Husband James Lees-Milne
Alderley Grange, Alderley, Wotton-under-Edge GL12 7QT, Regno Unito
Essex House, Haye's Ln, Badminton GL9, Regno Unito
Alvilde Lees-Milne (née Bridges; formerly Viscountess Chaplin) (1909–1994) was a British gardening and landscape expert.
Born in 1909, she was the daughter of the Governor of South Australia (1922–27) Lt.-Gen. Sir (George) Tom Molesworth Bridges by his wife Janet Florence Menzies, and was the great-niece of Robert Bridges, the one-time Poet Laureate.
She met James Lees-Milne, who became her second husband, during World War II while she was engaged in an affair with the arts patron Winnaretta de Polignac. By 1949 they were in love, but from the outset the relationship was not without complications. She had been married since 1933 to Anthony Freskin Charles Hamby Chaplin, who would in 1949 become the 3rd Viscount Chaplin, and had one daughter, (Oenone) Clarissa, born in 1934. At one point the Chaplins, Lees-Milne, and Anthony Chaplin's girlfriend Hon. Rosemary Lyttelton all lived in the same house. Lord and Lady Chaplin divorced in 1950, whereupon the viscount married Rosemary Lyttleton (by whom he later had two daughters).
She and Lees-Milne were candid with each other about their true sexual nature, and they did not generally hide their affairs from one another. During the 1930s James Lees-Milne had been the lover of Harold Nicolson, husband of the writer Vita Sackville-West who was herself noted for her high-profile lesbian affairs. Both Harold and Vita acted as witnesses at the Lees-Milnes' wedding (also present was James' former lover the composer Lennox Berkeley and Berkeley's wife Freda). Vita Sackville-West's former lover Violet Trefusis had been the long-term lover of Princess de Polignac, and in turn in the 1950s Sackville-West became involved in a love affair with Alvilde Lees-Milne (who tried to conceal the fact from her husband).
In later written accounts James Lees-Milne said that he and his wife enjoyed an active sexual relationship prior to their marriage, but less so afterwards. In 1955, Alvilde embarked on the affair with Sackville-West; they were semi-discreet but the affair was well known within their social circle. When in the late 1950s Lees-Milne began a - mostly platonic - affair with a younger man the marriage became stormy, predominantly as a result of Alvilde's jealousy (she was prone to spying on him, even to the extent of steaming open his letters and listening to his telephone conversations).
In 1961 Alvilde Lees-Milne purchased Alderley Grange, near the western edge of Cotswolds. The marriage survived, principally because they spent a good deal of time apart. Alvilde made a garden at Alderley which would later draw widespread admiration; she subsequently became a much sought-after garden designer, her clients including the Queen of Jordan, Valery Giscard-d'Estaing, and Mick Jagger at his manoir in France. She published a variety of best-selling books on gardening and, latterly, interiors.
By the late 1960s, Alvilde and Lees-Milne had reached a more settled point in their marriage. They became a more devoted couple, living together but still largely pursuing separate lives.
In 1974, Alvilde decided that Alderley Grange was too much for them. She sold the property; the couple moved to a flat in Lansdown Crescent, Bath. It was soon realised that the place was too cramped. They moved to the 17th-century Essex House, on the Badminton estate of the Duke of Beaufort, in 1975; they rented the property at the considerate suggestion of their close friend David Somerset, the duke's nephew and heir.
By this stage in their lives they were devoted to one another, until at the age of 70 James conceived a romantic (but platonic) relationship with a man of 25; this caused considerable strain to their marriage, and led to a permanent rift between Alvilde and Rosamond Lehmann. Alvilde became seriously ill in 1992, and Lees-Milne devoted the next two years of his life to caring for her. She died suddenly in 1994, James Lees-Milne having found her collapsed on the pathway of their Badminton home. Her death left him deeply depressed.
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