June 26, 1904
New York World
Unhappy International Marriages
Probably Half of Nearly 300 Title and Money Romances Prove Failure.
Differing Ideas and "Intolerable Humiliation"
The international marriage which both husband and wife are now struggling to break was an exceptionally fair specimen of these alliances. The wife is the daughter of an eminent American statesman, and had beauty, breeding, money, everything but noble descent to qualify her for the position she took on her marriage. Her husband is the cadet of a famous ducal house which traces its roots back eight centuries, actually to an age before the birth of feudal monarchy in France. He brought rank, breeding, everything but money to the marriage which now is intolerable to them both.
Why should it be intolerable? Why should most of the marriages of rich American girls and titled foreigners have proved ghastly failures?
The number of these marriages will probably surprise our readers. In England over thirty American women now bear titles, from Lady Curzon, who is Vicereine of India, down to the wives of baronets. In Germany there are as many; in France and Russia there are a larger number, while in Italy, during the last century 140 American women have carried their beauty and charm and money into the oldest "Casas" of Rome and Florence.
And be it understood, it is not the new semi-bourgeois families of rank in Europe who have wooed our girls to come into them and become the mothers of their heirs. The Marlboroughs, the de Segurs, the Colonnasand even older houses than these will soon be represented by the grandsons of Yankee tradesmen and laborers.
It is estimated that over $250,000,000 have been carried out of this country during the last ten years by the American women who have bought titles.
The Prince of Wales, it is said, not having the tact of his father, lately remarked to a girl from New Orleans, when she was presented: "I believe you have no aristocratic or titled class in the states?"
"No," she replied quickly. "It takes all of our money to keep up yours."
But why should these marriages end as a rule in misery and disgrace? Probably a fair estimate would be that one-half of the titled American women are now living separate or divorced from their husbands.
The great mass of Americans, who have no millions to buy titled husbands for their daughters, are usually rabid in their wrath at this thing.
They tell you that the titled man is a roue and a gambler; that rank is a worn-out sham of a past age, of no importance or value now; that the nobleman who marries an American girl despises her at heart and only wants her money to pay his debts.
There is some truth and much cant in this. Rank—for the American who chose his coat-of-arms the other day, who has his family tree hung in the hall to be seen of all men, with a mythical duke at the root, while his neighbors still remember his old tailor or blacksmith grandfather—is a sham, mean and cheap enough. But rank in Europe is a reality, begirt with laws and customs, which the American woman, pushing her way, check book in hand, often finds hard and cruel beyond bearing. In England she usually escapes open insult, though even there the girl whose only title to her diamond coronet is that her money took it out of pawn is made to feel every day, as she never would do at home, that her blood is base. Even the lackey behind her chair knows that she is the gutter dog in the elephant’s pen. But some of our women who have married into noble French families or the Maisons Mediatisees of Germany have suffered intolerable humiliations. The rules of caste on the continent are inexorable. Though their money maintained the house, though they had the beauty, the breeding and the charm of royalty, they never were allowed to forget that their real rank was the same as that of the scullery maids in their kitchens. Most of these women have never told the story of their married life. But they are divorced from their husbands.
It is not fair to say either that a man of rank is necessarily a cad or a scoundrel. An ancestry of generations of gentle folk, of educated, masterful men, leaders, not led, in the world, would argue noble qualities in the descendant.
The fact is that the nobleman who marries the rich American girl is usually not a fair specimen of his class. He is decadent. Being a pauper he chooses the meanest way to fill his purse—by marriage. There are many impoverished men of rank in Europe who are earning an honest living, and—they do not woo rich American girls.
Indeed, the most significant fact in the statistics of this question is that not a single poor American girl now bears a title. They all carried dotsof a million or a half million to their husbands.
The girl with a million dot from New York or Chicago who is going abroad this spring, hoping to win a coronet, should seriously consider these facts:
Her money may buy her a title but it cannot buy her rank.
She is going into a world in which rank counts. Her beauty, her grace, her wit will be as nothing compared to the noble descendant which she never can have. No coronet will hide the blood of the butcher or soap boiler from whom she sprung.
The foreign husband will be alien to her in character, in habits and in taste.
Her divorced sisters, who are coming home, have made the bargain she plans and been ruined in the making. Can she not be wise in time?
1. Mary Victoria Leiter (1870-1906) of Chicago who married the Englishman George Curzon (1859-1925), Member of Parliament who later became Viceroy of India. The Curzons did not divorce.↩
2. Consuelo Vanderbilt 1877-1964) and Charles Spencer-Churchill (1871-1934), 9th Duke of Marlborough; Eva Bryant Mackay (1861-?) and the Italian Prince Ferdinand Colonna. All had notoriously unhappy marriages that ended in divorce.↩
3. French for dowry.↩