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Daisy, Princess of Pless: Socialite in Britain and Germany

Daisy, Princess of Pless was a friend to royalty and a noted beauty She married fortuitously but her life was not without threats and woes.

Daisy, Princess of Pless was a society beauty in England and Germany.

Daisy, Princess of Pless was a society beauty in England and Germany.

“Daisy”: Mary Theresa Olivia Cornwallis-West

Princess Daisy of Pless was born Mary Theresa Olivia Cornwallis-West on 28th June 1873 at Ruthin Castle in Denbighshire, North Wales. Known as Daisy, she was the eldest child of Colonel William Cornwallis-West and Mary nee Fitzpatrick, known as Patsy, who was one of the many mistresses of Edward, Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII). Daisy's grandmother had dared to flirt with Prince Albert and had found herself banned from court but despite these historic issues Queen Victoria and Daisy were very fond of one another.

Daisy’s younger siblings were George, born in 1874, and Constance, known as Shelagh, born in 1875. George went on to marry Jennie Churchill, mother of Winston, Shelagh was the 2nd Duchess of Westminster through marriage.

The family lived at Ruthin Castle, Newlands Manor in Hampshire and in London, and Daisy was prepared for an advantageous marriage.

Newlands Manor in Hampshire, England was one of the Cornwallis-West family homes.

Newlands Manor in Hampshire, England was one of the Cornwallis-West family homes.

Hans Heinrich XV von Hochberg, Prince of Pless

The wealthy landowner and coal mining magnate Hans Heinrich XV von Hochberg, Prince von Pless, Count von Hochberg, Baron von Furstenstein was 12 years Daisy’s senior and they met in London when she was 16 years old and he proposed to her in 1891.

Hans Heinrich had served as a soldier before committing himself to a career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin. He and Kaiser Wilhelm II became friends and in 1890 Hans Heinrich was appointed to the German embassy in London.

The Hochberg family was much wealthier than the Cornwallis-West’s and the groom’s parents broke tradition when they paid for everything. The wedding service was conducted at St. Margaret’s Church in Westminster, London on the 8th December 1891. The Prince and Princess of Wales attended and Queen Victoria gave the couple her personal blessing.

After a prolonged honeymoon spent travelling around Europe, Daisy and Hans Heinrich moved into Schloss Furstenstein in Silesia, now in Poland. Daisy preferred their town residence, Schloss Pless in Pszczyna. Kaiser Wilhelm II had his own suite of rooms at the castle and he was a welcome guest. Daisy liked him immediately.

Hans Heinrich XV, Prince of Pless. He and Daisy married in 1891.

Hans Heinrich XV, Prince of Pless. He and Daisy married in 1891.

The Princess of Pless Stunned by German Formality

Daisy chafed at restrictive German etiquette, not just at the royal court in Berlin but in the von Hochberg homes. Daisy lamented that the management of the castles was “almost feudal.” She struggled to acclimatise to an environment in which she was obliged to ring a bell whenever she wished to move from one room to another so that a footman could precede her. Doors were opened for her, she wasn’t allowed to open them herself.

Compared to the distinctly more relaxed atmosphere around the Prince and Princess of Wales in England, the Berlin court was run in militaristic style. Daisy rebelled by purposefully and subtly not adhering to the dress code.

The Prince and Princess of Pless owned their own train carriage which they used to travel between homes and courts. They were soon established hosts and guests of the elite in society. Daisy often found herself prey for the paparazzi.

She bore a daughter in February 1893 but she died within days of her birth. She had 3 surviving sons, Hans Heinrich in 1900, Alexander (Leiko) in 1905 and Bolko in 1910.

Images of Daisy, Princess of Pless (With Polish Captions)

World War 1: An Englishwoman in Germany

The First World War was difficult for Daisy because was of English heritage and so was regarded as an enemy by the people she had once called friends and acquaintances. In her memoirs, she wondered why the war had happened. The dangers were obvious to everyone, she said, but no one made any effort to halt the descent into bloodshed.

She worked as a nurse and for the Red Cross but as she strove to help injured soldiers on both sides and English prisoners of war her loyalty was called into question. She was accused of being a spy but this did not hamper her determination or efforts.

Daisy was forced to allow her eldest son Hans Heinrich to serve in the axis armies, as was expected by the Kaiser, and he fought against the English although he was half-English. Schloss Pless was commandeered by the Germans as their Army Headquarters in the East. The conclusion of the war and its aftermath brought an end to the Pless’ marriage. They divorced in late 1922 and she relocated to Munich.

Her father William died on 4th July 1917 and Daisy lost her mother on the 21st July 1920.

Memoirs, The Nazis and Bolko

The family fell into debt which led to the government claiming a majority stake in the Hochberg-Pless assets. As a way to make money, Daisy wrote 3 volumes of memoirs. The 1st volume By Herself was released in 1923 and it proved hugely popular with readers. The 2nd and 3rd volumes were less commercially successful. The publications caused friction between her and her former friends and she grew increasingly isolated.

Her youngest son Bolko was arrested by the Nazis in 1936 and accused of treason. He was tortured and subsequently died from his injuries aged 26. The Nazis seized Schloss Furstenstein claiming it was compensation for Bolko’s (unproven) crimes.

Bolko had caused consternation in 1934 when he’d married his father’s 2nd ex-wife Clotylda de Silva y Gonzalez de Candamo. They had 2 children named Hedwig and Bolko. Hans Heinrich's children with Clotylda had Bolko as a stepfather and half-brother.

The memorial to Daisy, Princess of Pless in Pszczyna, modern day Poland.

The memorial to Daisy, Princess of Pless in Pszczyna, modern day Poland.

WW2 and Daisy’s Necklace

Hans Heinrich XV died at the Ritz Hotel in Paris on 31st January 1938.

We know that Daisy was never a supporter of Hitler or of the Nazi Party and that she continued with charity work in her later life. Her sons fought for the allies under assumed identities in World War 2.

She passed away on the 29th June 1943 in a villa in Wałbrzych, Poland.

There was a final bizarre twist in Daisy’s story. During their marriage, Hans Heinrich had given Daisy a 22 feet necklace featuring exquisite and expensive pearls. She was buried wearing the necklace. As the war drew towards its end Daisy’s grave was in danger of being plundered by the Russian Red Army. To outwit thieves her body was relocated on at least 2 occasions. Her final resting place has never been confirmed.

Daisy and Hans Heinrich’s two surviving sons died within a few weeks of one another in early 1984. They had no children so Bolko’s son with Clotylda became Bolko VI Hochberg von Pless. He doesn’t have a son and his daughter is not permitted to inherit the titles so these will pass to his cousin Peter von Hochberg.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle