11 June 2012

Advertisement for an American Heiress, 1896

In the decades after the American Civil War, newspapers and illustrated journals published fulsome articles about the growing number of American heiress marrying European nobility.  Multi-columned reports detailed the ancestries of the happy couple, the wedding finery, the magnificent receptions, the splendid trousseaux, and sometimes even the marriage contracts.  Dowries are nothing new, and titled fortune-hunters existed long before Regency novels.  Many an impoverished family was rescued by the quick infusion of American dollars, and the young ladies received titles with which to dazzle the rest of Ward McAllister’s ‘400’.

Duchess, comtesse, princesse, baroness, lady this-and-that… well, why not Queen?  This article from London, published in our local weekly newspaper in 1896, advertised for an heiress for the young king of Serbia, Alexander I.  Of course, it is full of the British pawky sense of humor - who had certainly seen their noble houses succumb to an American invasion - but who knows?   Would Alexander have been averse to American millions?

Empty Throne Waiting for a Rich American Girl

"LONDON, ENGLAND, April 17 – The boy king, Alexander of Servia, needs ready money very badly, and he has decided that an American heiress will solve all the troubles of his bankrupt kingdom.  A throne is, therefore, awaiting any American girl who has sufficient wealth to meet the requirements.  This is probably the first time in American history that such an opportunity has been offered.

Along with the distinguished title of queen goes a palace, a crown, a collection of royal jewelry of stupendous antiquity and a number of castles scattered throughout Servia.  Servia is one of the kingdoms that sprung up out of the ruins of the Roman empire.  The people are Slavonic, with some slight traces of the Roman influence.  For centuries it was strong and independent, and then the great power of the Turkish empire forcing its way into eastern-Europe overwhelmed it. From the fourteenth century, it was a Turkish province and only at the end of the last century did it begin to assert its independence.

The king has great personal powers, is Commander in Chief of the Serivan army, and supervises acts of the national Legislature.  His queen would share to a great extant in many of his powers.  She would be mistress of a large palace in the capital, Belgrade, of the castle of Topschider, and a splendid park near the capital, and of many other residences.  She would have a great suite of ladies of the bedchamber, courtiers and chamberlains at her disposal, for although Servia is poor, there is no lack of officials with high-sounding titles.

She would receive at her court the homage of noblemen who held their feudal estates before William the Conqueror invaded England, even before the eastern empire had gone to ruin and the philosophers of Greece had ceased to teach.

The terms of the marriage contract are to include an unconditional transference to the king of a large sum of money – at least ten millions.  Servia is a very poor country, and that would go far toward maintaining its monarch in good style and enabling him to open his Legislature, the Skuptochina, in a handsome suit of clothes."

Heiresses!  This could be you!
Apply Royal Palace, Belgrade
Ten million dollar donation requested

Alexander was born August 14, 1876, the son of King Milan Obrenovic and his wife, Queen Natalja.  King Milan abdicated in 1889 when Alexander was 13, leaving his son to rule under a regency.  In 1893, the teenage king decided that he was old enough to rule on his own and got rid of the regency in a bloodless coup.  At the time when the above article was published, he was nearing his twentieth year.

While on a visit to his mother in 1896, he met and fell in love with one of her ladies-in-waiting, Madame Draga Mashin, a widow some twelve years his senior.  He seems to have had a penchant for older women, as he was said to have fallen in love with a 33-year old countess when he was fifteen and insisted on marrying her.  Wiser counsels prevailed then, but in 1900, by sending his father, the ex-king, out of the country to negotiate a marriage with a German princess, he managed to marry Draga before anyone could stop him.  This was not a popular move.

The couple was childless, and rumors abounded that one of Queen Draga’s brothers would be named heir to the throne.  Whatever the truth of that, it was used as a springboard for another palace coup, and on the morning of 11 June 1903,  King Alexander I & Queen Draga were barbarously assassinated.

He might have done better with an American heiress.

Photo: King Alexander I and Queen Draga.  Swiped from Wikipedia.