technically, the aristocracy as well as the monarchy should be eliminated. (Small r republican here.)

        If not, then you might as well change primogeniture to the firstborn child as opposed to selecting by gender—it definitely puts a premium on males above females.

        And not to be obvious, but a child from a woman is easier to trace as being from her (pregnancy tends to go paired with certain signs…) than from the guy if no genetic test is used. So it’s sort of funny that women who marry in are more important to passing on the title than an actual female member of the family.

  5. JuicyLucy says:

    They will have a son. Modern medicine allows for embryo selection, and since money is apparently no object, there will be a male heir. Maybe not at first, but there will be.

    • Bettyrose says:

      Excellent point! Adding an extra layer of creepy to this sh$z. Do you think her eggs were preemptively frozen to ensure viability before the marriage contracts were signed?

      • Andy Dufrense says:

        That is most likely the case. Olivia probably had to go through fertility tests prior to getting married. I guess it’s a small price to pay for a lifetime of privilege and luxury.

      • Bettyrose says:

        Plenty of people go through fertility treatments without marrying into billions so yeah not a terrible trade off, but the emphasis on the health of one’s uterus is creepy. I mean, could the marriage have gone forward if she were not able to conceive? And at what point did they discuss if she even wants to have a baby? Like, first date or had his people vetted her sooner than that?

        There are so many ways that primogeniture makes no sense in this day and age.

    • Libra says:

      If she underwent egg retrieval and were found healthy then it would not be a surprise that said eggs have already been fertilized and male embryos ready and waiting to be implanted. This wedding is too important to take a chance that he will not have a male heir. Billions are at stake.

      • Bettyrose says:

        How did I read your post in Aunt Lydia’s voice? I’m sure it’s all highly consensual and she’s actually thrilled to be doing it, but 👀🙄😳

      • Libra says:

        I know,; over the top but at times I let my wandering mind take me weird places. Sorry Aunt Lydia.

  6. Lucky Charm says:

    It’s my understanding that titles can’t pass through the female line. His sisters may as well not exist as far as these titles go, therefore their sons can’t inherit.

    • The Hench says:

      It is utterly insane. They’ve changed the rules of primogeniture for inheriting the damn throne – why the hell can’t they do the same for all the ‘lesser’ titles??

      • Eurydice says:

        Good question. The king created the title – could a subsequent monarch change how the title is inherited?

      • FlamingHotCheetos2021 says:

        At any point, for any reason, the monarch can amend the letters patent granting any title in any way. If the monarch wants to alter the method of succession for any given title to be strict primogeniture (or any other form) then they can.

        It just usually isn’t done unless a significant and ancient title belonging to someone with immense political/social power and no legitimate heirs makes a personal appeal to the sitting monarch (and is lucky enough to get a monarch who is willing to do it, some of them have been very strict about these sort of things). I have heard of it happening maybe…once? I think? Can’t remember which title, though.

        The monarch is FAR more likely to just legitimate an illegitimate heir. Less legal fuss, less likely to cause a stir and a scandal.

      • Kittenmom says:

        Seriously! This is completely unfair to any female children.

      • Daisycat says:

        I was always so surprised that Andrew didn’t petition the Queen to enable Beatrice to inherit the Duke of York title in the absence of male heirs. Maybe his own misogyny clouded his thinking?

    • Bettyrose says:

      Sisters and what value is the second son if the first is perfectly healthy? So many pesky societal advances have really improved one’s chances of surviving to adulthood. And North Atlantic maritime disasters are almost unheard of these days.

  7. Barbara says:

    I’m assuming his nephews can’t inherit the title because they’re the children of his sisters and girls don’t count in all this ridiculousness.

  8. Good lord the pressure they will put upon Olivia to hurry up and pop out a male heir. What century are we all living in?

    • Elizabeth says:

      It’s the same pressure that Hugh’s mother was under. She had three girls before she gave birth to a boy. The same pressure that Princess Diana’s mother was under. There has been a push to change the laws of primogeniture so that girls can inherit and titles don’t die out, but it hasn’t happened.

      • Sid says:

        I recall there were elder sisters of an earl who rightfully went to court to try and get a portion of the inheritance. It will be interesting to see what Willileaks does if he makes it to the throne and Charlotte has kids in the future. Her children wouldn’t get the hrh prince/ss titles, but any children of her two brothers would. Can’t imagine how they would be able to sell that in the 21st century, even if the entire system is antiquated.

      • BayTampaBay says:

        @Elizabeth – Tally Westminster had two two daughters then Hugh then a third daughter.

  9. CC says:

    I like how the article assumes a 90 year old will outlive any chances of Hugh Grovesnor having a son.

    • Jais says:

      What happens if the 90 year old dies first? Does he have a son it passes to? And is it the title and the money? Is that where the 9 billion goes? I’m confused.

      • ncboudicca says:

        It looks like there’s a son (assuming I’m looking at the right Wikidata page) Julian Grosvenor, Viscount Grey de Wilton (born in 1959), but that man doesn’t appear to have any children.

      • CC says:

        I hope for this old man’s sake that he has enough interests and accomplishments that he isn’t spending his last years plotting in a corner and muttering curses on the Duchess’ womb.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    The title wouldn’t go to his nieces or nephews because it goes through the male line.

  11. liz says:

    They had to crawl back through the family tree to find the son of a son of a (younger son) . . . Those titles don’t pass though daughters (which is why he’s the duke and his oldest sister is not the duchess), so none of the children of the current duke’s sisters are in line for the title or the property. Absurd, antiquated, rules that are long overdue for change. The kind of legal change that shouldn’t be hard to do, but I was trained as an American lawyer, not a British solicitor, so there is probably a lot more to it than properly drafted legislation.

    • Lauren says:

      The problem is you have to get past the House of Lords, the house being full of firstborn sons some of who had older sisters

  12. Meredith says:

    It’s Downton Abbey all over again.

  13. equality says:

    So stupid title dies? Big deal. The question is where do all the assets go?

    • bisynaptic says:

      🎯

    • Paula Ziegler says:

      Title dies. Assets to the king.

      • Lady Esther says:

        The title dies but the assets will go to the nearest male heir in the line, not revert to the Crown. I believe that doesn’t happen even with Royal dukedoms or other titles…. the title reverts but the assets stay with the family IIRC

    • Vik says:

      It is rare these days for assets to be tied to titles and when they are, wills are set up in such a way to separate them. The Westminster dukedom has no assets and Hugh and his sisters inherited about equally from their father (title aside).

    • Pinkosaurus says:

      Tatler had an article when he inherited the title in 2017 that the billions are all in trust managed by a board, and his two sisters get an equal share of the proceeds split three ways. He owns the assets in name only but doesn’t have authority to sell anything without approval of the managing board.

      I’m sure there are different provisions for the income than primogeniture so congrats to his father who set up this rather fair system for his three children.

      Apparently that’s why the Duke is going into gentlemanly farming instead of having to manage his enormous real estate portfolio.

  14. Otterton says:

    This peerage and succession shit is so wild. It’s 2024 and yet we’re discussing this like y’all are Lady Whistledown and this is the latest distraction while we prepare for the next ball. 😂

    Gossip is gossip, apparently, no matter what century…

    • Meredith says:

      People have always been people, no matter the year! It’s hysterical, I remember looking at preserved letters from people in universities from centuries back asking for money from their parents and laughing.

  15. B says:

    Its 2024 and women in that country still can’t inherit properties and titles. Let that REALLY sink in. Daughters can not inherit property only sons… in 2024.

    Misogyny is literally the law in that country.

    • Talia says:

      Only in regard to a tiny number of old titles. Intestacy rules for almost everyone divides the estate equally between all children, male or female, older or younger, legitimate or not.

      For those few titles, it’s the eldest legitimate son, too. Men not a body birth of a lawful wife don’t inherit either so no illegitimate children and no children born via surrogacy.

    • HRH Miss Scarlett says:

      Hugh’s sisters all get around the same distribution from the family trusts as he does. The title is what gives Hugh the ability to be at the helm of everything as the executive trustee, but he hasn’t taken that up yet, although he might in the next few years. One of the prior Dukes put everything into a trust, and the family get distributions from the trust. They pay taxes on that as income, and the trust pays taxes on any capital gains. The trust also pays a tax every 10 years on its entire holdings. I’m not sure but would guess it’s set up like a corporation and the Duke’s family are tantamount to shareholders, with the 7 trustees being like the Board of Directors.

  16. Beatrice says:

    Nobility is not like royalty. In royalty, females can inherit the throne if there are no males (although that rule was changed when Prince George was born and there is no absolute primogeniture anymore, meaning Charlotte comes before Louis in the line of succession). In nobility, females are treated like they don’t exist. It doesn’t matter if the sisters have sons, because if Hugh had no sons you would go back to the previous male (the late duke) and start looking for a direct male heir (like say, for example, the dad’s brother), bypassing the sisters altogether.

    • Vik says:

      Nobility and royalty are two sides of the same shytty coin. The rules are man-made and ridiculous. The only reason Charlotte hasn’t lost her place in the line of succession like Anne is because the law has been changed just before George was born.

      Some royalty also treat women like they don’t exist and women couldn’t inherit thrones in various kingdoms. In Japan, women still cannot inherit at all. Monaco also couldn’t go to women till recently.

      In Spain nobile titles can be inherited by women, but the throne only if no boy is born.

      It’s all ridiculous.

  17. Talia says:

    The Westminster Dukedom is very unusual in that Hugh is literally the only male in the line of descent from the first Duke (the subsidiary title is older and there are various men descended from an earlier holder of that title who was an ancestor of the first Duke). Therefore if he doesn’t have a son (or the law isn’t changed) the title goes extinct.

    Most titles have dozens of men in line to inherit. Camilla’s first husband is something like 28th in line for an Earldom for example.

    • The Hench says:

      Yes, it’s probably more common than realised. For a brief period of a few years Mr Hench was only two removes away from being an Earl – and me from being a Countess. Then more breeding happened and we’re six removes away now and only getting further….

    • Talia says:

      Most historical titled couples kept having kids (and the wife was expected to remain faithful) until she had two sons (the heir and the spare). You can see that after 3 or 4 generations there are likely to be a fair number of boys in line.

      Not sure what happened with the Grosvenors

      Having said that, the World Wars, particularly World War 1 had a vicious effect on a number of titled families. A lot of heirs / spares died leading to titles going extinct or going to older / younger cousins who never expected to inherit.

  18. Gwendolyn says:

    So according to Debrett’s there are some titles that can go down the female line https://debretts.com/peerage/titles-in-the-female-line/

    I believe Julian Fellowes is campaigning for women to be hereditary peers (possibly because his wife would’ve been the Earl Kitchener of Khartoum, but alad she was born a she).

    The reason given (other than misogyny) for there can be only one heir approach is keeping large estates in tact.

    Based on age alone I’m pretty sure his 4th cousin once removed will not inherit. Sure he’ll be heir presumptive until the heir apparent rocks up, but I don’t think anyone is worried about it. I’m sure Charles would love for the estate with all its lands and money could revert to the crown, alas it doesn’t sound like historical ly there’s been an issue with fertility, so there are potential heirs.

    • Talia says:

      The trouble is there are *no* other heirs to the Dukedom. Titles can only go down the line of inheritance so if Hugh doesn’t have a son, the title goes extinct.

      The title the guy in Australia gets is the one the family had *before* the Dukedom was awarded. The split was a generation or two before the Dukedom was awarded so he’s not in line for that.

    • Vik says:

      Yes, in England the approach was one heir to keep estates intact (as opposed to Germany, where many an estate has been lost to squabbling generations of heirs), but this is not the reason why women cannot inherit titles. It’s pure misogyny. If absolute primogeniture is in place, the estates remain in the hand of one heir, the firstborn, boy or girl.

  19. Canadian Becks says:

    A man can be cuckolded and have a child he believes to be of his blood, but is actually not. Not so a child of your daughter. As a woman, when you bear a child, you know with absolute certainty that that child is of your blood. And when your daughter has HER child, you know with absolute certainty, that child is descended from you. Outside of DNA testing, you cannot say the same with any children from your son.

    Many native Indian tribes are matrilineal- the Comanches are one example- where property and assets are passed down only through the female line.

  20. seaflower says:

    If she doesn’t have a male heir, he’ll just move onto another wife….

    • Mrs.Krabapple says:

      But at least there’s divorce now days. In the olden days, the barren wife would have an “accident.”

  21. anotherlily says:

    The system does not allow for such titles to pass down the female line but the system allows women to marry into a title. Hugh Grosvenor’s bride became the Duchess of Westminster as soon as the marriage vows were made.

    A woman’s married title cannot be removed even if she is subsequently divorced. Sarah Ferguson remains the Duchess of York unless she marries another man.

    In the past marrying a daughter into royalty would often lead to the whole family being ennobled. This is what the Middletons expected. If Michael Middleton had been made ‘Earl of Bucklebury’ Carole would be a Countess, Kate and her sister would be Lady Catherine and Lady Phillipa and James would hold his father’s subsidiary title of Viscount and would eventually succeed to the earldom.

  22. Jaded says:

    More Upper Class Twittery. Reminds me of the first Bridget Jones movie where she’s at a dinner with some posh nobs and one guy said something to the effect of “So Bridget, how come you’re not married and sprogged up?” to which she says “I guess it’s because under my dress I’m covered in scales”.

  23. bisynaptic says:

    “The Duke of Malarkey or the Lord Bumfuddle“
    😂
    @Kaiser, you should read P G Wodehouse, if you don’t already.

    • bisynaptic says:

      About the inheritance: it’s not just primogeniture, it’s male-preference primogeniture, specifically, the kind that only passes through the male line; meaning they have to crawl back up the family tree, in order to find a node they can crawl back down, exclusively, through males. It’s the ultimate expression of patriarchy and, hopefully, by the time the UK rejoins the EU, it will have been rightly ruled in violation of human rights.

  24. Feeshalori says:

    What?! So Lady Mary’s son can’t inherit the Earl of Granchester title in Downton Abbey because she’s female? Say it ain’t so!

    • Talia says:

      Cousin Matthew was the heir in the male line.

      Her son inherits via his father despite his maternal grandfather being the Earl.

      I can’t remember if she had children with her second husband but if she did, you are right, they can’t inherit.

      Did anyone check Matthew’s brakes? His death was incredibly convenient for the Earl…..Just saying

      • Feeshalori says:

        That’s right, Matthew was the heir so their son will inherit. I haven’t been watching the movies after the series ended, so don’t know if she had children with her second marriage. But they definitely wouldn’t inherit the title under those rules.
        And it’s the Grantham title, not Grantchester. I’m getting my series muddled together!

      • Thena says:

        Lady Mary had a daughter with her second husband.

      • Fortuona says:

        The actor who played Matthew wanted out of the role , as did the actor who played the sister ,then Rose because they smelled US dollars ,as did the guy from Bridgerton but in did not happen to any of them . Rose did the best of them

  25. Amy Bee says:

    Wouldn’t his oldest nephew inherit the money and property? Anyway, with all his money, I’m sure he’s going to do whatever’s medically possible to ensure he has a son.

    • Talia says:

      My guess is would either go to the next male in line (so the cousin in Australia) or the current Duke could leave it in his will to whoever he chose. He might leave most of it to one person to avoid breaking up the estate but there is no reason this would have to be his oldest nephew.

  26. Mrs.Krabapple says:

    It’s funny how the tabloids are focusing on this duke (be sure to pronounce it “dewk” lol) and his wife. Did they finally realize people don’t care about Ed’s kids, or Anne’s kids, or Camiila’s son, or (fill in this blank) so now they are trying to make this couple happen? If Kate is ever able to return, she won’t like that.

    • anotherlily says:

      I think the high level of publicity is because of the connection to the Sussexes. Even when Harry isn’t present he’s more interesting than William.

  27. Miss Kitty says:

    I like the Scottish system, there are several titles like Errol and Loudon where they go through the eldest daughter if there are no sons.

    I stumbled across this after reading the book White Mischief about the 21st? Earl of Errol being murdered in Kenya back in 1941 and his only child was a daughter who inherited the title but alas very little money.

  28. May says:

    It’s the system. Albeit a stupid, antiquated and misogynistic system but that is the way it has always worked. What’s funny to me is that those Lords and Ladies now bemoaning primogeniture most assuredly benefited from it. In other words, had the system been fair all along, they would not be Lords and Ladies. Rather, some distant cousin would enjoy the privilege. So to me it seems bizarre to grouse about a system from which they’ve benefited.

    • Mrs.Krabapple says:

      Yeah, that’s what I thought about Downton Abbey — Mary cried about how unfair it was that she couldn’t inherit (with zero thought about what her sisters should get), but the only reason her father was Earl was BECAUSE the system was unfair. In a fair system, her Aunt would have the estate, or more likely, descendants of some female ancestor from generations ago. So it would never have been hers anyway. (And of course, once she married the heir, Mary was perfectly happy to defend that unfair system, because it benefitted her again). That show, supposedly based on the producer’s real-life wife, really makes you think about how selfish all these aristos really are. Makes it hard to be sympathetic.

  29. BeanieBean says:

    Is ‘step-first cousin twice removed’ even a thing?

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