AN ARISTOCRAT struck by the credit crunch auctioned off £1 million of historic family heirlooms yesterday to clear his debts.
Hugh Courtenay, the 18th Earl of Devon, put 113 treasures from his castle up for sale in order to cover debts accrued in running the 14th-century home.
The sale of family silver, furniture, antiques and paintings from Powderham Castle near Exeter, fetched £1,013,638 at Sotheby's in London.
The earl, 67, will now use the profits to clear debts on the house before handing the 3,500-acre estate over to his son, Lord Charles Peregrine Courtenay.
He said: "We tried to choose things we wouldn't miss too much.
"With the various projects we've invested in here over the years, we found we were trying to support too much in overheads.
"Something had to give. Pretty much every generation has to do this.
"A bit less in the way of furniture is probably a good thing – not so much to move about."
Highlights of the sale included a George II carved mahogany library table which sold for a whopping £127,250, topping its estimate of £120,000.
A painting, entitled "Samuel Scott, Sir William Courtenay's sloop-rigged yacht, The Neptune, Raising Sail" brought in £91,250, smashing its top estimate of £80,000.
Most surprisingly, a George II white painted mirror that was only expected to raise £9,000 at best sold for £30,000.
However, the item with the highest reserve, an 18th-century portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds estimated to fetch up to £200,000, failed to sell.
Lord Devon expressed his relief at the sale result after the final gavel had dropped.
He said: "We are very pleased with the result of today's sale which, combined with items that have sold in other categories of sales at Sotheby's, has raised the target sum of £1 million.
"That such a broad range of items – as is characteristic of any home, but particularly so in a home inhabited by many successive generations – has appealed to buyers whom I believe are both from the trade and private individuals, gives me great hope that they will be appreciated and enjoyed in the new homes they have found, hopefully for generations."
Powderham Castle has been in the Courtenay family since it was built between 1390 and 1420 and has been open to the public for 50 years.
Many of the items in the sale featured in the background to the 1993 film Remains of the Day, starring Anthony Hopkins, Hugh Grant and Christopher Reeve, which was shot at the castle.
The Powderham sale, which was expected to raise almost £1.5 million on their own, went to auction in a combined sale with 100 lots from Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland.
The combined sale exceeded its top estimate prediction of £1.8 million to fetch £1,823,693.
Harry Dalmeny, deputy chairman of Sotheby's UK, said: "It has been a great honour to hold the sale of property from Powderham Castle and Seaton Delaval Hall."