Martha Bibescu (or Marthe Bibesco) was born on 28 January 1886 in Bucharest and was a Romanian and French novelist, poet, politician and memoirist. She was one of the most beautiful and famous Romanian women of the early 20th century.
Martha distinguished herself throughout her work as a presence of great nobility of spirit. She was the daughter of Ion Lahovari, Romania’s minister in Paris and foreign minister, and Smaranda (Emma) Mavrocordat. Because of her irresistible charm, aristocratic descent and artistic talent, she was admired by her contemporaries.
She was the wife of Prince George Valentin Bibescu, who was a first cousin of Anne de Noailles and would become president of the International Aeronautical Federation. Thus Martha Bibescu became a princess. She was also one of Romania’s first female masons.
Just two years after their marriage, Martha’s eyes, disappointed by the failure of their early marriage, turn to Emanuel Bibescu, her princely husband’s cousin. Emanuel Bibescu, who is passionate about art history and the old cathedrals of France, an impeccably built male model and friend of Marcel Proust, rejects his young cousin’s passionate love. She writes him impassioned lines, Emanuel demands that they “behave”. It was the aristocratic princess’s second great disappointment.
Martha Bibescu always wanted to show off in the “good world”
Martha belonged to one of the oldest and most illustrious Romanian families. Her mother, Smaranda Mavrocordat, belonged to the Moldavian branch of the ruler Constantin Mavrocordat, and her father, Ion N. Lahovari, was Romania’s ambassador to Paris, foreign minister and president of the Senate. So the beautiful Martha had aristocratic origins.
Martha Bibescu was a charming apparition, so many men courted her. She had many lovers in her lifetime, from the same aristocratic world. Martha was extremely worldly and always showing off in public. She is said to have had affairs with the German kronprinz, King Ferdinand, King Alfons XIII of Spain.
By far the princess’s most famous affair was with Christopher Birdwood Thomson, a colonel and military attaché of Great Britain in Bucharest. She met him at a concert in Cotroceni, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War.
She was well aware of the demands of the Bucharest proletariat and did not shy away from making bold decisions at sensitive moments in Romanian history. Thus, during the German occupation, she chose to stay in the capital, taking care of a hospital, being able to know in detail the developments of the war.
The information she provided to the court in Iasi was extremely useful to the king and the government of national unity, but not infrequently attracted the hostility of the occupation administration. Martha Bibescu left memorable pages about the withdrawal of German troops from Bucharest. The interwar period forced the old Romanian aristocratic elite to take on new challenges. It sought to preserve its place in Romanian public life, but also to adapt to the new French society.
Martha was a novelist and poet, and her writings include the novel The Green Parrot (1924), the historical biographies A Tender Love of Napoleon: Maria Walewska (1936) and Alexander the Asiatic (1912), the memoir pages of The Ball with Marcel Proust (1928) and The Story of a Friendship: My Correspondence with Abbé Mugnier (1951, 1955, 1957).
“Martha Bibescu wrote almost 40 books, collaborated with a large number of magazines, answered a series of 17 broadcasts on the French Culture Hour, was a member of the Royal Academy of Brussels, in the chair that the Countess of Noailles had occupied, led an intense literary and social life”, wrote Șerban Cioculescu about Martha Bibescu.
She died on 28 November 1973 in Paris. In the north-eastern part of Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris is the Bibescu family tomb, where Martha Bibescu is buried, as well as Anne, Countess of Noailles.
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