From Prostitute to Princes – the Resourceful Marguerite Alibert

Frenchwoman Marguerite Alibert in Paris
Frenchwoman Marguerite Alibert in Paris

Marguerite Alibert was a very resourceful Frenchwoman who lived many different lives.  She had gone from poverty to prostitution to princes – not just one prince, but two, from different countries. She managed to transform herself from a prostitute, to a consort, to a defendant in the trial of her husband’s murder.  In 1923, Margeurite shot her second husband three times in the back at the Savoy Hotel in London. Hotel staff stormed into the room, then rushed her bleeding husband to the hospital, where he died.  Marguerite remained aloof and didn’t even try to run from the police.

Alibert was a beautiful yet hard woman who survived the gritty world of Paris poverty, only to mingle among France’s elite, turning her numerous affairs into large sums of money. She was even mistress to Britain’s Prince Edward VIII; then going on to marry an Egyptian royal. Marguerite saw sex and love not from a romantic perspective, but as a means to first survive, and later thrive. It is doubtful she was ever truly in love with any of her liaisons.  In the end, Marguerite went down in history as the French prostitute who got away with murder.

Marguerite Alibert was born in 1890, into a poor Parisian family.

She was the daughter of a coachman and a housekeeper, both her parents working for the elite households of Paris. This exposure sparked a burning desire in her heart to one day rise out of poverty and become a high-class Parisian lady. She grew up with hobbies similar to a high-society ladies, like riding horses, reading books, going to the theater, and learning to read music.

She was intelligent, beautiful with light brown hair, and learned to act sophisticated by careful observation.  Her future seemed bright until at the age of 15, when her four-year-old brother ran into the street, was hit by a lorry and tragically died. Marguerite’s parents blamed her as she should have been watching her sibling at the time.  As punishment, she was sent to the Sisters of Mary, a Catholic boarding school.

The nuns found work for her in homes as a domestic maid. Her work life was brutal, and the nuns beat her relentlessly as punishment, constantly berating Marguerite with guilt for her frère’s untimely death.  Rather than acquiesce, the headstrong Marguerite soldiered through this harsh treatment.

Despite the watchful eye of the nuns, after a year at the boarding school, Marguerite ran away and became pregnant at 16.  When she was found, she said the father was the teenage son of a nobleman named Andre Mont-Clare. The two were in love, but the boy could not get permission to marry a poor pregnant French girl.  She gave birth to a daughter, who she named Raymonde. 

For her transgressions, she was expelled by the nuns.

Such trauma might be too much for the average person, but it permanently molded and toughened Marguerite’s personality.  Cast out by both her family and the nuns, Marguerite was destitute and unable to support her daughter.  The baby girl was sent by her parents to live on a farm in the French countryside. In spite of her situation, she was still determined to escape from poverty and lead a sophisticated life amongst Paris’ elite.

Luckily, Paris at the time was both a decadent and alluring city.  Marguerite chose prostitution as a means for making money. She started at the bottom as a street prostitute, attracting clients by singing at local nightclubs, always leaving with the richest men in the room. She saw there was good money to be made by upper-class sex workers, known then as “courtesans.” Her beauty and charms proved attractive to her rich clientele.  

Soon, she was noticed by a high-class brothel owner. Madame Denart saw that Alibert was prettier, smarter and more sophisticated than most street prostitutes, and took Marguerite under her wing. She had potential to become a high-class prostituée. Still only 16, Marguerite learned the tricks of her profession from an expert, and eventually grew into a high-class courtesan.

After receiving training on how to act like a lady, Marguerite “attended to” aristocrats from France, England, and even the United States.  Denart later described young Marguerite as “the mistress of nearly all my best clients, gentleman of wealth and position.  It was me that made a lady out of her.

After selling her services to dozens of rich men, Marguerite was able to find men willing to pay her a substantial amount of money for living expenses.  This allowed her to afford her own apartment and she was finally living a life in high society. As far as the outside world was concerned, she was just another society lady. 

No one could tell that she was actually a French courtesan.

Now in a stable situation, Marguerite could finally be a good mother to Raymonde. Seven years had passed. At 23, she reunited with her daughter, and Raymonde left the farm to live with her mother in Paris. She wanted her to have the best education possible, so she sent her daughter to a prominent and expensive all-girls boarding school in London.

In 1907, Marguerite Alibert finally fell in love one of her liaisons, Andre Meller, a wealthy wine merchant with a stable full of horses, and at 40, more than twice her age. There however was a small problem – Andre Meller was already married. He gave her everything she desired- a luxurious apartment in Paris, the newest fashions, and vacations abroad. She even took his last name, calling herself Marguerite Meller, claiming they were married. Onlookers wondered whether Marguerite was truly in love with Meller, or rather just making money off him.

Their relationship lasted 6 years until 1913, during which time Marguerite received some two hundred thousand francs from Andre Meller, a small fortun. She had clearly perfected the art of courting and seducing rich men. However, his marriage made it impossible for them to be truly happy, and Marguerite wanted a ‘divorce.’ The ‘settlement’ provided her with a large amount of money – allowing her to keep the luxurious apartment and even employing a driver and maid.

She went back to courting rich men in Paris, enjoying all the freebies that came along with it. Marguerite was quick in looking for another benefactor, and her charms drew the highest attention.  At that time, the British royal family was looking for an experienced courtesan to familiarize Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, and heir to the British throne with ‘the ways of the world.’

In 1917, Prince Edward was in France serving as a Grenadier officer in World War I.

The royal family selected Marguerite to meet with the 23-year-old Prince, because he needed a more experienced woman to instruct him in a ‘full education of sex’ before he married.  Marguerite Alibert was formally introduced to Edward by his aristocratic friends. Edward was instantly infatuated with the beautiful Frenchwoman and they embarked on a passionate royal love affair. 

Edward was known to have sent as many as twenty lengthy love letters to her from his post on the Western Front. They were filled with explicit things that would certainly ruin his reputation if ever made public. So the resourceful Marguerite of course held on to them … for a rainy day in the future. Their intense affair lasted for a year until Edward lost interest, turning to other women. Furious at being cast aside, Marguerite used Edward’s love letters to blackmail him, taking huge sums of money from the prince in return for her continued silence.

She was again quick to move on, and her new target was Charles Laurent, a wealthy Air Corps officer. However this time, things were different. In 1919 she married Charles, her first legal husband, taking his last name “Laurent.”  The marriage was not what either wanted and ended after only six months, but not before Marguerite received a large and tidy divorce settlement.

Marguerite had finally  grown rich, and was able to set herself up as an independent woman. While still only 30 years old, she kept a stable with horses, a limousine, a groom, and property on the fashionable Avenue Henri-Martin in Paris. But her lifestyle proved too extravagant and too expensive to maintain.  So, in order to become more stable, she seduced a wealthy Egyptian tycoon in 1921, Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey.

Marguerite Alibert and her two princes - Prince Edward VIII and Ali Fahmy Bey
Marguerite Alibert and her two princes – Prince Edward VIII and Ali Fahmy Bey

While at a party in Cairo, she locked eyes with the tall, handsome young Egyptian.

After talking for a while, he asked to see her again.  ‘Bey’ is an Egyptian title, like ‘Lord,’ but most people in France called him The Egyptian Prince. This piqued Marguerite’s interest, of course. After a short romance, Ali asked Marguerite to marry him and move to Cairo. Marguerite of course said “yes.” She figured that even if their marriage soured, she could earn another substantial divorce settlement.

Fahmy Bey was Muslim, and he wanted Marguerite to convert to Islam, dress modestly, and cover her face like other Egyptian women. She of course refused, and demanded a prenuptial agreement.  She would convert to Islam in exchange for the ability wear western dress and divorce if needed. However, Fahmy Bey secretly ripped up the agreement the day before their wedding. She now had no proof they ever agreed to those terms, and was forced to live like a Muslim wife.

The marriage was, not surprisingly, an unhappy one. A woman as shrewd and independent as Marguerite was never going to be the submissive and obedient Islamic wife that Ali demanded. The couple fought often, occasionally in public.  Marguerite grew increasingly unhappy with the way her treated her — ironically even sexually. There were rumors regarding Ali’s alleged bisexuality, and Marguerite later claimed to have been forced into “unnatural” intercourse.

Fahmy Bey then announced that he was going to take on more wives, which was allowed in Islam. She had been ignorant of Egyptian customs, and now found herself trapped in a terrible marriage without the exit of divorce. The couple argued constantly, and neighbors could tell. Some might say that karma served Marguerite some justice here, since she took advantage of men for so long.

Her new husband took additional wives, and refused to grant Marguerite a divorce.

She realized she was trapped in a Cairo cage. Increasingly resentful of her treatment, their quarrels became frequent and even violent. She began making a list of all the abuses that Fahmy committed against her.  Every time her husband made her angry, Marguerite wrote it down in her journal. But her independent and intelligent nature simply would not allow her to continue living in such a trapped situation.

Things finally came to a head in July 1923. They’d only been married for over a year, when Marguerite convinced Fahmy to travel to London together so they could see an opera. On July 9, 1923, the couple attended a showing of The Merry Widow. They were staying in the Savoy Hotel, and after the opera got into yet another heated argument. Hotel employees heard gunshots at 2:30 AM. Marguerite shot her husband three times in the back at close range. Somehow, he was still alive when help arrived, though later died in the hospital.

Marguerite shot Fahmy with a Browning .32 pistol she had been keeping under her bed pillow. She made to attempt to run and was arrested by London police.  With hotel witnesses, it seemed like an open and shut case.  The murder was clearly premeditated.  It was no mistake that she shot him outside Egypt. If she had killed her husband at home, she would have been sentenced to death. But in England, she actually had a chance. 

Marguerite still had those saucy letters she saved all of those years ago from Prince Edward, and used them again.  He had written things about the poor conduct of World War I, he made rude remarks about his father King George V, and there was the graphic sexual content. They’re certainly not the kind of letters the prince wanted the world to know about. The royal family did everything in its power to make sure Marguerite was not convicted of killing her husband.

Two months later, Marguerite stood trial for murder, and her situation looked bleak.

But her past resourcefulness again came to the rescue.  Her lawyer presented her as the victim of “brutality and beastliness.” Before the trial, a deal was made with officials in the court. Her past life as a courtesan was not allowed to be brought up during her trial, ensuring that Prince Edward was never mentioned.

During the trial in September 1923, crowds lined up around the building to watch. Some even paid for a place to sit in the courtroom. Mostly because of Marguerite’s whispered former job as a courtesan — and her rumored connection to the British Royal Family — her trial became something of an event.

The jury was made to believe she was a high-class Frenchwoman who got married to an Egyptian prince. Her lawyer painted Ali Fahmy Bey as a vile, monstrous and racist man who abused Marguerite until she simply had no option but to shoot him.  The jury, faced with a story of this pitiful woman, cruelly treated by her foreign husband, acquitted her of all charges. Marguerite walked free! 

Marguerite Alibert and her daughter Raymonde
Marguerite Alibert and her daughter Raymonde

What became of Marguerite Alibert next? She spent the rest of a long life living comfortably in Paris. She played small parts in French motion pictures and continued to charm wealthy men.  She called herself “Princess Marguerite,” because no one was the wiser. She was not allowed to inherit any of Fahmy Bey’s money though, because the Egyptian courts considered her a murderer.

For the rest of her life, Marguerite lived quietly in her apartment in Paris. She spent a lot of time visiting her daughter, Raymonde, and eventually her grandchildren. She managed to live comfortably for the rest of her life, until she died in 1971, at the age of 80.

After her death, her grandson was going through her papers in Paris. He was surprised that his grand-mère Marguerite had managed to quietly get married and divorced, with considerable settlements, another FIVE times, without her family ever knowing about it.  Marguerite remained ever the resourceful woman to the very end.

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LOST IN HISTORY Blog/Podcast about key forgotten history still relevant in today's world. Paul Andrews also has 5 historical adventure novels, all available on Amazon.

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