Born on Thursday 13th of October 1853 Lille Langrty was christened Emilie Charlotte Le Breton but nick named Lillie by her family because of the whiteness of her skin. She was born in the rectory of St Saviours the sixth child of Dean William Corbet and his wife Emilie Davis Martin she was the only girl born to this couple and had five brothers.
From a young age Lillie joined her brothers in their pranks around the parish and in her autobiography she said “Living the life of my brothers turned me into an incorrigible tomboy” the Le Breton boys were notorious pranksters. Lillie also had an atypical education, she was taught by her brothers tutor when he came to oversee their homework and was taught the classics, Mathematics, German, French and drawing all subjects not normally taught to a young lady in Victorian times.
The beauty of Lillie Langtry was legendary but this was hardly surprising as both her parents were noted for their good looks. Charles Kingsley the author of “The Water Babies” and “Westward Ho” described her mother as “the most bewitchingly beautiful woman I have ever seen”. By her early teens Lillie Langtry was already causing a stir with her beauty, one Charles Spencer Longley a staff paymaster with the garrison asked Dean Le Breton for her hand in marriage. When he was told she was only fourteen he was so embarrassed he asked for an immediate transfer back home. His father who was the Archbishop of Canterbury was not amused.
Lillie Langtry went to London at the age of sixteen, the trip was a disaster as she soon discovered that her clothes etiquette and manners did not fit into the the London social scene and quickly returned to Jersey. Lillie spent the next few years horse riding and enjoying Shakespeare until in 1873 her brother William Inglis Le Breton married Miss Elizabeth Anne Price. At the celebrations Lillie met the wealthy widower Edward Langtry who had been married to Elizabeth Price’s sister who had died of tuberculosis. Lillie was impressed by Edward Langtry’s generosity his wealth and his eighty foot yacht and he was smitten by her beauty. After six weeks he proposed and they were married on 9th of March 1874 at a wedding breakfast and sailed away on his yacht “The Red Gauntlet”.
Lillie caught typhoid a common illness of the time and for health reason the couple moved Belgravia London in 1876. Two years later at a soiree organised by Lady Sebright, Lillie dressed in a simple black dress caused a sensation. Included in the guest list were John Millias, James Whistler and Frank Miles who by the end of the night had all drawn simple pencil sketches of her. A flood of invitations followed to events where people felt the presence of her beauty was required. Edward Prince of Wales heard of her beauty and a meeting was socially engineered. They became almost immediately friends and Lille soon became Prince Edwards mistress.
This was not Prince Edwards first mistress but it was the first publicly acknowledged mistress of the future king. Prince Edward had a house built for them in Bournemouth “The Red House” where they spent weekends living as a couple. Although decorum decreed they could never sleep under the same roof this did not hamper the relationship. Eventually Lillie fell out of Prince Edwards favour when actress Sarah Bernhard caught his eye and things changed dramatically, Edward Langtry was declared bankrupt and after an affair with Prince Louise of Battneberg, Lillie Langtry found herself pregnant.
Jeanne Marie was born in March 1881 in Paris after this they moved back to London and the baby moved to “The Red House” to be cared for by Lillie’s mother. Oscar Wilde suggested that Lillie become an actress and as she had to find a way to support herself and her new family this is what she did. Her acting career was a success she toured America five times and became very wealthy. After many invitations Lillie returned to Jersey to act and performed as Rosalind in “As you like it” at The Opera House then called The Theatre Royal. By 1897 Lillie had retired from the stage and she married the tall and handsome Hugo de Bath who although not rich was nineteen years younger then her. They lived in a little cottage in Beaumont called Merman after a successful race horse Lillie owned.
Her horse won Goodwood on their wedding day and it was this that was in the papers rather than her weding. Though not a brilliant actress Lillie Langtry’s charm and beauty shone through and her notoriety always ensured a full house.
She performed in a play to open the current “Opera House” after the previous “Theatre Royal” burnt down, After the performance at the curtain call Lillie spoke in Jersey Norman-French and brought the house down. She will always be remembered not only for what she did but also for who she did it with.