Aristocrat starved herself of food and drink before dying in her sleep, inquest hears

Lady Fiona Montagu of Beaulieu and her family (PA)
Lady Fiona Montagu of Beaulieu and her family (PA)

Aristocrat Lady Fiona Montagu of Beaulieu starved herself of food and drink before dying in her sleep after deciding “her life should end”, an inquest has heard.

The 79-year-old was struggling with declining health and bouts of loss of vision when she took the decision to die at her £2.5 million apartment in Marylebone.

Westminster coroner’s court heard her “greatest fear” was losing her independence, and she had taken an overdose of prescription drugs a month before her death in an apparent suicide attempt.

Her son Jonathan told the inquest his mother had an “unwavering optimism about life”, but had been “really rattled” by a temporary bout of blindness.

“One of her greatest fears was losing her independence”, he said.

“I believe she lived a very full life on her own terms and with her own sense of values.

“Whatever plane she has now passed to, I’m convinced her energy and legacy lives on.”

Lady Fiona’s private Harley Street GP, Dr Marcus Marquardt, treated her after the drug overdose in late April, and said she admitted it was an attempt to take her own life.

“She told me she had lived a fulfilling life and that it had always been important for her to be in control of her affairs”, he said, in a statement read to the court.

“She felt her health was generally declining, and she is losing the will to live.

“She said a perceived sudden worsening of her eyesight triggered her decision to take an overdose.”

He described Lady Fiona as “smiling and joking” during their consultation, but he was later informed she “felt that her life should end”.

“She decided she wanted to die voluntarily, stopping eating and drinking”, he revealed.

Born in Zimbabwe – then Southern Rhodesia - in 1943, she moved to the UK in the 1960s and pursued a career in film and television production.

She wed Edward, 3rd Lord Montagu in 1974 and they lived together at his family seat, Palace House on the 9,000-acre Beaulieu estate in Hampshire.

Together the couple, who shared a love of the music of Elvis and Johnny Cash, welcomed 400,000 visitors a year to the estate as it became a major tourist attraction including the National Motor Museum.

But Lady Fiona’s son said the role took a toll on his mother’s “delicate” health, as she effectively “lived above the shop” and could rarely take a day off.

She cared for her husband prior to his death from pneumonia in 2015, and saw him robbed of his own independence due to ill health.

She then decided to move to London, and spoke at the time of suffering a series of nervous breakdowns during her time at Palace House and looking forward to a quieter life.

Friends reportedly joked that she was “the only woman who goes to London to get away from it all”, and Lady Fiona turned to alternative therapies and the study of metaphysics.

She was a keen philanthropist and spent decades supporting and fundraising for the Countryside Education Trust, and was also a co-founder of the Club of Budapest, an international organisation dedicated to promoting peace and sustainability around the globe.

The inquest heard she had live-in carers at her London apartment in her final days.

One of the carers noticed Lady Fiona was not breathing normally as she lay in bed on May 14, after a week of not eating or drinking and being “bed-bound”.

She had signed a “do not resuscitate” notice, and left instructions for her not to receive any medical care.

A post mortem showed she was suffering from pneumonia and also had high levels of painkillers in her system.

Coroner Jean Harkin recorded a verdict that Lady Fiona died of natural causes, and added: “She was a remarkable woman.”

She is survived by her son Jonathan as well as two stepchildren, Ralph, 4th Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, and Mary Montagu-Scott.