Lillie Langtry

Lillie Langtry
Lillie Langtry

depicted with a Jersey lily in her hair
by Frank Miles
Born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton
13 October 1853(1853-10-13)
Jersey, Channel Islands
Died 12 February 1929(1929-02-12) (aged 75)
Resting place St. Saviour's Church, Jersey
Other names Lily Langtry (in U.S.)
Occupation Actress
Years active 1881–1929

Lillie Langtry (13 October 1853 – 12 February 1929), usually spelled Lily Langtry when she was in the U.S., born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, was a British actress born on the island of Jersey. A renowned beauty, she was nicknamed the "Jersey Lily" and had a number of prominent lovers, including the future king of the United Kingdom, Edward VII.


From Jersey to London

A Jersey Lily by Millais

Emilie Charlotte Le Breton was the only daughter of the Dean of Jersey, Rev. William Corbet Le Breton. He gained an unsavoury reputation because of a number of extramarital affairs and, when his wife finally left him in 1880, he left Jersey.[1]

He had eloped to Gretna Green with Lillie's mother, Emilie Davis (nee Martin),[2] who was known for her beauty.[3] In 1842, he married her at Chelsea. One of Lillie's ancestors was Richard le Breton, one of the reputed assassins of Saint Thomas a Becket in 1170. She had six brothers, all but one older than she. Proving too much for her French governess, Lillie was educated by her brothers' tutor, becoming unusually well educated for women of the time.

In 1874, twenty-year-old Lillie married twenty-six-year-old Irish landowner Edward Langtry, a widower who had been married to the sister of her brother William's wife. 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 a place in Belgravia, London.

In an interview published in several newspapers (including the Brisbane Herald) in 1882, Lillie Langtry said,

“It was through Lord Ranleigh 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 Ranelagh, 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 more elaborate clothing, she wore a simple black dress (which was to become her trademark) and no jewellery.[3] Before the end of the evening, Frank Miles had completed several sketches of her that became very popular on postcards.[4] Another guest, Sir John Everett Millais, 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 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.

Royal mistress

August 1885 by William Downey

The Prince of Wales, Albert Edward ("Bertie"), arranged to sit next to Langtry at a dinner party given by Sir Allen Young on 24 May 1877.[5] (Her husband was seated at the other end of the table.) Though he was married to Princess Alexandra and had six children, Edward was a well-known philanderer. He became infatuated with Langtry and she became his semi-official mistress. She was even presented to Edward's mother, Queen Victoria. Eventually, a cordial relationship developed between her and Princess Alexandra.[6]

The affair lasted from late 1877 to June 1880.[7] Edward had the Red House (now Langtry Manor Hotel) constructed in Bournemouth, Dorset in 1877 as a private retreat for the couple.[8] He allowed Langtry to design it.[8] Edward 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".[9] The tradition is that their relationship finally cooled when she misbehaved at a dinner party,[10] but she had been eclipsed when Sarah Bernhardt 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.[11] In the autumn of 1879 there were rumours published in Town Talk that her husband would divorce her and cite, with others, the Prince of Wales. For some time, the Prince saw little of her. He remained fond of her and spoke well of her in her later career as a theatre actress.

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. Edward Langtry did not officially declare bankruptcy.[12]


In April 1879, Langtry started an affair with Prince Louis of Battenberg, although she was also involved with Arthur Clarence Jones (1854–1930), an old friend. In June 1880, she became pregnant. Her husband was definitely not the father; she led Prince Louis to believe that it was he. When the prince confessed to 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, Jeanne Marie.[13]

The discovery of Langtry's passionate letters to Arthur Jones in 1878 and their publication by Laura Beatty in 1999 support the idea that Jones was the father.[14] Prince Louis's son, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, had always maintained that his father was the father of Jeanne Marie.[15]

In 1902 Jeanne Marie married the Scottish politician, Sir Ian Malcolm. They had four children. Lady Malcolm died in 1964.

Acting career

Lillie Langtry - 1899
"The Degenerates"
Langtry as Lady de Bathe c. 1915

At the suggestion of either her close friend Oscar Wilde or Sarah Bernhardt, Lillie embarked upon a stage career.[16][17] In December 1881, she made her debut before the London public in She Stoops to Conquer at the Haymarket Theatre.[18] The following autumn, she made her first tour of the United States, to 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.[18] In 1903, she starred in the U.S. in The Crossways, written by her in collaboration with J. Hartley Manners.[18] She returned to the United States for tours in 1906 and again in 1912, appearing in vaudeville.[18]

Thoroughbred racing

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 seventeen of their horses when it derailed at Shohola, Pennsylvania at 1:40 in the morning. 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 fourteen racehorses belonging to him and Langtry. One of the two horses to survive the wreck was St. Saviour. He was named for St. Saviour's Church in Jersey, where Langtry's father had been rector and where the actress chose to be buried.[19][20] In 1900, Langtry's horse Merman, ridden by American Tod Sloan, won the Ascot Gold Cup.[21]

American citizenship and after

Langtry became an American citizen in 1897. She divorced her husband Edward Langtry the same year in Lakeport, California, and he died a few months later following an accident.[22] 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."[23]

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 name, the winery and vineyard are still in operation in Middletown, California.

Langtry was involved in a relationship with George Alexander Baird, millionaire amateur jockey and pugilist, from April 1891 until his March 1893 death in New Orleans.[24]

Lillie Langtry's grave in Saint Saviour, Jersey

In 1899, she married the much younger Hugo Gerald de Bathe.[18] 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 constant companion during this time was her close friend, Mathilda Peat, the widow of her butler.

From 1900 to 1903, Langtry was the lessee and manager of London's Imperial Theatre.[25]

Keen's Chop House in New York says that Langtry sued them in 1905 over their gentlemen-only seating policy and won, then sailed in wearing a feather boa and ordered a mutton chop.[26]

Langtry died in Monaco in 1929. She was buried in the graveyard of St. Saviour's Church in Jersey.

Cultural influence

Caricature of Langtry, from Punch, Christmas 1890. The soap box on which she sits reflects her endorsements of cosmetics and soaps.

Langtry used her high public profile to endorse commercial products such as cosmetics and soap, becoming an early example of celebrity endorsement. Her famous ivory complexion brought her income as the first woman to endorse a commercial product, advertising Pears Soap. Her fee was allied to her weight so she was paid 'pound for pound'.

Scholars believe the fictitious Irene Adler in "A Scandal in Bohemia" (1891), the first Sherlock Holmes short story, who bested the private investigator when he sought an incriminating photograph of her and a European monarch, is based upon Langtry.[27]

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 life-long obsession with the beauty.

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 drastically 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 mentioned 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 even 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).[28]

The song "Lily Langtry" appears in a few albums by the folk group New Christy Minstrels.

Langtry was possibly the subject of The Who's 1967 song, "Pictures of Lily", about a young man infatuated by the image of a woman named Lily; the fact that her death occurred in 1929 (as mentioned in the song) gives credence to this theory. A British feature film used the song title Pictures of Lily in 2011.

In The Simpsons episode in which Montgomery Burns auditions children to be his new heir, the theatre in which the auditions are held on Burns' estate is called the Lillie Langtry Theater.

Places connected with Lillie Langtry

21 Pont Street, London
Blue plaque at the Cadogan Hotel, London

Lillie Langtry lived at 21 Pont Street, London from 1892 to 1897. Although from 1895 the building was actually the Cadogan Hotel, she would stay in her old bedroom there. A blue plaque on the hotel commemorates this, and the hotel's restaurant is named Langtry's in her honour.

Whilst 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 and continues to function as a hotel today - renamed 'The Jones Hotel', 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.

She lived for a time at 42 Wickham Road, Brockley in southeast London.

Merman Cottage in Saint Brelade, Jersey, was reputed to be owned and occupied by Lillie Langtry (Merman was also the name of one of her racehorses). However there is no record in the Public Registry of Jersey of any transactions by Emilie Charlotte Le Breton or that she ever owned property in Jersey.

Langtry stayed at Teddy's Nook, a house in Yorkshire, some time between 1877 and 1880.

The town of Langtry, Texas, was not named for her, although its most illustrious inhabitant, Judge Roy Bean, was an ardent admirer, naming the saloon where he held court "The Jersey Lily". Bean himself spread the rumor about the town's name. He also built an opera house in anticipation of a visit, and Mrs. Langtry appeared there after Bean's death. The town was named for railroad supervisor George Langtry.

The Langtry Manor Hotel (now a boutique hotel) is located at Derby Road, East Cliff, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH1 3QB. The Manor House was built in 1877 by the future Edward VII and was used as a love nest for them. It is now a hotel/restaurant and run by Tara Howard, it is one of Lorraine Kelly's top 20 Wedding venues. Also according to Paranormal Dorset by Roger Guttridge a female presence has been felt in the Manor House, namely at 4pm in the kitchen which is the time when Langtry would make her afternoon tea.



  1. ^ Anthony Camp, Royal Mistresses and Bastards: Fact and Fiction 1714-1936 (London, 2007) 365.
  2. ^ Camp, op.cit. 366.
  3. ^ a b Lillie Langtry
  4. ^ "Frank Miles Drawing". Retrieved 2008-05-30. 
  5. ^ Camp, op.cit., p.364.
  6. ^ "The Girl from Jersey". Retrieved 2008-05-30. 
  7. ^ Camp, op.cit., 364.
  8. ^ a b "History of the Langtry Manor". Retrieved 2008-05-13. 
  9. ^ Twilight of splendor: the court of Queen Victoria during her diamond jubilee year, Greg King, John Wiley & Sons, 2007 p.138
  10. ^ "Fall from Grace". Retrieved 2008-05-30. 
  11. ^ Laura Beatty, Lillie Langtry: manners, masks and morals (London, 1999), pp. 164-65.
  12. ^ "Changing fortunes". Retrieved 2008-05-30. 
  13. ^ Camp, op.cit., pp.364-67
  14. ^ Beatty, op. cit.
  15. ^ Daily Telegraph, 27 September 1978; Evening News, 23 October 1978.
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b c d e New International Encyclopedia
  19. ^ "Derailed And On Fire; One Person Killed And Forty-One Injured. Fifteen Horses Of Mrs. Langtry And Fred Gebhard Dead--A Collision Caused By Another Accident". The New York Times. 14 August 1888. Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  20. ^ "The Shohola Accident.; Most Of The Injured Doing Well-- Mrs. Langtry And Mr. Gebhard" (PDF). The New York Times. 15 August 1888. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ Beatty, op.cit., p.302.
  23. ^ Letter in the Curtis Theatre Collection, University of Pittsburgh.
  24. ^ Camp, op.cit., p.366.
  25. ^ "Mrs Langtry sold the theatre to Wesleyan Methodists who in turn sold [the interior] to the company owning the Royal Albert Music Hall, Canning Town, who re-erected it 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 Methodist Central Hall.
  26. ^
  27. ^ Wolfe, Julian, "The Adventuress of Sherlock Holmes", cited by Baring-Gould, William S.(ed.), The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, vol.1 p.354.
  28. ^ Pirolini, Alessandro. The Cinema of Preston Sturges: A Critical Study, McFarland & Co., 2010. ISBN 9780786443581

External links

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  • Lillie Langtry — også kendt som Jersey Lily (13. oktober 1853 1929), engelsk skuespiller. Hun var efter sigende Edward 7.s elskerinde i en periode, skønt han var gift med den danske prinsesse Alexandra. Lillie døde i 1929, og efter hendes ønske blev hun begravet… …   Danske encyklopædi

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  • Lillie Langtry — noun British actress and mistress of the prince who later became Edward VII (1853 1929) • Syn: ↑Langtry, ↑Jersey Lillie, ↑Emilie Charlotte le Breton • Instance Hypernyms: ↑actress * * * Lillie Langtry …   Useful english dictionary

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