Ultimo aggiornamento:  11.05.2020 17.17
August 8, 2015

the sad story of the princess de montglyon

By  Lucio Rocco


"Et ceci aussi il passera!" (and this also will pass away) said Rose de Mercy-Argenteau, whose life had taught her too early to accept with resignation and fatalism the various difficulties the fate had reserved to her, she was lucky to be born in one of the most renowned families and wealthy of Europe.

Rosalie (Rose) Françoise Adelaide Therse Caroline Marie Eugenie de Mercy-Argenteau was born in the Castle d’Argenteau, in Belgium, on July 18, 1862 by Eugène de Mercy Argenteau and Louisa de Riquet de Caraman. Her was one of the noblest and most influential families in Europe. Her mother, the Countess of Mercy Argenteau, Princess of Montglyon, was one of the most influential women in the court of Napoleon III.

The birth of Rose was not so joyful to the Countess and her husband cause they have so long desired to have a son. The disappointment was so bitter as to induce them to neglect the child for the entire life.

So the existence of Rose began with a refusal and her childhood was consumed between guardians and rulers within the walls of one of the oldest castles in Belgium, without friends or distractions of any kind, comforted only by the company and the love of her dogs that at all times of her life helped her to overcome the difficulties and gave those joys that no human being could give her.

At 21 she was obliged by her family to marry a men, as was the custom among the nobles, and so on 5 February 1883, she was married to the Duke of Avaray, one of the oldest names and nobles of France. After moving to Paris, she let herself be seduced by the worldly life and her living room became the gathering point for all the blue blood of Europe and even of some crowned head, it is true that even the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, came from London to attend to her parties.

In 1887 was born the only son of the couple, heir of the titles of the prestigious family.

But the Duke of Avaray was never able to win the hearts of the young noblewoman who loved to walk in the Belgian countryside with her dogs and reluctantly left the peaceful life of the castle d’ Argenteau for that eventful and bigoted in the French capital. The love, the real one, the Princess of Montglyon would find years later, and for that love she would abandon everything to follow him to the ends of the world.

Her loveless marriage was therefore a failure, and the two began to lead independent lives, until the final divorce.

They spent a few years as well, including receptions and parties. Her mother died in 1890, just 53 years, and she had inherited the Castle d’ Argenteau where suddenly, tired of useless life , decided to retire, leaving Paris and the splendor of its court.

Rose lived between the walls that saw her birth, perhaps the only peaceful years of her life, raising her dogs and taking care of the other animals in her park. In this way it seemed at last to have found peace and serenity.

Rose loved the Scottish Collie who had dried her tears as child, but she was also interested in the Chow Chow and Samoyed. It remained in the history of this breed to be the first to register one of them in stud books of the American Kennel Club. The dog was called Moustan of Argenteau, and was enrolled in those registers in 1906.

However, it was the Collie to make her famous and give her prestige and success. In the years between the 19th and the 20th century she  was considered one of the best farmers in the world, as well as a highly regarded judge. Many large American breeders turned to have the collie of her lines, as the American banker JP Morgan, who had his farm on the Hudson River in New York, and in 1907 bought two fawn puppies to present the exhibition of the Westminster Kennel Club.

The kennels of the Castle d’Argenteau had been built especially considering the welfare of the dogs, and they were furnished with great care. This is the precise description the American newspaper New York Daily Tribune wrote: “They consist of a series of small buildings, each of which appears to be a kind of loose box of 15 by 13 feet. They are well provided with every improvement, perfectly ventilated and spacious. There is a large dry gravel run for puppies to play in. and another covered run for exercise on wet days. The princess herself superintends the welfare of the dogs.” Neither effort nor expense had been spared to put together a great team of Collie, making use also of the collaboration of John Powers, breeder, exhibitor and judge of Collie. Some of the most accredited guests of the kennels of His Majesty were, Lily Rightaway, Champion Barwell Masterpiece, Lady Clinker, Ormskirk Iodone and Old Hall Shamrock, his favorite dog. It was born in 1898 from the Camp. Balgreggie Hope Old Hall and Ella, a daughter of the great Camp. Southport Perfection. Shamrock was undoubtedly the best known and his dog was exposed for a long time in England, France, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Russia, Germany and the United States.

And this great work came to be good and enabled her to gain a leading position both as a breeder and as exhibiting, both on the continent and in England. One of her most famous Collie won, in 1901, one of the most prestigious trophies in the world, the Dholpur Five Hundred Guinea Gold Cup, offered by His Majesty the Maharajah of Dholpur. It was a female named Old Hall Beatrice (Edgbaston x Royal Old Hall Ina) born in 1899.

The Princess of Montglyon was a strikingly beautiful woman, narrates the chronicles of the time, of strong intelligence and great charm, but also a personality and a magnetism that made her an irresistible woman.

But the fate that persecuted her did not give much time to enjoy the quiet of the Belgian countryside. A financial crisis caused her to lose the Castle d’ Argenteau, and Rose had nothing to do but leave for Paris with one companion: her beloved collie "Shamrock".

Perhaps it was the disappointments of life to get her to say "The more I see of men, the more I love brutes" and perhaps it was the boredom to push her to attend one evening, a show at the Moulin Rouge in the arena where the played the Captain Jack Bonavita (in life John Frederick Gentner), a famous American lion tamer.

Probably it was the magical atmosphere, or the charm of a man who faced the fierce beasts unarmed and unafraid, but it is sure that evening radically changed the life of the Princess of Montglyon.

History tells that suddenly a great tawny beast, throwing a tremendous roar, lunged on the armless tamer, putting him on the ground and snapped in the shoulder. A biographer of the Princess said that she leaped from her seat, reached the cage, and began to hit the face of the lion with the handle of her parasol. The snarling beast stepped back, and that was enough so the assistants could pull across the bloody tamer. There is no trace, in the newspapers of the time, of this intervention, although it carries the serious incident, so we are not able to confirm this, but it could be true, because it reflects the character of this woman, always ready to throw her head down into the fray to defend the weak, or maybe just for a principle.

The Captain Bonavita was hospitalized. An operation saved his life, but not his arm, which had to be amputee.

Once again the fate had played own cards. The Princess stood beside the enchanting tamer throughout his recovery and finally, between the scars of her heart disappointed, the paw of a lion gave birth to love. "I may have lost a great deal in my life, but I have in the end found love” she wrote in a letter to one of her friend. In April 26, 1905, in Paris, the fearless lion tamer who did not use the whip and the charming Belgian princess who loved collie married finally.

The couple moved to the United States, where the beautiful Princess began once again to take care of dogs, rebuilding her kennel and above all by exercising her role as Judge. They settled in Cold Spring Harbor in Long Island, New York.

In the American exposures The Princess Montglyon was successful as  in Europe. American newspapers tell about her as a romantic figure, always dressed in white and surrounded by friends and admirers: "She shone like a star in a dark night," someone wrote.

In September of 1906, she judged the collie in Trenton (New Jersey) in the exposition organized by the Fair Association; in the following month of November it was in Philadelphia and in January the following year in Boston in the exposition of New England Collie Club. In 1908 instead she judged the exposure of Ohio Kennel Club to East Liverpool.

But she did not neglect even to showcase the products of her work as a breeder. In October of 1906 she participated, in Locust Valley, to an exhibition organized by the Piping Rock Kennel Club. Great success of her collie Challenger d’ Argenteau, success in the following year by winning, with Highland Chief of Argenteau, all classes in which it was written in the exposition of Long Island Kennel Club in Brighton Beach.

But even the hard-won happiness in the New World was to last for a lifetime. Too distant the social classes of the tamer used to dealing with wild animals and the delicate Princess used to frequent noble and King : “Bonavita was the best and noblest man I ever met” wrote the Princess ,“but his ways were not my ways, nor my ways his.

The two divorced in 1912 and five years later a polar bear finished the job begun by lions in Paris.

Now Rose was in a foreign country without friends or relatives, in financial straits, although still full of the family jewels. The polar bear that had killed her former husband had also taken away the only income consisting in the maintenance. Even her only son died in Europe during a car race.

But actually Rose had found a relative in that distant land. A brother that her father had confessed to have on his deathbed. His name was John H. Casey and to reach him Rose was obliged to settle in Tampa, Florida.

The inhabitants of Tampa got used to see a now elderly European noblewoman with clothes rather informal, but who never failed to wear precious jewels and put an expensive French perfume.

The economic difficulties, which the Princess was not used, made bitters and hard the last years of her life. Who advised her to sell her jewelry she replied that she would rather starve than to deprive of her memories.

A few months before her death, Rose D' Argenteau published her memoirs in a book entitled "The last of a race." Maybe she could not even collect the proceeds of the book, because the publisher closed shortly after its publication.

Just as the last representative of a race of nobles that throughout Europe was about to be supplanted by a shopkeeper and petty bourgeoisie, the Lady of Montglyon died, forgotten and alone in a foreign land, on July 26, 1925. She was sixty-three years. She was buried in a small tomb in Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Tampa.

This is the sad story of Princess of Montglyon, reconstructed on the basis of what we were able to consult on newspapers, books and documents of the time. There are only a few things that we have decided to keep silent for the promise in our hearts to this woman that slowly we began to love, to not disclose episodes and facts that would make her blush. There is only an episode that has to be told and with that we are going to close our story.

Her death seems rather strange, and equally strange was that no one could find her precious jewelry. Yet, six months after her death, a small museum opened in St. Petersburg to show, for a fee, the most valuable pieces of the collection coming from Castle d' Argenteau disappeared in Tampa.

Soon after, her brother died in mysterious circumstances. The Consul of the Netherlands tried to convince the police before, and a judge later,  that the disappearance of the jewels and the two strange deaths had something dark which was worth to investigate. The case was finally closed.

Did she found peace at the end the beautiful princess who loved collie, or still cries her memories, her castle destroyed by the war and her world erased from history?

We hope so.