The Strange Story of Daisy of Pless and Her Long Sought After Necklace
The British Princess known as Daisy of Pless was one of the most controversial people of her time. She was famous of her cheerful personality, but also her beauty and unconventional manners. The necklace she received from her husband became one of the most wanted artifacts after World War II.
Daisy was born on June 28, 1873 as Mary Theresa Olivia Cornwallis-West at Ruthin Castle in Denbighshire, Wales. She was strongly related to the British royal family. Her father was Col. William Cornwallis-West (1835–1917) and her mother was Mary "Patsy" Fitzpatrick (1856–1920). William Cornwallis-West was a great-grandson of John West, 2nd Earl De La Warr, and Mary was related to the house of the 2nd Marquess of Headfort. The strong bond between Daisy and Queen Victoria was also well known.
The early years of her life look similar to the lives of other girls from royal families. Nonetheless, due to her charming personality, she was called Daisy. In 1907 she was chosen as the most beautiful British woman.
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Daisy also known as Mary-Theresa Olivia Cornwallis-West. (Public Domain)
Daisy married Hans Heinrich XV (1861–1938), a member of the Hochberg family, in 1891. Daisy and her husband were the owners of large estates and coal mines in Silesia (currently Poland, but in her lifetime Germany). These brought the Hochbergs enormous fortune and allowed Daisy to follow her extravagant lifestyle - coupled with disastrous events and political and family scandals.
The Secret of the Necklace
The married couple's residency was a Książ Castle in Silesia. However, Daisy didn't like this place, she preferred another castle which belonged to them – Pszczyna.
She received a pearl necklace from her husband who knew of her weakness for beautiful jewelry. It was 6.7 meters (22 feet) long and one of the most expensive necklaces in the world. Legend says however, that the pearls were cursed by the pearl diver who died while collecting them.
Daisy wore this elaborate necklace during official meetings. When she appeared with this overwhelming piece of jewelry in London, she became a sensation. Daisy liked the life of a public person and she maintained her links with English society, appearing with her children in Country Life magazine.
Undated sketch of Daisy by John Singer Sargent (Public Domain)
The pearls became a symbol of the best period in her life. Nevertheless, after her death, people started to believe that they were the reason for many troubles in her life.
The luxurious life didn't bring happiness to the house of Hans Heinrich and Daisy. They had three sons: Hans Heinrich XVII, 4th Prince of Pless (1900–1984), Alexander, 5th Prince of Pless (1905–1984), and Count Bolko Konrad Friedrich of Hochberg (1910–1936). Nonetheless, the couple divorced in Berlin on December 12, 1922.
During her marriage, Daisy became a social reformer and worked for peace between her friends William II, the German Emperor and King Edward VII of the United Kingdom. The very strong bond between Daisy and Emperor William was a source of gossip in newspapers and the European courts.
Wilhelm II, German Emperor (Public Domain)
Daisy further fueled rumors by publishing a series of memoirs that were widely read in the United Kingdom, the United States, and in Continental Europe. It was a huge scandal and this decision brought her many problems.
Hans Heinrich married Clotilde de Silva y Gonzalez de Candamo (1898 – 1978) on January 25, 1925. She gave him two children, but the marriage was annulled 9 years after the wedding. Clotilde married her stepson, Bolko, and was the mother of Daisy's and Hans Heinrich's only grandchildren.
Daisy liked to travel and ride horses and motorbikes. As a princess who grew up in a castle, she also liked to spend time in the countryside and play with her children.
The golden age of her life ended with the beginning of World War I. During the war she served as a nurse and touched hearts of Europeans by offering her help to soldiers on both sides of the conflict. She enjoyed the experience as it offered her an adventurous life and the opportunity to meet interesting people.
After the end of the war, many nobles started to support Adolf Hitler. However, Daisy supported the opposition of the fuhrer. During World War II she was active in charities which supported the prisoners of the concentration camp Gross Rosen. Considered as an enemy of the German Reich, she was removed from Książ when it fell under the ownership of the Germans.
A Legend of Treasure
Daisy of Pless died in a villa in the city of Wałbrzych. She passed away as an indigent and lonely woman on June 29, 1943. According to local legend, she was buried dressed in her pearls in the cemetery near her last house. The stableman’s daughter claimed that she was buried in a family mausoleum in a park of the Książ castle. But, after plundering by soldiers of the Red Army, she was reburied in a safer place in a park.
Książ Castle (CC BY-SA 3.0 PL)
Unfortunately, the new grave caught the attention of the Russians, so Daisy was reburied once more – this time in a protestant cemetery in Szczawienek. During the 1980s, the cemetery was destroyed by the local authority of Silesia, but her body went back to Hochberg's castle.
Several expeditions tried to find the legendary treasure of Daisy. The pearl necklace became sort of a ''holy grail'' of the region. Fortunately, none of the treasure hunters found the grave of the last princess of Książ Castle.
A Reality That is Less Fascinating Than Myth
Due to the research by the Foundation of Daisy of Pless, the mystery of the necklace has recently been solved. The legend repeated by people since the end of World War II had been very far from the real story. Daisy sold most of her pearls in 1936. Her son Bolko was arrested by the gestapo for unknown reasons. He was tortured for two months and left the prison when his mother paid the NSDAP a huge amount of money. Sadly, the young man died because of the injuries caused by the torture.
According to Daisy’s grandson, if she was buried with a necklace it wasn't more than one meter (3.3 feet) of pearls. Her last place of burial remains a family secret because the Hochberg family wants to allow her to rest in peace.
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Pszczyna, palace, now Castle Museum. (CC BY-SA 3.0 PL)
The Princess of Pless was a Dame of the Order of Theresa of Bavaria and of the Order of Isabella the Catholic of Spain, and was awarded the German Red Cross Decoration. Nowadays, her castles are the most beautiful museums of Silesia. The exhibitions are full of the things which belonged to this extraordinary woman. The history of Daisy of Pless stays very popular in the region and attracts thousands of tourists every year.
Featured image: Daisy aka Mary-Theresa Olivia Cornwallis-West. (Public Domain)
Daisy von Pless, Taniec na wulkanie 1873-1918, 2002
Beata Górnioczek, Bronisława Jeske-Cybulska, Księżna Daisy. Pani na Książu i Pszczynie, 2002
W. John Koch, Daisy, Księżna Pszczyńska, 2007
Andrzej Konieczny, Sekrety Białej Damy, 1989.