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Who is Lillie Langtry?

Niki Acker
Updated May 17, 2024
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Lillie Langtry was a British actress and artist's model renowned for her beauty. Nicknamed "The Jersey Lily," she became an overnight sensation simply because of her looks and commanded record prices for her theatrical performances. Lillie Langtry was also well known for her scandalous affairs with powerful men, including Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VII.

Lillie Langtry was born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton on 13 October 1853 to the Dean of Jersey and his wife Emilie. The only daughter in a family of seven sons, Lillie inherited her mother's looks and was called by the nickname Lillie, a reference to her perfect complexion, since childhood.

Lillie married her brother-in-law, widower Edward Langtry, in 1874, and the two moved to London two years later. For the most part, their first year there was uneventful, although Edward began drinking heavily. A chance meeting with artists John Millais and Frank Miles at an 1877 party made Lillie's beauty the talk of the town. Millais' celebrated portrait of her, entitled A Jersey Lily, cemented her fame, and her image was soon all over London.

Lillie Langtry met the Prince of Wales in 1877, and the two began an affair soon after. Though both were married, their relationship was no secret. Lillie Langtry also gained an introduction to queen Victoria and became friends with celebrities Oscar Wilde and James McNeill Whistler.

Lillie's relationship with the Prince was short lived, ending after she drank too much and made a fool of herself at a party. However, the two remained friends, and Lillie later became attached to his cousin, Prince Louis of Battenberg. When Lillie Langtry became pregnant in 1880, however, Prince Louis returned to the navy on his family's insistence, and the Prince of Wales arranged for Lillie to stay in Paris until the birth.

At this time in her life, Lillie Langtry was in a state of crisis. In addition to the illegitimate pregnancy, her husband was declared bankrupt, and her fame was being supplanted in London by that of newcomer Sarah Bernhardt. When her daughter was born in 1881, Lillie sent her to live with her grandparents and began a new career as an actress.

In 1882, Lillie Langtry began a tour of America that grew into a five-year endeavor. She was once again a beloved celebrity and began a relationship with millionaire Freddie Gebhard. At the end of her American theatrical tour, Lillie obtained American citizenship and a divorce from her husband.

Lillie Langtry returned to England, where she continued acting and developed an interest in horse racing. In 1899, she married the much younger Hugo de Bathe and purchased a home in Jersey. Around this time, she also became estranged from her daughter when the latter learned the truth about her parentage.

In her 50s, Lillie Langtry tried on a lot of different hats, performing vaudeville in New York, writing creatively, and appearing in film. She spent her later years in Monaco, setting her husband up in a nearby house and spending much of her time with her butler's widow Mathilda Peat. Lillie Langtry published an autobiography in 1925 and died of influenza on 12 February 1929. She is buried in Jersey.

Lillie Langtry's exceptional beauty and colorful life continued to fascinate people long after her death. She has been portrayed in many films, books, and television shows, notably the 1978 miniseries Lillie, starring Francesca Annis.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By anon208862 — On Aug 24, 2011

she is my great-great-great aunt/

By anon4212 — On Oct 08, 2007

Edward Langtry ws not Lillie Langtry's brother in law. Edward was Lillie's brother William's brother in law.

Edward Langtry's first wife (Jane Price) was Mrs. William Langtry's sister.

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of...
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