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Frances Ellen Work: The New York roots of Prince Harry

Meghan Markle will be far from the first American connection to the royal family when she marries Prince Harry. 

But while the focus in the past has been on the infamous Wallis Simpson and Koo Stark – recently dubbed the “Meghan Markle of the 1980s” – there was another woman from across the Atlantic who is part of Harry’s family tree.

Frances Ellen Work – known as Fannie – is the prince’s great-great grandmother. Born in New York City in 1857, she was the daughter of Frank Work, a self-made man who left a $15,000,000 fortune when he died.

A prominent stockbroker, Frank Work’s mother-in-law, Ellen Strong, had connections with eight American Presidents, as well as with such diverse figures as Humphrey Bogart, General Patton and Orson Welles.

Fannie was “considered a great beauty in her youth”, according to her obituary in The New York Times, and “was for more than sixty years a well-known figure in international social circles.”

In 1880, Miss Work married James Boothby Burke Roche, son of Irish politician Edmund Burke Roche, 1st Baron Fermoy. 

Jim, as Mr Roche was known, was not wealthy and, when asked what he did for a living, would have probably said “a bit of this, a bit of that”. 

The wedding of Prince Charles and Diana, who was the great granddaughter of Frances Ellen Work


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Getty

According to the Times, he had been a “ranchman in the west, a revolutionist in South America, a gold miner in Alaska, an explorer in Patagonia, and a blockade runner during the Russo-Japanese war”. 

“He had led a life far beyond what he could actually afford,” writes writes Anne de Courcy in The Husband Hunters.

Miss Work’s father, who took a dim view of both the British and titles, did not approve of the marriage and duly cut her from his will.

The couple moved to Ireland, where Fannie gave birth to four children – one of whom died as an infant. 

Sadly, they did not live happily ever after. Fannie returned to America, where she obtained a divorce in a New York court in 1891 and was granted custody of their children. 

The divorce was not recognised outside of America, however. According to the The Times, Mr Burke Roche sued “Burke’s Peerage, a British Who’s Who of the nobility, for libel for having described him as having been divorced.”

Fannie went on to secretly marry a Hungarian called Aurel Batonyi in 1905 in New York. Again, the marriage lasted only a few years and they got divorced, after which she once again used the name of Mrs Burke Roche.

Frank Work reinstated her in his will, on condition that she never returned to Europe. He also stated that her sons would only inherit if they became American citizens and remained for the rest of their lives in the United States.

Once he died in 1911, however, these provisions were nullified and one of her sons, Edmund Maurice Burke Roche, who who succeeded his father as the 4th Lord Fermoy in 1920, returned to England with a considerable fortune.

Fannie divided her time between the US and Europe, where she “entertained extensively” in Paris. She died in 1947 at her home in New York City.

As for Edmund Roche, he became Conservative MP for King’s Lynn, and a close friend of the Duke of York, the future George VI. In 1931 he married Ruth Gill, a pianist from an Aberdeenshire family.

The couple went to have two girls and a boy: their second daughter was Frances Ruth Burke Roche. “I’ve got no English blood,” Frances would say, according to a Daily Telegraph obituary. “I’m a quarter American, a quarter Irish and half Scottish.” 

In 1953,  aged 17, Frances became engaged to Johnnie Althorp, 12 years her senior and heir to the Spencer earldom. The marriage of Johnnie Althorp and Frances Roche, celebrated in Westminster Abbey on June 1 1954, was the social event of the year, attended by the Queen, Prince Philip, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.

Viscount Althorp and his bride Frances Roche at their wedding at Westminster Abbey

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PA

After giving birth to two girls and then a boy (who survived only a few hours) they had a third daughter in on July 1, 1961: Diana Frances.  

Frances went on to marry Peter Shand Kydd in 1969 but still attended the wedding of Diana to Charles on July 29 1981.

 Diana, Princess of Wales with her son Prince Harry

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PA

Diana credited her mother for ability to cope in the constant spotlight. “I’ve got what my mother has got,” she would say. “However bloody you are feeling, you can put on the most amazing show of happiness. My mother is an expert at that and I’ve picked it up. It kept the wolves from the door.”

Before the marriage crumbled, Diana gave birth to William in 1982 and, two years later, Harry. 

The Queen’s approval of Harry’s engagement to Ms Markle is a sign of how far British social attitudes have progressed in recent decades.

The Duke of Windsor and Mrs Wallis Simpson

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Famously, Harry’s great-great-uncle Edward VIII set off a constitutional crisis in 1936 by insisting on marrying twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson to the horror of the British establishment, the government and the Church of England, which the monarch nominally heads.

It was dubbed “the greatest love story of the 20th century” and Edward abdicated after just 11 months on the throne and ended up living in France, meaning Elizabeth’s father George VI unexpectedly became king.

The American connection does not stop there.  

Britain’s Prince Andrew chats to his old flame, American photographer and former actress Koo Stark

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AP

The Duke of York famously dated Ms Stark, an American, in the early 80s. The romance, which caused a media storm and didn’t last, was compared to Harry’s relationship with Ms Markle by the New York Post. 

And Peter Phillips, another of the Queen’s grandsons, also married someone from North America. The son of the Princess Royal  married Autumn Kelly, a Canadian, in 2008. 

Article Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/28/frances-ellen-work-new-york-roots-prince-harry/

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