Portrait of Langtry by Frank Miles
October 13, 1853|
|Died||February 12, 1929
|Spouse(s)||Edward Langtry (1874-1897; divorced)
Hugo Gerald de Bathe (1899-1929; her death)
|Children||Jeanne Marie (1881-1964)|
Lillie Langtry (October 13, 1853 – February 12, 1929), usually spelled Lily Langtry in the United States, born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, was initially celebrated as a young woman for her beauty and charm, and later established a reputation as an actress and producer. In May 1877, Lady Sebright invited her to "an evening at home", attended by some of the famous artists of the day. Her looks—allied to her ability to enchant those in her company—attracted interest, comments, and invitations from artists and society hostesses.
By 1881, she had become an actress and starred in many plays, including She Stoops to Conquer, The Lady of Lyons, and As You Like It, eventually running her own stage production company. In later life she performed "dramatic sketches" in vaudeville. She was also known for her relationships with noblemen, including the Prince of Wales, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and Prince Louis of Battenberg. She was the subject of widespread public and media interest.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Personal life
- 3 Acting career and manager
- 4 Thoroughbred racing
- 5 American citizenship
- 6 Final days
- 7 Cultural influence and portrayals
- 8 Places connected with Lillie Langtry
- 9 Steam yacht White Ladye
- 10 Bibliography
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
Born as Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, Langtry was the only daughter of the Rev. William Corbet Le Breton and his wife Emilie Davis (née Martin), who was known for her beauty. They had eloped to Gretna Green and in 1842, married at Chelsea.
Emilie the daughter was the 6th of 7 children; all of her siblings were brothers; Francis Corbet Le Breton (1843–1872), William Inglis Le Breton (1846–1931), Trevor Alexander Le Breton (1847–1870), Maurice Vavasour Le Breton (1849–1881), Clement Martin Le Breton (10 January 1851 – 1 July 1927), and Reginald Le Breton (1855–1876). Of her brothers, only William and Clement survived childhood. Clement was her last surviving brother. One of their ancestors was Richard le Breton, one of the reputed assassins in 1170 of Thomas Becket.
Proving too much for her French governess, Lillie was educated by her brothers' tutor, becoming unusually well educated for women of the time. Their father was the Dean of Jersey but gained an unsavoury reputation because of several extramarital affairs. When his wife Emilie finally left him in 1880, he left Jersey.
From Jersey to London
On 6 March 1874, 20-year-old Lillie married 30-year-old Irish landowner Edward Langtry, a widower who had been married to Jane Francis. She was the sister of Elizabeth Francis, who had married Lillie's brother William. They held their wedding reception at The Royal Yacht Hotel in St. Helier, Jersey. He was wealthy enough to own a yacht, and Lillie insisted that he take her away from the Channel Islands. Eventually, they rented an apartment in Eaton Place, Belgravia, London before moving to 17 Norfolk Street off Park Lane.
In an interview published in several newspapers (including the Brisbane Herald) in 1882, Lillie Langtry said,
“It was through Lord Raneleigh [sic] and the painter Frank Miles that I was first introduced to London society… I went to London and was brought out by my friends. Among the most enthusiastic of these was Mr Frank Miles, the artist. I learned afterwards that he saw me one evening at the theatre, and tried in vain to discover who I was. He went to his clubs and among his artist friends declaring he had seen a beauty, and he described me to everybody he knew, until one day one of his friends met me and he was duly introduced. Then Mr Miles came and begged me to sit for my portrait. I consented, and when the portrait was finished he sold it to Prince Leopold. From that time I was invited everywhere and made a great deal of by many members of the royal family and nobility. After Frank Miles I sat for portraits to Millais and Burne-Jones and now Frith is putting my face in one of his great pictures."
Lord Raneleigh, a friend of her father and sister-in-law, invited Lillie Langtry to a high-society reception, at which she attracted notice for her beauty and wit. In contrast to most women's more elaborate clothing, she wore a simple black dress (which was to become her trademark) and no jewellery. Before the end of the evening, Frank Miles had completed several sketches of her that became very popular on postcards. Another guest, Sir John Everett Millais, also a Jersey native, eventually painted her portrait. Langtry's nickname, the "Jersey Lily," was taken from the Jersey lily flower (Amaryllis belladonna), a symbol of Jersey. The nickname was popularised by Millais' portrait, entitled A Jersey Lily. (According to tradition, the two Jersey natives spoke Jèrriais to each other during the sittings.) The painting caused great interest when exhibited at the Royal Academy. Langtry was portrayed holding a Guernsey lily (Nerine sarniensis) in the painting rather than a Jersey lily, as none of the latter was available during the sittings. She also sat for Sir Edward Poynter and is depicted in works by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. She became much sought-after in London society, and invitations flooded in. Her fame soon reached royal ears.
The Prince of Wales, Albert Edward ("Bertie", later Edward VII), arranged to sit next to Langtry at a dinner party given by Sir Allen Young on May 24, 1877. (Her husband Edward was seated at the other end of the table.) Although the Prince was married to Princess Alexandra and had six children, he was a well-known philanderer. He became infatuated with Langtry, and she soon became his semi-official mistress. She was presented to the Prince's mother, Queen Victoria. Eventually, a cordial relationship developed between Langtry and Princess Alexandra.
The affair lasted from late 1877 to June 1880. The Prince of Wales had the Red House (now Langtry Manor Hotel) constructed in 1877 in Bournemouth, then in Hampshire, as a private retreat for the couple. He allowed Langtry to design it. He once complained to her, "I've spent enough on you to build a battleship", whereupon she tartly replied, "And you've spent enough in me to float one". Some accounts say that their relationship finally cooled when she misbehaved at a dinner party; others that she was eclipsed by the arrival of the French actress, Sarah Bernhardt, who came to London in June 1879.
In July 1879, Langtry began an affair with the Earl of Shrewsbury; in January 1880, Langtry and the earl were planning to run away together. In the autumn of 1879, rumours were published in Town Talk that her husband would divorce her and cite, among others, the Prince of Wales as co-respondent. Adolphus Rosenberg was the journalist; his writing also about Mrs Cornwallis-West resulted in her husband suing him for libel. At this point, the Prince of Wales instructed his solicitor George Lewis to sue. Rosenburg inexplicably pleaded guilty to both of the charges brought against him and was sentenced to 2 years in prison. For some time, the Prince saw little of Langtry. He remained fond of her and spoke well of her in her later career as a theatre actress; he used his power to help and encourage her.
With the withdrawal of royal favour, creditors closed in. The Langtrys' finances were not equal to their lifestyle. In October 1880, Langtry sold many of her possessions to meet her debts, but Edward Langtry did not officially declare bankruptcy.
In April 1879, Langtry had an affair with Prince Louis of Battenberg, while she was involved with Arthur Clarence Jones (1854–1930), an old friend. In June 1880, she became pregnant. Her husband was not the father; she led Prince Louis to believe that he was. When the prince told his parents, they had him assigned to the warship HMS Inconstant. Given some money by the Prince of Wales, Langtry retired to Paris with Arthur Jones. On March 8, 1881, she gave birth to a daughter, whom she named Jeanne Marie.
The discovery in 1978 of Langtry's passionate letters to Arthur Jones and their publication by Laura Beatty in 1999 support the idea that Jones was the father of her daughter. Prince Louis' son, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, had always maintained that his father was the father of Jeanne Marie.
In 1902, Jeanne Marie married the Scottish politician, Sir Ian Malcolm. They had four children. Lady Malcolm died in 1964. Her daughter Mary Malcolm was one of the first two female announcers on the BBC Television Service (now BBC One) from 1948 to 1956. She died on 13 October 2010 at the age of 92. Her son Ian Malcolm was the first husband of the English actress Ann Todd.
Acting career and manager
Short of money in 1881, and at the suggestion of her close friend Oscar Wilde, Lillie embarked upon a stage career. She first tried out in an amateur production in the Twickenham Town Hall on the 19th November 1881. It was a comedy two-hander called A Fair Encounter, with Henrietta Labouchere taking the other role and coaching Langtry in her acting. Labouchere had been a professional actress (Henrietta Hodson) before she met and married Liberal MP Henry Labouchere. Following favorable reviews of this first attempt at the stage - and with further coaching - Langtry made her debut before the London public, playing Kate Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer at the Haymarket Theatre in December 1881. Critical opinion was mixed, but she was a success with the public. She next performed in Ours at the same theatre. Although her affair with the Prince of Wales was over, he supported her new venture by attending several of her performances and helping attract an audience.
Early in 1882, Langtry quit the production team at the Haymarket and started her own company, touring the UK with various plays, still under the tutelage of Henrietta Labouchere.
American impresario Henry Abbey arranged a tour in the United States for Langtry. She arrived by ship in October 1882 to be met by the press and Oscar Wilde, who was in New York on a lecture tour. Her first appearance was eagerly anticipated, but the theatre burnt down the night before the opening; the show was transferred and opened the following week. Eventually, her production company started a coast-to-coast tour of the USA, ending in May 1883 with a “fat profit”. Before leaving New York, she had broken with Henrietta Labouchere on acrimonious terms over Langtry's relationship with young American millionaire Freddie Gebhard.
Her first tour of the United States (accompanied by Gebhard) was an enormous success, which she repeated in subsequent years. While the critics generally condemned her interpretations of roles such as Pauline in The Lady of Lyons or Rosalind in As You Like It, the public loved her. After her return from New York in 1883, she registered at the Conservatoire in Paris for six weeks' intensive training to improve her acting technique. In 1889, she took on the part of Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare's Macbeth. In 1903, she starred in the US in The Crossways, written by her in collaboration with J. Hartley Manners. She returned to the United States for tours in 1906 and again in 1912, appearing in vaudeville. She last appeared on the stage in America in 1917. Later that year, she made her final appearance in the theatre in London.
For nearly a decade, from 1882 to 1891, Langtry had a relationship with the New York City millionaire Frederic Gebhard. With him, she became involved in the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing. In 1885, she and Gebhard brought a stable of American horses to race in England. On August 13, 1888, Langtry and Gebhard traveled in her private car attached to an Erie Railroad express train bound for Chicago. Another railcar was transporting 17 of their horses when it derailed at Shohola, Pennsylvania at 1:40 am. Rolling down an 80-foot (24 m) embankment, it burst into flames. One person died in the fire, along with Gebhard's champion runner Eole and 14 racehorses belonging to him and Langtry. Of the two horses that survived the wreck was St. Saviour. He was named for St. Saviour's Church in Jersey. This was where Langtry's father had been rector and where she chose to be buried at her death.
In 1889, Langtry met “an eccentric young bachelor, with vast estates in Scotland, a large breeding stud, a racing stable, and more money than he knew what to do with”: he was George Alexander Baird or Squire Abington, as he came to be known. His wealth had been developed by his grandfather and seven of his sons, who developed coal and iron workings. Baird’s father had died when he was a young boy, leaving him a fortune in trust; in addition, he inherited the estates of two equally wealthy uncles who had died childless.
Langtry and Baird met at a race course when he gave her a betting tip and the stake money to place on the horse. The horse won and, at a later luncheon party, Baird also offered her the gift of a horse named Milford. She at first demurred, but others at the table advised her to accept, as this horse was a very fine prospect. The horse won several races under Langtry’s colours; he was registered to “Mr Jersey” (women were excluded from registering horses at this time). Langtry became involved in a relationship with Baird, from 1891 until his death in March 1893.
When Baird died, Langtry purchased two of his horses, Lady Rosebery and Studley Royal, at the estate dispersal sale. She moved her training to Sam Pickering’s stables at Kentford House and took Regal Lodge as a residence in Kentford, Suffolk.
Langtry found mentors in Captain James Octavius Machell and Joe Thompson, who provided guidance on all matters related to the turf. When her trainer Pickering failed to deliver results, she moved her expanded string of 20 horses to Fred Webb at Exning. Told of a good horse for sale in Australia called Merman, she purchased it and had it shipped to England; such shipments were risky and she had a previous bad experience with a horse arriving injured (Maluma). Merman was regarded as one of the best “stayers”; he eventually went on to win the Lewes Handicap, the Cesarewitch, Jockey Club Cup, Goodwood Stakes, Goodwood Cup, and Ascot Gold Cup (with Tod Sloan up). She later had a second Cesarewitch winner with Yentoi, and a third place with Raytoi. An imported horse from New Zealand called Uniform, won the Lewes Handicap for her.
Langtry owned a stud at Gazely, Newmarket. This venture was not a success, and after a few years, she gave up attempts to breed blood-stock.
Before moving to Monaco, Langtry sold Regal Lodge and all her horse-racing interests. Regal Lodge had received many celebrated guests, not least the Prince of Wales.
In 1897 during her travels in the United States, Langtry became an American citizen. She divorced her husband Edward Langtry the same year in Lakeport, California. He died a few months later following an accident. A letter of condolence later written by Langtry to another widow reads in part, "I too have lost a husband, but alas! it was no great loss."
In 1888, Langtry purchased a winery with an area of 4,200 acres (17 km2) in Lake County, California, which produced red wine. She sold it in 1906. Bearing the Langtry Farms name, the winery and vineyard are still in operation in Middletown, California.
In 1899, she married the much younger Hugo Gerald de Bathe. He inherited a baronetcy and became a leading owner in the horse-racing world, before retiring to Monte Carlo. During her final years, Langtry resided in Monaco, with her husband living a short distance away. The two saw one another only when she called on him for social gatherings or in brief private encounters.
Her closest companion during her time in Monaco was her friend, Mathilde Marie Peate, the widow of her butler. Peate was at Langtry's side during the final days of her life as she died of pneumonia in Monte Carlo. She was one of the beneficiaries in Langtry's will, being left £10,000, the villa known as Le Lys Monaco, clothes, and Langtry's motor car.
Langtry died in Monaco at dawn 12 February 1929. She had asked to be buried in her parents' tomb at St. Saviour's Church in Jersey. Due to blizzards, transport was delayed. Finally her body was taken to St Malo and across to Jersey on 22 February on the steamer Saint Brieuc. Her coffin lay in St Saviour's overnight surrounded by flowers, and she was buried on the afternoon of 23 February. Pictures of the funeral may be viewed at http://www.theislandwiki.org/index.php/Lillie_Langtry
Cultural influence and portrayals
Langtry used her high public profile to endorse commercial products such as cosmetics and soap, an early example of celebrity endorsement. She used her famous ivory complexion to generate income, being the first woman to endorse a commercial product when she advertised Pears Soap.
Scholars believe the fictitious Irene Adler in A Scandal in Bohemia (1891), the first Sherlock Holmes short story, is based on Langtry. Adler outwits the private investigator in the story when he seeks an incriminating photograph of her and a European monarch.
In the 1944 Universal film The Scarlet Claw, Lillian Gentry, the initial murder victim, wife of Lord William Penrose and former actress, is an oblique reference to Langtry.
Langtry's life story has been portrayed in film numerous times. Lillian Bond played her in The Westerner (1940), and Ava Gardner in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972). Judge Roy Bean, a famous American frontier admirer, was played by Walter Brennan in the former and Paul Newman in the latter film, both times as a man with a lifelong obsession with the beauty.
In 1967, the Who released "Pictures of Lily" as a single. According to Pete Townshend, the song was "merely a ditty about masturbation and the importance of it to a young man. it's all about a boy who can't sleep at night, so his dad gives him some dirty pictures to look at. then he falls in love with the girl in the pictures which is too bad because she is dead". Lillie Langtry, the music hall star, died in 1929, the year referred to in the song.
In 1978, Langtry's story was dramatised by London Weekend Television and produced as Lillie, starring Francesca Annis in the title role. Annis had previously played Langtry in two episodes of ATV's Edward the Seventh. Jenny Seagrove played her in the 1991 made-for-television film Incident at Victoria Falls.
A gothic, highly fictional version of Langtry was performed by Stacy Haiduk in the 1996 television series Kindred: The Embraced. In the series, Langtry was portrayed as the immortal leader of a sect of vampires living in the present day.
Langtry is a featured character in the "tongue-in-cheek" western novel, Slocum and the Jersey Lily by Jake Logan. She figures prominently in Death at Epsom Downs by Robin Paige, the pseudonym of Bill and Susan Wittig Albert, who wrote a series of Victorian novels based on historic people.
Langtry is a featured character in the fictional Flashman novels of acclaimed writer George Macdonald Fraser, in which she is noted as a former lover of arch cad Harry Flashman. Flashman describes her as one of his few true loves.
Langtry is used as a touchstone for old-fashioned manners in Preston Sturges's comedy The Lady Eve (1941), in a scene where a corpulent woman drops a handkerchief on the floor and the hero ignores it. Jean Barbara Stanwyck begins to describe, comment, and anticipate the events that we see reflected in her hand mirror. Jean says: "The dropped kerchief! That hasn't been used since Lily Langtry ... you'll have to pick it up yourself, madam ... it's a shame, but he doesn't care for the flesh, he'll never see it" (Pirolini 2010).
Langtry is a featured character in the play Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily by Katie Forgette. In this work, she is blackmailed over her past relationship with the Prince of Wales, with intimate letters as proof. She, along with friend Oscar Wilde, employ Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to investigate the matter.
Places connected with Lillie Langtry
When first married (1874), Edward and Lillie Langtry had a property called Cliffe Lodge in Southampton.
Lillie Langtry lived at 21 Pont Street, London from 1892 to 1897. Although from 1895 the building was operated as the Cadogan Hotel, she would stay in her former bedroom there. A blue plaque (which erroneously states that she was born in 1852) on the hotel commemorates this, and the hotel's restaurant is named 'Langtry's' in her honour.
While she was Edward VII's mistress, Lillie Langtry frequently performed at the in-house theatre of a hotel on 1–9 Inverness Terrace, in Bayswater, on the north side of Hyde Park, London W2. The in-house theatre is known as 'Lillie's theatre'. A grade II listed building, the hotel was originally built by Ritz architects Charles Mewès and Arthur Davis. It continues to function as a hotel today; its in-house theatre continues as the venue for nightly cabaret-style performances. The hotel is now named the Grand Royale London Hyde Park, part of The Shaftesbury Hotels company.
The Langtry Manor Hotel (now a boutique hotel) is located at Derby Road in Bournemouth, now in Dorset. The Manor House was built in 1877 by the future Edward VII; it was used as their love nest. Run by Tara Howard, it is one of Lorraine Kelly's "Top 20 Wedding Venues." According to Paranormal Dorset by Roger Guttridge, a female presence has been felt in the Manor House at 4pm in the kitchen, which is when Langtry would make her afternoon tea.
Langtry had a dwelling in Alexandra Road called Leighton House, possibly demolished in the 1970s to make way for the Alexandra Road Estate. She is remembered in the area in the name of Langtry Walk and a local pub.
Steam yacht White Ladye
Langtry owned a luxury steam auxiliary yacht called White Ladye from 1891 to 1897. The yacht was built in 1891 for Lord Asburton by Ramage & Ferguson of Leith from a design by W C Storey. She had 3 masts, was 204 feet in length and 27 in breadth and was powered by a 142 hp steam engine. She had originally been named Ladye Mabel.
In 1893 Ogden Geolet leased the vessel from Langtry and used it until his death in 1897. It was sold at auction to John Lawson Johnston, the 'inventor' of Bovril. He owned it until his death on board in Cannes, France in 1900. In 1902/3 the yacht was recorded in the Lloyd's Yacht Register as being owned by shipbuilder William Cresswell Gray, Tunstall Manor, West Hartlepool, and remained so until 1915. Following this the Lloyd's Register records that she became adapted as French trawler La Champagne based in Fécamp; she was broken up in 1935.
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- "Mrs Langtry sold the theatre to Wesleyan Methodists. They later sold [the interior] to the company owning the Royal Albert Music Hall, Canning Town. They reconstructed the theatre stone by stone as the Music Hall of Dockland." (Source: Templeman Library, University of Kent at Canterbury). On the site of the theatre is now the Westminster Central Hall.
- "Mrs Langtry's Private Car". The Decorator and Furnisher. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
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- Daussy, Jack (1991). The cod fishing trawlers Fécampois. Fécamp: Imp. L. Durand & Fils. pp. 37 to 40.
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