Duke of Denver

The title of Duke of Denver was created by Dorothy Sayers for the family of her fictitious protagonist Lord Peter Wimsey. In her stories, Lord Peter was the second of the three children of Mortimer Wimsey, 15th Duke of Denver.

Lord Peter's elder brother, Gerald Wimsey, the 16th Duke, became the chief murder suspect in Sayers' novel Clouds of Witness, in which he was tried by his peers, before the full House of Lords.

Origin of the genealogy

C. W. Scott-Giles, Fitzalan Pursuivant of Arms Extraordinary, discussed Lord Peter's fictitious family with his creator between February 1936 and 1940, and the pair "discovered" many former Wimseys in their correspondence. These were of two types:

  • Most Wimseys were like the 16th Duke, and his father: "Bluff, courageous, physically powerful" but not very intelligent; of hearty and voracious appetites of all kinds. They could be "cruel, yet without malice or ingenuity."
  • The other type is physically slighter, smarter, with great nervous energy, and "lusts no less powerful, but more dangerously controlled to a long-sighted policy." These became churchmen, statesmen, traitors; but sometimes poets and saints. Lord Peter himself is of this type.

A biographical note, supposedly by Lord Peter's uncle Paul Austin Delagardie, says:

"Peter, I am glad to say, takes after his mother and me. True, he is all nerves and nose – but that is better than being all brawn and no brains like his father and brothers [sic], or a mere bundle of emotions, like Gerald's boy, Saint-George. He has at least inherited the Delagardie brains, by way of safeguard to the unfortunate Wimsey temperament."

Sayers published several articles and pamphlets on the Wimseys, including a series of "Wimsey Papers", the wartime letters of the family, which appeared in The Spectator between November 1939 and January 1940.

After Sayers' death, Scott-Giles published an article on Wimsey heraldry (Coat of Arms, January 1959), and a correspondent pointed out a crux: the Wimseys are said to have been of unbroken succession for sixteen generations but Gerald Wimsey is described at his trial as "Duke of Denver, in the Peerage of Great Britain and Ireland", which would mean that the title was created after the Union with Ireland.

In 1977 Scott-Giles published a book, The Wimsey Family, based on his correspondence with Sayers.[1]

Denver's armorial bearings

  • Arms: sable, three mice courant argent
  • Crest: A domestic cat, crouched to spring, proper
  • Supporters: Two Saracens armed, proper
  • Motto: "I Hold by my Whimsy" or "As my Whimsy Takes Me"
  • Badge: a noose


The arms were said to have been altered from 'Sable, three plates argent' when a crusading Wimsey advised his King to watch a besieged city as closely as a cat his mousehole. The family chronicles record this as being Richard the Lion-Hearted at Acre; the arms were actually changed after Edward I's crusade while Prince. (Gerald de Wimsey also fought for Prince Edward against Simon de Montfort at the battle of Evesham and elsewhere.)

Roger de Wimsey, his father, supported de Montfort; ever since, there has been a Wimsey on each side of civil strife, to preserve the family estates and intercede for their lives.

Gerald's grandfather, Peter de Guimsey, had guided King John across the Wash in 1215, and was very assiduous in searching for the King's treasury after it was swept away. He must have been unsuccessful, for none of it was handed in.

The supporters were adopted under Elizabeth; the badge, now unused, goes back to when Peter, Earl of Denver, left Richard III's camp on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth. One of King Richard's supporters sent a hangman's rope after him, so that he could get used to the feel; Earl Peter knotted it and sent it back.

Baron Wimsey (1289)

  • Gerald de Wimsey, 1st Baron Wimsey ( -1300), although he allegedly went with King Richard The Lion Heart on the Third Crusade and took part in the Siege of Acre.,[2] which would set his dates a century earlier. ). The first baron's younger brother was Ralph de Wimsey, student of Roger Bacon, imprisoned for the heresy of calendar reform. The 1st Baron's son was
  • Roger de Wimsey, 2nd Baron Wimsey, who was father of
    • Peter de Wimsey, 3rd Baron Wimsey
    • Ralph de Wimsey, 4th Baron Wimsey
  • Peter de Wimsey, 3rd Baron Wimsey
  • Ralph de Wimsey, 4th Baron Wimsey, br. of preceding.
  • Gerald de Wimsey, 5th Baron Wimsey (1307- ) m. Margaret Bredon, heiress.
  • Ralph de Wimsey, 6th Baron Wimsey ( -1405) Promoted to Earl of Denver shortly after voting for the deposition of Richard II

Earl of Denver (c. 1399)

  • Ralph Wimsey, 1st Earl of Denver ( -1405), father of the next three Earls
    • Gerald Wimsey, 2nd Earl of Denver ( – c. 1425)
    • Ralph Wimsey, 3rd Earl of Denver ( – )
    • Roger Wimsey, 4th Earl of Denver
  • Gerald Wimsey, 2nd Earl of Denver ( – c. 1425), the "Earl of Hell"
  • Ralph Wimsey, 3rd Earl of Denver ( – ) br. of prec., celibate mystic
  • Roger Wimsey, 4th Earl of Denver ( – ) br. of prec.
    • Gerald Wimsey, 5th Earl of Denver ( -1460)
  • Gerald Wimsey, 5th Earl of Denver ( -1460), killed at battle of Wakefield.
    • Peter Wimsey, 6th Earl of Denver ( – 1499) Promoted to Duke "early in Henry VII's reign".
    • Ralph Wimsey, son, joined Bishop John Morton of Ely in an effort at fen drainage.
  • Peter Wimsey, 6th Earl of Denver ( – 1499) Promoted to Duke "early in Henry VII's reign" after Bosworth and a large loan to the Crown.

Duke of Denver (c. 1485)

All daughters of Dukes are said to have been entitled by courtesy to the style of Lady; all younger sons, to the style of Lord. These are omitted here.
  • Peter Wimsey, 1st Duke of Denver ( – 1499), 6th Earl of Denver.
  • Richard Wimsey, 2nd Duke of Denver ( – ), father of several sons
    • Roger Wimsey, 3rd Duke of Denver ( -c.1557 )
    • Henry Wimsey ( – ), 2nd son, "raised the standard for Mary I of England in Norfolk" at her accession. (Busman's Honeymoon)
    • Gervase Wimsey ( -c. 1555 ), 3rd son. Canon of St. Paul's. Protestant martyr.
    • Christian Wimsey, son (- )
  • Roger Wimsey, 3rd Duke of Denver ( -c.1557 )
    • Gerald Wimsey, 4th Duke of Denver ( – )
    • Christian Wimsey, son (- 1570?)
  • Gerald Wimsey, 4th Duke of Denver ( – )
    • Henry Wimsey, 5th Duke of Denver ( – )
    • Roger Wimsey, son: poet, friend of Sir Philip Sidney.
    • Christian Wimsey, son (- 1596?)
    • Lady N Wimsey (Lady Stavesacre), m. Lord Stavesacre, Boxed the ears of Francis Bacon, the Lord Chancellor, when he decided a lawsuit against her.
  • Henry Wimsey, 5th Duke of Denver ( – )
    • Christian Wimsey, 6th Duke of Denver ( -1653 )
  • Christian Wimsey, 6th Duke of Denver ( -1653 )m. twice, 2ndly to the daughter of Lord St. George, last of that name.
    • (by first marriage) Paul Wimsey, 7th Duke of Denver ( -1677 )m. Frances Montagu.
    • (by second marriage) Peter Wimsey, 8th Duke of Denver ( – ); 1st Viscount St. George.
    • Lady Elizabeth Wimsey, daughter, ancestress of Charles, 13th Duke of Denver.
  • Paul Wimsey, 7th Duke of Denver ( -1677 ) m. Frances Montagu.
  • Peter Wimsey, 8th Duke of Denver ( – ), half-br. of prec.; 1st Viscount St. George.
    • George Wimsey, 9th Duke of Denver (c.1662 – ) m. Charlotte Death
    • Lord Richard Wimsey, (1663- ), met John Evelyn c. 1685.
      • Mr. Richard Wimsey, grandson (c.1685- ), whose son
        • Christian Wimsey, Major in the French army in 1751, whose son
          • Thomas Wimsey, was father of
            • Colonel George Wimsey ( – 1815 Waterloo), "fourth cousin" of the 12th Duke and his heir presumptive after the death of his brother Lord Mortimer Wimsey. His daughter
              • Grace Wimsey, m. her distant cousin Charles Wimsey, 13th Duke of Denver.
    • Walter Wimsey, youngest son; Jacobite.
      • James Wimsey, grandson, Jacobite, plotted to disrupt George II's coronation.
  • George Wimsey, 9th Duke of Denver (c.1662 – ) m. Charlotte Death
    • Thomas George Churchill Wimsey, 10th Duke of Denver (1703 – )
    • Lord Paul Wimsey, son, bird-watcher.
  • Thomas George Churchill Wimsey, 10th Duke of Denver (1703 – ), who initially disinherited his son for an imprudent marriage.
    • George Augustus Wimsey, 11th Duke of Denver (c.1728 – ) m. Elizabeth ? surname unattested, as Lord St. George.
    • Lady Henrietta Wimsey, older daughter,
    • Lady Caroline Wimsey, younger daughter.
  • George Augustus Wimsey, 11th Duke of Denver (c.1728 – ) m. Elizabeth ? surname unattested.
    • William Stanhope Wimsey, 12th Duke of Denver (1753–1817)
    • Lady Elizabeth Wimsey, (1751–1815), daughter
    • Mortimer Wimsey (1758–1815), the "Hermit of the Wash"
  • William Stanhope Wimsey, 12th Duke of Denver (1753–1817). He died without children; at his death, his higher titles became extinct, the Barony of Wimsey fell into abeyance. He however conveyed his estates to his kinsman Charles Wimsey, 13th Duke of Denver, a descendant of the Barons Denver.

Second creation (1820)

  • Charles Wimsey, styled 13th Duke of Denver,[3] actually 1st Duke of Denver of the 2nd creation ( – ) m. Grace Wimsey.
    • George Bredon Wimsey, styled 14th Duke of Denver, actually 2nd Duke of Denver ( – )
  • George Bredon Wimsey, styled 14th Duke of Denver, actually 2nd Duke of Denver ( – ) m. Mary Death.
    • Mortimer Gerald Bredon Wimsey, 15th Duke of Denver (1865–1911)
  • Mortimer Gerald Bredon Wimsey, styled 15th Duke of Denver, actually 3rd Duke of Denver (1865–1911 ) m. Honoria Lucasta Delagardie.
    • Gerald Christian Wimsey, 16th Duke of Denver, 4th Duke of Denver, but styled 16th Duke of Denver (c. 1888 – ? ) m. his second cousin Helen Wimsey.
      • Gerald Wimsey, styled Viscount St. George, only son. d. unm. c. 1943 (though is said to have died during the Battle of Britain in The Attenbury Emeralds).
      • Lady Winifred Wimsey, daughter.
    • Lord Peter Wimsey, second son (1890 – fl. 1943) m. Harriet Vane, and had five children, including at least three sons, Bredon Delagardie Peter Wimsey (born October 1936), Roger Wimsey (born 1938) and Paul Wimsey (born 1940). The dukedom eventually devolved upon this line after the death of the 16th Duke.
    • Lady Mary Wimsey, daughter, m. Charles Parker, and had issue one son Charles Peter "Peterkin" Parker, and one daughter, Mary Lucasta Parker. A third child, Harriet Parker, has been added by A Presumption in Death, the continuation of the series by Jill Paton Walsh, where the older children are known by the nicknames "Charlie" and "Polly."

Abeyance and succession

When Edward I of England summoned his good servant Gerald de Wimsey to Parliament, the king created a barony by writ: an hereditary title, and an hereditary right to be summoned to Parliament. It is inherited according to strict customary law: If a Baron Wimsey leaves sons, the eldest succeeds him; if he leaves an only daughter, she succeeds him (compare Baron Noel). If he dies without descendants, the title goes to the children of the previous Lord Wimsey by the same rules; this usually means his next eldest brother succeeds.

If he leaves no sons, but several daughters, the rules are different: The title is left in abeyance between the daughters, and no-one succeeds. When all but one of the daughters die without offspring, or the offspring of all but one of them die out, the remaining daughter or her heir automatically succeed, as if she had been an only daughter all along. (The Crown may, of its grace, choose one of the heirs involved to succeed before all but one of them die out. It may choose the heir of a younger daughter over the older, and has done so.)

(Cokayne's Complete Peerage contains evidence that the 13th century did things differently; Edward I summoned many men to Parliament once, without their being summoned, or their sons, ever again. But this did not happen to the Wimseys.)

The other Wimsey titles were granted by letters patent, which specified inheritance by heirs male: no daughters could succeed, and no-one could succeed through descent from a daughter.

The second creation

The 12th Duke of Denver died in 1817 without children, or siblings, and with him the male line from the first Earl of Denver died out. As a result, his higher titles became extinct; and the Barony of Wimsey went into abeyance between his aunts, as daughters of the 10th Duke.

If Colonel George Wimsey had not died at the Battle of Waterloo, he would have succeeded, as the only other descendant in the male line of the Earls and Dukes of Denver. (Younger Wimsey sons led adventurous lives; and the practice of having one Wimsey on each side of a civil war kept the property together, but took a high toll in deaths, attainders, and executions.) Colonel Wimsey left an only daughter, Grace, who married a Charles Wimsey from another branch of the family; he was descended from the Barons Wimsey, and also from a daughter of the 6th Duke.

Neither of them inherited any titles, but the 12th Duke arranged for them to inherit the lands. In recognition of this, and the multiple family connexion, Charles Wimsey was created, in 1820, Viscount St. George, Earl and Duke of Denver. Although strictly first Duke of the new creation, he is almost always called (as in the case of Lord De La Warr) 13th Duke of Denver, since the title was recreated promptly in the same family.

The 13th Duke

Charles Wimsey, 13th Duke of Denver, was the son of Sir Bredon Wimsey, a cadet of the Wimseys, to whom the 12th Duke transferred the Wimsey properties (the entails lapsed at his death). Sir Bredon was descended from John Wimsey, Colonel in the Parliamentary armies, during the English Civil War; who descended in turn from a brother of the first Earl. Matthew Wimsey, Lord Peter's third cousin, the family archivist, would himself descend from a younger son of this Sir Bredon, and thus have no claim on any of the family titles.

Colonel Wimsey was assigned to watch over Duke's Denver and Bredon Hall, in the interests of the Commonwealth of England, while the seventh Duke was in exile as a Royalist after the Battle of Worcester. The Colonel did his duty to his government and his family. The Wimsey estates survived the war intact, and Colonel Wimsey's small force did its best to prevent Bredon Hall being used for Royalist intrigue.

The Duke, however, managed to get into the broad Wimsey lands at night, dressed as "Captain Brown", and his efforts helped to persuade the Earl of Manchester to support the Restoration of Charles II. After the Restoration, "Captain Brown" invited Colonel Wimsey to visit Bredon Hall again, and in short order, Colonel John Wimsey married the Duke's sister, Lady Elizabeth Wimsey.

The descent from the Colonel is not specified; but the Wimsey papers tell us that Captain Henry Wimsey, RN, was a nephew of the 7th Duke, whom his uncle had taken sailing in the yacht which had been used by Captain Brown. He lived to a ripe old age, and his son and grandson were admirals; his sea stories may have inspired Horatio Nelson. He is presumably the younger son of Colonel John and Lady Elizabeth: if the 6th Duke had been his paternal grandfather, his descendants would have had to be extinct by 1817.

His Duchess

Lady Grace Wimsey was, as said, the daughter of

  • Colonel George Wimsey ( – 1815), "fourth cousin" of the 12th Duke. son of
  • Thomas Wimsey, son of
  • Christian Wimsey, Major in the French army in 1751, son of
  • Mr. Richard Wimsey.

This Richard Wimsey was a "much older first cousin" of the 10th Duke (which implies that fourth cousin above = "third cousin once removed", as it can), who was also the Duke's next heir after his only son. This makes it likely, but not certain, that he was born about 1685, and his father was the Lord Richard Wimsey who met Evelyn.

Gerald Christian Wimsey, 16th Duke of Denver

Gerald Christian Wimsey, 16th Duke of Denver, was elder brother of Lord Peter Wimsey. He appeared most notably as chief murder suspect in the novel Clouds of Witness, where he is tried in the House of Lords but eventually acquitted through his brother's efforts.

According to the novel The Attenbury Emeralds, he died 1951 from a heart attack during a fire at Duke's Denver. As his son, the Viscount St George (a fighter pilot) did not survive the Second World War, his brother Peter inherits the title.

Peter Death Bredon Wimsey, 17th Duke of Denver

The former Lord Peter Wimsey accepted the title rather reluctantly. However, out of a sense of duty, he left his former life in London behind, moving to Duke's Denver, rebuilding the estate, and picking up life as a landowner. See also the novel The Late Scholar.

Lord Christian Wimsey

There were said to have been three Elizabethans called Lord Christian Wimsey. Lord Peter's mother wrote to him, in the "Wimsey Letters":

...the third Lord Christian, for example, who could write four languages at eleven, left Oxford at fifteen, married at sixteen, had two wives and twelve children by the time he was thirty (two lots of twins, certainly, but it's all experience) besides producing a book of elegies and a learned exhibition [Qy: disquisition ? D.L.S.] on Leviathans, and he would have done a great deal more, I dare say, if he hadn't unfortunately been killed by savages on Drake's first voyage into the Indies – I sometimes feel that our young people don't get enough out of life these days.

Scott-Giles suggested that the Dowager Duchess had perhaps confounded the accomplishments of different Lords Christian.


  1. Scott-Giles, Charles Wilfrid (1977). The Wimsey Family: A Fragmentary History compiled from correspondence with Dorothy L. Sayers. London: Gollancz. ISBN 0-575-02388-0.
  2. Strong Poison, Ch. XXI
  3. Although the Earldom de la Warr is cited as the precedent, although a better precedent would be the very real Dukedom of Norfolk, created by Richard III for John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk, co-heir of the Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk, themselves heirs of the Plantagenet earls and Countess of Norfolk. Although the 1st Duke was killed fighting for Richard III at Bosworth (unlike the fictional 1st Duke of Denver), his heirs retained the dukedom. At least two dukes were attainted and the dukedom itself under attainder for a period, but in 1660, the dukedom was restored by Act of Parliament with the same precedence as if it had never been attainted. Otherwise, the Dukes of Norfolk would only have precedence from the 1660 Act of Parliament. The rather less ancestrally distinguished Dukes of Somerset were similarly regranted a 16th-century dukedom, originally created for a maternal uncle of Edward VI of England, only legitimate son of Henry VIII. The 1st Duke was attainted, but his descendants enjoy the precedence from his creation.
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