Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, a British billionaire landowner and close friend of the royal family known by his title of Duke of Westminster, died suddenly aged 64, a spokesperson for his family said.
The duke, who inherited vast tracts of land in central London and elsewhere, was Britain’s sixth richest person with a fortune estimated at 9.35 billion pounds ($12.2 billion), according to the Sunday Times Rich List 2016.
A close friend of heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, the duke traced his family history back to distant ancestor Gilbert who came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066, according to the family estate’s website.
“It is with the greatest sadness that we can confirm that the Duke of Westminster, Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor (64) died ... at Royal Preston Hospital,” a family spokeswoman said late on Tuesday.
“He was taken there from the Abbeystead Estate in Lancashire where he had suddenly been taken ill,” she said, giving no further details.
Prince Charles and his wife Camilla were “deeply shocked and greatly saddened” by the duke’s sudden death, a spokeswoman said, while Queen Elizabeth and her husband Philip will send a private message of condolence to the Grosvenor family.
The duke’s wife Natalia is godmother to Charles’s son William, the second-in-line to the throne, while the duke’s son Hugh, who will inherit his title, is godfather to Prince George, William’s three-year-old son.
Cavendish Grosvenor had inherited the title aged 27, in 1979, along with hundreds of acres in two of London’s richest districts, Mayfair and Belgravia, and thousands more in Scotland, Spain and elsewhere.
According to media interviews over the years, the duke took pride in what he considered his responsible management of his estate.
He was also one of Britain’s major philanthropists, donating to thousands of charities and playing active roles in organisations such as the Royal National Institute of Blind People and St John Ambulance, a leading first aid charity.
“In the context of eternity, if I’m lucky I might live on this Earth for 70 years,” the duke said in 1995 in an interview on BBC radio.
“That estate has been with us for 3, 4, 5, 600 years, so I’m only a mere flicker in the process of time and the process of history.”
The duke is survived by his wife Natalia and their four children, one son and three daughters. ($1 = 0.7670 pounds) (Additional reporting by Michael Holden)