In the latest twist to a decades-long family feud, Simon Howard and his wife Rebecca have been forced out of Castle Howard, the Yorkshire stately home which was the setting for the TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, in a drawing room coup masterminded by Simon’s elder brother Nicholas and his wife, the publisher Victoria Barnsley.
Sources tell the Royalist that Simon and Becci (nee Sief) have conceded defeat in the battle, and have now actually moved out of the wing of the splendid 18th century pile that they have lived in together with their twins since they married in 2001.
“Its just incredibly sad,” a source says. “They tried so hard to build bridges with Nick and Victoria but it just hasn’t worked out.”
Simon, 58, has lived at the 145-room mansion all his life, although he is in fact the third son of the late Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, who died in 1984.
Simon did not expect to inherit, and in a way he never really did. Although his father deemed him a more suitable custodian than his older brother, for tax reasons the house is registered as a company. Simon and Nicholas are co-directors of Castle Howard Ltd.
They never got on. Nicholas has now been able to get rid of Simon and Becci because Castle Howard is controlled by a trust, and Becci is not on the board but Victoria is.
According to a report in the Daily Mail, friends of Simon say he was approached by Nicholas and Victoria in September and asked to step down as chairman of the board that runs Castle Howard, or face being outvoted by the directors of the private company.
He was subsequently asked to move out and faced with the prospect of a long family battle, accepted defeat and went.
Nicholas and Victoria are now planning to move in.
The irony is that under Simon and Becci’s stewardship Castle Howard has become a major tourist attraction, drawing in over a quarter of a million paying guests per year.
The coup came just months after Simon revealed he had beaten throat cancer.
Simon said in an article that a lump was removed from his throat and it was found to have cancerous cells, but he has recently completed a precautionary seven-week course of radiation therapy and is 'in the clear.'
Castle Howard, which was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh and built between 1699 and 1712, boasts a magnificent art collection includes ancient sculptures, Old Masters and works by Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough.
A statement issued by Castle Howard today said: "After a newspaper piece today, all the family would like to say is that they are having discussions about current and future plans for Castle Howard and that these discussions are ongoing."