Lillie Langtry

From Academic Kids

Lillie Langtry (née Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, nicknamed the Jersey Lily) (13 October 1853 - 12 February 1929) was a British actress born on the island of Jersey in 1853. Her father was the Dean of Jersey.

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Lillie Langtry, depicted with a Jersey lily in her hair by Frank Miles

Emilie married Irish landowner Edward Langtry in 1874. One of his attractions was the fact that he possessed a yacht, and she insisted that he take her away from the Channel Islands; eventually they set up home in London. She did not begin her stage career until several years later, after her husband became bankrupt. She also had a daughter, born in 1881, Jeanne Marie Langtry (who married Sir Ian Malcolm of Poltalloch in 1902, had four children, and died in 1964), and whose father was definitely not Lillie's husband. The child's actual father was reportedly Lillie Langtry's lover Prince Louis of Battenberg (later 1st Marquess of Milford Haven, 1854-1921), who married Queen Victoria's granddaughter Princess Victoria of Hesse and the Rhine in 1884 and became father of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the last Viceroy of India, and grandfather of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. A recent biography of Langtry suggests that another of her lovers, Arthur Jones, may have been Jeanne Marie's father, though Prince Louis's son, Lord Mountbatten, always maintained that his father was the one.

Lillie's heyday as a society beauty culminated in her becoming a semi-official mistress to the Prince of Wales, Queen Victoria's son Albert Edward ("Bertie"), the future king Edward VII. Other lovers included wealthy Britons Robert Peel and George Baird. Among her friends were the Irish writer Oscar Wilde and the American artist James McNeill Whistler. She was for a time the manager of the Imperial Theatre and also manufactured claret at her 4,200 acre (17 km²) winery in Lake County (northern) California, which she purchased in 1888 and sold in 1906.

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Lillie Langtry's grave in St. Saviour, Jersey, is regularly visited by tourists and admirers

In 1887, Lillie became an American citizen, and divorced her husband the same year in California. 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 Carlo. She died there 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

Her nickname, "The Jersey Lily", was taken from the Jersey lily flower (Amaryllis belladonna) - a symbol of Jersey. The nickname was popularised by a portrait of Lillie Langtry, entitled A Jersey Lily, painted by Sir John Everett Millais, a fellow-countryman (according to tradition, they spoke Jèrriais to each other during the sittings). The painting caused great interest when exhibited at the Royal Academy, but Lillie is holding a Guernsey lily (Nerine sarniensis) in the painting rather than a Jersey lily, as no Jersey lilies were available at Covent Garden during the sittings.

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Caricature of Langtry, from Punch, Christmas 1890. The soap box on which she she sits is a reference to the Millais painting, Bubbles

Besides sitting for Millais, Frank Miles and Sir Edward Poynter, she is also depicted in works by Sir Edward Burne-Jones.

She used her high public profile to endorse commercial products such as cosmetics and soap, becoming an early example of celebrity endorsement.

Lillie 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 an episode of ATV's Edward VII. She was also portrayed on film by Lillian Bond in the film The Westerner, and by Ava Gardner in the 1972 movie The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, and (a heavily fictionalized version) by Stacy Haiduk in the 1996 television series Kindred.

Places connected with Lillie Langtry

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 was built as a romantic retreat for Lillie and the Prince of Wales.

Merman Cottage in St. Brelade, Jersey, was owned and occupied by Lillie Langtry (Merman was also the name of one of her racehorses).


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