Portrait of Langtry by Frank Miles
Emilie Charlotte Le Breton
October 13, 1853
|Died||February 12, 1929 (aged 75)|
(m. 1874; div. 1897)
Emilie Charlotte Langtry (née Le Breton; October 13, 1853 – February 12, 1929), known as Lillie (or Lily) Langtry and nicknamed "The Jersey Lily", was a British-American socialite, actress and producer.
Born on the island of Jersey, upon marrying she moved to London in 1876. Her looks and personality attracted interest, commentary, and invitations from artists and society hostesses, and she was celebrated as a young woman of great beauty and charm.
By 1881, she had become an actress and starred in many plays in the UK and the United States, 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.
Born in 1853 and known as Lillie from childhood, she was the daughter of the Very Reverend William Corbet Le Breton and his wife, a recognised beauty, Emilie Davis (née Martin). Lillie's parents had eloped to Gretna Green and, in 1842, married at Chelsea. Emilie Charlotte (Lillie) was born at the Old Rectory, St Saviour in Jersey where her father was Rector and Dean of Jersey.
Lillie was the sixth of seven children and the only girl. Her brothers were Francis Corbet Le Breton (1843–1872), William Inglis Le Breton (1846–1924), 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). Purportedly, one of their ancestors was Richard le Breton, allegedly one of the assassins in 1170 of Thomas Becket
Lillie's French governess was reputed to have been unable to manage her, so Lillie was educated by her brothers' tutor. This education was of a wider and more solid nature than that typically administered to girls at that time. Although their father held the respectable position of Dean of Jersey, he nevertheless earned an unsavoury reputation as a "ladies man", fathering illegitimate children by various of his parishioners. When his wife Emilie finally left him in 1880, he left Jersey.
From Jersey to London
On March 9, 1874, 20-year-old Lillie married 26-year-old Irish landowner Edward Langtry, a widower, who had been married to Jane Frances Price. She was the sister of Elizabeth Ann Price, who had married Lillie's brother William. They held their wedding reception at The Royal Yacht Hotel in St. Helier, Jersey. Langtry was wealthy enough to own a large sailing yacht called Red Gauntlet, and Lillie insisted that he take her away from the Channel Islands. In 1876 they rented an apartment in Eaton Place, Belgravia, London, and moved to 17 Norfolk Street off Park Lane to accommodate the growing demands of Lillie's society visitors.
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.
In 1877 Lillie's brother Clement Le Breton had married Alice, an illegitimate daughter of Thomas Heron Jones, 7th Viscount Ranelagh, a friend of their father, and Ranelagh invited Lillie Langtry to a high-society reception at the home of Sir John and Lady Sebright in Belgravia, at which she attracted notice for her beauty and wit. Langtry was in mourning for her youngest brother, who had been killed in a riding accident, so 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 and had to be roped off to avoid damage by the crowds. 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. A friend of Millais, Rupert Potter (father of Beatrix Potter), was a keen amateur photographer and took pictures of Lillie whilst she was visiting Millais in Scotland in 1879. 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. (Lillie's husband Edward was seated at the other end of the table.) Although the Prince was married to Princess Alexandra of Denmark and had six children, he was a well-known philanderer. He became infatuated with Langtry, and she soon became his mistress. She was presented to the Prince's mother, Queen Victoria. Princess Alexandra chose to never display any jealousy about her husband's infidelities and accepted and acknowledged Lillie.
Lillie's liaison with the Prince lasted from late 1877 to June 1880. Although remaining friends with the Prince, Lillie Langtry's physical relationship with him ended when she became pregnant. The father was probably her old friend Arthur Jones, who accompanied her to Paris for the birth of the child, Jeanne Marie, in March 1881.
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, scandal-mongering journalist Adolphus Rosenberg wrote in Town Talk of rumours that her husband would divorce her and cite, among others, the Prince of Wales as co-respondent. Rosenberg also wrote about Patsy Cornwallis-West, whose husband sued him for libel. At this point, the Prince of Wales instructed his solicitor George Lewis to sue also. Rosenberg pleaded guilty to both charges and was sentenced to two 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 influence 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, allowing Edward Langtry to avoid a declaration of bankruptcy.
In April 1879, Langtry had a short affair with Prince Louis of Battenberg, but also had a longer relationship with Arthur Clarence Jones (1854–1930), the brother of her sister-in-law and another illegitimate child of Lord Ranelagh. 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. The Prince of Wales gave her a sum of money, and Langtry went into her confinement in Paris, accompanied by 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 Langtry's 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 at St Margaret's, Westminster. They had four children, three sons and a daughter. 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, aged 92. Jeanne Marie's second son, Victor Neill Malcolm, married English actress Ann Todd. They divorced in the late 1930s. Malcolm remarried in 1942 to an American, Mary Ellery Channing.
Acting career and manager
In 1881, Langtry was in need of money. Her close friend Oscar Wilde suggested she try the stage, and Langtry embarked upon a theatre career. She first tried out for an amateur production in the Twickenham Town Hall on 19 November 1881. It was a comedy two-hander called A Fair Encounter, with Henrietta Labouchère taking the other role and coaching Langtry in her acting. Labouchère had been a professional actress before she met and married Liberal MP Henry Labouchère. 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.
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 moved to another venue and opened the following week. Eventually, her production company started a coast-to-coast tour of the U.S., ending in May 1883 with a "fat profit." Before leaving New York, she had an acrimonious break with Henrietta Labouchère over Langtry's relationship with Frederick Gebhard, a wealthy young American.
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, Langtry 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 U.S. in The Crossways, written by her in collaboration with J. Hartley Manners, husband of actress Laurette Taylor. 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.
From 1900 to 1903, with financial support from Edgar Israel Cohen, Langtry became the lessee and manager of London's Imperial Theatre, opening on April 21, 1901, following an extensive refurbishment. On the site of the theatre is now the Westminster Central Hall.
For nearly a decade, from 1882 to 1891, Langtry had a relationship with an American, Frederick Gebhard, described as a young clubman, sportsman, horse owner, and admirer of feminine beauty, both on and off the stage. Gebhard's wealth was inherited; his maternal grandfather Thomas E. Davis was one of the wealthiest New York real estate owners of the period. His paternal grandfather, Dutchman Frederick Gebhard, came to New York in 1800 and developed a mercantile business that expanded into banking and railroad stocks.
Gebhard's father died when he was 5 years old and his mother died when he was about 10. He and his sister, Isabelle, were raised by a guardian, paternal uncle William H Gebhard. When Gebhard began his relationship with Langtry, he was 22 and she was 29.
With Gebhard, Langtry 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. Two horses survived the wreck, including St. Saviour, full brother to Eole. 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. He inherited wealth from his grandfather, who with seven of his sons, had developed and prospered from 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 the village of Kentford, near Newmarket. The building is a short distance from Baird's original race horse breeding establishment, which has since been renamed Meddler Stud.
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. In 1899 James Machell sold his Newmarket stables to Colonel Harry Leslie Blundell McCalmont, a wealthy racehorse owner, who was Langtry's brother-in-law, having married Hugo de Bathe's sister Winifred in 1897. He was also related to Langtry's first husband, Edward, whose ship-owning grandfather, George, had married into the County Antrim Callwell family, being related in marriage to the McCalmonts.
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). Langtry 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. After a few years, she gave up attempts to breed blood-stock. Langtry sold Regal Lodge and all her horse-racing interests in 1919 before she moved to Monaco. Regal Lodge had been her home for twenty-three years and received many celebrated guests, not least of whom was the Prince of Wales.
William Ewart Gladstone
During her stage career, she became friendly with William Ewart Gladstone (1809–1898), who was the British Prime Minister on four occasions during the reign of Queen Victoria. In her memoirs Langtry says that she first met Gladstone when she was posing for her portrait at Millais' studio. They were later friends and he became a mentor to her. He told her, "In your professional career, you will receive attacks, personal and critical, just and unjust. Bear them, never reply, and, above all, never rush into print to explain or defend yourself."
In 1925, Captain Peter Emmanuel Wright published a book called Portraits and Criticisms. In it, he claimed that Gladstone had numerous extramarital affairs, including one with Langtry. Gladstone's son Herbert Gladstone wrote a letter calling Wright a liar, a coward and a fool; Wright sued him. During the trial a telegram, sent by Langtry from Monte Carlo, was read out in court saying, "I strongly repudiate the slanderous accusations of Peter Wright." The jury found against Wright, saying that the "gist of the defendant's letter of 27 July was true" and that the evidence vindicated the high moral standards of the late Gladstone.
American citizenship and divorce
In 1888, Langtry became a property owner in the United States when she and Frederick Gebhard purchased adjoining ranches in Lake County, California. With an area of 4,200 acres (17 km2) in Guenoc Valley, she established a winery producing red wine. She sold it in 1906. Bearing the Langtry Farms name, the winery and vineyard are still in operation in Middletown, California.
During her travels in the United States, Langtry became an American citizen and on May 13, 1897, divorced her husband, Edward Langtry, in Lakeport, California. Her ownership of land in America was introduced in evidence at her divorce to help demonstrate to the judge that she was a citizen of the country. In June of that year Edward Langtry issued a statement giving his side of the story, which was published in the New York Journal.
He died a few months later in an asylum, after being found in a demented condition at a railway station. His death was probably due to a brain haemorrhage after a fall during a steamer crossing from Belfast to Liverpool. A verdict of accidental death was returned at the inquest. 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."
Langtry continued to have involvement with her husband's Irish properties after his death. These were compulsorily purchased from her in 1928 under the Northern Ireland Land Act, 1925. This was passed after the Partition of Ireland, with the purpose of transferring certain lands from owners to tenants.
Hugo Gerald de Bathe
After the divorce from her husband, Langtry was linked in the popular press to Prince Louis Esterhazy; they shared time together and both had an interest in horse racing. However, in 1899, she married 28-year-old Hugo Gerald de Bathe (1871–1940), son of Sir Henry de Bathe, 4th Baronet and Charlotte Clare. Hugo's parents had initially not married, due to objections from the de Bathe family. They lived together and seven of their children were born out of wedlock. They married after the death of Sir Henry's father in 1870, and Hugo was their first son born in wedlock – making him heir to the baronetcy.
The wedding between Langtry and de Bathe took place in St Saviour's Church, Jersey, on July 27, 1899, with Jeanne Marie Langtry being the only other person present, apart from the officials. This was the same day that Langtry's horse, Merman, won the Goodwood Cup. In December 1899, de Bathe volunteered to join the British forces in the Boer War. He was assigned to the Robert's Horse mounted brigade as a lieutenant. In 1907, Hugo's father died; he became the 5th Baronet, and Langtry became Lady de Bathe.
When Hugo de Bathe became the 5th Baronet, he inherited properties in Sussex, Devon and Ireland; those in Sussex were in the hamlet of West Stoke near Chichester. These were: Woodend, 17 bedrooms set in 71 acres; Hollandsfield, 10 bedrooms set in 52 acres and Balsom's Farm of 206 acres. Woodend was retained as the de Bathe residence whilst the smaller Hollandsfield was let.
Today the buildings retain their period appearance, but modifications and additions have been made, and the complex is now multi-occupancy. One of the houses on the site is named Langtry and another Hardy. The de Bathe properties were all sold in 1919, the same year Lady de Bathe sold Regal Lodge.
During her final years, Langtry, as Lady de Bathe, resided in Monaco whilst her husband, Sir Hugo de Bathe, lived in Vence, Alpes Maritimes. The two saw one another at social gatherings or in brief private encounters. During World War I, Hugo de Bathe was an ambulance driver for the French Red Cross. After Langtry's death, he remarried on November 26, 1931 in Corsica to Deborah Warschowsk Henius, a Dane.
Langtry's closest companion during her time in Monaco was her friend, Mathilde Marie Peat. Peat was at Langtry's side during the final days of her life as she died of pneumonia in Monte Carlo. Langtry left Peat £10,000, the Monaco property known as Villa le Lys, clothes, and Langtry's motor car.
Langtry died in Monaco at dawn, February 12, 1929. She had asked to be buried in her parents' tomb at St. Saviour's Church in Jersey. Due to blizzards, transport was delayed. Her body was taken to St Malo and across to Jersey on February 22 aboard the steamer Saint Brieuc. Her coffin lay in St Saviour's overnight surrounded by flowers, and she was buried on the afternoon of February 23.
In her will, Langtry left £2,000 to a young man that she had become fond of in later life named Charles Louis D'Albani; the son of a Newmarket solicitor, he was born in about 1891. She also left £1,000 to Dr A. T. Bulkeley Gavin of 5 Berkeley Square, London, a physician and surgeon who treated wealthy patients. In 1911 he had been engaged to author Katherine Cecil Thurston, who died before they could marry; she had already changed her will in favour of Bulkeley Gavin.
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.
Langtry's life story has been portrayed in film numerous times. Lilian Bond played her in The Westerner (1940), and Ava Gardner in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972). Bean was played by Walter Brennan in the former, and by Paul Newman in the latter film.
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.
Langtry is a featured character in the fictional The Flashman Papers novels of George MacDonald Fraser, in which she is noted as a former lover of arch-cad Harry Flashman, who, nonetheless, describes her as one of his few true loves.
Langtry is speculated to be an inspiration for Irene Adler, a character in the Sherlock Holmes fiction of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In A Scandal in Bohemia, Adler bests Holmes, perhaps the only woman to do so.
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 and 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.
Langtry lived at 21 Pont Street, London from 1890 to 1897, and had with her eight servants in 1891. 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.
A short walk from Pont Street was a house at number 2 Cadogan Place where she lived in 1899.
From 1886 to 1894, she owned a house in Manhattan at 362 West 23rd Street, a gift from Frederick Gebhard.
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.
Her London address in 1916 through till at least 1920 was Cornwall Lodge, Allsop Place, Regent's Park. She gave this address when sailing on the liner St Paul across the Atlantic in August 1916, and the 1920 London electoral register has de Bathe, Emilie Charlotte (Lady), listed at the same address. A letter sold at auction in 2014 from Langtry to Dr. Harvey dated 1918 is also headed with this address.
There are two bars in New York City devoted to the memory of Lillie Langtry, operating under the title Lillie's Victorian Establishment.
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 feet in breadth and was powered by a 142 hp steam engine. She had originally been named Ladye Mabel.
In 1893, Ogden Goelet leased the vessel from Langtry and used it until his death in 1897. It was sold at auction to John Lawson Johnston, the creator of Bovril. He owned it until his death on board in Cannes, France in 1900.
From 1902 to 1903, 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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Templeman Library, University of Kent at Canterbury
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