19 February 2019

An American "princess" married into the Greek royal family!

Who were the American "princesses" who moved to Britain? The charming Caton sisters grew up in Baltimore, children of a wealthy merchant family. These young Americans had the money and they were willing to negotiate with young men of status in Britain. The three sisters exploded into the heart of high society and the Prince Regent himself took an int­er­est. The Duke of Wellington fell in love with Marianne Caton. When she was 37, Marianne married the impoverished 1st Marquis Richard Welles­ley, Wellington's brother and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Marianne became the first American-born marchioness, and lady in waiting to Queen Adelaide. When Marianne died and was buried on the Costessey estate.

Her sister Louisa married Francis Marquis of Carmarthen who succeeded his father as the 7th Duke of Leeds in 1838. As the Duchess of Leeds, Louisa apparently became a friend of young Queen Victoria. Her other sister Bess married the elderly 8th Baron Stafford of Costessey Hall Norfolk in 1836. He had a very large family and no great wealth.

A very wealthy widow, New Yorker Lily Hamersley became the first American after Louisa Caton to become an English duchess. Lily married the 8th Duke of Marlborough in 1888. The inheritance she received from her first husband was used to restore Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, seat of the Churchill family.

Lily’s stepson, Charles Spencer-Churchill 9th Duke Marlborough, married Consuelo Vanderbilt, daughter of a New York railroad millionaire in 1895. Consuelo emigrated to Britain, moved into Blenheim Palace and gave birth to two sons, heirs to the dukedom.

Kathleen Kennedy, daughter of US ambassador Joe Kennedy, was invited to meet suitable men at the Astors’ palace. Note that Lady Nancy Astor, an Americ­an herself, was very support­ive of young American girls in Britain. In 1938 Kathleen met Will­iam Cavendish Marquis of Hart­ington, Duke of Devonshire's son, marrying in 1944. Alas William returned to his unit in France and was kill­ed in action in Belgium after the wedding. In 1948 March­ioness Kathleen Cav­end­ish died and was buried at Chatsworth.

Portrait of  young Nancy Leeds, 
by Giovanni Boldini, 1914 
Note the large diamonds in the tiara, made for her by Cartier in 1913.

Clearly many American women joined various noble families, but not just in Britain! One woman I knew nothing about Nancy Stewart Worthington Leeds (1878-1923) in Ohio to a wealthy merchant. Nan­cy’s education was via home-based tutors until she was enrolled at the private college preparatory school for girls in Connecticut.

As a young teen, Nancy married to George Ely Worthington, scion of the Cleveland Worthington industrialist dynasty. They divorced in 1898, and by 1900, she married William Leeds, the Tin King who was a multi-millionaire. Two years later, their only child William Leeds Jr (1902-71) was born. Sadly William Sr died four years later in 1908 in Paris, leaving Nancy a widow. Happily she was the heir to most of the family’s fortune.

Soon Nancy began to socialise with the European aristocracy in France and in 1914 she met the young Prince Christoph­er of Greece and Denmark. Christopher was the youngest child of King George I of Greece and his wife, Grand Duchess Olga Constantinovna of Russia. As Nancy was both a commoner and twice divorced, many in the Greek Royal Family were not at all happy about such a marriage, reminding us of American Wallis Simpson and British King Edward VIII.

When King George I was assassinated in 1913, his son Constantine took the throne. Nancy was aware of King Constantine I’s position as a German sym­pathiser during WW1. This was partially due to his marriage to Sop­hia of Prussia, sister of Wilhelm II and partially because he felt naturally close to Germany’s militarism. In any case, Const­antine blocked popular efforts by Prime Minister Venizelos to bring Greece into the war on the side of the Allies. For Nancy, it would have been risky to align herself with Greece, had the Greeks created an alliance with Germany against her own homeland, the USA.

Princess Anastasia and Prince Christopher
1923, the year of her death,

Eventually, post-war, Nancy converted to Greek Orthodoxy and married her prince in Feb 1920 in Switzerland. King Constantine I made her a princess, not just a consort, giving her the title Her Royal Highness Princess Anastasia of Greece and Denmark. Unfortunately Anastasia was diagnosed with cancer, soon after their marriage.

The American press covered her every movement… including news about Princess Anastasia’s only son, William Leeds Jr. In 1921 William Jnr married into European royalty when he wed Princess Xenia of Russia who was living in Greece. Xenia’s mother was his step-father’s sister! Princess Anastasia was not happy about William or Xenia’s young age, nor the fact that she had hoped her son would go and live in the USA, not in Europe. At least her son and daughter in law literally stayed by her side for the rest of her life.

When cancer killed the princess in 1923 in a London hospital, she was only 45. Later Prince Christopher remarried, this time to the Princess Francoise of Orl­eans in 1929; they had one child, Prince Michael of Greece in 1939.

Anastasia's mother in law Grand Duchess Olga spent her last years in Britain, living in the residences of the British Royal Family. Olga remained very close to her sister-in-law Queen Alexandra, and her nephew King George V. Olga died in 1926. Thanks to Unofficial Royalty and Royal Musings blogs




11 comments:

Andrew said...

"The American press covered her every movement… including news about Princess Anastasia’s only son, William Leeds Jr." Topical given the reported media harassment of the Duchess of Sussex.

Joseph said...

Royal Musings is a great blog. I was afraid it might have been a bit light on historical evidence and a bit too focused on gossip.

Hels said...

Andrew

Absolutely... for a while I thought I WAS writing about other royals who had married commoners. All royal parents were anxious about newcomers being divorced, of the wrong religion, speaking the wrong language, uneducated in royal protocol etc.etc. When King Edward wanted to marry the divorced commoner Wallis Simpson, the couple nearly brought the government down. I don't think Prince Christopher of Greece was close enough to the throne to threaten the stability of the Greek Government.

Note how inter-mixed the royal families of Europe were. Greek King Constantine had married Princess Sophia of Prussia, a granddaughter of British Queen Victoria and sister of German Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Hels said...

Joseph,

after all these years of blogging, I STILL don't know all the great blogs out there!

Royal Musings has taken the trouble to document the sources of their evidence, and has not slipped into a Women's Weekly-type gossip sheet. This was never an issue for me regarding British royal history, which I did for 6 years in high school and 4 years at uni. But it matters very much with Greek royalty etc, about which I knew very little.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I think that the European (and British) royal/aristocratic families needed some fresh blood, and the cash usually did not hurt. There were so many marriages with American women that the situation became a cliche, one often employed by P.G. Wodehouse. But is there even one instance of an American man marrying a European queen or princess?

The details of all these marriages make my head spin. It is too bad that all of their lives did not work out as happily as their fairy-tale weddings. Worthington (and Ely) are indeed names famous in Cleveland and Western Reserve history. Even if the marriage did not last, I am sure that Nancy brought some of that special Cleveland charm over to Europe!
--Jim

Hels said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hels said...

Parnassus

your comments promote even more questions:
1. Did wealthy American families actively promote their single daughters' movement to Europe with a view to finding suitable noble husbands?
2. Did wealthy American families actively stop their sons from moving to Europe, at least the sons not in excess to requirements?
3. What about wealthy American families where their sons travelled to Europe in important ambassadorial or military jobs? Were they allowed to marry women from the European nobility?
4. Did noble families in Europe do their due financial diligence on young American women who wanted to marry their sons?
5. Even if the young American women came from wealthy families, how did European noblemen or royals get access to the American dollars?

The only thing I would disagree with was the need for fresh blood. Noble and especially royal families wanted to select their daughters in law from a very limited number of approved and close families.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - a complete roundabout of wealth and inheritance and thus sides in War. I certainly don't know all these characters ... some obviously. I thought that they did want new blood (especially wealthy blood) if the others on the market weren't suitable for whatever reason.

I was pleased to find out about The Tin Plate King - William B Leeds ... interesting as I didn't know about him or the other tin platers!

Cheers Hilary

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Hels said...

Hilary

William B Leeds and his partners started the American Tin Plate Co that so dominated the tin plate industry, they had to be protected by the President of the USA. Plus Leeds rose to his VERY wealthy heights in train networks, jewels and steel companies!

What a catch his young widow must have been.

Hels said...

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It IS fascinating, many thanks. The whole practice reminds me somewhat of husband-hunting in India during the Raj when British women travelled for a very specific reason.