22 December 2017

An Earlier American Princess: Alice Heine of New Orleans

via Wikimedia Commons
Rage burned in Prince Albert of Monaco's eyes. Right there, in front of the entire opera house, his popular wife was whispering with her small, disfigured lover. How dare she humiliate him! He could control himself no longer. Albert slapped the princess violently across her face. The room stilled with shock. The princess fled the opera house immediately, and by the next morning, she had left the country she had done so much to establish as a cultural capital of Europe.

Born in 1858 in New Orleans as the daughter of a Jewish banker and businessman, Princess Alice of Monaco, knew her own value. She was just a toddler when the American Civil War led little Alice Heine's father to move his family permanently back to France, where he already had established strong businesses. As Alice grew, so did his fortune, especially after he helped finance Emperor Napoleon III's war against Prussia in 1870-1871. Alice benefited greatly from her family's extensive connections--ant their wealth didn't hurt her, either.

At just 16, Alice was a popular figure in Parisian society when she attracted a marriage proposal from Armand 7th Duke of Richelieu, who was 11 years her senior. Alice quickly delivered a son and heir, young Armand (who would follow in dad's footsteps by marrying an American, Eleanor Douglas Wise of Maryland). A few years later, daughter Odile arrived, but tragedy soon followed. Before Odile's first birthday, the duke died, leaving Alice a very rich 22-year-old widow with two children.

Alice was just as popular as a widow as she had been as a debutante. Her home attracted many highly placed members of society, including Prince Albert, heir to the throne of Monaco. Divorced with a young son by his first wife, Scottish noblewoman Lady Mary Hamilton, Albert was immediately attracted to the lovely and cultured Alice. His father, Prince Charles III, however, was not at all interested in Albert bringing his American lady friend home, no matter how vast her fortune.

Charles III is the Monagesque prince who began turning the tiny Mediterranean principality into a play place for the pre-jet age jetset, for it was he and his mother Princess Caroline who created the renowned Monte Carlo Casino to bring money into the poor country's coffers. Despite Prince Charles' objections to a marriage for his son, Alice was hardly less eligible than Charles' late wife, a mere Belgian noblewoman much less his mother Princess Caroline, who had been an actress in Paris. Nevertheless, he had his way.

After his death in 1889, the new reigning Prince Albert I waited only weeks to marry his second wife, Alice Heine. Alice brought her two children, a massive $6 million dowry, and her sense of culture to Monaco with her. While her oceanography-obsessed second husband pursued his maritime interests across every ocean, she had plenty of time ashore to use her wealth and taste to polish up the rougher image of a town built upon gambling. It was she who brought opera, theater, and ballet to the tiny seaside country, while Albert created the Oceanographic Museum, another renowned Monagesque attraction still operating today. Albert even named an undersea mountain near the Azores the Princess Alice Bank in honor of his wife.

The marriage, however, was not as glossy on the inside as the outside. The couple never had children together and both are known to have taken lovers. Albert's attack on her at the opera that fateful night in 1901 was likely the culmination of much frustration, albeit hypocritical considering his own behavior. Alice decided to sue for divorce. She was unsuccessful in recovering half of her dowry, but she did gain her freedom.

The lived out the rest of her life in London and Paris, still as a great and popular social hostess. She even became close friends with Queen Alexandra. The two women died within weeks of each other in 1925. Today, Dec. 22, marks the 92nd anniversary of Alice's death. She was buried in Paris.

Her son became the last Duke of Richelieu having produced no children of his own. Her daughter Odile became a noble Princess of Bavaria and had one child, a daughter named Anne de La Rochefocauld, who had no children. So, while Prince Albert's descendant Prince Albert II reigns in Monaco, no descendants of his American wife Princess Alice are living today.

Alice's birthplace in New Orleans houses the Princess of Monaco Courtyard and Carriage House. It is located on Royal Street in the French Quarter. Yes, they do book weddings...

More about Princess Alice:
Alice Heine on Jew or Not Jew
Alice Heine on Know Louisiana
Alice Heine, Princess of Monaco on Unofficial Royalty
The First American Princess of Monaco on Arrayed in Gold
HSH Princess Alice of Monaco on Mad for Monaco
Our History on Cafe Amelie
Princesses Consort of Monaco: Alice Heine on History of Royal Women

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