Virginia Marchioness of Bath, widow of the 6th Marquess, and for 37
years chatelaine of Longleat - one of the great historic piles of
England - died at her home, 18 September, 2003. She was in her 80s.
Her second husband - the eccentric Henry Thynne, 6th Marquess of Bath
- was the first owner of a stately home in Britain to exploit fully
its commercial potential by opening it to fee-paying members of the
public in 1949.
Lord & Lady Bath also launched Britain's first "safari park" in 1966
when they converted 25 acres of Longleat park into a game reserve
featuring 12 lions, later to be joined by rhinos, giraffes,
chimpanzees and other assorted wild animals.
The Marchioness was born Virginia Penelope Parsons, the only daughter
(with two brothers) of Alan Leonard Romaine Parsons, a drama critic,
of The Baas, Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, by his wife, the great
actress, Viola Tree, daughter of the actor/manager Sir Herbert
Virginia's mother was a leading actress on the stage in the early
years of the 20th century - her repertoire ranged from Shakespeare, to
opera, comedy, variety & the Ziegfeld Follies.
Virginia's father died in 1933, and her mother died in 1938, just days
before her daughter was to marry. She married firstly, in November,
1938, as his second wife, a former BBC announcer, the Hon David
Tennant, brother of the 2nd Lord Glennconner. David Tennant's first
spouse had been the comedy actress Hermione Baddeley.
The marriage to Tennant, which was dissolved in 1953, produced two
daughters, Annabel Skye (Georgia) (in 1941) and Josie (who
relinquished the forenames of Sabrina and Viola) (born in 1943).
On 15 July, 1953, she married, as his second wife, Henry Frederick
Thynne, 6th Marquess of Bath. This marriage was surrounded in
controversy. Lord Bath had married firstly, in 1927, the Hon Daphne
Vivian, daughter of the 4th Lord Vivian, by whom he had three sons and
a daughter. In 1953 when the marriage was dissolved it became known
that the couple had married secretly (under assumed names) a year
before their public nuptials and it took an Appeal Court ruling in
1955 to establish that their divorce decree should apply to both
A daughter - Lady Silvy Cerne Thynne - was born in 1958 to Lady Bath's
The Marchioness was chatelaine of Longleat - built between 1568 and
1580 for Sir John Thynne, her husband's ancestor, and Elizabeth I
stayed there. It was a mansion of 100 rooms, 60 of which were bedrooms
but with only eight bathrooms.
Lady Bath's parents-in-law had been the last members of the family to
live fully in the house, necessitating the employment of 40 servants
to run it.
Longleat possessed one of the world's finest private libraries
(although Lord Bath adroitly let it be reported that he had never read
any of the contents).
Her husband was the epitome of a PG Wodehouse peer, a languid, rangy
figure, 6ft 2ins tall, who never used his seat in the Lords, but was
frequently interviewed by the news media in the 60s and 70s and
airing, in rapid staccato phrases, provocative views with apparent
naivity including the opninion that Hitler was "one helluva man."
In 1967 the Baths were reported in the tabloid press to have stunned
Whitehall by naming five chimpanzees Harold, George, Jim, Barbara and
Edward, after the prime minister, three cabinet ministers and the
leader of the opposition.
In latter years the Marquess and Marchioness lived at Job's Mill,
Warminster, close to the Big House. Her husband died there on 30 June,
Lady Bath is survived by her three daughters; grandchildren, and