Lillie Langtry was born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton on Jersey, in the Channel Islands between the English and French coasts. Surrounded by six brothers, she became a bit of a tomboy. Her family had given her the nickname 'Lillie' because of her pale, almost white, skin and she decided to adopt this name.
Although she was not really in love with Edward Langtry when she met him she saw this as a way to leave the island and eventually married him in March 1874. On returning to London it wasn't long before she had a string of admirers. Millais painted her in a black dress holding a crimson lily which was brought especially from Jersey. Millais named the painting 'A Jersey Lily' and this name stuck for the rest of her life. Oscar Wilde was also captivated by her and composed a poem called 'The New Helen' which he presented with the inscription, 'to Helen, formerly of Troy, now of London'.
While still married, The Prince of Wales fell for her and their relationship became front page news. Later, she gave birth to a daughter, Jeanne Marie, by another man and employed a governess to look after Jeanne to allow her to move back to London but people turned their backs on her because of her relationship with the Prince, her financial status and the break up of her marriage. To generate income she decided to become an actress and in 1881 successfully starred in a one act play, later becoming the first woman to advertise a commercial product as the face of Pears soap. She was paid according to her weight, ie pound (weight) for pound (sterling)!
Lillie also set new trends in fashion, society emulating her style and the hairdressers and dressmakers of the day following suit, advertising themselves 'By Appointment to Lillie Langtry'. In 1882 she sailed to New York and was welcomed with open arms. Wall Street closed during her visit and 'The Jersey Lily Waltz' became a huge hit.
She applied for American citizenship in 1887 in order to speed up divorce proceedings and soon after ended her marriage to Edward Langtry. Lillie bought a ranch in California (Langtry Farms) and a vineyard in which she produced a wine under her own label, but prohibition resulted in her eventually selling the ranch at a great loss.
At the end of the war, she decided to retire to Monaco and in the autumn of 1928, aged 75, she caught bronchitis and pleurisy then later influenza and passed away on the 12th February 1929.