The Earl of Cardigan, the 60-year-old heir apparent to the Marquessate of Ailesbury, is broke.
So broke that he and his wife live on £10-a-day Jobseeker’s Allowance in the grounds of his ancestral home, the 4,500-acre Savernake Estate in Wiltshire, which has been in his family for nigh on 1,000 years.
They have neither heating nor hot water and are forced to shower at a local public baths. Yet despite their dire financial situation, the couple are celebrating.
His second wife, the Countess of Cardigan – Joanne, a 48-year-old American – is six months pregnant with the child of the Earl, David Brudenell-Bruce.
In November, she will give birth to Britain’s first aristocratic baby born into a life on taxpayer-funded benefits.
‘I am absolutely thrilled,’ beams the Earl at his dilapidated home in Lodge House in the grounds of the vast, crumbling estate.
Speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday, he said: ‘We had the good news confirmed about two months ago and since then Joanne has had tests and what-have-you which show the baby is completely fine.
‘When we got the news we were certainly surprised and taken aback, but we’d both hoped that something might happen. The pregnancy wasn’t planned but it was certainly welcome.’
But the news will certainly come as a shock to the earl’s son, Thomas, 30, and his estranged daughter, Bo Bruce, 28, a former contestant on BBC singing competition The Voice.
The Earl insists: ‘There was no IVF or anything of that sort. Joanne is too old to be considered for treatment and we certainly couldn’t afford to go private on the few pounds a day we get from jobseekers.
‘We aren’t daunted; we’re delighted. I’m looking forward to the sleepless nights and the nappy changes.
'I’m particularly looking forward to the sound of a child’s laughter here at Savernake Lodge. It will bring the house alive again.
‘But, yes, as things stand I’m afraid I’ll have to rely further on State benefits to provide for my family, which is not ideal.
‘It’s not what I wish to do.’
The reason for the Earl’s impoverished state is complex. He has been engaged in a vicious legal battle with the two trustees of the estate.
Short-changed: The Earl accuses his trustees of keeping money that is wrapped up in the estate, from him
Unemployed: The Earl of Cardigan has worked as a delivery man and has applied for jobs as a chauffeur
‘They have cut off all my income and deprived me of my job as estate manager, which is why I am in the state I am in,’ he says.
The trustees have also made 14 criminal allegations against him, ranging from damaging pheasant feeders to spitting at them, although none of the charges resulted in a conviction.
When you factor in a feud with his son and the sad fact that his daughter Bo will not speak to him, his life is almost as dramatic as that of another Earl of Cardigan – a distant relative, who led the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War in 1854.
The extent of the poverty of Cardigan, as he calls himself, is shocking.
He has been forced to support himself and his wife on a single man’s £71-a-week Jobseeker’s Allowance – his wife is not an EU national and is therefore not entitled to her own benefits.
He says it is difficult for an aristocratic Old Etonian – with a degree in agriculture and brought up to believe his sole raison d’etre was to be custodian of Savernake – to find work.
But in the past couple of years he has had stints working as a delivery driver, and he has applied for several full-time positions as a driver or chauffeur.
He has also taken HGV lessons to qualify as a long-distance lorry driver but, so far, his efforts have failed to pay off.
He cannot claim housing benefits because he lives in a trust-protected, rent-free home.
But he receives a 25 per cent discount on his council tax as his income is so low. When the baby is born, the couple will be able to apply for a £500 maternity grant from the Social Fund and they might also be able to fill in form CH2 for Child Benefit of £20.30 a week.
They may also be eligible to apply for the more complex Child Tax Credit, which has maximum payments of £3,265 a year.
‘We’re fortunate in that friends and neighbours and my sister Louisa have gone into their lofts and found everything from prams to baby grows,’ he says.
‘But you have to have money to bring a child up, and I will have to look into what I can claim from the State. But if it’s a boy I will probably still put his name down for Eton and hope for the best.’
Second chance: The Earl said he is excited at the prospect of becoming a father again, especially as he is in a feud with his son Thomas and is estranged from daughter Bo Bruce (pictured right)
In the winter, the bedroom is so freezing cold that he has to dive under the bedcovers and sleeps fully clothed.
By day he and his wife of 18 months live in the only room they can afford to heat – which is on the ground floor.
Bare wires hang precariously from ancient sockets and the curtains are mildewed and soaking where the rain trickles in through the patched-up roof.
The Earl’s shirts are draped on hangers, on a makeshift washing line.
A dustpan and brush, a cardboard box of PG Tips and several sauce bottles line the draining board. On the windowsills, boxes of Cheerios, candles jammed into wine bottles and a jumble of kitchen cleaners vie for space.
The Earl is pinning his hopes for the new baby on the outcome of an ongoing court action to have the trustees of the estate removed and replaced.
‘They have taken about £394,000 in remuneration for themselves which is an amount absolutely unheard of in a trust,’ he says.
‘It will go before the High Court in December but I hope they will do the decent thing by resigning and returning the money before the baby is born.
'For the past two years we have lived in the house without heat or hot water. My wife and I have to go to the leisure centre in Marlborough to shower.
‘That can’t go on when the baby arrives and I want to see the trust live up to their duties and restore the property to a fully functioning home a child can be brought up in.’
The couple hope the baby’s arrival will ‘shame’ the trustees into carrying out repairs on their leaking roof and failed heating system.
‘We hope they will see the humanity of the situation and order the basic amenities you need to bring up a child to be restored,’ says Lady Joanne.