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Lafayette L1804
Neg. Date: 02-09-1898

copyright V&A

Daisy, Princess of Pless (1873–1943), née Maria Teresa Olivia, the eldest daughter of Colonel William Cornwallis-West of Ruthin Castle, Denbighshire and Newlands Manor, Hampshire and his wife Mary Adelaide Virginia Eupatoria née FitzPatrick, known by her friends as Patsy.

This photograph, taken on 2 September 1898, shows Daisy at 25 years of age. She had been married to Hans Heinrich XV, Prince of Pless, since 1891.

Hans Heinrich was supposedly “the richest prince in Germany” with an annual income of £200,000, the equivalent of over £6 million today, as well as the castles of Fürstenstein (with over 600 rooms), Pless, a palace in Berlin and a castle in Saxony, not to mention several smaller castles and houses and a work-force of 5,000 earning income for the Prince in his Silesian coalfields.

The portrait shows Daisy as a woman totally in command and confident of her beauty and social status for which she had had to fight in Germany where the etiquette both of the Hochbergs and of the Imperial Court of Berlin had come as quite a shock to her easy-going nature with its penchant for the boisterousness, anti-authoritarian playfulness and rebelliousness of the British landed aristocracy.

The comparatively relaxed etiquette of the British Court and her own upbringing within a “Wild West Show” — as King Edward VII described her family — could not have prepared Daisy for the strict protocol and pomp of both the private and public spheres in Germany. Unsurprisingly, in the first years of her marriage, Daisy kept breaking the rules — to the horror of her husband, her more forgiving father-in-law and many members of the German aristocracy. She was saved on many occasions by her friendship with Emperor William II, whom she “immediately liked”, and who also took to her from the very moment they met. Notwithstanding the Emperor’s ambiguous attitude toward his own English mother, the Empress Frederick, he always kept the promise she extracted from him to look after Daisy in her new homeland.

Unthinkable as it was at the time in Germany, Daisy sometimes altered a dress code, ran stalls at charity bazaars and sang in public to raise money for good causes. Moreover Daisy invited a gardener from Newlands to create an English garden in Fürstenstein, designed the interiors for a hotel in Bad Salzbrunn (Szczawno-Zdrój), and campaigned to fight poverty in Silesia — all activities unbecoming for a German princess. She was also as bold as to criticize her husband’s absurd and expensive building schemes and the vast amounts spent to keep up appearances — which included employing an army of servants, whose numbers “puzzled and frightened” her.

Later on, her defiance of subordination would see her throw herself into nursing in military hospitals during the Great War.

By 1898, the year of this portrait, Daisy had established herself as a glamorous hostess, famous for entertaining in Fürstenstein an international set of visitors who included many members of European royalty and, of course, “masses of people” from England.

This portrait was reproduced in Madame magazine on 25 March 1899. The ¾ length pose, with Daisy’s arm reaching outside the photograph would indicate that the Lafayette studio intended this shot to be used as a vignette. It also stood as a framed vignette on an occasional table in Ruthin Castle, Daisy’s parents’ home.