A 98-year-old aristocrat fell out of a window. His death sparked a family feud

Michael Brudenell-Bruce, 8th Marquess of Ailesbury, with his partner, Teresa Marshall de Paoli
Michael Brudenell-Bruce, 8th Marquess of Ailesbury, with his partner, Teresa Marshall de Paoli - ANL/Shutterstock

Aristocrats with a royal connection, a pop star, a shocking death, a cat and a contested will: it is a story that would make any thriller writer worth their salt proud.

Last month, the Marquess of Ailesbury, Michael Brudenell-Bruce, 98, was found dead on the patio at the home of his long-term partner, Teresa Marshall de Paoli, 88. The Marquess had apparently fallen while trying to let his cat, Honeybun, out of a first-floor window. Marshall de Paoli, an author and former model who had been with the Marquess for 37 years, found her beloved in a pool of blood on the concrete paving stones. The police and ambulance crews who responded to her 999 crew pronounced him dead on arrival.

“It was a freak accident,” Marshall de Paoli told The Sun at the time. “He was covered in blood. I said to him, ‘Oh, my darling, what has happened?’, but he was dead.”

She added the police “thought I might have killed him”, but “there had not been a row – I hadn’t hit him”.
“I think the cat got her head stuck and he pushed [the window] up and lost his balance, and he fell onto the patio,’ she said. “He fell, breaking the roses on the wall as he fell.”

With only Marshall de Paoli’s account to go on, the death was written up as she described it. The police said the death was “unexpected” but not being treated as suspicious.

The late Marquess’s family are not so sure.

Over the weekend, Marshall de Paoli gave an interview in which she said the family have been avoiding her since the death, and that at least one member believes she pushed her partner to his doom. The late Marquess had been suffering from dementia and changed his will two years ago to make her an executor and give her one fifth of the estate.

“I want to warn others that when a partner dies in the home, the remaining widow is treated like a suspect,” she told The Mail on Sunday, adding, “I am a very caring person and I didn’t want him to go to a home… I simply did not push him out of the window… I thought he’d live to be 101 and I would die before him.”

His son, David Brudenell-Bruce, 71, latterly the Earl of Cardigan, who has become the 9th Marquess of Ailesbury, told reporters that he is contesting the will.

“The sadness is she and he were alone in the building and we will never know,” he said. “There’ll be a coroner’s inquest and the only possible outcome is an open verdict.”

David Brudenell-Bruce, 9th Marquess of Ailesbury
David Brudenell-Bruce, who has become the 9th Marquess of Ailesbury, is contesting his late father's will - Christopher Pledger

Marshall de Paoli hit back, pointing out that David had been excluded because he and his father “had not spoken for 50 years”. The leading beneficiary of the will is David’s son, Tom, who has become the 10th Earl of Cardigan.

The row is the latest moment in the spotlight for a family that has often found itself in the news, not always for the right reasons. The title of Marquess of Ailesbury was granted in 1821 to Charles Brudenell-Bruce. His son, George, inherited the title in 1856 and in 1868 also succeeded to the titles of James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan, a cousin who had led the calamitous Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War in 1854, immortalised in Tennyson’s poem. (Model and actress Florence Brudenell-Bruce, 38, a cousin, was briefly linked romantically to Prince Harry in 2011.)

Until 2008, when the couple moved to Marshall de Paoli’s home in Shepherd’s Bush, west London, she and the late Marquess had been living on the Savernake Estate, the family’s 4,500-acre property in Wiltshire, which has been in the family since 1067. “[Savernake] is too remote for me,” he told reporters at the time of the move.

His son was removed as a trustee of Savernake in the same year, after moving to the United States and getting divorced. In 2012, he appeared in court accused of stealing a power unit and damaging pheasant feeders. The trial had to be adjourned on grounds of his mental health. The case was dropped, only for Brudenell-Bruce to find himself back in Salisbury magistrates’ court the following year, when he was cleared of attacking one of his estate’s trustees, John Moore, in a dispute over art.

Moore claimed Brudenell-Bruce had attacked him in the wake of another legal dispute, over the selling of Old Master portraits of his ancestors to raise money for the estate. The earl denied spitting at Moore and using a bamboo cane to hit him.

“We were just slinging insults at each other,” the then-Lord Cardigan, who was found not guilty on the assault charge, told Salisbury magistrates’ court.

“We mutually blamed each other for the sad state my family estate has been reduced to.

“We flung all sorts of insults at each other – childish stuff. We were shouting rude things at each other.”

During the hearing, the court also heard about an incident the previous year, where Brudenell-Bruce was alleged to have thrown gravel at a vehicle being driven by Leslie Kyle, the estate foreman. He was again acquitted, this time for criminal damage.

He and his son, Tom – until recently Viscount Savernake – had fallen out over the sale of Tottenham House, which the younger man had sold for £11.5 million in 2008 to raise money to fund the estate. David had said the sale left him surviving on £10 a day in benefits. By 2020 they had reconciled, with David telling The Times he had “just about” forgiven his son for the sale.

“You have the choice of frittering money on one side or keeping something for posterity on the other, and he was not very alive to the posterity,” he said.

“It is time Thomas took an interest and came to help. Passion is coming a little later to him than it did to me. I hoped it would come eventually, and now it has.”

That was not the end of the struggle over the estate, however. Thomas’s younger sister, Lady Catherine Brudenell-Bruce, is better known as Bo Bruce, a singer who was runner-up in The Voice UK in 2012. Their mother, Lady Rosamond, the former Countess of Cardigan, died at 63 of cancer in 2012, leaving them Leigh Hill House, another property on the Savernake Estate, which she had been awarded in 2009 after her divorce from their father. Thomas, mindful of the integrity of the estate, said he wanted to buy the property outright. By 2015, however, Bo took legal action, believing her brother was dragging his heels over buying her out of her share or selling it, while she was “desperate for money”. In 2022, a judge ruled in her favour, removing Tom as an executor of the estate. “I don’t accept that the administration of the estate has been or will in the future be carried out properly,” said deputy master John Linwood.

Bo Bruce
Lady Catherine Brudenell-Bruce, otherwise known as Bo Bruce, a singer who was runner-up in The Voice UK - Clara Molden

Now there is another contentious will to deal with. Marshall de Paoli, a former model, briefly dated Frank Sinatra. In 1990 she published a novel, A Rich Alliance. “The privileged existence of the family who live at stately Courtney Park is threatened when one of the brothers who live there marries a New York socialite,” reads the blurb on its Amazon listing. “The Australian business empire of the family is rocked by a murder enquiry and the Countess of Courtney must prepare for a fight.”

As the latest battle begins, with a bit of poetic licence, life may seem to be imitating art. “The rest of the family avoided speaking to me altogether at the wake,” Marshall de Paoli told The Mail on Sunday. “David would come inside to get himself more prosecco but would not speak to me.”

At the time she moved back to London, Marshall de Paoli said she had no interest in wedding her partner, who had already been married three times. “Good Lord, no,” she told The Mail. “I am happy as I am. Everyone thinks I am the Marchioness anyway – so why bother?”

The coroner’s inquiry remains ongoing, but whatever the result, it seems likely the mystery will remain about the window, the wretched marquess, and Honeybun the cat.