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Princess Marthe Bibesco:

An Inventory of Her Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Bibesco, Marthe, 1886-1973
Title: Princess Marthe Bibesco Papers
Inclusive Dates: 1768-1976 (bulk 1904-1973)
Extent: 358 document boxes (150.36 linear feet), 7 oversize boxes, 1 oversize folder.
Abstract: Correspondence, handwritten and typed manuscripts, galleys and page proofs, notes, photographs, clippings, financial documents, ephemera, Napoleonic-era documents, and works by others comprise the Princess Marthe Bibesco Papers and document her life, writings, and associations with notable European authors, artists, and heads of state. Numerous documents contained in this collection predate the birth of Princess Bibesco and were acquired through family.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-00369
Language: Materials written in French, English, Romanian, German, Italian, and Greek.
Note: We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which provided funds for the processing and cataloging of this collection.
Access: Open for research.

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Purchases and gifts, 1959-1976
Processed by: Monique Daviau, Kristen Davis, Jennifer Hecker, and Emily Painton, 2006

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Princess Marthe Bibesco, a Romanian aristocrat raised mainly in France, enjoyed a successful literary career during the first half of the twentieth century. Although never formally educated, Princess Bibesco was an avid reader of classical literature and history, and she possessed a deep appreciation and understanding of contemporary European politics. Throughout her life she associated with the elite and powerful on the European continent, as well as noted literary and artistic figures.
Born Princess Marthe Lucie Lahovary on January 28, 1886 in Bucharest, Marthe Bibesco grew up speaking French, as was common among high-ranking members of the Romanian nobility. As the second daughter of Prince Jean Lahovary, Minister of Romania in France, and Princess Emma Mavrocordato, she spent her childhood in Paris, Biarritz, and Balosti, her family's estate in Romania. Although not formally educated beyond private primary school in Biarritz, she received additional instruction from her French governess. Her father, uncle, and maternal grandfather were also instrumental in cultivating her interest in history and politics.
In 1892, Marthe's brother Georges, only son and heir to the Lahovary name and fortune, died of typhoid fever. His early death deeply marked the family; their mother was in perpetual mourning over his passing, and Marthe's own worldview and spiritual beliefs were heavily influenced by this misfortune. Her elder sister, Jeanne, died of cholera in 1911, and her younger sister Marguerite killed herself seven years later. Marthe's mother and favorite cousin also took their own lives.
Engaged at the age of fifteen, Marthe Lahovary married a distant cousin, Prince Georges-Valentin Bibesco in 1902. He was an important industrialist from a distinguished Romanian family, served as ambassador to France, and was a noted civilian aviator. He was instrumental in founding the International Aeronautic Federation and later became its president. At the age of seventeen Marthe nearly died while giving birth to the couple's only child, Valentine. Theirs was not a happy alliance, and Georges was unfaithful throughout their union. During the early years of her marriage Marthe found solace in reading and writing.
In 1908 she published her first novel, Les huits paradis (The Eight Paradises), a travel documentary based on a diplomatic trip to Persia by automobile with her husband. It won critical acclaim and was crowned by the French Academy. Two of her later novels also earned literary distinction: Catherine-Paris (1927), selected by the Literary Guild in the United States; and Croisade pour l'anémone (Crusade for the Anemone, 1931), chosen by the Catholic Book Club of New York. Although a celebrated author and laureate of the French Academy, Marthe Bibesco was never elected as a member of that body. She was, however, proud of her election to the Royal Belgian Academy of French Language and Literature in 1955. Other honors she received included nomination in 1958 to the Académie des Jeux Floraux de Toulouse, a literary society founded in the fourteenth century, and designation as a chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur in 1962.
Princess Bibesco's literary works fall into several categories. Her early fictional works are loosely based on her own life and experiences abroad. Non-fiction works include books, stories, and articles about the many illustrious people she knew intimately: writers, politicians, diplomats, monarchs, and aristocrats. Not only did she produce a large body of published works, she was also a prolific letter-writer. She corresponded extensively with friends and family and used some of their letters to create works such as La Vie d'une amitié: Ma correspondence avec l'abbé Mugnier, Churchill ou le Courage (Sir Winston Churchill: Master of Courage), and Échanges avec Paul Claudel. Her literary endeavors also included screenplays and theatrical pieces, as well as several historical novels written under the pseudonym Lucile Decaux.
Marthe Bibesco counted among her circle of friends several monarchs, the closest of whom were King Alfonso XIII of Spain, the Kronprinz Wilhelm of Germany, and King Ferdinand I of Romania. Two of her most beloved friends were British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and Lord Thomson of Cardington. Lord Thomson served as British military attaché in Romania during the First World War and later became Air Minister of Britain. He was killed in an aircraft accident in 1930. Other powerful men she knew well included Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, French senator Henry de Jouvenel, and Commanding General of French Forces during World War I, Prince Charles-Louis de Beauvau-Craön. The princess also befriended literary figures such as Edith Wharton, Marcel Proust, Jean Cocteau, Anatole France, Rainer Maria Rilke, Enid Bagnold, Paul Valéry, and Paul Claudel. One of her closest friends was the abbé Arthur Mugnier, who is known for converting J. K. Huysmans to Catholicism.
Princess Bibesco experienced first hand many of the tumultuous events of early twentieth century Europe. During World War I she served as a nurse in a Bucharest hospital under German occupation but was forced to leave the country before the war's end. She also hosted unofficial diplomatic meetings in her palaces Posada and Mogosöea, bringing together representatives of warring governments who could not meet or negotiate in public. In 1938, as a guest of the exiled Spanish king, she witnessed the arrival of Hitler in Rome on his official visit to Italy. Marthe's family was torn apart and her fortune lost during World War II and the subsequent Communist takeover of Romania. She fled to France in 1947, never to return to Romania, but her daughter and son-in-law did not manage to escape. They were placed in detention for nearly nine years by the Communist government.
The postwar years brought financial difficulties to Princess Bibesco. Then in her sixties, she was responsible for supporting her two grandsons while their parents were in captivity. She had no regular source of income after her estates in Romania were confiscated by the Communists. In order to care for her family and live more comfortably, she sold family jewelry she had taken out of Romania. She also depended on the kindness of her wealthy friends. Writing became her livelihood rather than merely a lucrative hobby. With her numerous literary connections she was able to write articles and stories for publications such as Paris-Soir, The Saturday Evening Post, L'Illustration, Les Nouvelles Littéraires, Harper's Bazaar and Vogue. Although she was productive during this time, she was unable to complete what she considered her life's work, La Nymphe Europe, which would be a multi-volume history/genealogy of Europe based on her intimate knowledge of the European aristocracy. Despite years of research and preparation, only one volume, Mes vies antérieures, came to fruition during her lifetime. The second volume, Où tombe la foudre, was published by the executor of her estate after her death.
Princess Marthe Bibesco died quietly at the age of eighty-seven on November 28, 1973 in her home on the Île Saint Louis in Paris.


In addition to gleaning information from the Princess' papers, the following biographical sources were consulted:
Diesbach, Ghislain de. La Princesse Bibesco: La dernière orchidée. Paris: Perrin, 1986.
Sutherland, Christine. Enchantress: Marthe Bibesco and Her World. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996.

Scope and Contents

Correspondence, handwritten and typed manuscripts, galleys and page proofs, notes, photographs, clippings, financial documents, ephemera, Napoleonic-era documents, and works by others comprise the Princess Marthe Bibesco Papers and document her life, writings, and associations with notable European authors, artists, and heads of state. Most of her correspondence is written in French or English, with some in Romanian, German, Italian and Greek. Numerous documents contained in this collection predate the birth of Princess Bibesco and were acquired through family inheritance.
The Princess Marthe Bibesco Papers are organized in four series: I. Correspondence, 1903-1973 (247 boxes), consists of correspondence between Bibesco and other correspondents; II. Works, 1908-1973 (80 boxes + 6 oversize boxes) detailing the published and unpublished literary pursuits of the Princess; III. Personal Papers, 1873-1963 (2 boxes + 1 oversize folder), consists of financial records, photographs, and other miscellany; and IV. Correspondence, Works, and Papers of Others, 1768-1976 (30 boxes + 1 oversize box), contains manuscripts, letters, and assorted other materials belonging to others that found their way into Bibesco's possession. This series also includes the Rapetti Collection, a Napoleonic-era collection of letters, contracts, and proclamations, which were inherited by Princess Bibesco.
The bulk of the Bibesco collection is correspondence in Series I. Incoming and outgoing correspondence is interfiled and arranged alphabetically by correspondent. Among the Princess' correspondence are large groups of personal letters between Bibesco and her paramours Charles-Louis Beauvau-Craön, James Ramsay MacDonald, Lord Thomson of Cardington, with her cousins Antoine and Emmanuel Bibesco, her daughter, Princess Valentine Ghika-Comanesti, her husband, Prince Georges Bibesco, and with other friends and members of the Lahovary and Bibesco families. Authors she corresponded with include Paul Claudel, Jean Cocteau, Reynaldo Hahn, André Malraux, Paul Valéry, Max Jacob, Henri de Jouvenel, Enid Bagnold, Anna de Noailles, Anatole France, Sonia Cahen d'Anvers, Lady Maie Casey, Prince Felix Youssoupof, and Maurice Chevalier. Also present are business letters between the Princess and various agents and publishers such as Plon, Knopf, Bernard Grasset, and others. Bibesco also corresponded with a number of royals of the era, including Marie of Romania, and nuns, priests, and other Catholic figures, especially her confidant l'Abbé Arthur Mugnier. Members of the extended Bibesco, Lahovary, and Ghika-Comanesti families with the same first names are identified by their relationship to the Princess, i.e., Valentine Bibesco, the mother of Prince Georges Bibesco, is also identified as "mother-in-law." Marthe Bibesco's daughter, Valentine, is known by her married surname, Ghika-Comanesti, within the collection. An index of Princess Bibesco's correspondence is available in this finding aid.
The arrangement of Bibesco's manuscripts in Series II. Works is alphabetical by title. Major works represented in this series include Alexander of Asia (Alexandre asiatique), Au bal avec Marcel Proust, Câline, Catherine-Paris, Le destin de Lord Thomson of Cardington, Échanges avec Paul Claudel, Le jeune homme dans le sarcophage, La Nymphe Europe, Le perroquet vert, Katia, and La vie d'une amitié. Also covered here are various articles and essays Bibesco wrote for publication in periodicals such as the Saturday Evening Post, and unpublished ruminations and diaries. Found in the works series are numerous spiral notebooks possibly providing insight into the research and note taking that preceded her published works. Also included is one large bound volume which once contained letters sent to her concering the publication of Le perroquet vert.
Series III. consists of items produced by or for Princess Bibesco but which are not categorized as works or correspondence. These items include drawings, financial records, legal papers, postcards, photographs, receipts, contracts, a registry of Romanian births, blueprints, and souvenirs of her trip to the United States.
Series IV. is divided into three subseries: A. Correspondence, 1823-1974 (11 boxes); B. Works by Others, 1877-1960 (9 boxes); and C. Rapetti Collection, 1768-1866 (10 boxes + 1 oversize box). Third-party correspondence in Subseries A. is arranged alphabetically by recipient. It includes numerous letters between Valentine Ghika-Comanesti and others honoring the Princess after her death in 1973. Also included here are letters between members of the Lahovary family and correspondence to and from l'Abbé Arthur Mugnier. The subseries Works by Others is arranged alphabetically by author name and contains manuscripts and galleys written by Bibesco's friends and family, including her father, Jean Lahovary, her uncle, Leon Lahovary, Christopher Birdwood Thompson (Lord Thomson of Cardington) and Charles-Louis Beauvau-Craön. It also contains a scrapbook with clippings of articles used for research or to document reviews of the Princess' various books. Subseries C, the Rapetti Collection of Historical Papers, consists of Napoleonic-era historical documents belonging to Count Pierre-Nicolas Rapetti, Secretary of the Commission Charged with the Publication of the Letters of Napoleon I. These papers were inherited by Princess Bibesco from her mother-in-law, The Princess Valentine de Caraman Chimay, who was a granddaughter of Napoleon I via one of his mistresses, Emilie Leroy. The Rapetti Collection contains hundreds of certified copies of documents in the French National Archives (Le centre historique des Archives nationales). The existence of the originals is now in some doubt, since they were removed from Paris during the German occupation and are believed to have been destroyed. The Rapetti Collection maintains its original order, though it is unclear what the assigned numeric sequence indicates.

Related Material

Correspondence and works by Princess Marthe Bibesco are also found in the Carlton Lake Collection and the William Bradley Agency Papers at the Ransom Center. A sound recording of a 1954 radio interview of the Princess has been transferred to the Sound Recording Collection.

Separated Material

Sound Recordings were transferred to the Ransom Center's Sound Recording collection and are described individually in a list at the end of this finding aid and in a searchable database

Index Terms


Bagnold, Enid.
Beauvau-Craön, Charles Louis Juste Élie Marie Joseph Victurnien, prince de, 1878- .
Berry, Walter, 1859-1927.
Bibesco, Antoine, 1878-1951.
Bibesco, Emmanuel.
Bibesco, Georges Valentin, Prince.
Bibesco, Valentine, Princess.
Bonham Carter, Violet, 1887-1969.
Cahen d'Anvers, Madame, b. 1876.
Casey, Maie, Lady.
Castries, François, comtesse de ("Rosita").
Claudel, Paul, 1868-1955.
Cocteau, Jean, 1889-1963.
France, Anatole, 1844-1924.
Ghika-Comanesti, Valentine, Princess.
Hahn, Reynaldo, 1875-1947.
IUsupov, F. F. (Feliks Feliksovich), kniaz', 1887-1967.
Jacob, Max, 1876-1944.
Jouvenel, Henry de, 1876-1935.
MacDonald, James Ramsay, 1866-1937.
Mauriac, François, 1885-1970.
Moore, George, 1852-1933.
Morand, Paul, 1888-1976.
Mugnier, abbé (Arthur), 1853-1944.
Noailles, Anna Elisabeth de Brancovan, comtesse de, 1876-1933.
Palairet, Charles Michael, Sir.
Proust, Marcel, 1871-1922.
Rapetti, Pierre Nicolas, Count.
Tennant, Stephen.
Thomson,Christopher Birdwood, Baron, 1875-1930.
Valéry, Paul, 1871-1945.


Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Bernard Grasset (Firm).
Harper's bazaar.
Illustration (Paris, France).
Paris Soir.
Plon (Firm).
Saturday evening post.
Vogue (Paris, France).


Churchill, Winston, Sir, 1874-1965.
Gaulle, Charles de, 1890-1970.
Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, 1769-1821.
International Aeronautic Federation.
Aristocracy (Social class)--Family relationships.
Authors, Romanian--20th century.
Europe--Civilization--20th century.
Europe--Intellectual life--20th century.
French literature--20th century.
Nobility--Europe--History--20th century.
World War, 1914-1918.
World War, 1939-1945.

Document Types

Drafts (documents).
Galley proofs.
Sound recordings.

Princess Marthe Bibesco Papers--Folder List