Plans to sell £40 million-worth of "cursed" Roman treasure, and save his historic family seat, have been announced by the Warwickshire-based Marquess of Northampton.
Funds raised from the sale would be enough to rescue one of his two stately piles - Castle Ashby - a 120-room mansion, currently run as a hotel and conference centre.
A total of £150,000 is needed every year for the upkeep of the grounds alone and the hotel was expected to close by the end of the year following massive losses.
The exquisitely beautiful collection has proved controversial for the marquess, who can trace his lineage back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Comprising 14 engraved silver plates, ewers, basins and caskets, it was the subject of a four-year legal battle, with three countries claiming it as their own.
It was supposedly found in 1980 by farm workers in an underground chamber in Lebanon.
Northampton, who moved to his family home - a Warwickshire Tudor mansion called Compton Wynyates in 1979 - said he was first persuaded to invest in the treasure in January 1982.
He received advice from Peter Wilson, the former chairman of Sotherby's, and London law firm Allen & Overy.
After receiving their help, the marquess gradually bought more pieces as they came on to the market.
But the day after Sotherby's valued the collection for up to $100 m in New York, the Lebonese government obtained an injunction, sending the silver back into a vault with the claim it had been illegally exported with certificates that were either forged or obtained by bribery.
This was followed by lawsuits from the Hungarian and former Yugoslavian governments, who also claimed that the treasure had been discovered on their land.
The silver was legally owned by a trust, whose only assets were the treasure, but it could not afford to pay its lawyers and could only fight the case if Northampton lent it the money.
With legal fees in New York running up to $250,000 a month, he embarked on a mass clear-out and sold personal items including a Segonzac picture, three Rodin sculptures, antique furniture, a French villa and many of the land and houses owned on the Castle Ashby estate until almost the entire village of Yardley Hastings had been sold.
With growing debts, the Marquess realised he would be unable to pay the remaining $650,000 legal costs and his lawyers deferred their fees.
He was later vindicated and the Lebanese government abandoned their claims at the last minute. The jury dismissed the claims of the Hungarian and now Croatian governments. Although the trust was recognised as the owners, the treasure could not be sold because Sotherby's were demanding costs of £7 m and placed a lien on it, because of the outstanding debt.
This claim was eventually settled out of court and the silver was shipped to Britain under a cloud of secrecy. It has remained in a vault ever since.
Describing the saga as a time that had "dominated our lives for almost a quarter of a century", the Marquess now believes it is time to sell the collection.
"I do not want my wife or son to inherit what has become a curse," he explained. "I doubt it will be sold overnight, but eventually I hope somebody or some institution will buy it and it will go on permanent display so that people can enjoy and appreciate its exquisite beauty."
The process to sell the collection will begin with a private exhibition for academics at Bonhams, the London auction house. ..SUPL: