Prince Antoine Bibesco
Antoine Bibesco or, in Romanian, Anton Bibescu (July 19, 1878 - September 2, 1951) was a Romanian prince, lawyer, diplomat and writer. He was born into the Bibescu princely family. His main estate was in Strehaia.
As a young man, his mother, Princess Hélène Bibesco's celebrated Paris salon gave him the opportunity to meet Charles Gounod, Claude Debussy, Camille Saint-Saëns, Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, Aristide Maillol, Anatole France and Marcel Proust among many other notables.
Proust became a lifelong friend and shared a secret language in which Marcel was Lecram and the Bibescos were Ocsebib. Antoine made a concerted effort to have Proust's Du Côté de Chez Swann (in which, it is said, Bibesco was the model for Robert de St. Loup) published by André Gide and the Nouvelle Revue Française, but failed in that effort. Toward the end of Proust's life, Bibesco, who was a great raconteur, was an outside ear for the reclusive writer. Later he published Letters of Marcel Proust to Antoine Bibesco.
Bibesco, though not a prolific writer, was the author of a number of plays in French and had at least one American success. In 1930 his play Ladies All was performed on Broadway at the Moresco Theatre, running for 140 performances. He also translated Weekend by Noel Coward and Le Domaine by John Galsworthy into French.
In 1914, before World War I, Prince Antoine was First Secretary of the Romanian Legation in London and by 1918 had entered the circle of Herbert Henry Asquith (former Liberal Prime Minister). At this time he was in a relationship with the writer Enid Bagnold, but his affections for her were replaced by those he began to feel for the twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth Asquith (he was 40 at the time). Margot Asquith, her mother, thought he would be a steadying influence on her daughter. "What a gentleman he is. None of my family are gentlemen like that; no breeding you know," she wrote.
The marriage took place at St. Margaret's, Westminster on April 29, 1919. It was the society event of the year, attended by everyone from Queen Alexandra to George Bernard Shaw. Their only child, Priscilla, was born in 1920 (and died in 2004).
Apparently marriage did not change Antoine's womanizing ways. Rebecca West (with whom he had a short affair in 1927) called him "a boudoir athlete". While attending a party at the French embassy in London and looking around the room, West realized that every woman in attendance had been his mistress at one time or another.
Antoine continued his diplomatic career in Washington, D.C. (1920-1926) as Minister of the Romanian Legation (the present Romanian Embassy in Washington was first used as such during his tenure) and in Madrid (1927-1931). In 1936, after Romanian Prime Minister Gheorghe Tatarescu removed Nicolae Titulescu as Foreign Minister and recalled nearly all Romania's diplomats, Prince Bibesco had the unenviable responsibility of reassuring England and France that Romania was not slipping into the grip of fascism. The World War II years were spent in Romania where his wife died (in 1945) and when, after the war, his estates were confiscated by the communists he left his country, never to return. Enid Bagnold, in her autobiography, tells of unwittingly smuggling silver across the English Channel for him after the war. He died in 1951 and was buried in Paris.
"He had three tombs in his heart," Enid Bagnold wrote in her Times obituary, "which I think he could never finally close - of his mother, his brother Emmanuel and his wife."
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