Mathilde Peat

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Mathilde Peat (1888-1965) was a close friend and companion to Lillie Langtry during the final years of her life. She was one of the chief mourners at Langtry’s funeral in Jersey and a principal beneficiary in her will.

Background

Actress Lillie Langtry was born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton in Jersey in 1853. After the death of her first husband, Edward Langtry, she married Hugo Gerald de Bathe and in 1907 became Lady de Bathe when her husband inherited his father’s title. In 1919 the couple moved to the South of France where they lived separate lives. In her final years, Langtry’s closest friend was her companion, Mathilde Peat.

Mystery woman

Although a great deal has been written about Lillie Langtry, little seems to be known about her devoted friend, Mathilde Peat. In his book The Gilded Lily, Ernest Dudley describes her as a “somewhat mysterious” woman. Dudley says that she started off as a housemaid, married Langtry's butler, and when he left after the First World War she became the housekeeper.[1] The story differs slightly in Laura Beatty's book Lillie Langtry: Manners, Masks and Morals; she says that Mathilde married Langtry’s butler, but that he had died.[2]

In February, 1929, newspapers around the world reported the death of Lillie Langtry in Monaco, and that by her side in these final days and hours was her companion, Mathilde Peat. Within days it became known that Peat was the principal beneficiary in Langtry’s will, being left £10,000, the Villa in Monaco, clothes, jewellery and her motorcar. A London newspaper attempted to find out more about her, and interviewed a butler working in Eaton Square called Thomas Peat. He told the reporter that Mathilde was his wife, but their jobs kept them apart and they only saw each other occasionally. He worked for Baronet, Sir Mathew Wilson, and had been in continuous service with him for almost 30 years, serving first as his batman in the army and later as his valet and butler.[3]

This story was repeated in many newspapers at home and abroad, but always derived from this single source. A newspaper in Derby did locate Peat’s brother Joseph but little additional information came from this. In 1947 an article in a Derby newspaper, about a couple who ran a public house, did provided an independent verification. The publican, Cecil Julian Peat, was the son of the butler Thomas Peat,[3] and he told the reporter that his step-mother was a French lady who had been companion to "Jersey Lily" - Lady de Bathe. He confirmed that she had inherited a villa in Monaco from Langtry and that he and his wife had stayed there.[4]

Mathilde Peat died in Monaco in 1965 and was buried in the Cimetiére de Monaco. Details on her death certificate show that she was born, Mathilde Guillou, on November 4, 1888 in Concarneau, Finistère, Brittany; her father was Joseph Guillou and mother Marie Mathilde Modeste; she was the wife of Thomas Peat and she was divorced.[5] In 1939 a Register was taken of the population in England and Wales and in this Thomas Peat is recorded as a retired butler, living in Derby with his aforementioned brother, and he was divorced.[6]

Further research is required to find details of when and where Thomas and Mathilde married. In 1916 she was still using her maiden name of Guillou: a manifest of passengers on the liner SS St. Paul, dated August 12, 1916, sailing between New York and Liverpool, lists Emilie Charlotte de Bathe, actress, and Mathilde Guillou, lady's maid, of Concarneau, France.[7]

Thomas Peat

Thomas Peat (1875-1945) was born in Leicester, the son of a railway worker.[8] At the age of sixteen he was employed in Yorkshire as a coalminer and at nineteen years of age joined the army. He served in the Boer War where he became the batman to subaltern Mathew Richard Henry Wilson. After the war Peat continued to work for Wilson as his valet and later as butler. During this period, Wilson was an instructor at Sandhurst Military College, followed by two years in India as military advisor to the Commander-in-Chief; in 1914 he was elected the Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green South West and in the same year he became the 4th Baronet of Eshton Hall by succession. At the start of WW1 both Wilson and Peat joined the 1st County of London Yeomanry serving in the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, which included being deployed to Gallipoli.[9] After he retired Peat lived with his brother in Derby and died on May 27, 1944 in Borough Isolation Hospital, Derby.


References

  1. Dudley, Ernest; The Gilded Lily; 1958; Odham Press, London; pages160–63
  2. Beatty, Laura; Lillie Langtry - Manners, Masks and Morals;1999; Vintage, London; Chapter XXXIV
  3. Cecil Julian Peat's birth certificate and Thomas Peat's probate - National Probate Calendar
  4. Derby and Joan. Derby Evening Telegraph. June 17, 1947
  5. Information obtained from Marie de Monaco[1]
  6. 1939 Register; Thomas Peat, Joseph Peat, Emma Peat, 63 High Street Derby; viewed on Findmypast.com
  7. Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Viewed on Ancestry.com
  8. Find A Grave "Thomas Peat"[2]
  9. Military Record for Thomas Peat, viewed on Ancestry.com
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