THE Duchess of Northumberland has made history by becoming the first woman to be given a centuries-old role as the county’s official representative of the Crown.
The Duchess, Jane Percy, has been appointed by the Queen as the new Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland, a ceremonial post which dates back to the reign of King Henry VIII.
She succeeds Sir John Riddell, who gave up the post when he reached his 75th birthday in January, after serving as Lord Lieutenant for almost a decade.
The Duchess, who created the Alnwick Garden tourist attraction next to her family’s ancestral home at Alnwick Castle, was given the role on the recommendation of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who consulted the Minister for the North East Nick Brown.
Her appointment continues a long and proud association between the Percy family and the post of the county’s Lord Lieutenant.
The Duchess’s father-in-law Hugh Percy, the 10th Duke of Northumberland, held the position from 1956 to 1984, before he was succeeded by Viscount Matthew Ridley of Blagdon, who served until 2000. Eleven other members of the Percy family have held the post since the late 1400s.
The official Downing Street announcement says the Duchess is well known in the county for a wide range of activities and interests, is involved with many charities supporting the elderly and disabled and takes a great interest in Northumberland and its people.
The Duchess, who is married to Ralph, Duke of Northumberland and has two sons and two daughters, is currently abroad and was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Last night Sir John Riddell, who lives at Hepple near Rothbury, said: “The Duchess is the first woman who has ever been Lord Lieutenant of the county and I believe she will make a marvellous job of it.
“It is not very usual for a Duchess to be appointed as a Lord Lieutenant, but you can’t think of many people who have done more for the county of Northumberland.
“She is heavily involved with the voluntary sector and I think she will be more successful than me in getting the Lord Lieutenancy a bit more recognition in the south-east of the county.
“I very much enjoyed my time in the role and got to know Northumberland much better, after spending a lot of time in London. In my opinion the real mission of Lord Lieutenants in the 21st Century is to cherish, foster and encourage voluntary and welfare organisations.”
There are 98 Lord Lieutenants, who are the official representatives of the Crown in the counties of the UK, stretching from Shetland to Cornwall. They were first appointed in Henry VIII’s reign to take over the military duties of the High Sheriffs and control the armed forces of the Crown. Today they are responsible for the organisation of all official Royal visits to their counties, and escort the Royal visitors around various locations. They also carry out other duties such as the presentation of decorations and Queen’s awards. Female Lord Lieutenants wear a special brooch to indicate their office.