David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty


David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty : biography

17 January 1871 – 11 March 1936


Beatty had returned from leave after the Sudan campaign, but finding life in Ireland at the family home not to his taste, stayed instead with his brother at Newmarket. The location allowed him good hunting, and access to aristocratic houses where his recent heroic reputation from the campaign made him an honoured guest. Out hunting one day he chanced to meet Ethel Tree, daughter of Chicago department store founder Marshall Field. Beatty was immediately taken with her, for her good looks and her ability to hunt. The immediate difficulty with the match was that Ethel was married already to Arthur Tree, with a son, Ronald.Beatty (1980), p.31-35

After the Boxer Campaign, the couple had at first exchanged letters, which Beatty signed ‘Jack’, as Ethel was still a married woman and discretion was advised. Ethel became involved with another man and the exchange of letters ceased but on Beatty’s return she sent him a telegram and letter inviting him to resume their friendship. Beatty did not respond until after surgery on his arm in September 1900 when he wrote, I landed from China with my heart full of rage, and swore I did not care if I ever saw you again, or if I were killed or not. And now I have arrived with the firm determination not to see you at all in my own mind… Unfortunately I shall go on loving you to the bitter end… To me always a Queen, if not always mine, Good-bye.Beatty (1980), p.38

Despite this estrangement, the couple again met foxhunting and resumed a discreet relationship. Marshall Field was at first unimpressed by the impecunious Beatty as a future son-in-law, but was persuaded by his heroic reputation, impressive record of promotion and future prospects. There was the possibility that Field might revoke the settlement he had made on his daughter at the time of her first marriage and the new couple would have no means of support. Beatty’s father was also unhappy about the match, fearing a repeat of the difficulties he had faced with his own relationship with a married woman, but with the added risk of publicity because both Beatty and Ethel were famous and the risk that Beatty’s illegitimacy might be exposed. Beatty went so far as to consult a fortune teller, Mrs. Roberts, who predicted a fine outcome to the match. Ethel wrote to Arthur, telling him that it was her firm intention never to live with him again as his wife, though not naming any particular person or reason. Arthur agreed to cooperate, and filed for divorce in America on the grounds of desertion, which was granted 9 May 1901. Beatty and Ethel married on 22 May 1901 at the registry office, St. George’s, Hannover Square, London with no family attending. Although Arthur Tree was himself from a wealthy American family, he now had to adjust to reduced circumstances without Ethel’s support. He elected to remain in Britain and their son Ronald remained with him. Ronald and his mother were never reconciled from his perception that she had deserted his father, but he visited in later life and became friendly with Beatty. Ronald later became a member of parliament and, during World War II became a link between the British and United States governments, lending his country house, Ditchley Park near Oxford, to Winston Churchill for weekend visits when the official residences were considered unsafe. Beatty and Ethel set up home at Hanover Lodge in Regent’s Park, London.Beatty (1980), p.38-44

The couple had two sons, David Field Beatty, 2nd Earl Beatty (1905–1972) born at the Capua Palace in Malta, and the Hon. Peter Randolph Louis Beatty (1910–1949). His marriage to a very wealthy heiress allowed Beatty an independence that most other officers lacked. She is reputed to have commented after he was threatened with disciplinary action following the straining of his ship’s engines, "What? Court-martial my David? I’ll buy them a new ship."Massie, p.89

Family and childhood

Beatty was born at Howbeck Lodge in the parish of Stapeley, Cheshire, on 17 January 1871.Roskill, p. 20 He was the second son of five children born to Captain David Longfield Beatty and Katherine (or Katrine) Edith Beatty (née Sadleir), both from Ireland: David Longfield had been an officer in the Fourth Hussars where he formed a relationship with Katrine, the wife of another officer.Heathcote, p. 23