A Sussex newspaper quietly announced Sylvia Bunn’s death.
She died on December 11, 2007, at age 87, the obituary reported.
Requiem Mass followed burial at Bexhill Cemetery. Help The Aged donations were offered in lieu of flowers.
Sylvia, a dentist’s widow, was unknown. Her last will and testament revealed a fascinating family link.
Her birth name made her the forgotten aunt of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
Today’s Mail on Sunday tells Sylvia’s story. Camilla never met Sylvia, but a Clarence House official said she knows about her.
Sylvia, the half-sister of Camilla’s father Bruce Shand, moved abroad to hide her anguish from being abandoned by her family.
She was born in 1920 to journalist Philip Morton Shand, an Eton and Cambridge graduate who had a number of mistresses.
The incorrigible yet charming womanizer was married four times: first to Margot Harrington, a secretary who gave birth to Camilla’s father Bruce in 1917, and then to Sylvia’s mother, Agatha Alys Fabre-Tonnerre.
Alys, a 25-year-old London University graduate from a prominent French-Indian family, soon fell pregnant.
The couple escaped to Edinburgh and stayed at the St Andrews Hotel to plan a wedding.
Two students were grabbed off the street to pose as witnesses, and Alys gave birth to a girl they named Doris a name the child grew to loathe and dumped for Sylvia.
Morton Shand’s eagerness to consummate his current love left the newborn’s half-brother Bruce a toddler.
Morton Shand and Alys lived in Scotland for several months to conceal their elopement and quick birth.
The marriage failed again. Alys, barely 30, petitioned for divorce in 1925 due to her husband’s adultery.
Morton Shand married for the third time a month after the decree was given, but that relationship ended and he married his fourth and last wife.
Alys was raised by relatives when her mother died in childbirth and her father died young.
As a young lady, she wanted for a family and a house, but her dependence on Morton Shand, who couldn’t provide them, caused her downfall.
While he became a famous writer on food, wine, and architecture and befriended John Betjeman, Alys and their daughter Sylvia relied on his parents’ charity.
His mother was a shipping sector heiress and could fund her grandchild and ex-daughter-in-law.
Morton Shand wasn’t interested in his kids. They briefly reconciled before Bruce’s 1960 death. Sylvia was gone.
Sylvia’s lonely, nomadic life with her mother began.
Her closest blood relative was Bruce, whom she never met.
Sylvia and her mother moved between Maida Vale flats before WWII.
When Sylvia was 18, Alys worked as a window dresser in Kensington to help pay her university fees. Sylvia had inherited her father’s brains, if not his affection.
Alys moved to Worcestershire’s Malvern. Bruce had won two Military Crosses and married into the wealthy Cubitt family.
Rosemary, his wife, was Alice Keppel’s granddaughter.
Bruce was a wine merchant for Block Grey & Block and split his time between Kensington and a country property in Lewes, Sussex, where he joined the South Down Hunt.
Camilla Shand was born in 1947, the same year her aunt Sylvia began teaching at Malvern.
France-Odile Winter, whose mother was a teacher, remembers Sylvia as a vivacious, autonomous talker.
She was beautiful and always wore high shoes, a hat, and a fur jacket. Sincere and lovely.
Sylvia godmothered France-Odile. Sylvia’s singleness is hard to understand given her beauty.
She then taught for 20 years in Munster, Germany.
David Boorman, a late friend, says she was devoted to education. Teachers were single back then. She lived like that.
Sylvia was loved by her Munster students, who maintained in touch via letters and visits after they graduated.
Alys relocated from Malvern to Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, in the 1970s.
Bruce lived 30 miles away at Plumpton, but the pair and Sylvia never spoke.
Wendy Boorman, David Boorman’s wife, claims Sylvia felt lonely and neglected.
She never discussed it. She’d say, “I’m family” and be done.
She mentioned being a Shand, but she never said, “I’m Camilla’s aunt.”
Camilla was then learning how to be a successful debutante.
How different from her aunt Sylvia, who was marking schoolwork and counting pfennigs.
A family acquaintance says Bruce Shand didn’t ignore Sylvia’s family.
As Philip Morton Shand’s son, he battled demons. His mother delivered him to his grandparents after his father left, therefore he was orphaned.
Imagine being the polished, charming person he was after that.
‘Trying to make his place in post-war America, he had no time for stray relationships, even with Sylvia.
Sylvia had no family; he did.
Sylvia and her mother weren’t invited to Camilla’s 1973 wedding to cavalry commander Andrew Parker Bowles at Wellington Barracks near Buckingham Palace.
Before Camilla and Prince Charles’ affair became public, Sylvia’s mother had died, never having reconciled with her other family.
Sylvia returned to Bexhill from Germany. Her mother died in a South Coast resort she didn’t know. Her loneliness returned.
One day, a man smiled shyly at her in the bank. 66 and 77. Fall love.
Her suitor was a retired dentist named Norman Bunn, hardly someone her high-rolling half-brother Bruce, Vice Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, would associate with.
Camilla’s great-aunt Violet Trefusis, the lesbian lover of writer Vita Sackville-West, reportedly rejected a future husband because ‘all his friends are dentists’ Sylvia didn’t care about snobbery.
Her marriage to Norman, shortly after her 67th birthday, brought her great joy.
She told Wendy Boorman, “He kissed me on the stairs!”
Camilla’s grandfather’s chaos could finally be forgotten.
Sylvia was married for 10 years before her 88-year-old husband died. Her life wasn’t over.
David Boorman said her driving was irregular after she got a new lease on life.
She drove through the garage twice. She was a terrible driver.
She was pulled over and given another test in her 70s. When requested to reverse, she said, “I don’t!”
Sylvia, a fervent Catholic, attended church with Patrick Donaldson.
Sylvia seemed like a vivacious, unusual upper-class relic to her Bexhill pals.
She never discussed her royal ties. She would only say she was a Shand.
Friends thought her reluctance meant she was illegitimate or not welcomed. No digging.
Sylvia’s mother and Morton Shand’s first wife, Margot, lived within 3 miles of one other in Sussex in their later years. They died a week apart but never met.
Sylvia observed Camilla’s 2005 wedding to Prince Charles from her Bexhill property.
She wasn’t invited. Wendy Boorman adds, ‘She never stated ‘That’s my niece who’ll be the next Queen of England,’ but you can understand her thoughts.
Camilla’s family knows her four-times-married grandfather had additional children.
Tom Parker Bowles, Camilla’s son, writes about the family.
After divorcing his great-grandmother in 1920, he married Alys Fabre-Tonnerre (with whom he had his second child, Sylvia).
Five years later, Alys divorced him for adultery.
Sylvia, Camilla’s aunt, died at 87 after a short stay in a Bexhill nursing home.
She elected not to be buried alongside Norman Bunn, who wasn’t Catholic, but with her mother, Alys.
Two women denied family life were reunited.