13th October 1853

Lillie Langtry is born

Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, daughter of the dean of Jersey, was born in St Saviour, Jersey, in 1853 and moved to London in 1876. She was considered one of the most beautiful women of her day and earned herself fame – and a reputation – as a socialite. She took the name Langtry when, aged 20, she married the 26-year-old Edward Langtry, an Irish land owner.

Langtry the life model

Her fame initially came as a result of sitting for a portrait. London-based artist George Miles, better known as Frank, had sketched her while at a reception and found that the pictures of the beautiful young woman sold well on postcards. She was them painted by Sir John Everett Millais, who titled the resulting picture A Jersey Lily. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy where, reputedly, it had to be roped off to avoid damage from the surging crowds.

Not long after, she began a series of affairs with notable royals, starting with Albert, Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII. They had met at a dinner where the prince had arranged for them to be seated side by side and, as their affair developed, she was even introduced to Queen Victoria. The relationship lasted three years. At the end of the 1870s, after several further affairs, she briefly took up with Prince Louis of Battenburg.

Affairs with royalty

However, while the queen might not have met Langtry until she took up with Albert, the monarch certainly knew of her existence since, reputedly, she had stood on a chair and taken down Millais’ painting of her that her youngest son, Prince Leopold, had hung above his bed.

When her husband’s fortune, based on rent collected on Irish properties, ran dry, Langtry took to the stage. Beginning her theatre career aged 30, she initially trod the boards in the UK but, after finding success at home, she was given further theatre work in the United States. She was so successful that she eventually founded her own stage company and thus regained her fortune. So beloved was she as an actress that a town in Texas was even renamed in her honour.

Lillie Langtry’s final years

She left the stage shortly after the end of the First World War and moved to Monaco, where she spent her final years hosting parties and investing in racehorses under the name Mr Jersey, as women were not, at the time, permitted to own racehorses of their own.

Lillie died of pneumonia on 12 February 1929. Her obituary in the Dundee Courier the following day described her as “the most famous beauty of her day. Friend of royalty, the idol of the people. Lady De Bathe [Lillie] held a warmer place in the hearts of British people than even queens, great figures of society, or the magnificent actresses of past days.”

In accordance with her wishes, her body was taken back to Jersey and she was buried in her parents’ tomb in St Saviour.


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