Lillie Langtry's Life and Times
Lillie Langtry


Lillie Langtry (her real name was Emile Charlotte) was born on the English Channel island of Jersey, in 1853. The only daughter in a family of six sons, she was raised in the vicarage, for her father was the Dean. She gained an early reputation for beauty, and received her first marriage proposal when she was in her early teens. At 20, she married the plump and pompous Edward Langtry, who turned out to be not quite as wealthy as he pretended.

 

At Lillie's insistence, the Langtrys moved to London, where she was swept into society and became a Professional Beauty (the term used at the time to describe women whose face and figure brought them fame). Painted by the most famous artists of the day, praised by poet Oscar Wilde as "The Jersey Lily," she inevitably attracted the attention of that notorious connoisseur of women, the Prince of Wales. She was his mistress for three or so years, and although she was also involved with Prince Louis of Battenberg (the likely father of her only child, Jeanne Marie), she and the Prince remained occasional lovers until the turn of the century.
Lillie by Poynter
Edward Poynter's famous portrait

 

Lillie as Rosalind
Lillie as Rosalind
Given Lillie's beauty and notoriety, the stage was an obvious career choice. She was considered a mediocre actress, but the crowds flocked to see her costumes, her jewels, and her occasional display of legs, as when she played Rosalind in "As You Like It." She relied for support on her theatrical income, handsomely supplemented by a number of wealthy lovers, but her extravagent lifestyle was expensive and she was constantly worried about debt.

 

By the time of our book, 1899, her popularity was beginning to wane and she was anxious to secure a more reliable source of future income. In 1899, she married wealthy young Hugo deBathe, but she had to wait eight long years for his father to die before she could become Lady DeBathe. By that time, Hugo had found other entertainments, but the two remained married through Lillie's lifetime. She was estranged from her daughter, who believed until she was a young woman that her mother was her aunt. Lillie as Cleopatra
Lillie as Cleopatra

 

Lillie at Regal Lodge, 1899
Lillie at Regal Lodge, 1899
In Death at Epsom Downs, we portray Lillie in 1899, at the time of her greatest vulnerability, when she was desperately hoping to marry Hugo deBathe and become "respectable." Her husband Edward (who stubbornly refused to give her a British divorce) had died under mysterious circumstances just two years earlier. Her famous jewels and her yacht, "The White Lady" were gone. Her favorite possessions were her house near Newmarket and her stable of race horses. The central questions in our mystery--How did Edward Langtry die? What happened to her jewels? How did her daughter learn the identity of her mother?--have never been fully answered. Our version of Lillie's story is as true to her amazing life as we can make it.

 

Lillie outlived the glamour of her theatrical career and the glitter of Edwardian society. She died in her villa in Monte Carlo in 1929, at the age of 76. "If the world could see the turmoil going on in my heart," she said, "it would be startled beyond words. I have lost my daughter, the only thing that is dear to me. My life is sad indeed."