Lillie Langtry was born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, in the UK, on the Channel island of Jersey, on October 13, 1853.
Lillie Langtry was BEAUTIFUL! She was world-famous for her beauty at one time. She was known as the "Jersey Lillie" and was the first woman to get paid for a product endorsement: it was for Pear Soap, and their sales skyrocketed with her endorsement.
Lillie Langtry's early years were somewhat shadowed by her father's scandalous affair with a married woman, when he was married with four children, himself. Lillie's father was the Dean of Jersey. His name was the Reverend William Corbet Le Breton. The Reverend Le Breton eloped to Gretna Green with Lillie's mother, who was renowned for her beauty, after the Reverend's first wife left him on account of his infidelities. Lillie was a child of that union, and the only daughter in the family. The reverend retained custody of his four sons by the prior marriage and added two more sons to his family by his second wife.
Lillie was a very headstrong young lady, and somewhat spoiled by her father. Her father hired a governess for her: Lillie Langtry was way too much for the poor governess to take, so Lillie ended up being educated, and very well educated, by her brothers' tutor. She was a better scholar than they; however, in those times, women didn't go to university and prepare themselves for a career. The jobs open to women were lowly and unprofessional, and suited to poor women, not women of the educated, upper-middle-class. Women of Lillie's class were supposed get married.
So get married Lillie did.
She married Edward Langtry in 1874, at the age of twenty. He was a moderately well-to-do man-about-town whose people had property in Ireland. He was a gentleman with no profession. Lillie said later on, in an unadvised moment, that it wasn't Edward she married, but his yacht. They held their wedding reception at the Royal Yacht Hotel in St. Helier, Jersey.
Lillie insisted on getting away from the Channel Islands. They rented a place in Belgravia, in London, which was a very fashionable address. That's what Lillie wanted. Lillie Langtry was made for the society of that time. She was so very beautiful, first of all, which was a recommendation in and of itself. Her people were at least semi-respectable, and she was very witty, very charming.
Her husband Edward, on the other hand, was an empty suit. He made no impression or a negative impression in London. He had no conversation, and conversation was very important in the salons of the ton of London in those late Victorian years. He was known to the artists and writers and society people as "Lillie's husband", when they recognized him at all.
Lillie made a hit in society, first of all with Lord Ranleigh, who essentially sponsored her introduction to the future king of England, Edward VII, with whom Lillie Langtry would have a long-standing love affair.
Lillie Langtry also made a hit with the painter Frank Miles. She sat for a portrait which was later sold to Prince Leopold, and from that time forward, Lillie was invited everywhere. Lillie also sat for one of Burne-Jones' most famous portraits.
The Frank Miles portrait was reproduced on postcards, and was widely circulated, increasing Lillie's fame.
Lillie Langtry was famous, or maybe notorious, long before she started her career. Her affair with the Prince of Wales lasted from late in 1877 through the middle of 1880. The Prince had a house constructed to her specifications in Bournemouth, Dorset, as a retreat for them to get away together and be private.
Edward, the Prince of Wales, once complained to Lillie Langtry that he had spent enough money on her to build a battleship, to which she replied:
"You've spent enough in me to float one!"
The relationship came to an end when Lillie dumped some ice down the Prince of Wales' neck at a dinner party when he rebuked her publicly for addressing him as "Edward", not "sir" (as she should've according to the protocols of the time and place). It was a very bold thing for her to do, given the Prince's rank. The Prince and Lillie were on the outs, anyway, and he was paying attention to Sarah Bernhardt, and beginning to move his favors to Sarah.
At any rate, the affair ended, and with the end of that affair, much of society turned its back on Lillie; also, without the royal favor, the creditors closed in.
The Langtrys were living way beyond their means. Edward Langtry wasn't as rich as he appeared to be when Lillie married him.
Lillie sold off many of her personal possessions in order to pay debts, including some magnificent jewelry. They manage to stave off bankruptcy, barely.
I think it was in desperation that Lillie began the affair with the Earl of Shrewsbury. She and her husband were not getting along: he threatened to divorce her, citing the Prince of Wales, among others. She and the Earl planned to run away together. The Earl came to his senses in time.
In April of 1879, Lillie started an affair with Prince Louis of Battenberg. She was, concurrently, involved with an old flame from the Channel Islands, named Arthur Jones. She became pregnant. It was definitely not Lillie Langtry's husband's child.
Lillie said it was the Prince's child, and named her Jeanne Marie.
The Prince's parents sent him far, far away from Lillie; they had him command the battleship HMS Inconstant!
At the suggestion of her close friend Oscar Wilde, Lillie Langtry started a very successful stage career. She made her debut in London in "She Stoops to Conquer". She really wowed the audience. It was a huge success, mainly because of Lillie's outstanding beauty.
The following autumn, she went to New York to begin a United States tour.
America loved her! American men just fell at her feet! Once great story involves her New York debut. When she exited from the stage door and climbed into her carriage to go back to her hotel after the performance, about twenty male admirers unhitched the horses to her carriage and in homage to her, pulled her carriage themselves.
Lillie repeated her successful United States tours several times. Lillie starred in:
- She Stoops to Conquer
- The Degenerates
- Lady of Lyons
- As You Like It
- The Crossways (which was written by Lillie Langtry in collaboration with J. Hartley Manners)
- Cleopatra (the movie)
Lillie Langtry continued to have affairs, this time, in New York, with millionaire Frederic Gebhard. Lillie was successful enough to be making her husband an allowance, provided he left her alone. They did not get divorced immediately; she wanted a divorce at this time, but he did not, because he came to depend on that allowance. The English law at this time was such that he would have to divorce her for cause: she could not divorce him--he gave her no reason. Edward Langtry had gone down the slippery slope into alcoholism.
Lillie Langtry became an American citizen in 1897. She promptly divorced her husband under American law. Edward Langtry died a few months later, in an alcoholic accident.
Lillie Langtry owned property in America, which allowed her to become a citizen. It was a winery with 4200 acres in Lake County, California. That winery, bearing her name, is still in operation and selling wine under her label today.
In 1899, Lillie married a much younger man--Hugo de Bathe. Hugo inherited a baronetcy and was a leading light in the horse-racing world. They retired together to Monaco, but lived in separate residences. They saw each other from time to time. The separation appeared to be amicable though Hugo had many other lovers.
Lillie Langtry died in Monaco in 1929. She is interred in the graveyard of St. Saviour's Church, in the Channel Islands, Jersey, UK.