Anthony Francis Oscar Sampayo
Okay – I was supposed to be doing something else but there is nothing like procrastination to turn a productive afternoon into something less useful – albeit infinitely more fascinating.
It started out with a gravestone in East Greenwich Pleasaunce. I initially photographed it to remind myself to look up the word ‘plenipotentiary’.
But then when I did look it up I started to wonder what on earth a French Minister ‘diplomat with full powers’ was doing in an East Greenwich graveyard.
That one, I still don’t know. Not least because he appears to have anglicised his name. After much searching, I discovered another French diplomat – minister to Portugal, no less, with exactly the same dates – only with the name Antoine François Oscar Sampaio – but I can’t find out much about him, either. His granddaughter, though – a totally different story and I found out what I know about him from her biographies, which appear to be ten a penny. But more on her in a moment.
Certainly Antoine was already living in London and calling himself Anthony Sampayo when he married an American heiress, Virginia Timberlake (whose own grandmother had been implicated in the notorious ‘petticoat affair’ that nearly brought down president Andrew Jackson) in 1849. I can’t find out where they were living – but hey, why not Greenwich? Everyone of any note comes here at some point…
Virginia was, apparently, brilliant, if a bit ‘lacking in veracity and getting ‘coarser’ as she got older, whatever that means. An acquaintance remarked “I suppose she may need money, or craves notoriety,” and indeed both are possible – by that time she would have been a widow, and everyone knows what Greenwich Birds are like…
Or maybe she just wanted some of her granddaughter’s celebrity. For yes, folks, I’ve managed to find an (extremely slim) link between Greenwich and Olga Meyer.
Who she? Oh, Come on…
She the daughter of Marie Blanche, Anthony and Virginia’s girl, born, I note, the same year as her parents got married – just guessing now, but maybe a reason why the happy couple weren’t in Portugal any more…
But the gossip-mongers were much more interested in Marie-Blanche’s later life than her birth. She was officially the Prince of Wales’s goddaughter but everyone knew he was really her lover, and it was rumoured that Donna Maria Beatrice Olga Alberta Caracciolo (Olga’s real name) was actually Edward VII’s daughter.
She certainly lived up to her heritage if she was. Born in 1871, she went on to be an artist’s model, socialite, muse, writer, fencing champion, gossip-columnist, coke-sniffer and fashionista – oh, and a celebrated lesbian when ‘that sort of thing’ wasn’t supposed to be going on.
She married a couple of times, most notably to photographer Adolph de Meyer. It was a useful marriage for all concerned – he was gay and she was much more interested in women – her most famous affair being with Princess Edmund de Polignac, the heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune, who’d made a similarly convenient union with a French amateur composer.
Her life sounds like something out of a novel (Olga Meyer’s, though the Princess’s life was pretty steamy too) and got wackier as she got older – changing her name to Mahrah on the advice of her astrologer and acquiring a tongue considerably coarser than her mother’s – though, like so many lights that burn that bright, it all ended in tears in a detox clinic in Austria in 1930.
I can’t see that the Baroness Olga de Meyer, photographed here by her husband, ever lived in Greenwich. But perhaps she visited her old* Granddad’s grave sometime.
Odd isn’t it, where a gravestone will lead you. More to come soon…
*actually he wasn’t old at all – just 44 when he died. I have no idea how.
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