Ronald Tree

Arthur Ronald Lambert Field Tree (26 September 1897 – 14 July 1976) was a British Conservative Party politician, journalist and investor who served as the Member of Parliament (MP) for the Harborough constituency in Leicestershire from 1933 to 1945.


Tree's father, Arthur Tree, was an English real estate developer and son of Lambert Tree, a former British minister to Russia. His mother, Ethel Field, was a daughter of Marshall Field, a co-founder of Marshall Field's department store in Chicago, Illinois.[1] Born in the United States, he was educated in England.[2] Two months after his parents' divorced in 1901, Tree's mother married her lover, Capt. David Beatty, the future 1st Earl Beatty and First Sea Lord. His half-siblings were David Beatty, 2nd Earl Beatty, and the Hon Peter Beatty; he also had two full siblings, both of whom died in infancy.

Tree edited Forum Magazine in New York from 1922, and in 1926 became involved in investment on the New York Stock Exchange, before the Wall Street Crash of 1929.[3]


Tree returned to England with his wife, the former Nancy Keene Perkins (the widow of his cousin Henry Marshall Field) in 1927, where they had two sons, one of them racehorse trainer Jeremy Tree, and a daughter, who died at birth. At first the couple took a 10-year repairing lease on Kelmarsh Hall near Market Harborough, Northamptonshire which Nancy redecorated with help from Mrs Guy Bethell of Elden Ltd.

In November 1933 Ronald was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Harborough in Leicestershire. In the same year, the couple bought Ditchley House and Park near Charlbury, Oxfordshire as their home, and it was the decoration of this house which earned Nancy the reputation of having "the finest taste of almost anyone in the world." She worked on it with Lady Colefax and the French decorator Stéphane Boudin of the Paris firm Jansen.

Tree was among a small group who saw the rising Nazi party in Germany as a threat to Britain, and using his home as its base he became friends with the group's leader, Winston Churchill. Churchill and his wife Clementine dined at Ditchley on numerous occasions from 1937.

In February 1938, after Anthony Eden resigned as foreign secretary from Neville Chamberlain over the conduct of foreign policy, Tree himself became a follower of Eden, known then as the "Glamour boys," a pejorative term used by the Conservative Party whips' office, headed by David Margesson.[4]

World War II

On the outbreak of war, the security forces were concerned by the visibility of Churchill's country house Chartwell, its high topographical location and the fact it was south of London making it an easy target for German bombers returning from raids on the capital. The Prime Minister's official retreat of Chequers was also deemed vulnerable to attack.[5] Churchill had use of the Paddock bunker in Neasden, but only used it on one occasion for a cabinet meeting, before returning to his Cabinet War Room bunker in Whitehall. However, this created additional difficulties on clear nights when a full moon was predicted (or as Churchill romantically termed it 'When the Moon is High') - so the authorities looked for an alternate site north of London. Tree offered Churchill use of Ditchley, which thanks to its tree coverage and no visible access road made it an ideal site which Churchill was happy with. Churchill first went to Ditchley in lieu of Chequers on 9 November 1940, accompanied by Clementine and his daughter Mary. By late 1942, security measures at Chequers had improved, notably including covering the road with turf. The last weekend Churchill attended Ditchley as his official residence was Tree's birthday on 26 September 1942. Churchill's last visit was for lunch in 1943.[3]

Churchill gave Tree a job in the Ministry of Information, where he met a married American co-worker Marietta Peabody FitzGerald and began a romantic relationship.


Although Tree was bisexual[6][7] and twenty years older than Marietta,[8] at the end of World War II, Tree and Peabody divorced their respective partners, and then married on 26 July 1947; they had one child, Penelope (born 1949), who became a celebrated fashion model in the 1960s.

Marietta moved into Ditchley, but found herself bored with English country life. Tree and most of his friends were conservatives, and Democrat Marietta found herself isolated. Recognising his wife's unhappiness, and for the first time in his life short of money due to the taxation of Foreign Trust income enacted by the 1945 Labour Government, Tree sold Ditchley and agreed to return to New York with Marietta, her daughter Frances FitzGerald, their daughter,[9] and his butler Collins.[1][2]

Marietta immediately joined the Lexington Democratic Club, and two years later was elected the county chairwoman. She was elected to the Democratic State Committee in 1954. In 1952, Marietta became involved in the Presidential election campaign of Adlai Stevenson, and in the later 1956 campaign - both defeats. This did not put her off politics, and John F Kennedy appointed her to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1961.[2]

Marietta had started an affair with Adlai Stevenson between his two failed presidential campaigns, but her husband was unfazed by this, as the couple's marriage had largely disintegrated to a friendly separation, with Tree spending much of his time at Heron Bay, his house in Barbados. Marietta had turned down the option of returning to her earlier lover, the director John Huston, even when he had given her a role in his 1960 movie "The Misfits." It was while walking in London with Marietta that Adlai suffered a heart attack, and later died at St. George's Hospital. That night in her diary, Marietta wrote, "Adlai is dead. We were together."[2]

Ronald Tree died of a stroke on 14 July 1976 in London, England.


Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
The Earl Castle Stewart
Member of Parliament for Harborough
Succeeded by
Humphrey Attewell
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