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Earl and Countess of March attacked and tied up by robber who cleaned out their safe at Goodwood
Detectives in nationwide hunt for 'irreplaceable' haul - including diamond tiara and high-value watches - taken from home of Lord and Lady March
The Earl and Countess of March have been forced to hand over £700,000 of family heirlooms after being attacked and tied up by a burglar at their historic Goodwood estate.
Lord March, 61, was hit on the head with a “blunt instrument” after Lady March, 54, disturbed the intruder who had used a ladder and broken in through an upstairs window.
After being forced to open their safe they were bound and lay injured for two hours before one of their staff found them and dialled 999. The Earl described the couple's ordeal as "challenging".
Among the items stolen were a £400,000 diamond tiara and an emerald ring given by Charles II to his mistress Louise de Kerouaille, whose son was the first Duke of Richmond and made Goodwood the family seat.
The couple’s terrifying ordeal was disclosed by Sussex Police, who paid tribute to the couple’s courage as they launched an appeal to track down the robber and any accomplices, as well as the jewellery.
The raid at Goodwood House, near Chichester, West Sussex happened at 4.30 on Wednesday morning.
Lady March was woken by the burglar and came across him outside her bedroom door. The man then pushed her back into the bedroom and struck 61-year-old Lord March on the head with a “blunt instrument”, injuring his ear.
Lady March, a half-sister of Viscount Astor, Samantha Cameron’s stepfather, was then forced to open the safe before she and her husband were bound up. The police were called by a member of staff at around 6.30am when he arrived at work.
Detective Inspector Till Sanderson said: "This was a frightening ordeal and I pay tribute to the courage of Lord and Lady March."
Lord March, 61, founded the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Goodwood Revival motoring events, both of which take place on the estate near Chichester, which is also home to the Glorious Goodwood race meeting.
He said: "The last 48 hours have been challenging and I would like to thank Sussex Police, my team here at Goodwood and the local and national press for their support. I am pleased to tell you that we are both recovering and entirely focused on providing the police with anything that may help recover the stolen items some of which have such personal significance and others such historical value."
The most valuable item stolen was the diamond tiara, made in 1820 and worn at court by generations of Duchesses of Richmond, but the most historic was the emerald intaglio and diamond ring given by Charles II to his Breton mistress Louise de Kerouaille, a lady-in-waiting to Charles’s Queen, Catherine of Braganza. It is engraved with their initials, CL.
They had an illegitimate son, Charles Lennox, who was created 1st Duke of Richmond and who made Goodwood his home. Charles gave her the title Duchess of Portsmouth in 1673, and even named his royal yacht HMY Fubbs, after his nickname for her, Fubbs, meaning chubby. She was hated by Charles’s other mistress, Nell Gwynne, but retained her power over the king until his death in 1685.
Diana, Princess of Wales is a 10th generation descendant of the Duchess through her father, and the Duchess of Cornwall is also a distant relative. Lord March’s father, the 86-year-old Charles Gordon-Lennox, is the current Duke of Richmond.
Other items stolen in the robbery included a diamond necklace from the early 19th century worth around £200,000; emerald, diamond and sapphire rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces and antique Rolex and Girard Perregaux watches. More than 40 items were taken in total.
DI Sanderson said: "They are devastated at the loss of these treasured items, many of which are irreplacable. We are making a nationwide appeal in a bid for information and to trace stolen jewellery. Forensic teams are working with detectives to investigate the circumstances and we are appealing for anyone who saw any suspicious activity during that night up until 7am or in the previous week to contact us.
"We are doing all we can try to trace the stolen treasures, liaising with auction houses, stately homes, dealers and those with specialist knowledge.”
Goodwood was built in 1600 and is home to both the Goodwood racecourse, which opened in 1802, Goodwood Airport, which dates back to the Second World War, and the Goodwood racing circuit, which was laid out around the perimeter of the airfield shortly afterwards.
A 26-year-old man from Hampshire has been arrested on suspicion of robbery and has been bailed until February while investigations continue.