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Mathilda, Duchess of Argyll

Mathilda, Duchess of Argyll; born August 20, 1925; died in Paris, June 5, 1997

ONE of the problems with marrying a duke who has been married several times is that there are often other duchesses around.

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In the case of the last duchess of the 11th Duke of Argyll, much of her life was spent in the shadow of Margaret Whigham, her predecessor. Considered to be one of the great style-setters of her generation, Margaret, the Duchess of Argyll's scandalous and dramatically over-publicised divorce from the Duke in the late 1950s served only to add to her fame. Even so, Mathilda, Duchess of Argyll, who died in Paris a week ago, brought great dignity to the role of chatelaine of Inveraray Castle, one of Scotland's great houses. Intellectual by inclination, she liked to entertain, but always preferred to keep a low profile and never sought out publicity. Mathilda Coster Mortimer was born on August 20, 1925 in Geneva. Her mother, Tilly Coster, had married Stanley Mortimer, an American land-owner from Lichfield, Connecticut. However, Mathilda was brought up by her grandparents in France, later going to the US to study philosophy at Harvard. In 1948, she married Clemens Heller, a professor of human sciences at Paris University. They had three sons, but pressures on the marriage led to divorce in 1961. Thereafter, a chance meeting in Scotland with the recently divorced Duke of Argyll led to romance. The Duke, who was considerably older, had been a friend of her mother, and had known her for most of her life. They were married at Horsham Registry Office in 1963. Following two miscarriages, a daughter, Elspeth, was born in 1967, but tragically died within a few days - a terrible blow to both the Duke and Duchess. And it was shortly afterwards that the Duke decided to make over his Scottish estates to his son, the Marquis of Lorne. Death duties from a previous generation had almost bankrupted the Duke and he naturally wanted to protect the Marquis from a similar predicament. Unfortunately, he was to die in 1973, falling short of the seven-year tax exemption. During the 1960s Mathilda Argyll wrote a series of articles on political philosophy, several of which were published. In 1969, the Duke and Duchess moved to live in France, dividing their time between the Duchess's apartment in the rue de Tournon in Paris, and a house at Vezelay, in the Yonne district. After the Duke's death, the Duchess rented a wing of Lunga Tower at Ardfern, home of Colin Lindsay Macdougall. This west coast retreat provided her with sufficient inspiration to write Orian - A Philosophical Journey, a novel inspired by the death of her youngest son and which she published under the initials M.M. Her other interest was photography, which soon became more than a hobby, and she became sufficiently competent to hold an exhibition of her work at the Demarco Gallery in Edinburgh. A fluent French and German speaker, the Duchess was most at home with academics and intellectuals. When younger, she liked to drive and to be driven in fast cars, but latterly preferred to stay at home to read and write. Only three years ago, she signed up for the science foundation course at the Open University. Mathilda Argyll was buried on Wednesday at Vezelay. She will be remembered as a quiet duchess, but one with an independent mind who brought peace and contentment to the remaining years of her late husband.

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