Princess Marthe Bibesco (28 January 1886 – 28 November 1973) was a celebrated writer, a literary and political salon hostess, and a woman with many highly placed and influential friends. She wrote both fiction, non-fiction, and magazine articles. Her journals alone comprise 65 volumes. As tumultuous as her life was, especially during two world wars, the one constant in her life was writing.
Born 28 January 1886 in Bucharest, Marta Lucia Lahovary was the third child of Ioan Lahovary and Emma Mavrocordat. Her father was Romania’s minister in Paris and later the minister of foreign affairs. Marthe spent much of her childhood in Paris and was fluent in French at an early age. She was also well-educated in European history and literature. After a secret engagement, Marthe married Prince George III Valentin Bibescu at the age of 17. Her mother-in-law ensured that her education continued and included knowledge of her homeland as well, including Romanian folk tales. All of this was put to good use in a life of writing both fiction and non-fiction.
Her literary work began in 1908 with the publishing of her travel memoirs of a diplomatic mission to Iran. It was well-received by French critics and other writers. Writing both non-fiction and fiction, including popular romances under the name Lucile Décaux, Marthe became the toast of the Belle Epoque period in Paris.
Both Marthe and George traveled throughout Europe and had many friends among royalty and politicians as well as the literary elite. They both pursued their own interests, including other relationships. Marthe had close relationships with German Crown Prince Wilhelm, who tried to get her to mediate between France and Germany over Alsace-Lorraine, French prince Charles-Louis de Beauvau-Craon, and a Roman Catholic Abbé who converted her from her Eastern Orthodox faith.
Marthe lived through very tumultuous times in Europe. During WWI, she worked in a hospital in Bucharest until the German army invaded and burned her home. At that time she fled to Geneva with her mother and her daughter, Valentine who was born in 1903. It was during this time that she began what is considered her Romanian masterpiece, Isvor, pays des saules (“Isvor, Land of Willows”).
During the interwar years, Marthe spent a lot of time traveling around Europe, hosting both literary and political salons, and above all writing. In addition to her novels and journals, she had a long-term contracts with The Saturday Evening Post and Paris-Soir. With George, she flew to many countries as the guest of high powered people such as Winston Churchill, Benito Mussolini, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. She in turn hosted them at the Mogoșoaia Palace.
In 1941, Romania entered WWII on the side of Germany. With her cousin Prince Barbu II Stirbey, Marthe unsuccessfully tried to negotiate Romania’s withdrawal from the war in 1943. But when Russia’s army invaded, she left Romania on 7 September 1945 and was never able to return to her homeland.The communist government confiscated all of the Bibesco property in 1948 and Marthe lived out the rest of her life in France supporting herself with her writing. She was appointed a member of the Belgian Academy of French Language and Literature and received the 1962 award of the Légion d’honneur. She also continued friendships with the famous and powerful, including Charles de Gaulle.
Marthe lived a long and productive life. She died on November 28, 1973, at the age of 82. A poll in Romania in 2001, listed her as the number one woman of the Millennium and of the 20th century.
Find out what else happened on November 28 in Women’s History.