Wednesday, February 23, 2011

American heiress who married a German duke is dead at 51

February 23, 1931

Lily Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, the divorced wife of Duke Heinrich Borwin of Mecklenburg-Schwerin died today at the Hotel Richelieu in San Francisco, reports the Associated Press.
The former duchess, who had lived at the hotel for the last year, died of pneumonia.  She was 51 years old. She was a native of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The Duchess was born Natalie Oelrichs.  She was a social leader in San Francisco and in Newport, Rhode.   Her first husband, Peter Martin, a Pacific coast polo player, became ill during a visit to Paris in 1913, and died two years later in Santa Barbara.

Duke Heinrich Borwin, nephew of the then reigning grand duke, and a cousin of the Crown Princess of Germany, visited San Francisco in 1915, during the Panama-Pacific international exposition.  He was a guest at the Martins' home, and after Martin's death, the duke "renewed his acquaintance" with Mrs. Martin.  A "romance followed"  and the duke and Mrs. Martin were married in New York in 1915.
The couple lived in San Francisco for some time, where Duke Heinrich Borwin "was employed as an automobile salesman."  It was at this time, the duchess "inherited a fortune estimated at $5,000.000."

The duke and duchess separated after the war, and Heinrich Borwin returned to Germany, where he wrote a book about his war experiences,  High Highess, the Stoker.   They were divorced in 1921.

The Duchess is survived by her son, Charles Martin of San Francisco; her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Oelrichs of New York and Newport, and a sister, Mrs. Harrison Tweed.   The funeral was held today at St. Patrick's Cathedral in San Francisco.

[Lily's will was filed on November 23, 1931. She left her large estate "in trust to her parents," and disinherited her son, Charles Oelrichs martin "for lack of filial respect."  After the deaths of her parents, according to her will, the estate "is to revert to her sister,  Mrs. Blanche Marie Oelrichs Tweed, wife of Harrison Tweed of New York," and two nephews, Leonard M. Thomas and Robin M. Thomas and a niece, Diana Blanche Barrymore."  Blanche Oelrichs was previously married to the actor John Barrymore.
 The marriage between Lily and Peter D. Martin took place at St. Joseph's Church in Newport on July 24, 1902. It was one of the social weddings of the year, and the guests included Mrs. Astor, Col and Mrs John Jacob Astor, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, Jr.,  Mr. and Mrs. F.W. Vanderbilt.
Peter Martin, who was in Paris, working for a Paris bank, became ill in July 1913. He was suffering from "severe mental trouble."]


Kalnel said...

I believe she was also the aunt or great-aunt of musician Peter Duchin.

Stephen Conrad said...

Does anyone know what became of the Charles Oelrichs fortune apart from that which Lily Oelrichs Martin Mecklenburg-Schwerin reverted to them? I had some contact with Charles and Caroline Martin's daughter in SF some years ago, and she could not understand why her great-grandmother left her property in SF to her parents; though the reason for the divorce from the Duke was because Borwin was a brute and regularly beat her up. Presumably all this meant that her son Charles Martin, whose marriage was apparently happy, inherited only what he could from his grandparents. But what became of the family portraits? Nobody seems to know, and it seems the Martins never had any, but neither did the Tweeds or Thomases, certainly not Peter Duchin whom I had correspondence with a few years ago....where are the portraits of Mrs Charles Oelrichs, and the full length of Lily Oelrichs Martin by Adolfo Muller-Ury? It's a mystery.