Sir Robert Peel, Fourth Baronet - 1767 -1925

It’s all very well inheriting a large estate, but if that estate is mortgaged to high heaven things do not bode well. The fourth Sir Robert inherited the famous name and received a very good education at Harrow and Balliol College, Oxford, but he had very little money to indulge in the tastes that go with such a position. Sir Robert, even as a young man at college was being hounded by creditors, but when he entered the London society scene, his suave sophistication and good looks made him a firm favourite with the high living clique that revolved around Queen Victoria’s son Edward, Prince of Wales. Sir Robert had champagne tastes on beer money. Pretty actresses were freely entertained at Drayton Manor; amongst them was the famous Lily Langtry. The high society balls went on continuously during the season in London followed by Paris, Switzerland and on the French Riviera. By the time he was 25, he was heavily in debt, but managed to defer his liabilities in view of his expectations of wealth. However, when his father died, the trustees of the estate allowed him only £3000 a year, for the charming socialite this was a devastating blow, as his wine bill alone in 1895 was £1475.

He was allowed to live at Drayton Manor and in the words of a legal agreement, “enjoy the chattels and furniture thereof”, but this led to much disagreement and ultimately to one of the biggest law-suits of the time. Sir Robert was a firm favourite with the villagers of Fazeley, always ready to play the Lord of the Manor opening fetes and hosting garden parties. He dabbled in writing and published two books, “A Bit Of A Fool” and “An Engagement”, and was always appearing in the gossip columns of the nationals. His romantic involvements often got him into trouble and on one occasion led to him being involved in a duel with a fiery Italian over a lover. However, when he met the Baroness Mercedes de Graffenreid his financial worries seemed to be over. He thought she was a wealthy heiress. She, on the other hand, thought that Sir Robert, with his 10,000-acre estate and title must be a rich man. A speedy engagement was arranged and lavish entertainment at the wedding on the 5th June 1897, followed by a torchlight procession to welcome the bride and groom when they came to Drayton Manor from Paris, but both were to become disappointed with each other’s lack of fortune.

Within a year, the London Bankruptcy Court was dealing with the receiving orders concerning the estate and Sir Robert admitted liabilities that he was unable to meet. Undeterred by his bankruptcy, the spendthrift Baronet went ahead and commissioned the building of a Swiss Lodge at the entrance of Drayton Manor as a gift to his bride. When visiting Drayton Manor Sir Robert would often have to beat a hasty retreat when local creditors arrived with Sheriffs executing orders on his personal possessions. Sir Robert eventually decided it was best to be out of the country and with Lady Peel, fled to fashionable Paris. It was then discovered that some of the famous paintings had been removed from Drayton Manor and sold to a dealer in Paris. The famous portrait of Lady Julia by Lawrence had gone together with other family heirlooms.

Immediately, application was made by the trustees to the court for an injunction. The judge ordered that the pictures should be restored to the estate and that no other items should be removed. Sir Robert retorted that he had a perfectly good explanation for what he had done; he had been merely raising money to offset his debts. The judge made sinister references to prison in his remarks. Drayton Manor was ransacked still further, but officially this time to help pay off the debts.  Plate, engravings, linen, saddlery, clocks, statues, ornaments, jewellery were loaded onto railway trucks to London for auction. Things were in a desperate state, but still the Baronet maintained an expensive social life in London. 

In 1898; a son was born – another Robert – but received scant attention from his parents. His mother spent more and more time away from home. After young Bobby went away to school, he rarely stayed at the Manor during holiday periods, but stayed instead with the Fazeley vicar, Rev. Melville Jones to avoid the constant beatings from his father, whose health and temper were deteriorating. 

By 1912, enormous chunks of the Tamworth property had been sold to help defray the debts, but misfortune seemed to hamper every attempt to straighten out financial matters. His solicitor absconded with a large amount of money. The trustees became involved in a case of loan repayment obtained by misrepresentation. Peel’s sister married a wealthy German but this man was soon involved in litigation against his brother-in-law. The estate was now almost in ruins after major sales of land and buildings, including the Manor contents in 1918 and 1919. Sir Robert spent his last few years at Drayton Manor, a very sick and sad man, paralysed from the waist down. Old servants nursed him until his death on 12th February 1925. He was buried in Drayton Bassett Church, and had probate effects of only £205.