Thursday, June 17, 2010

The faux countess de Colmar

June 18, 1910

In December, the "soi-disant Countess de Colmar" arrived in New York with her 16-year-old son. The "Countess", according to the Marquise de Fontenoy, left New York, "it was with the avowed object of placing her son in the Jesuit college of New Orleans." But she was last heard of several weeks was out in Bakersfield, California, where it was learned that she is "wanted" in Paris on "charges of swindling."
The alleged countess is accused of perpetuating a fraud "in connection with her mythical claim to the estate of her alleged grandfather, Duke Charles II of Brunswick." The estate, for the last thirty years or more, has been in possession of the present duke of Brunswick, the King of Saxony, and the Swiss city of Geneva.
If it were not for the fuss made by the California newspapers about "her presence at Bakersfield, and about her son Robert, 'a second cousin of the king of Saxony' working shoulder to shoulder with the plebeians in the neighboring oil fields, to which he drives from the Bakersfield hotel in an automobile every day," the Marquise acknowledges that she would have known about the "Countess" living in California, "instead of in the Crescent City."
When she was in New York, she said she was the daughter of Elizabeth Wilhelmina, princess of Brunswick, the only daughter of Duke Charles. She said she was married to the Duke de Bar-Durckheim.
Duke Charles, known as "Diamond duke," was "renowned throughout all Europe for his vices and eccentricities," and was forced into exile by his subjects. He renounced his throne in favor of his brother, Wilhelm. When he was still the duke, he "contracted an intimacy with a Miss Seymour, the daughter of an English admiral." They had one daughter, who was "duly christened at Brunswick," and who was acknowledged by her father. He created her Countess of Colmar.
There is no evidence that the Duke ever married Miss Seymour, even morganatically, and he insisted that his daughter was illegitimate. He provided for her education in Paris, but he "disowned her" when she converted to Roman Catholicism, and "married against his wishes an impecunious French noble of the name of the Comte de Chivry."
When the former Duke of Brunswick died, he left most of his fortune to the city of Geneva, which was able to "build and endow its handsome opera house."
The Comtesse de Civry filed suit against the estate, although part of Charles' fortune was left to his brother, on whose death the inheritance was further divided between the King of Saxony and the Duke of Cumberland.
The suit was caught up in the Swisss, French and German courts for many years. The Comtesse was "able to induce quite a number of credulous people to furnish funds for her fight" on the understanding that if she won, they would be paid back "a hundredfold."
Following the countess's death, the lawsuit was taken up by her two sons and "an only daughter, the latter of whom, died unmarried, under rather tragic circumstances a couple of years ago." The two sons worked as journalists in Paris.
The woman, who is now in California, is not the late duke's daughter, nor is she the late Countess de Chivry's unmarried daughter, who died two years ago. Nor is she the wife of either of the two sons, the Comtes de Civry. The woman's claim to be married to the Duke de Bar-Durkheim does furnish a clue "to her identity."
About eighteen months ago, members of the Durckheim-Montmartin countly family, one of the oldest aristocratic families in Germany, learned that one of their "hopeful scions had married in London a soi-disant Vicomtesse de Civry."
The young count of Durckheim, an extravagant young man, deeply in debt, "had allowed himself to be persuaded that the woman was the granddaughter of the so-called diamond duke of Brunswick, and the chief heiress to his colossal fortune." The count apparently paid little attention to the newspaper accounts of the numerous trials in France, Switzerland and Germany. He eventually realized that his new wife "had little more money than himself," and, after several inquiries, he learned that the case had been settled some years before (and not in favor of real countess de Civry and her children.)
He then left his wife, announcing that he wanted nothing further to do with her. She followed him to Germany, and learned where he lived. She took possession of his residence, but the count "sought safety in flight." His family "foolishly" tried to negotiate with the young woman, and offered her as much as 40,000 marks if she would abandon all claims as the count's wife, and "consent to a divorce."
The money was about to be paid, when the woman "was by mere chance recogonized as a Berlin adventuress, whose real name was Katie Schulz." She had been a show girl in Berlin vaudeville, using the name 'Cyssy Civre.'
The Durkheims were relieved to learn that that the woman could not possibly be a Vicomtesse de Civry or the granddaughter of the late diamond duke of Brunswick, as she had died "unmarried two years ago."
The Marquise de Fontenoy makes it clear that there is no "authentic title now in existence as that of Countess Colmar." The titles of Countess and Count Colmar, which are being used by the woman in Bakersfield and her 16-year-old son," are bogus. There has never been a duke of Bar-Durckheim.
It is possible that the woman, who had called herself Countess Colmar, and who is wanted by the Paris police, is the woman in Bakersfield. Perhaps the "bogus scions of old world royalty, 'the cousins of the King of Saxony,' who have been lavishly entertained" in California are the "ex-show girl Katie Schultz and the offspring of one of her numerous admirers."

[Note: the Marquise refers to Elizabeth Wilhelmina's mother as a Miss Seymour. She was actually Lady Charlotte Colville.]

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