Most people would be delighted to attend the nuptials of one of their nearest and dearest.
But not, it seems, Lady Carolyn Seymour. Her astonishing response to her nephew’s wedding invitation, in which she ridiculed William, Earl of Yarmouth, as ‘pompous’ and ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ before turning her sights on his future bride, devastated the couple.
For it was, they say, the opening shot in a campaign of abuse by William’s family which began when the Earl revealed his intention to marry Kelsey Wells, a City high-flyer, in June 2016.
Lady Carolyn Seymour wrote an astonishing response to her nephew’s wedding invitation in which she ridiculed William, Earl of Yarmouth, as ‘pompous’ and ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ before turning her sights on his future bride
As their relationship grew, so too did the hostility from William’s parents and his aunt because, the couple claim, they viewed Kelsey as an ‘outsider’ and feared that the Earl – heir to Ragley Hall, a magnificent Palladian mansion set in 5,000 acres – was slipping away from their control.
The situation has now become so bad that – again in a letter written by his aunt – the Earl and his pregnant wife have been evicted from the family’s £85 million estate in Warwickshire, with William’s birthright under threat.
There was certainly no disguising the contempt in Lady Carolyn’s RSVP to the couple’s wedding in June last year.
The 58-year-old wrote of the design of the invitation: ‘[It’s] so embarrassingly awful, it’s almost laughable, if it weren’t so tragic. Since when do you start with the groom’s coronet on top of the page?
‘Moreover, you haven’t even used the Ragley blue nor the correct font. And since when does your name come before the bride?’
She went on to berate William for suggesting how guests might dress. ‘Good God, what are you? Little Lord Fauntleroy?’ She then beseeched him to teach his fiancee the rules of etiquette: ‘I am The Lady Carolyn Seymour,’ she said, before signing off: ‘You pompous ass/t**/p***k – take your pick… Your ever-so loving aunt’.
It was, they say, the opening shot in a campaign of abuse by William’s family which began when the Earl revealed his intention to marry Kelsey Wells, a City high-flyer, in June 2016
Today, in an extraordinary interview, William, 26, heir to the title of Marquess of Hertford, and his wife tell The Mail on Sunday how they have been humiliated by his family, whose ancestors include Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour.
The Ragley estate has been the backdrop to many films and TV shows, including 1982’s The Scarlet Pimpernel (ironically enough featuring Bond girl Jane Seymour), Doctor Who and Dancing On The Edge.
After their nuptials, the couple settled in a modest cottage on the estate called The Bothy. But last month – not long after Kelsey announced she was pregnant – the eviction letter arrived on their first wedding anniversary.
Again written by Lady Carolyn, the letter said The Bothy was needed to accommodate a carer for William’s 86-year-old grandmother, Lady Pamela, the Dowager Marchioness of Hertford. (Tellingly, more than a month later, it remains empty.)
‘There are plenty of rooms to let locally and you can become someone’s lodger,’ his aunt added.
William and Kelsey were nonplussed and he sent a poignant text to his younger brother Edward, telling him: ‘Our family has now made their son/nephew/grandson and his pregnant wife homeless.
‘Carolyn was the one who was dispatched to do the job [again]. Whatever happened to our family’s motto “by faith and love”?’
‘I was devastated,” says Kelsey, 34, a former non-executive director at Goldman Sachs. ‘It was our first wedding anniversary and I was four and a half months pregnant. It should have been one of the happiest times in my life. Instead it was the most stressful. I’d tried so hard to be accepted by his relatives, but his parents seemed determined to cast us both adrift.
‘They’ve never taken the time nor had the interest to get to know me, so how can it be personal to me? Perhaps it’s what I represent, perhaps they feel threatened. I do have the sense there is a pathological need for control and I have upset the control they have been able to exert over their son. I held down a good job, pursued a career and made my way in the world. You don’t have to marry for money and clearly that wasn’t the case with me or William.
Again written by Lady Carolyn, a letter said The Bothy was needed to accommodate a carer for William’s 86-year-old grandmother, Lady Pamela, the Dowager Marchioness of Hertford. (Tellingly, more than a month later, it remains empty)
‘I’m not from their world and, to be honest, I’m afraid I haven’t found much there to aspire to.’
The first hint of trouble came when William announced that he would like to bring Kelsey, whom he met at a wedding in 2016, home for the weekend – only to learn that his Volkswagen Polo had been lent to a member of staff, preventing him from picking her up from a nearby station.
Later, when William again announced he wanted Kelsey to stay at Ragley, he arrived home one evening to be told his parents had given his bed away to the new butler. William was forced to sleep on a blow-up mattress on the floor.
At the time, the Earl accepted all this, but now believes they were deliberate acts to undermine the relationship. Looking back, he said he was often treated differently from his three siblings because his parents told him that, as heir, he was special.
He said he only found out what a ‘normal’ family was like when he stayed with Kelsey and her parents.
‘I escaped through music and books and on the PlayStation with my brother,’ he said.
‘Reading about other people’s lives made me realise other people had had a completely different experience to me. In a house that size it’s very easy to lose yourself and that’s what I often did.’
Despite the tension, in April 2017 Kelsey and William decided to get married. Then, a month after the 180 invitations were sent out, the Hertfords revealed that another event had been booked at Ragley the day before their son’s £80,000 wedding, making it impossible for many preparations to be made.
‘It was a corporate fun day that was going to tie up the facilities needed for our wedding all day and until late the evening before,’ Kelsey said.
‘It was one of many unnecessary hurdles that we had to overcome.’
In the end, the other event was moved to a different venue on the estate.
Another problem was also raised early into their relationship.
All his life, William has been told he would take over the running of Ragley when he reaches the age of 30, just as his father, Lord Henry Seymour, 9th Marquess of Hertford, did before him. The Marquess, 61, known as Harry Seymour, is in a wheelchair because of a neurological disorder.
In March last year, shortly before his marriage, William was astonished to receive a crushing email from his 59-year-old Brazilian-born mother Beatriz, telling him his parents were ‘concerned about his expectations’.
‘As you know, darling, there are no funds available for supporting two generations at the same time and you should prepare for that,’ she wrote. ‘There are no obligations as to when or what is handed over. Ragley was passed to your father when he was 33 because your grandfather, then, 61, saw fit… nowadays retirement happens later and people live longer. Our concern is you don’t seem to be taking it all in; as if you were somehow expecting Ragley to fit within your needs.’
William was stunned. ‘We were so shocked and confused,’ he said. I just didn’t understand.’
Confusing indeed, since only three months later, Lord Hertford told a national newspaper that he would be passing Ragley on to William when he reached 30.
The same month he spoke of William in glowing terms in country sporting journal The Field, saying: ‘He’s very interested in the estate – it would be difficult if he wasn’t.’
And in a planning application lodged that March – the same month as Lady Hertford’s volte-face email – she and her husband told the local authority that they were planning to build a £2.5 million retirement home on the estate to free the hall ‘to be occupied by their son and his family’.
William, a personable and softly spoken young man, said: ‘The relationship between myself and my father has always been what I would describe as short. He is a man of very few words.’
Meeting Kelsey, he says, transformed his life. ‘We met at a wedding,’ he said.
‘I don’t remember much about the wedding, but I do remember Kelsey. I realised that there was something unique about this person and I felt safe, comfortable.’
Kelsey felt the same. ‘When I got talking with William something just clicked,’ she said. ‘He is the kindest man I have ever met and I laughed with him until my sides hurt.’
One bone of contention between William and his parents, currently under ‘discussion’, is a 466-acre slice of woodland with a sawmill on the estate which William owns – a legacy from his grandfather.
Estate lawyers have drawn up a tenancy agreement between William and his father, who is the tenant for the woodland. However, there is a dispute and William says he has yet to receive any money.
Kelsey says she has found her in-laws increasingly cold and aloof: ‘You’ll see wedding photos on display at Ragley down the generations, but you won’t see any photos of William’s wedding to me, despite the fact that he is heir to the title.’
Since she became pregnant, she says not one of them has congratulated her on the forthcoming baby.
‘When we got engaged, we were asked for lunch at Ragley with William’s parents,’ she added.
‘As we sat down, his mother asked me if I was still prepared to marry William even though he wasn’t going to inherit until he was 30, to which my response was, “I’m marrying your son, not the house or the estate.” ’
But when his parents began telling William of their concerns about his ‘expectations’, she saw the effect it had on him.
‘I was angry and upset at the way they were treating their son,’ Kelsey said. ‘I couldn’t imagine having everything you have been brought up knowing to be true be taken away from under you and be told that none of that is yours any more.
‘All his life, William’s had to go along to events with his parents because he’s the heir and has the title of Earl of Yarmouth.
‘The eldest son always had the responsibility to turn up to things while his siblings could stay in bed.’
The Earl said if there is one thing he wants to achieve, it’s making his siblings realise that their upbringing, with what he regards as its culture of ‘belittling and bullying’, is not normal.
Kelsey’s father, Andrew, a management consultant, said: ‘They used to have a son who was compliant to the extent that you could take his bed away and he’d sleep on an airbed without complaining.
‘Now they have a son who won’t indulge that kind of behaviour because he’s met a woman who’s pointed out a few things to him and the scales have come off his eyes.’
Contacted by The Mail on Sunday, Lady Hertford declined to comment. ‘We’re trying to build bridges,’ she said. ‘We are very sorry William has come to The Mail on Sunday because these matters should be discussed within the family.’
Lady Carolyn, when asked why William and his pregnant wife had been evicted, simply laughed and said: ‘Yes, of course she has.’