Ernst von Roretz

Why might there be a link between Ludwig Von Beethoven (1770 – 1827) and West Bilney ??

You might well ask! .... Well, it goes like this…….....

An Austrian Countess, Giulietta Guicciondi (1784 – 1856) was a pupil of Beethoven; he dedicated his Sonata Op. 27 no. 2 (the Moonlight Sonata) to her after he fell in love with her. It is certain that he proposed marriage to her, though her parents refused to allow it.

The Countess later married Count Wenzel Robert Gallenberg, a composer of ballet music, on 3 November 1803.

However, The Countess took a lover and bore several children by him.

A direct descendant is Lady Pia Chelwood, the daughter of Ernst Von Roretz. She is the widow of Lord Chelwood – previously known as Tufton Beamish who was an MP and later Knighted. The couple had met in Rhodesia, some 40 years before marrying.

The Von Roretz family purchased Park Farm around 1939. Ernst Ricard von Roretz is buried in the St Cecilia Churchyard.

So there it is – Beethoven, an Austrian Countess, her children, Park Farm West Bilney and a grave in the churchyard of St Cecilia – all loosely connected. So next time you hear The Moonlight Sonata……..

The Von Roretz grave at St Cecilia's churchyard - West Bilney

Below is the story of the Von Roretz family and how it came about that they came to live at West Bilney, as written by Kedagh von Roretz, Ernst’s grandson.


Ern(e)st Ric(h)ard ( I think both christian names were ‘anglicised’ on the gravestone) von Roretz, b. 04 Jul 1884, entered military service in the Austro Hungarian army and trained as a medical officer. Attached is a copy of a portrait around 1910 showing his insignia and uniform.

He had three children by his first wife who died around 1921 in childbirth. Shortly before that event my grandmother Maria, aged 22 (youngest of four girls in the Viennese family of von Clanner-Engelshofen) had entered the household as companion/governess to the two elder children. A copy of a portrait painted around that time is attached. Ernst and Maria married within a year or so and had two children of their own, Pia Maria and Frederic Ernst, my father, known as Ernest.

After his army career Ernst senior took up farming at the family property, Schloss Breiteneich 50 kms north of Vienna. Some devastatingly bad harvests in the mid-1920s (and hyperinflation) caused him to opt for leasing all arable land to the local Abbey. (Schloss Breiteneich with one hectare of walled grounds were retained until his son Ernest sold it to a cousin in 1996, shortly after my grandmother Maria died.)

The family then spent about 6 years (1929 – 1935?) in Rhodesia, Ernst becoming an adviser to entrepreneurs involved in the production of fuel s from biomass. Ernst and Maria became friends with British expats which turned out to be very useful later. There in Rhodesia, as a young girl, their daughter Pia first met Tufton Beamish, later Conservative MP for Lewes, Sussex for 23 years. Later still he became Lord Chelwood. Pia finally married him in 1976, commenting that it should not have taken 40 years to get around to it!

Baron Roretz and his family returned to Schloss Breiteneich in the mid 1930s to run the large family home as a paying guest establishment. However war clouds gathered and shortly after the Anschluss the writing was on the wall. Ernst and Maria had sent their children to England to boarding school and, with known British sympathies, they had no choice but to make their escape. Like their close friends the von Trapps, they boarded a train, but to Innsbruck rather than Italy. With a single suitcase between them, they bribed their way through to the front coaches, which uncoupled and carried on to Zurich. From there they were granted safe passage to Blighty.

They bought the 25 acre Park Farm, West Bilney (about a mile from the church) around the time war was declared. Within three years Ernst died of a heart attack, over-exerting himself cutting the branch of a tree right outside the front door of the farmhouse. By then, my father Ernest aged 19 was already on the high seas on route to India with the British army. There he married my mother Kathleen (daughter of an army Major running a furlough camp in the Kashmir hills). After demobilisation the couple returned to Park Farm. Collaboration with Ernest’s mother Maria did not work out well. Eventually by 1955, with 4 children in tow they emigrated to East Africa and the farm was sold. They returned in 1990 but never reoccupied the Schloss.

This brief outline masks triumphs and disasters along the way. My grandmother in particular led a long and colourful life, dying (1995) at 97 years of age. Many diaries survive, but require a knowledge of Gothic script to transcribe.

Kedagh von Roretz

August 2013