Monday, April 25, 2011

The Royal Wedding’s American Connection

Because of a daughter's unfortunate marriage, wealthy New Yorker Frank Work detested the British aristocracy. His estate plan showed it.

Good thing his great-great-great grandson is marrying a commoner.

Raised in Ohio by a single mom, Frank Work sought his fortune as a dry goods merchant in New York. His true passion was trotters. (Think drag racing for gentlemen.) When the Panic of 1873 threatened Work's business, he sought a bail-out from a racing buddy, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. The Commodore not only obliged but also set him up as a stock trader. Work got rich, and Vanderbilt got richer.

Work's pile of New Money made his daughter Frances a "dollar princess" - a prize catch for a needy Brit of noble birth. Sure enough, in 1885 Frances married the younger brother of the 2rd Baron Fermoy. Six years later, perhaps homesick for her accustomed standard of living., she ditched her husband and returned to the States with her two daughters and twin sons.

Frank Work continued his long and active life"as well known for his love of good horses as for his operations in Wall Street," according to this 1890 item($) in the NY Times archive. His twin grandsons grew up and went to Harvard. A new century dawned, and Work learned to drive a motorcar.

In March, 1911, at age 92, Frank Work died, leaving a $15 million estate (hundreds of millions in today's paper money) and a will bristling with anti-British codicils. The twins, for example, were disinherited unless they became U.S. citizens and changed their surname to Work.

Seeing no point in honoring Work's attempt to lock the stable door long after the horse had bolted, his beneficiaries agreed to ignore his will. The court approved a settlement that divided his fortune more fairly.

Fast forward to 1920: The 2nd Baron Fermoy died. The twins' father became the 3rd Baron Fermoy but himself died months later. Maurice, the senior twin, returned to the British Isles as the 4th Baron, married and raised a family. One of his daughters, named Frances after her grandmother, married a Spencer in Westminster Abbey, where in 1981 her daughter Diana married Charles, Prince of Wales.

What would Frank Work have thought of his royal great-great-great grandson? We'll never know. Perhaps William's polo playing would have reduced the stigma of being a Prince.

Surely one part of Friday's festivities would have met with Work's approval: the newlyweds are to return to the palace, escorted by the Household Cavalry, by horse and carriage.

From The New York Times, 1896, when Work was in his late 70s.

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