Talbot, Rose Maud (1915–2009), chatelaine, farmer and philanthropist, was born 14 September 1915 at Hartham Park, Wiltshire, England, the younger of two children of Milo George Talbot (1854–1931), a soldier, and his wife Eva (née Joicey) (d. 1951), a native of Northumberland.
Her father, Milo George Talbot, was a grandson of James Talbot (qv), 3rd Baron Talbot of Malahide, diplomat and spy, and a younger son of James Talbot (qv), 4th Baron Talbot of Malahide, antiquary and MP. He had a distinguished career in the army, especially in the Afghan war (1879–80), and was a lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Engineers, director of surveys in the Sudan, and major-general in the Egyptian army.
His first child and only son, Milo John Reginald Talbot (1912–73), diplomat and 7th Baron Talbot of Malahide , was born 1 December 1912, and was educated at Winchester College and Trinity College Cambridge, graduating with a first-class history degree in 1935. He was tutored by Guy Burgess, one of the group of men who met in Cambridge in the 1930s and were later notorious as homosexuals (when a homosexual act was still a criminal offence), as communists, and ultimately as spies for the Soviet Union and defectors. Milo Talbot was friendly with all of them, especially with Sir Anthony Blunt, was possibly homosexual and, like Burgess, entered the diplomatic service. He worked in the Foreign Office (1937–9), then transferred to the intelligence section of the Ministry of Economic Warfare, involved with political warfare and propaganda, and was possibly stationed to gather intelligence in Lisbon (1940–43). In 1943 he was posted to Ankara as second secretary and then served in Beirut (1945–7). From 1951 he was assistant head of security in the Foreign Office, and was briefly head of security from 15 July 1953 until quitting in January 1954; Burgess and Donald Maclean, another close friend of Talbot, defected to the USSR in May 1951.
Milo Talbot was thus close enough to a very dangerous spy ring to be suspect, and could well have protected others, including Kim Philby and Blunt, even if he himself was not a double agent. He was interrogated at the time and, perhaps significantly, was placed on the Foreign Office reserve list from January 1954. A few months later he was sent to Laos as minister plenipotentiary, becoming ambassador to that country in 1955, during a civil war there between royalists and communist supporters. Talbot was made a companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1957, retired from the diplomatic service in 1958, aged 45, and thereafter lived mostly in Ireland, though he attended sessions of the house of lords. His interests included the Irish Georgian Society and stamp collecting; his collection was sold for £53,000 in 1969. But his main achievement was the amassing of an important collection of rare plants, grown in the gardens at Malahide, especially in an impressive and very carefully documented arboretum. He was a fellow of the Linnean Society from 1968. It has been suggested by cold war and espionage theorists that his botanical collecting trips, and contacts abroad in botany and philately, might have provided cover for an espionage network.
His younger sister Rose was educated near the family 's home, Bifrons Park, Kent, and was presented at court during the London season of 1934. She did some voluntary social work in the slums of London, but was not expected to have a career. Instead, she lived with her mother after her father's death, and later for a time kept house for her brother. He inherited the castle and estates at Malahide, in north Co. Dublin, and became Baron Talbot of Malahide when their first cousin the 6th baron died in 1948. Rose moved into the castle and looked after it for her brother during his absences abroad; frequent, increasingly despairing advertisements for domestic staff testify to the difficulties of running a huge property with limited resources. However, when Milo Talbot retired the siblings fell out, and Rose was obliged to move to a house in Dún Laoghaire, south Co. Dublin.
She was for many years secretary of the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association, a charity that assisted former members of the British armed forces who had returned to Ireland, and she helped run an annual sale to raise funds. This very successful event had to be postponed in 1966, as the planned date in April coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter rising. The Hon. Rose Talbot commented with characteristic asperity that some members of committee felt that the date might be a 'rather inopportune time', and it was also noted that the committee was not aware of a 'clash of events' (Ir. Times, 8 April 1966).
Rose Talbot volunteered as a counsellor for the Samaritans Lifeline telephone helpline; she is said to have advised at least one caller that to commit suicide would be 'entirely inexcusable'. She was a notable hostess, entertaining friends such as Jack Lynch (qv), and Terence O'Neill (qv) and his wife Jean O'Neill (qv); Rose and Jean had been friends since they were 'wallflowers together' at society dances in the 1930s. They shared a great interest in gardening; Rose was also interested in cricket and in breeding racehorses.
Her life changed in 1973, when her brother Lord Talbot died suddenly on 14 April on board a Greek ship cruising in the Aegean. Before his death, he had been discussing with Jack Lynch (taoiseach till March 1973) the possibility of handing Malahide Castle over to the state, but nothing had been finalised when he died. He was unmarried and childless, so his Irish title passed to a distant relative (while the UK title of Baron Talbot de Malahide became extinct). Rose inherited the castle and estate, but was the last of the Talbot family to live there. She would have liked to carry out her brother's intention, but the incoming government, involving a Labour element in coalition, was inimical to aristocratic landowning families, still regarded with some disfavour as relics of the protestant ascendancy, and made no effort to help her either maintain or hand over the estate. Heavy death duties had to be paid, and regulations did not allow the Revenue Commissioners to accept artefacts, furniture or paintings in payment. With little option, after much anguish, and despite opposition from family members and outcry from people who thought the government ought to be doing much more to preserve the country's historical treasures, Talbot proceeded with a sale of the castle's contents, and in 1976 the castle and grounds were ceded to the state. Some of the furniture was bought back, and more was bought by well-wishers and lent to the state, but the loss of thousands of irreplaceable Talbot artefacts to collectors abroad is still lamented. Malahide Castle is now one of the most important heritage sites and public parks in the country. Talbot visited her old home for many years afterwards, keeping in contact with former staff, but always resented the way in which the Talbot family estate, lived in by the family for 800 years, was lost to her.
She moved (in 1976, when she was 61) to a large family property, also called Malahide, in Fingal, Tasmania, Australia, where she successfully oversaw the biggest wool-producing farm on the island. She financed the production of the last volumes of a series on the island's flora, initiated by her brother, helped local charities and was a well-known figure. She died 14 February 2009, and was buried in Fingal, Tasmania. If she knew much about her brother's career, or if she knew whether his death was in fact suspicious, as some have claimed, those secrets remained secret. She is said to have burned all his private papers as soon as she had access to the castle on his death.