The Sitwell Baronetcy
The Sitwell Baronetcy was created in 1808. The Sitwell family had been ironmasters and landowners in Eckington, Derbyshire, for many centuries and lived at Renishaw Hall, built by a family member in 1653. The hall is said to have inspired DH Lawrence when he wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
The first Baronet was Sir Sitwell Sitwell, a member of parliament. Legend has it that he was ennobled after building a splendid new ballroom at Renishaw Hall and inviting the Prince of Wales to a ball. The Prince was unable to accept such an invitation from a commoner.
The fourth Baronet, the eccentric Sir George Rereseby Sitwell (father of Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell) was an historian and politician known as “Ginger”. In 1909, he purchased and restored a castle at Montegufoni near Florence and lived there from 1925 to the outbreak of World War II, complaining that he could not afford the taxes in England. Ginger died in Switzerland in 1943. He is vividly recalled in the autobiography of his son, Osbert, the fifth Baronet, who divided his time between Renishaw and Montegufoni.
On the death of Osbert in 1969 the Baronetcy passed to his younger brother Sachie, already established at Weston Hall. Sachie’s elder son, Reresby, inherited Renishaw and Montegufoni, and became the seventh Baronet in 1988. Montegufoni was sold in the 1970s and is now a luxury hotel.
Sachie’s younger son, Francis, acquired Weston Hall from a family member and restored it with his wife, Susanna, where they lived with their children George, William and Henrietta. Sir Reresby Sitwell died in 2009, leaving Renishaw Hall to his daughter, Alexandra. The Baronetcy passed to his nephew, George, who is the eighth Baronet.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell were the centre of a literary clique that rivalled the Bloomsbury set.
The children of a Baronet, they grew up at the family seat, Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire, The brothers went to Eton and Oxford and Osbert fought with distinction in the World War I trenches. Edith was educated by a governess, who she later lived with in London and Paris for much of her adult life.
From 1916, the siblings produced anthologies of their own and others’ work and entered literary, musical and artistic collaborations.
They also established individual reputations. Edith was best known as a progressive poet, Osbert as a prose writer and Sacheverell as an art historian, critic and arbiter of taste.
Of the three siblings, the eldest, Edith, achieved the most celebrity – in part owing to her dramatic appearance. She swathed her six foot frame in brocades, turbans and jewellery; one commentator described her as an “altar on the move”.
She was a favourite model of many artists and of the photographer Cecil Beaton. Her flat in Bayswater was a centre for the literati and she helped many young writers advance their careers.
Edith’s most famous works include Facades, rhythmic abstract poetry set to music by William Walton, and Still falls the Rain, a poem about the London Blitz that was set to music by Benjamin Britten.
She wrote popular prose works on Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria and “English Eccentrics”. She is also credited with posthumously publishing the first poems by the World War I poet Wilfred Owen, in an anthology compiled with her brothers.
Edith had famous feuds with the literary critic FR Leavis – who accused the Sitwell siblings of being publicity seekers – and with Noel Coward, who wrote a sketch mocking them. A lifelong spinster, she spent her final years in Hampstead with a large contingent of cats. She continued her famous poetry recitals almost until her death, aged 77. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1954.
Weston Hall has photos and paintings of Edith, including by Percy Wyndham Lewis and the painter Pavel Tchelitchev, to whom she formed a passionate and unreciprocated attachment. It also has many of her clothes and a sofa given to her by Noel Coward as a peace offering.
Having written his first poems in the trenches at Ypres, Osbert published volumes of poetry in 1919 and 1921. He also produced fiction and travel writing.
After succeeding his father as Baronet of Renishaw in 1943, he wrote a five volume autobiography that was his most famous work; Left Hand Right Hand.
With his brother, he sponsored an exhibition of work by Matisse, Utrillo, Picasso and Modigliani in the 1920s. Also with Sachie he was a patron of the composer William Walton, whose cantata Belshazzar’s Feast was written to Osbert’s libretto, and composed in the stables at Weston.
He was a friend of the royal family and at the time of the abdication wrote an anonymously published poem, “Rat Week”, attacking friends of King Edward VIII who deserted him when his relationship with Mrs Simpson became known.
Osbert and his companion David Horner split their time between Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire and Montegufoni, a castle near Florence in Italy, which his father had bought derelict in 1909 and restored.
Osbert abandoned writing in the 1960s owing to Parkinson’s disease. He died in 1969 at Montegufoni.
(1897 – 1988)
Sachie was the most reticent of the Sitwells, eschewing the publicity surrounding his siblings to concentrate on writing, and family life at Weston.
At Weston, he produced virtually all his works of note. These included “Southern Baroque Art”, his famous 1924 study of Spanish and Italian painting, architecture and music, and books on Mozart and Liszt.
Like his siblings, he wrote poetry but refused to publish it for many years. In 1967, a selection of his poems was published in Poetry Review, including an elegy for his beloved sister Edith.
Sachie married a Canadian beauty, Georgia Doble, in 1925 and had two sons, Reresby and Francis. Reresby inherited the Baronetcy of Renishaw when his uncle Osbert died in 1969. In the 1940s, Sachie served as High Sheriff of Northamptonshire.
He kept regular writing hours, maintaining the same daily schedule on weekends and holidays, even on Christmas day. His output was prolific – more than 130 works until the death of his wife in 1980.
Sachie died in 1988, aged nearly 91. His portrait by Graham Sutherland hangs over the mantelpiece in the hall at Weston.
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