LONDON – Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the sixth Duke of Westminster – a friend of Britain’s royal family and one of the country’s wealthiest landowners – has died at 64.
The Grosvenor Estate said the duke died Tuesday at a hospital in Preston, in northwest England, after suddenly becoming ill at his vast Abbeystead Estate nearby.
His 25-year-old son Hugh Grosvenor – a godfather to young royal Prince George – will inherit the title and the Grosvenor Estate, which owns 300 acres (121 hectares) in some of London’s wealthiest areas.
The Grosvenor family traces its roots back to the Norman invasion of England in 1066.
The duke’s ancestor, Sir Thomas Grosvenor, married heiress Mary Davies and acquired what was then marshland in 1677. Over the generations, the family developed the land into two of London’s most affluent neighbourhoods, Mayfair and Belgravia.
The family’s property portfolio includes land across Britain, as well as housing, office and retail space around the world.
For years, the Sunday Times Rich List ranked Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor as Britain’s wealthiest man, though in recent years he lost the crown to some of the world’s super-rich who based themselves in the U.K. This year the newspaper estimated the duke’s wealth at 9.35 billion pounds ($12 billion).
Cavendish inherited his title, and the family business, when his father died in 1979. In the late 1990s he had a nervous breakdown, later citing the pressures of business and public appearances.
“Given the choice, I would rather not have been born wealthy, but I never think of giving it up,” he told The Independent newspaper in 1992.
He and his aristocratic family are closely tied to British royalty. Hugh Grosvenor, who becomes the 7th duke, is one of seven godparents to Prince George, son of Prince William and his wife Kate.
Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II was sending a message of condolence to the duke’s family. Prince Charles’ office said he and his wife Camilla were “deeply shocked and greatly saddened” by his death.
The duke’s estate said the family had asked “for privacy and understanding at this very difficult time.”
The duke is survived by his wife Natalia, his son and three daughters.