Marguerite Jeanne "Meg" Japy Steinheil, Lady Abinger (16 April 1869 – 17 July 1954) was a French woman famous for her many love affairs with important men. She became notorious when it became known that she was present at the death of President Félix Faure, who allegedly had a seizure while having sex with her. She was later charged with the murder of her husband and mother.
Steinheil was born Marguerite Jeanne Japy in Beaucourt, in the Territoire de Belfort, to a rich, industrial family, the daughter of Emilie (Rau) and Eduard Japy. She married the well-known French painter Adolphe Steinheil in July 1890. She became a prominent figure in Parisian society, and her salon was frequented by men of eminence in French political and social circles, including Gounod, Ferdinand de Lesseps, René Lalique, Jules Massenet, François Coppée, Émile Zola, and Pierre Loti.
Mistress of President Felix Faure
In 1897, she was introduced, at Chamonix, to President Félix Faure, who was giving an official contract to Adolphe Steinheil. Because of this, Félix Faure came often to their home on the Impasse Ronsin.
Shortly afterward Marguerite became Félix Faure's mistress and was regularly ushered into the salon bleu in the private quarters of the presidential Palais de l'Élysée.
On 16 February 1899, Félix Faure called Marguerite by telephone, asking her to come to the palace at the end of the afternoon. Briefly after her arrival, servants were rung for and they found the president lying on the couch while Marguerite Steinheil adjusted her disordered clothing. Félix Faure died several hours later.
Legend has it that she was performing oral sex on him when he had a fit, and died, his convulsed hands tangled in her hair. Of course nothing of this was officially announced, but rumours started spreading immediately, although for several years it was believed that his partner at the time of his death was actress Cécile Sorel.
Femme du monde
After the death of Félix Faure, Marguerite Steinheil became the mistress of many famous men.
In her Mémoires, she records how she and her spouse received a mysterious German guest, who bought back from them each of the pearls of a collar given to her by Faure (le collier présidentiel, as it became known in the press) and who reclaimed a manuscript of the president's memoires which he had entrusted to Marguerite.
In February 1908, she met the powerful industrialist Maurice Borderel, also from the Ardennes, and soon became his lover.
On 31 May 1908, Marguerite's mother and husband were found dead in their residence in the Impasse Ronsin, off the Rue de Vaugirard. Both had died of suffocation by strangulation. Marguerite was found gagged and bound to a bed. She initially said that she had been tied up by four black-robed strangers, three men and a woman. Some newspapers speculated that they had come to her house in search of certain secret documents which Faure had entrusted to her keeping, possibly relating to the Dreyfus affair.
The police immediately regarded her as a suspect in the killings but had no hard evidence and made a pretense of abandoning the investigation. But Steinheil herself would not let the affair rest. She made an attempt to frame her manservant, Rémy Couillard, by concealing a small pearl which she affirmed had been stolen at the time of the murder in a pocketbook belonging to Couillard; after that fabrication was discovered, she blamed Alexandre Wolff, the son of her old housekeeper, but he was able to establish an alibi. She was arrested in November 1908 and taken to St. Lazare prison. The crime created a sensation in Paris. It was revealed that she had had a great number of admirers, including even King Sisowath of Cambodia. Opponents of the government tried to make political capital of the affair, the anti-Semitic Libre Parole even charging her with having poisoned President Faure. A sensational trial finally ended in her acquittal on 14 November 1909, although the judge called her stories "tissues of lies".
After the trial she came to live in London, where she was known as Mme de Serignac. She wrote My Memoirs in 1912. On 26 June 1917, she married Robert Brooke Campbell Scarlett, 6th Baron Abinger, who died in 1927. She lived at 24 Adelaide Crescent in Hove from that year and died in a nursing home in the town.
- Le Petit Journal, Nov. 2, 1909. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k618795t/f5.item
- Ernest Dudley; Marguerite Steinheil (1960). The Scarlett widow. F. Muller.
- Armand Lanoux wrote a book about her affair with Faure, Madame Steinheil ou la Connaissance du président (1983). This title is a pun on connaissance meaning both "consciousness" and "acquaintance". The priest who came to give last rites to Félix Faure when he died allegedly asked a police officer whether the president still "had his consciousness/acquaintance", to which the police officer replied "no, she left through the back door".
- Le Petit Parisien, Nov. 1, 1909. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k563412m/f1.item
- Middleton 2002, Vol. 1, p. 16.
- Alain Decaux : Les assassins, Perrin.
- Armand Lanoux : Madame Steinheil ou la Connaissance du président (1983).
- Christian Siméon, dramaturge : La Priapée des Écrevisses ou l’Affaire Steinheil.
- Pierre Darmon, historien : Marguerite Steinheil, ingénue criminelle? (Perrin, 1996).
- Jacques Neirynck : Le crime du prince de Galles, (2007)
- Middleton, Judy (2002). The Encyclopaedia of Hove & Portslade. Brighton: Brighton & Hove Libraries.
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