Uneasy sits the crown in marriages to the rich

By Laurie Bennett

October 21, 2009 at 11:10am

The litigious months leading up to the recent death of financier Lionel Pincus got us to thinking about what happens when American tycoons get tangled up with royalty.

Rarely is there a happy ending.

In a dispute over Pincus’s extensive assets, his sons had sued his partner, Princess Firyal of Jordan. The princess, former sister-in-law of King Hussein, began a relationship with Pincus after the death of his wife.

Princess Firyal
Princess Firyal

Pincus had evidently been lured by the long, if faded attraction of new world money for old world pedigrees.

In the heyday of the robber barons, the practice was commonplace. Freshly minted millionaires could buy lineage, and house-poor regals could finally afford to have the moat dredged and the turrets sandblasted.

At first blush, such unions were the stuff of storybooks.

When Consuelo Vanderbilt, daughter of American railroad magnate William K. Vanderbilt, became the Duchess of Marlborough in 1895 through her marriage to Charles Spencer-Churchill, thousands crowded outside St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Manhattan. The New York Times proclaimed her wedding to Spencer-Churchill, cousin of Winston Churchill, “the most magnificent ever celebrated in this country.”

Consuelo Vanderbilt
Consuelo Vanderbilt

The newspaper did note, however, “The gifts received by the bride do not compare in numbers with those secured by several young American women who have married titled foreigners within the past few years.”

The couple separated 12 years later, and divorced in 1920. Consuelo Vanderbilt successfully petitioned the Catholic Church for an annulment, arguing that her mother had pressured her to marry the duke.

And then there was the serial royal wife, Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, better known in the press as the “poor little rich girl.”

Hutton married seven times. Three husbands were princes, one was a count, another was a baron, and yet another was Cary Grant, the movie star.

“It’s going to be fun being a princess,” she said upon her first marriage, to Prince Alexis Mdivani, who was from Georgia in the Caucasus. Several divorces later, her outlook had changed to “You can’t buy love with money.”

Consuelo Vanderbilt
Consuelo Vanderbilt

More recently, and more happily, there is Queen Noor. Born Lisa Halaby, she was the daughter of wealthy Arab-American Najeeb Halaby, who had headed Pan American Airways. Najeeb Halaby also served as an assistant secretary of the Defense Department.

His daughter married King Hussein in 1978. In her 2003 memoir, Leap of Faith, Queen Noor describes her husband as “my best friend, my dearest love and inspiration.”

The king died of lymphoma in 1999, but his widow continues to play a prominent role internationally.

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  • #1.   Donald 10.24.2009

    Not sure if it matters, but you did forget to include one of Barbara’s husbands in your diagram. Number 2 is missing.

  • #2.   Laurie Bennett 10.24.2009

    Ha! We actually did it on purpose because his name is so long it would take over the map!

    Here’s husband #2:
    Count Curt Heinrich Eberhard Erdmann Georg von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow

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