Émilie Loisset: Princess Daredevil and her Creepy Stans

Le Monde Illustré, 29 April 1882. Screengrab from Gallica.

To quote myself:

The more I work on these mini biographies, the harder I find it to be certain of biographical facts. I usually check multiple contemporary sources about the same events and I see errors that are carried forward by later texts and plenty of instances where there are two believable versions of an event. They are a work in progress, and I try to make the ambiguities and contradictions clear.

Gentle readers, welcome to my world when I was researching the life of Émilie Loisset. I thought she would be relatively simple to write about after tackling Jenny de Rahden and Céleste Mogador, both of whom wrote about their own lives at length. I knew there would be more material than I’d found on Selika Lazevski and Sarah l’Africaine, but I hadn’t realised that my standards and resources for research would have increased so exponentially. Now I had Belgian, German and Austrian digitised newspapers to work with, and I expanded out into birth certificates, marriage confirmations and death records, plus a novel or two. Heaven knows, there’s plenty more I could rummage through if I could visit the physical archives, but I had over a hundred pages of typed-up notes in three languages by the time I started Émilie’s essay, and that was enough for lockdown limitations. So let’s look at the research for the Paris Review Daily essay on Émilie Loisset (here) so I can try to untangle it all again.

A Giant Game of Telephone

I did my best to navigate the mess of contradictory information available and to be open about the judgment calls I made but – boy… it was a rollercoaster ride. If you look up Émilie and find something that you think I’ve missed, bear this in mind – it may very well be in my Giant Document of Notes and I just decided to exclude it from the essay and this blogpost for lack of space or faith. Paris Review Daily blogposts are meant to be 2,000 words max, and Nadja Spiegelman, my editor there, very kindly indulged me by letting me post far longer pieces.

In Signor Saltarino’s book, Émilie and Clotilde’s mother becomes “Camilla Loisset”, and Clotilde and Émilie themselves are pretty regularly confused by many writers in different countries. “Hatzfeld” is spelled in many and varied ways, my favourite of which has to be “Le Prince Narfeld”. When the reports cross the Atlantic they get even more scrambled – perhaps literally a game of Telegram. The New Orleans Daily Democrat account of events says Hatzfeldt raced horses at “Hoppeyarter” which I presume means Hoppegarten, the racecourse outside Berlin. Or there’s a US paper rechristening Clotilde as “Virginia” – possibly confused by another écuyère (Virginie Léonard) who married a banker. “Hartzfield” and “Blotilde” appear here.

When biographies of Sisi, the Empress of Austria, track into Émilie’s life, there’s a world of confusion between her and Elisa Petzold, the Austrian écuyère who a) often performed alongside her, b) was also a favourite of Sisi, and c) was originally inspired to become a circus horsewoman by another of Émilie’s aunts-by-marriage, Adeline Loisset. I am currently researching the intriguing Elisa for the Amazons of Paris book project and pursuing some extraordinary leads I found while working on Émilie’s life…

Possible birth record for Émilie.

Why Don’t You Know Which Horse it Was?

Buckle up.

9 April 1880 – Morgen Post – Pour Toujours is the jumper.

3 September 1880 – Journal de Bruxelles – Émilie performing on the jumper, Pour Toujours, for the first time [in Belgium, I guess]. Will leap the table.

26 March 1881 – Morgen Post – J’Y Pense was a dressage horse, not a jumper. Das Vaterland also says this in April 1881.

4 April 1881 – Wiener Zeitung – advertisement for Circus Renz. Says Pour Toujours is a jumper.

7 April 1881 – Wiener Cariacaturen – Pour Toujours described as a haute école horse who pirouettes and courbettes obediently.

18 April 1882 – Le Figaro – published in the immediate aftermath of Émile’s death by Albert Wolff, who knew her well and was at her funeral. He says the horse that killed her was J’Y Pense, a difficult, heavy, bay horse.

19 April 1882 – Gazette Nationale – J’Y Pense, a difficult bay-brown horse.

20 April 1882 – La Petite République – it was J’Y Pense.

4 May 1882 – Echo de Parlement – J’Y Pense dunnit.

1893 – Baron de Vaux’s Écuyers et Écuyères: Histoires des Cirques d’Europe  – Pour Toujours was a gift from an admirer in Berlin – an Irish horse with a “bad heart”. She had fallen from him in 1881.

1895 – Signor Saltarino’s Artisten Lexikon – He said Pour Toujours was a superb hunter and J’y Pense a black stallion of difficult temperament who killed Émilie.

Twentieth century – Tristan Rémy in Le Cirque dans L’Univers: Émilie bought two jumpers, Pour Toujours and J’Y Pense back from Berlin. Pour Toujours was Irish, and had once somersaulted over a table jump with her and dislocated her shoulder.

Every time I think I know which it was, another source comes up. So I still couldn’t tell you!

Several papers reported that after Émilie’s death, J’Y Pense/Pour Toujours was purchased by “le Prince de H—” in some accounts a blond German, in others, a “Hungarian” (again, the contradictions undermine me) who then blew the horse’s brains out with a pistolet, but L’Echo de Parlement reported that the horse had been purchased by Elisa Petzold—”Voilà, publicity well understood,” its correspondent noted cynically.

Know Your Aristos

If you want to dive in and find out more about the aristocratic suitors then please proceed with caution. These families are sprawling and full of repeated names.

For Clotilde’s husband, Prince Heinrich XX Reuss zu Köstritz/Baron von Reichenfels, I’ll leave you with this extract from the House of Reuss Wikipedia entry:

All the males of the House of Reuss are named Heinrich (Henry) plus a number. In the elder line the numbering covers all male children of the elder House, and the numbers increase until 100 is reached and then start again at 1. In the younger line the system is similar but the numbers increase until the end of the century before starting again at 1.

And he had two older brothers. Both called Heinrich. De Vaux calls him Jean XXII, which is one reason I don’t rely unquestioningly on De Vaux.

For Elemér Batthyány, please bear in mind that this young man was not the only sportsman in his family to own racehorses – I had a few false starts before I arrived at him. I believe his full name is Elemér Boldizsár Kázmér Batthyány von Német-Újvar Batthyány. If you’d like to see an image of him, I think this is correct, and pictures of his striking 2002 tomb are here. These may be his racing colours (or could be those of a relative who was more successful in England). There seem to have been a swindling-duelling scandal during his time as president of the Budapest Jockey Club, but my very basic reading on this subject didn’t suggest that he was involved. Here’s the current website for his family.

What I do know is that he was staying at the Goldenes Lamm in Vienna at the same time that Émilie was performing around the corner at the Renz Circus. It was customary for hotels to list guests in local newspapers – presumably so friends and family would be notified and could visit. A tantalizing triangulation that proves everything or nothing.

Elemér carried on as a sportsman and racehorse owner, but lost his estate in the turbulence following World War One. In 1920, he was seen shivering in line at a soup kitchen in Budapest, where an American acquaintance took pity on him and found him a job. He died in 1932. I cannot find any note of him marrying after Émilie’s death.

Re. Franz Edmund Joseph Gabriel Vitus von Hatzfeldt, prince of Hatzfeldt-Wildenburg. You will find every extraordinary permutation of spelling going on here, and be careful not to confuse him with any other relatives. You can see a photo of him and his Grand National winner, Ascetic’s Silver, here. This is the Wiltshire house where he lived with his wife, Clara, from 1896-1915 (you might enjoy the bracing opinions of the US Morning News on this marriage and Hatzfeldt in general).

La Petite Lambton and evidence for Elemér

In 1886, after Émilie’s death, the novelist and politician Paschal Grousset (using the pseudonym Philippe Daryl) published a book called La Petite Lambton that was advertised as being based on Émilie’s life. Though most of the plot (a near-farce about inheritance and a greedy society) does not concern her, the titular heroine, Jacqueline Lambton, has many similarities to Émilie, from her cropped, golden-brown curls to her pride, stubbornness, and dedication to her art, which she thinks deserves the same consideration as painting and sculpture. She is endowed with both a spirited horse and a courtly honor by the Empress of Austria, and is a loving daughter who makes soup for her parents every day she’s in Paris.

A young Hungarian officer, Prince Max Lédényi, is smitten and wants to marry her and no one else. Jacqueline tells him that she will only consent if his father agrees, and thus the lovers are temporarily thwarted because the Lédényi family needs new funds to support their 3,000 villagers, so Max must marry a Jewish banker’s daughter. Jacqueline’s father delivers the deus ex machina by guilefully coming up with the money—and, as she lies on the circus floor after her climactic accident, Jacqueline hears that the prince’s father has given them permission to marry. She looks angelically enraptured and expires of a broken neck. Although the book is a confection, Grousset, like Meusey, was part of an elite group of Parisian intellectuals and writers which included some of Émilie’s circle, and presumably knew the details of her life better than gossipers in Berlin or Vienna. Elemér certainly maps neatly on to Max in some instances but likely not others.

“Alain Bauquenne” or Octave Mirbeau’s L’Écuyère also features a Hungarian officer who is smitten with the heroine. He dies in a duel over her honour. The “horsewoman” in this novel is also partly Petzold.

Who’s Who of Nineteenth-Century Pseudonyms

Everyone in the nineteenth century loved a pseudonym! I was pretty lost until I discovered the Dictionnaire des Pseudonymes by Edmond Antoine Poinsot, which unmasked several of the people who wrote about Émilie (and also features Émilie and Clotilde).

Identity Swap

I mentioned the story about a Hippodrome écuyère who was supposedly injured the same day as Émilie and whose funeral (according to some) took place in the same church, just before Émilie’s. I have a theory that this is a muddle with Fanny Ghyka, who died almost a year to the day earlier after an accident in the Hippodrome, though I could be wrong. She was almost the same age as Loisset, but they had very different styles. The identities of the two women are confused elsewhere.

Incidentally, Turc the dog waited for Émilie at the circus after her death, refusing to eat, and when she did not come, he disappeared into the Paris streets and was never seen again. La Justice predicted that he ended up at the furrier or vivisectionist. In Baron de Vaux’s account, Émilie’s dog, Turc, belongs to Fanny and mourns her death. Again, we cannot always trust de Vaux.

Another seemingly crucial detail about Émilie’s funeral remains obscure: I cannot establish from contradictory sources whether the service was held in Saint-Élisabeth-de-Hongrie or Saint-Ambroise – either way, the church was too small to contain the crowd.

The Loisset Family Tree

My subquest to work out which aunt might have left Clotilde and Émilie their rumoured legacies led, inevitably, to an out-of-control project to try and map the Loisset family tree. This was hampered by a recurring problem I’ve had while researching all these essays – namely, that in 1871, the Paris Communards burned down the Hôtel de Ville and the Palais de Justice and thus all pre-1860s records.

Some of these have been hastily reconstructed. I found a digital facsimile of a scrap of paper saying “Roux Marie 27th 1856” which could, of course, be a record of Émilie’s birth (a screengrab of it is in this post). I also found another scrap for François Loisset and Caroline Loyo’s wedding in 1853, which revealed that Caroline’s real name was Gertrude. The Dutch site http://www.wiewaswie.nl was a godsend by comparison: searchable, clear, and extensive birth, marriage and death records. I also found plenty of information in the Maisons-Laffitte archives – this town was a long-term base for the family. I managed to map a lot of the family tree from these latter two archives, although, being a circus family, they dropped children all over Europe, so some names were missing.

The family also loved to duplicate names, whether in the circus ring or at home. I think there may be two sons of Jean Baptiste and Virginie Hélène called Carl/Charles. Victoire, the Loisset aunt who married the Comte di Rossi, performed as Louisa Loisset in the early 1860s. She should not be confused with the younger Louise Loisset, the seventeen-year-old cousin of Émilie and Clotilde who died in 1878. I found a mention of her performing with the fifteen-year-old sisters in 1871, and the same Belgian newspaper article also says “Victoria was also a great success”, but I have no idea who the parents of this Louisa and Victoria were. Other aunts or uncles of Clotilde and Émilie? Or non-Loissets, given that sometimes performers adopted the family names of their mentors? Anyway, I believe this younger Louisa died while working for Circus Renz in Berlin, so I guess that would be the place to start working out what exactly happened to her.

Then there’s the Émilie-Elisabeth Loisset who was born in Switzerland in 1832 to Jean Baptiste and Virginie Hélène and was the aunt at whose house OUR Émilie died. She married a man called Paul Froment, and I managed to find the notice from her funeral in 1890. Clotilde was there, as were Caroline Loyo and her son, Comtesse Victoire di Rossi and others. Oh, and Caroline sometimes performed as “Mme Loisset”.

Most poignantly, there’s a Loisset girl I’m still hoping to trace for Amazons of Paris. She was reported missing if not lost in a massive circus fire in northern Ukraine in 1883. Another horsewoman. I need to read Russian or Ukrainian.

Clotilde was at her father’s side in 1886 in a Brussels circus box when he died while watching a performance. Her husband had died just two years after Émilie, leaving her with two surviving children. She lived in a suburb of Brussels for the rest of her life and died in 1924.

Rimbaud or no Rimbaud?

The circus historian Henri Thétard wrote a 1948 article called “Rimbaud et le Cirque”, which stated that Rimbaud worked as a cashier for the Circus Loisset in Germany, Denmark and Sweden in 1877. This was investigated a few years ago by Lena Ånimmer in the Revue d’Histoire Littéraire de la France. The article uses Swedish parish, bankruptcy and hotel records rather than later hearsay and shows that there’s little evidence that Rimbaud did any such thing. It did make me wish that my fledgling Swedish was much, much better though.

Poor Elvira Madigan – tragic inspiration for many a film – was actually part of the Circus Loisset and made her debut with them in Copenhagen in 1876.

Émilie depicted in La Vie Parisienne, via Gallica.

Scholarly Sources

“Maupassant et la Presse Parisien” by Christian Goubault (Études Normandes, 43e anné, no 2, 1994) helped me finally get some sort of handle on the city’s newspapers and many of the characters involved.

“‘Death rather than dishonor’ in Mirbeau’s L’Écuyèreby Jennifer Forrest.

The edition of Mirbeau’s L’Écuyère prepared by the Société Octave Mirbeau and edited by Pierre Michel was very useful. Don’t run away with the idea that this novel is “about” Émilie though – I think there’s a good dose of Elisa Petzold in there. Some have speculated that the heroine, Julia’s, suicide was inspired by the young actress Julia Feyghine, but it was published months before her theatrical debut, let alone her death. The novel left me feeling pretty queasy, not least because of the author’s choice to have Julia trampled to a pulp at the end – other than her beautiful, serene face, of course.

Paul Aron’s “Romans de l’Écuyère” (PDF) brought up the excellent point that nineteenth-century French writers seemed obsessed with the question of whether these horsewomen were “moral” and honest as well as teaching me about lots of texts I hadn’t heard of previously.

The Reluctant Empress, by Brigitte Hamman, proved a key to the world of Empress Elisabeth of Austria and Elemér’s past.

I despaired of finding an electronic copy of Phillipe Daryl/Paschal Grousset’s La Petite Lambton but was finally able to find the entire thing serialised in Le Temps.

Missing – on my list for the Amazons of Paris research

Émilie’s will. I would like to see that. Or a document about the settling of her estate if she had none. Ditto Clotilde’s and that of their father. I don’t know how Clotilde’s husband died, either.

Albert Wolff says that after the fateful rehearsal, Émilie was supposed to ride two of her horses at a horse show. I discovered a couple of contenders for this, and would have loved to learn more as these were early days of such competitions and I didn’t know if a woman would compete against men or women (or at all). Sadly I couldn’t quite secure enough information. I think there were two horse shows running at the time.

One account said Émilie had toured in England. There was a Loisset manège there at one stage too, and, pre-marriage, Caroline Loyo was supposedly the lover of an English lord. A few preliminary pokes around in the archive didn’t yield much though, so those are stories for Amazons of Paris. I also think that a remark about her having “American manners” was misinterpreted by some as saying she was raised in America.

A portrait in oils of Émilie commissioned from the painter Wilhelm Richter by Sisi. It was shown at the 16 September 1882 show of Austrian art by the Österreichische Kunstverein. Here’s the catalogue.

I found the details about Émilie’s father’s court case here. I wondered if he and Antoinette had other children, but I guess these records are lost in the great bonfire of 1871.

Thanks to:

Katja Hoyer explained marriage and the Prussian army to me. Thank you to Twitter for explaining that when Saltarino called Émilie “Gretchen on horseback” he was making a Faust reference. Thank you, also, to Anna Pallai’s father and Mike Zimonyi for translating a note I found from Elemér Batthyány (it was nothing to do with Émilie but interesting all the same). Thank you also to the Batthyány and Hatzfeldt families for answering my queries, and to Gödöllő, the Kaiserliche Wagenburg Wien, the folks at Geneanet and the ever-patient Dominique Jando.

Death record for Émilie.

Published by Susanna Forrest

Writer Amazons of Paris, The Age of the Horse and If Wishes Were Horses.

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