One woman became the very picture of romanticism, in this time when so many men, so many women aspired to be romantic.
She was not a queen, although she reigned on the desert.
Jane Digby was born into English aristocracy. Her father was a lord who possessed a vast castle. She was raised like all young English ladies by nannies before coming out into society in London. She ran from ball to ball. A husband was found for her, a lord just as titled, as rich as her father. She married him and was soon bored.
She was beautiful, seductive, and fearless. Men were far from leaving her indifferent.
All while being bored out of her mind with her husband, she flirted left and right until she met an attaché of the Austrian embassy in London, the prince Felix Schwarzenberg. He courted her, she fell in love. Not only did she have a liaison with him, which did not surprise anyone, as it was ordinary in the English high society of the time, but also she let him kidnap her, which was unusual. The scandal was immense. That she took lovers, no one would have batted an eyelash, but that she abandon her husband to go abroad with another man, more so a foreigner, it was unacceptable for British aristocracy.
Her lover took her to Paris; she soon became the jewel of Parisian parties, as she had been that of London’s balls. Many a gentleman courted her. Schawrzenberg, maybe a bit tired of so restless a mistress, abandoned her. Left alone, she soon found a replacement, or rather multiple replacements, the most famous of which was no less than the Prime minister of Louis-Philippe, Guizot. She continued to lead a happy life, until the 1848 Revolution convinced her that it would be better to leave Paris.
She went to Munich and became the mistress and then the spouse of a Bavarian count, from whom she had a son, which, still a child, died falling off a balcony. This tragedy tore apart Jane, but she soon found a new lover, who was none other than King Ludwig I of Bavaria. He was a profoundly sympathetic character and a colourful figure. Distinguished Hellenist, womanizer, his life had been a succession of extravagant adventures. Jane and him got along perfectly, but Queen Therese of Bavaria made Jane understand that it would be best for her to abscond.
Jane complied. But where would she go?
When King Ludwig had first seen is son Otto chosen to rule over the newly independent Greece, this convinced Hellenist had quivered in delight. He was quickly disillusioned. The Greeks who had just emerged from four centuries of Turkish yoke cared very little for their ancient past. Further proof: the town of Nafplion in the Peloponnese where Otto had disembarked was the most important city of the tiny kingdom and would hence be its capital. In Munich, Ludwig I had cried out in indignation. What! How could the Greeks think of another capital than Athens! It was objected to the Bavarian that Athens was only a drowsy village. Ludwig I did not make his answer wait. Athens and no other capital. And so it was done.
After the capital came the question of the palace. But where? Simply atop the Acropolis, decided Otto and his advisors. And the greatest German architect of the time, Schinkel, was asked to draw the plans. He delivered and conceived buildings that incorporated the ancient monuments, Parthenon and others. King Ludwig I saw the plans, as did I, and thought he would faint in horror. What! To touch the most august testimonies of Ancient Greek civilization, only a barbarian would dare this blasphemy. The King thundered from Munich. It was out of the question to even brush the Acropolis, and, to soothe Otto, his father paid for the immense palace that dominates Constitution Square, nowadays the Parliament, where my grandfather resided after Otto and which my family despised.
When Jane Digby made her entrance in Athens, Ludwig had forgiven his son’s cultural heresies, and recommended her to him. She hence arrived with the best introductions. She became the mistress of a hero of the Greek Revolution, the general [Nom à confimer]. Then she married the count Theotokis who owned a marvellous villa in Corfu, still in the hands of his descendants.
As if that was not enough, the beautiful Jane caught the eye of King Otto and naturally became his mistress. After having had the father, Ludwig I, she had the son, Otto. The wife of the latter, Queen Amalia, reacted in the same manner as the Queen of Bavaria, and made Jane understand that her place was not in Greece. Jane, light hearted, left, leaving behind both husband and lover.
But where to? Always further east.
Thus she landed in Beirut, which at the time was, like most of the Middle East, part of the Ottoman Empire. With some rare exceptions, no woman travelled alone in this region. Jane declared that she wanted to explore the desert. Serious people answered her that it was out of the question. The dunes were rife with Bedouins who would attack caravans and kidnap rich travellers to ask for ransoms.
This did not stop the beautiful Jane who rented camel drivers and dived into the desert. She was abducted by Bedouins and brought to their chief. He instantly fell in love with Jane and she was not unmoved by his charm– to such an extent that they married. The Bedouin, far from being a savage, was educated, refined, and possessed a splendid palace in Damascus. Jane and him formed a perfectly happy couple. Jane had seduced the men of the desert by her astonishing way of taming wild horses, a remainder of her British education. This distinguished rider thus reigned on the sand as she had on the salons of London, Paris, Munich and Athens.
An anti-Christian revolt broke out in Damascus.
Everywhere, Christians were hunted down and massacred. Two people had the courage to shelter them. First, Abdel Kader, former chief of the Anti-French revolt of Algeria, hero of the Algerian Independence. Albeit the treatment he had received at the hands of Christians, he harboured them. So did Jane Digby’s husband.
By coincidence, my two great-grandfathers, the Count of Paris and the Duke of Chartres, then young people, happened to be in Damascus at that time, as tourists. They had found refuge with Jane’s sheikh. Meanwhile, she had passed away, honoured wife of the chief of an Arab tribe.
In the 20th century, from Jane’s family would emerge another woman, beautiful and surprising, a high-level adventuress, Pamela Digby.
This aristocrat started by marrying the son of Churchill, then the American minister Averell Harriman. She thus gained access to the highest circles of international politics. She is said to have had adventures with many a famous man. Always beautiful, always seductive, she was sent by Clinton as his ambassadress to Paris, where she died while performing her duties, swimming in the pool of the Ritz. Every time we would meet, we would discuss her ancestor Jane, for who she felt the same passion I did, and we would admire her very handsome portrait as a Bedouin chief, painted by the German painter Haas, which I had uncovered at the Kuwait National Museum.