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Francis Dymoke Obituary

Francis Dymoke (SU 1968-73), who has died aged 68, was a former accountant and Lincolnshire farmer who, at the Coronation of King Charles III on May 6 this year, was seen by millions of television viewers around the world leading the royal couple into Westminster Abbey carrying the Royal Standard as the King’s Champion – a ceremonial role that had been performed by members of his family since the reign of William the Conqueror.

Francis Dymoke’s 34th great-grandfather, Robert de Marmion, had been William of Normandy’s right-hand man in France. William was famously crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066, but it was only at the state banquet after the coronation of his wife Matilda, on May 11 1068, that the first King’s Champion donned his armour, rode into the banquet on his charger, threw down his gauntlet and challenged anyone who denied that William and Matilda were the rightful king and queen to trial by combat. 

The family was given an estate in Scrivelsby, Lincolnshire, and in 1350 a granddaughter of Robert de Marmion married Sir John Dymoke, bringing the Scrivelsby estate with her. For many centuries, the Lord of the Manor of Scrivelsby was called upon to don the family armour and take up the role of champion at coronation banquets. 

The role continued into the 19th century. At the coronation of George III in 1761, John Dymoke rode the horse ridden by George II at the Battle of Dettingen. But at the coronation of George IV in 1821, the then champion, 20-year-old Henry Dymoke, did not own a suitable horse, so one had to be hired from Astley’s Circus.

Thereafter, perhaps understandably, the business of having a Dymoke ride in on a charger was abandoned. It was only in 1902, at the coronation of Edward VII, that the King’s Champion was again given an active role – though now as a standard bearer. In 1953 Francis Dymoke’s father,Lt-Col John Dymoke, acted as Standard-Bearer of the Union Flag at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

But an invitation to perform the role of Champion is no longer guaranteed; as Francis Dymoke acknowledged, he and his wife Gail did not “move in smart circles” and he had only met the new king, briefly, on two occasions. So while the first champion earned his role through long service to the king, Francis Dymoke, 34th Lord of the Manor of Scrivelsby, had to apply online to the Coronation Claims Office. 

“I wrote along the lines that my family has done it since William the Conqueror,” he told the Telegraph in January, “and though I appreciate it’s not a right any more, it would be a good thing to be involved.”

There followed a nervous wait before his application was formally accepted in late April. But he was immensely proud when his invitation arrived, and conscious of the weight of history and family tradition: “When my father marched into [Queen Elizabeth’s] coronation carrying the Union Standard, Richard Dimbleby said: ‘This is Captain John Dymoke, whose family have been doing this nigh on 1,000 years’.”

After the ceremony he told The Daily Telegraph: “I was disappointed my part was over and done with so quickly, while also relieved I had managed it without tripping up. Relieved and immensely proud.”

The Coronation, he said,  had been “the most meaningful day of my life, although my wife might disagree”.

Francis John Fane Marmion Dymoke was born on January 19 1955, the eldest of three sons of then Captain (later Lt-Col) John Dymoke, and Susan, née Fane. John Dymoke served with the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment in Sumatra during the Indonesian nationalist uprising, in Malaya during the “Emergency” and as commander of 3rd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment in Aden during the final stages of the British administration. 

Most family possessions had been sold off after the family almost went bust in the 1870s, and by the time John Dymoke inherited Scrivelsby Court after the Second World War, most of the estate was tenanted, and the main building, which dated from the 16th century and was rebuilt in 1805, had deteriorated badly. It was demolished in 1956. 

As the son of an Army officer, Francis spent most of his childhood on the move. After education at Marlborough and Hull University, where he read economics, he qualified as a chartered accountant, worked at Price Waterhouse, but decided that it was not for him and left and went to work in Australia as a jackaroo. He later found work in Papua New Guinea. In 1992 his father handed over the management of the estate, by now on a sound financial footing. 

He inherited the estate after his father died in 2015, though it was only a little over two years ago that he moved from a house nearby into the Elizabethan gatehouse that is all that remains of the family seat. A tree-lover like his father, he planted many new trees across the estate, while his wife Gail converted the walled garden into a wedding venue.

Francis Dymoke was a popular member of the rural Lincolnshire community and supported many local good causes. He served as chairman of the Lincolnshire branch of the Prince’s Trust, for which he had volunteered for many years. He served on the board of  the Heritage Trust of Lincolnshire and as chairman of the Lincolnshire branch of the Country Landowners’ Association. An honorary Colonel of the county Cadet Force, he served as High Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1999  and was a Deputy Lieutenant of the county.

He is survived by his wife Gail and by two sons and a daughter from a previous marriage, to Rosie. In an interview after the Coronation he expressed the hope that his eldest son, Henry would be invited to perform the honours as King’s Champion at Prince William’s coronation, “so our family can proudly say we’ve stood as the King’s Champion for 1,000 years”.

Francis Dymoke, born January 19 1955, died December 18 2023

© Telegraph Media Group Limited 2024

Portrait by Heathcliff O’Malley.