Polish Prince Alexander Hohenlohe “knew it was serious” when he first met the 18-year-old Peggy Boyce Schulze (1921-1964). The couple married, he told the New York Times, after only a “four-month courtship which began like many another courtship before it — on a Summer day.”
The courtship became anything but typical after military hostilities interceded. And the way the marriage ended was far from blissful. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The couple met in Poland, where Peggy Schulze, my second cousin once removed, was living with her mother, Margaret Boyce Thompson, who was married at the time to Anthony Biddle, the American ambassador to Poland prior to World War II. Peggy was Margaret’s child by her first marriage.
Shortly after his first meeting with the enchanting Peggy, the Prince was sent away on army maneuvers. This was on June 30, 1939. Despite his service, the couple managed to rendezvous every other weekend until August 15th, when Hohenlohe obtained leave, and the couple made their “plans for the future.” Unfortunately, duty called again two weeks later; the Prince was mobilized.
Peggy remained with her parents in Poland, where hostilities escalated. In an effort to escape incessant bombing, the family was removed to a villa just outside Warsaw. But German bombers caught up with the entourage at the villa, striking it three time. It was a real close call — Tony nearly cut himself shaving when a bomb hit the building next door. On September 5, the family was evacuated with other government officials.
It took the Biddle/Thompsons nearly two weeks, to travel by motor caravan across Poland to Romania, the Princess told reporters. During the sojourn, she recounted, the group was under constant bombardment by German planes. The bombing threatened both Margaret Thompson Biddle’s dog and furs, according a diary recounting the frightful journey that she left behind.
Young Peggy worried about far more serious matters; she fretted the whole time about her fiance. “We reached Bucharest on Sept. 17,” the princess told reporters. “I had no word of my fiance. I didn’t know if he was alive or dead.”
Alexander thankfully called two days after the Schulze entourage reached Budapest. He managed to join Peggy in Bucharest on September 20. The couple promptly left on a four-day journey to Paris. Schulze became an official princess three weeks later in a marriage that took place in the City Hall in the Sixth Arrondissment.
The royal couple told the harrowing story of their courtship and marriage to the Times after arriving in the United States later that year, in November 1939, aboard the Italian liner Vulcania. The newspaper reported that the 21-year-old Polish national, described as “tall and fair,” came to the United States to assume his duties as an assistant military official attached to the Polish Embassy in Washington, D.C. It turns out the Polish prince was half American.
Hohenlohe was the son of Prince Alfred of Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst and Catherine Britton, an American who died in 1929. He was born in Switzerland and was an Austrian subject until he was adopted by Prince Carl Gottfried of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen, head of another branch of the family in the mid-1930s. He became a Polish citizen after the adoption.
Despite an apparent early ardor, the couple were married for only 10 years. They had two children. The Prince took their separation so hard that he shot himself, in the left chest, at his apartment at 206 East Sixty-second street. The Prince telephoned his friend and attorney Francis P. Garvin to tell him of his intended act. Garvin tried to dissuade him, to no avail.
Garvin rushed out to obtain a patrolman, and the two men found a physician. They rushed to Hohenlohe’s apartment, where they found the Prince on the floor, next to a .38 caliber revolver, with a single bullet wound in his chest.
The couple had been estranged for several months. The Prince had recently undergone three weeks of treatment for depression at the Payne-Whitney Psychiatric Clinic of New York Hospital. He had only recently been discharged. Reached at her mother’s house in Yonkers, Peggy was “shocked” to hear that her husband had attempted to take his life.
The Princess reunited with her husband long enough for him to recover from his wounds. Once he was better, however, she filed for divorce in Reno, Nevada.
A year later she married Morton Downey, the fabulously wealthy singer of Irish ballads, in a Hot Springs, Va., ceremony. A devout Catholic, Downey made it his mission to have Peggy’s first marriage to Hohenlohe annulled. He was eventually successful, and the couple married in a religious ceremony.
The granddaughter of William Boyce Thompson, and one of the richest women in America, Peggy gained a reputation as a “fun-loving socialite” during her marriage to Hohenlohe, according to Buddy Galon, writing in the book, “Dearly Departed: A Personal View of Celebrity Funerals.”
Peggy was only married to Downey for 14 years. She died at 42, after surgery for breast cancer. “A mob of Palm Beachers greatly mourned the loss of one of the most popular women on the Palm Beach social scene,” Galon wrote.