Richard Jay Hutto included Mary Lee in his book, Crowning Glory: American Wives of Princes and Dukes (2008), and noted that her entry ran for only three pages. He remained fascinated by the American woman, whose two marriages brought her great wealth and great connections at the Prussian court. This fascination led to further research and discovery of papers and other documents relating to Mary's live
Mary Esther Lee was born on October 3, 1837, the youngest child of David Lee, a New York merchant, and Ann Phillips. Lee died in 1852, leaving a large fortune to his widow and five children. Ann took her family to Europe, where her daughters would find noble husbands. Mary was living in Paris with her sister, Josephine, the wife of Baron August von Waechter, the King of Wurttemberg's ambassador to Napoleon III, when she met Prince Friedrich of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg (1800-1865).
Friedrich was the the third child of Friedrich Christian II, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg, and Princess Louise of Denmark. His elder brother, Christian, renounced his rights in favor of his son, Friedrich, who married Princerss Adelheid of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, a niece oof Queen Victoria. This couple's eldest daughter, Auguste Viktoria, was the wife of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
One of Friedrich's nephews, Prince Christian, was married to Princess Helena, third daughter of Queen Victoria.
Friedrich was nearly 37 years Mary's senior. She had numerous suitors, but it was the Prince was smitten by her "charm and beauty." He also appreciated that she was unconventional -- for the mid-1800s. Nor did he need to marry her for her bank account. He was immensely wealthy in his own right.
The marriage did not receive the approbation from Friedrich's family. As the marriage would be morganatic, Friedrich renounced his princely titles (which he would not have been able to share with Mary), and was created Prince of Noer by Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, a good friend. Mary would be the Princess of Noer.
The couple were on an extended honeymoon, when in Beirut, eight months later, Friedrich became ill and died. Mary became a very wealthy widow, inheriting the modern day equivalent of $60 million, from her husband's estate. She remained a widow for nearly eight years, until April 1874, when she married Count Alfred von Waldersee.
Devoutly religious, Mary used her wealthy for largely philanthropic purposes. She also had developed friendships with Friedrich III of Germany and his British wife, Victoria, whose sister, Helena, was married to Mary's late husband's nephew, Prince Christian. During this time, Mary became a mentor to her great-niece, Auguste Viktoria, the daughter of the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein. In 1881, Auguste Viktoria married Kaiser Wilhelm II, the son of Friedrich III.
The American-born Mary became one of the Empress' closest confidantes, although Mary preferred to be in the background.
Richard Hutto's research led him to Lee family papers, diaries and correspondence that provided the majority of the research.
I enjoyed The Kaiser's Confidante very much, although I though the book could have had a better editor. A few times, Hutto writes the same thing twice, separated by several paragraphs.
This little quibble should not deter anyone. The Kaiser's Confidante is excellent reading, and well-worth the price -- and most important, a book you will want to add to your royal book collection.
Mary Lee, Princess Noer, Countess von Waldersee, was certainly known to her contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic, but her personality, her friendships, her philanthropy, her conservative religious beliefs, have been largely shunted aside. Her mentoring of Princess Auguste Viktoria, easing the way toward marriage with Wilhelm II, led her into the inner sanctum of the Imperial Court.
It is the research that stands out which makes this book fascinating reading. After finishing this book, I thought about how unique Mary was -- to be a rich American woman, married into the German aristocracy, who had the ear (and friendship) of the German Emperor and Empress.
The Kaiser's Confidante is published by McFarland ($35.00)