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Lillie Langtry (13 October 1853 – 12 February 1929), born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, was a highly successful Britishmarker actress born on the island of Jerseymarker. A renowned beauty, she was nicknamed the "Jersey Lily" and had a number of prominent lovers, including the future King Edward VII.

From Jersey to London

A Jersey Lily by Millais
Emilie was the only daughter of the Dean of Jersey, Rev. William Corbet le Breton. He gained an unsavoury reputation and after his wife had left him he was obliged to leave Jersey in 1880. He had eloped to Gretna Green with Lillie's mother, who was known for her beauty before marrying her again at Chelsea in 1842. One of Lillie's ancestors was Richard le Breton. She had six brothers, all but one older than her. Proving too much for her French governess, she was educated by her brothers' tutor and was unusually well educated for the time.

In 1874, twenty-year-old Lillie married twenty-six-year-old Irish landowner Edward Langtry, the brother-in-law of her brother William's wife. One of his attractions was that he possessed a yacht, and she insisted that he take her away from the Channel Islands. Eventually, they rented a place in Belgraviamarker, Londonmarker.

A meeting with Lord Ranelagh, a friend of her father, led to an invitation to a high society reception at which Lillie attracted notice for her beauty and wit despite wearing a simple black dress (which was to become her trademark) and no jewelry. 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, eventually painted her portrait. Langtry's nickname, the "Jersey Lily," was taken from the Jersey lily flower (Amaryllis belladonna) – a symbol of Jerseymarker. 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 Academymarker, but Lillie is holding a Guernsey lily (Nerine sarniensis) in the painting rather than a Jersey lily, as none was available at Covent Gardenmarker 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 (previously scarce) flooded in. Her fame soon reached royal ears.

Royal mistress

The Prince of Wales, Albert Edward ("Bertie"), arranged to sit next to her at a dinner party given by Sir Allen Young on 24 May 1877. (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 Lillie and it was soon no secret that she had become his semi-official mistress. She was even presented to Edward's mother, Queen Victoria. Eventually, a cordial relationship developed between her and Princess Alexandra.

The affair lasted from late 1877 to June 1880. Edward had construction begun on the Red House (now Langtry Manormarker Hotel) in Bournemouthmarker, Dorset in 1877 as a private retreat for the couple. He allowed Lillie to design it. The tradition is that their relationship finally cooled when she misbehaved at a dinner party, but she had been eclipsed when Sarah Bernhardt came to London in June 1879. In July 1879 Langtry had begun an affair with the Earl of Shrewsbury; in January 1880 Langtry and the Earl were planning to run away together. Also, at the end of August and in September 1879, it was stated 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. Nevertheless, 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, and in October 1880 many of her possessions were sold to meet her debts, though the statement that Edward Langtry became officially bankrupt is not correct.


In April 1879, Lillie started another affair with Prince Louis of Battenberg, although she was involved with an old friend at the same time, Arthur Clarence Jones (1854-1930). In June 1880, she became pregnant. The father was definitely not her husband; Prince Louis was allowed to believe that it was he. When the prince confessed to his parents he was indeed the father, he was hastily assigned to the warship HMS Inconstant. Lillie, receiving some money from the Prince of Wales, retired to Paris with Arthur Jones, where on March 8, 1881, she gave birth to a daughter, Jeanne Marie.

The discovery of Lillie's passionate letters to Arthur Jones in 1878 and their publication by Laura Beatty in 1999 support the idea that Jones was the father. However, Prince Louis's son, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, had always maintained that it was his father.

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

Acting career

Langtry as Lady de Bathe c.

At the suggestion of one of her close friends, Oscar Wilde, Lillie embarked upon a stage career. In December 1881, she made her debut before the London public in She Stoops to Conquer at the Haymarket Theatremarker. The following autumn, she made her first tour of America, an enormous success, which she repeated in subsequent years, though the critics generally condemned her interpretations of roles such as Pauline in the Lady of Lyons or Rosalind in As You Like It.

In 1903, she starred in America in The Crossways, written by her in collaboration with J. Hartley Manners. She returned to America in 1906 and again in 1912, appearing in vaudeville.

From 1882 to 1891 she had been the mistress of the millionaire Fred Gebhard and from April 1891 until his death at New Orleans in March 1893 she was the mistress of George Alexander Baird, millionaire amateur jockey and pugilist.

From 1900 to 1903, she was the lessee and manager of London's Imperial Theatremarker.

American citizenship and after

In 1897, Langtry became an American citizen, and divorced her husband the same year in Lakeport, Californiamarker. Edward died a few months later following an accident that same year. A letter of condolence written by her to a widow reads in part, "I too have lost a husband, but alas! it was no great loss."

She had purchased a winery with an area of in Lake Countymarker, Californiamarker in 1888 which produced red wine. She sold it in 1906. The winery and vineyard are still in operation.

In 1899, she married the much younger Hugo Gerald de Bathe, who would inherit a baronetcy, and became a leading owner in the horse-racing world, before retiring to Monte Carlomarker. During her final years, she resided in a home in Monacomarker, 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.

Langtry died in Monaco in 1929, and was buried in the graveyard of St. Saviour's Church in Jersey – the church of which her father had been rector.

Cultural influence

She used her high public profile to endorse commercial products such as cosmetics and soap, becoming an early example of celebrity endorsement. Langtry was portrayed on film by Lillian Bond in The Westerner (1940), and by Ava Gardner in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972). Judge Roy Bean, a real-life admirer, was played by Walter Brennan in the former and Paul Newman in the latter, both times as a man with a life-long obsession with her.

Langtry's story was dramatised by London Weekend Television in 1978 as Lillie, with 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 heavily fictionalized incarnation of Langtry was performed by Stacy Haiduk in the 1996 television series Kindred: The Embraced. In the series, Langtry is the immortal leader of a sect of vampires living in the present day.

Langtry is also 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 featuring actual people.

The fictitious character Irene Adler, who bested Sherlock Holmes when he sought an incriminating photograph of her and a European monarch, is thought to have been based upon Langtry.Langtry was also the subject of The Who's 1967 recording, Pictures of Lily about a young man infatuated by her image. A line from the song states "She's been dead since 1929".

Places connected with Lillie Langtry

Lillie Langtry lived at 21 Pont Streetmarker, 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.

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

Merman Cottage in Saint Brelade, Jerseymarker, was purported 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 Jerseymarker.

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

The town of Langtrymarker, Texasmarker, 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.

"Lillies" which is a victorian themed bar located at 13th East 17th street(formally the ladies mile district), in the Union Square district of NYC, opened in 2008. Its entire concept celebrates the life and legacy of Lillie Langtry. "Lillies" showcases wines from the Langtry estates while exhibiting many victorian antiques.



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