Staff at the Savoy Hotel in London were used to the demanding and outrageous behavior of their wealthy clientele, but the couple who stayed in Suite 41 were the talk of the establishment.
Mixed-race couples were unusual in 1923, particularly in the sumptuous surroundings of the Savoy, so the glamorous Parisian and her Egyptian husband would have caused quite a stir had it not been for their angry quarrels.
One lunchtime, the couple, Prince Ali Fahmy and his wife Marguerite, were arguing so loudly that the leader of the Savoy Orchestra intervened, prompting Marguerite to dramatically declare, “My husband is going to kill me in 24 hours.”
In fact, it was Prince Ali Fahmy who was later found dead in a pool of blood.
Threat to the Royal Family: Courtesan Marguerite
That night, after the couple returned from an operetta – ironically, The Merry Widow – they began yelling at each other again over dinner. Marguerite picked up a wine bottle and threatened to smash it over Ali’s head. “If you do that,” he growled back, “I’ll do the same to you.”
He stormed out of the hotel and returned at 2 a.m., after which shouts could be heard from her suite. The pair burst into the corridor along with Marguerite’s barking dog and encountered John Beattie, the night porter.
Beattie went to call the night manager but as he rounded the corner he heard three shots – and ran back to find Ali leaning against the wall in a pool of blood with a gaping hole in his skull.
Marguerite was holding a gun, which she threw to the ground and yelled in French, “What should I do? I shot him!’
When the Princess was arrested and taken to Holloway Prison, it seemed obvious that she would be tried for murder and hanged. But incredibly, despite the devastating circumstances, she was acquitted.
Why? It seems that Marguerite owed her life and freedom to the intervention of the royal household to protect the reputation of her former lover, the future Edward VIII.
The Prince of Wales in military uniform, France, World War I,
As Buckingham Palace braces itself for the latest salvo from a modern-day problem prince – Prince Harry’s all-encompassing memoir turns 10 – whose love life threatened to scandal the royal family.
In his book on the case, The Prince, The Princess And The Perfect Murder, former attorney Andrew Rose convincingly argues that courtiers conspired with the judiciary to ensure a miscarriage of justice to protect Prince Edward.
This extraordinary intervention had its roots in World War I, when Edward – known to friends and family as David – was a staff officer in France.
His fellow officers were determined that the then 20-year-old prince should seize the opportunity to be in France to have his first sexual encounter. They duly took him to a brothel, where a prostitute named Paulette stripped him of his virginity.
From that moment Edward was obsessed with sex. A few months later, while on vacation in Paris, he met 24-year-old Marguerite and was smitten.
Marguerite’s husband Prince Ali Fahmy
The daughter of a taxi driver and a cleaner became pregnant as a teenager while working as a domestic worker. Her baby was raised elsewhere, and Marguerite turned to prostitution to survive in Paris. A captivating beauty with a seductive nature, she soon graduated from a high-class brothel, where she was being prepared to become a successful courtesan, well-trained in the bedroom arts.
She was photographed with a horse whip and was soon known as a dominatrix. Wealthy lovers showered her with jewelry and money, and her success allowed her to live in a sumptuous apartment with servants.
With the outbreak of war, Paris became a magnet for upper-class English vacationers, including the wealthy Duke of Westminster and his aide-de-camp, Ernest Bald. Marguerite, now calling herself Maggy, entertained both gentlemen and it was the Duke who introduced her to Prince Edward when he came to Paris on leave in April 1917.
For the next 18 months, Edward and Marguerite were lovers, meeting whenever he could escape to Paris, where they drank champagne and he drove her around in his Rolls-Royce.
During their affair he wrote 20 highly indiscreet letters to Marguerite – “Mon Bébé” – criticizing his father, George V. She not only sent him letters, but also erotic literature.
When Edward broke off the relationship to focus on his new English mistress, the married Freda Dudley Ward, he asked her to destroy his letters, but she did not. Instead, Marguerite began blackmailing him.
Embarrassed, Edward said to his stable master “Joey” Legh: “I’m afraid she’s the £100,000-or-nothing type.” It was a huge sum, equivalent to more than £9million today.
But then the blackmail threats suddenly stopped: Marguerite married a rich man. However, she was clever enough to keep the prince’s letters.
Marguerite soon found that married life did not suit her. They were divorced and she returned to her life as a courtesan.
In 1922 she met the young Egyptian playboy Prince Ali Fahmy, a multi-millionaire. While not technically a prince, he was fabulously wealthy and doted on her with diamonds. They married in Cairo in early 1923 after Marguerite converted to Islam.
But the marriage quickly deteriorated, and when they arrived in London for the summer season in July, Marguerite was frequently seen with bruises and Ali with a scratched face.
She called in a doctor at the Savoy, who diagnosed her with hemorrhoids, a disease she says was caused by her husband’s insistence on “unnatural intercourse.” An operation to remove them was arranged for July 11, but gunfire rang out in the early hours of that day.
Marguerite was arrested – but not before removing her bloodstained Chanel dress. Ali was taken to the hospital but died hours later.
When news of Marguerite’s arrest broke, the royal household panicked. If her sordid past were used by prosecutors to portray her as a scheming, scarlet woman capable of murder, the Prince of Wales’s reputation would be tarnished.
Revelations that he had been drinking champagne with a Parisian prostitute while the troops suffered in the trenches would have been extremely damaging. Ernest Bald, her former lover, was taken to Holloway Prison where he is believed to have brokered a deal with her.
Author Andrew Rose believes that Marguerite agreed to release the prince’s letters in exchange for a guarantee that this noisy past would not be mentioned.
Marguerite duly arranged for the compromising letters to be sent to London, where Edward himself vouched for their authenticity. He was then sent on a visit to Canada for the duration of the trial.
Although there are no official documents to support this theory – embarrassing royal secrets are often culled from the archives – there is a revealing letter from Lord Curzon, the Foreign Secretary.
On September 9, the eve of Marguerite’s trial at the Old Bailey, he wrote to his wife Grace: ‘My dear girl, I heard some news in London the other day which perhaps will amuse you. The Frenchwoman who shot her so-called Egyptian prince and is on trial for murder is the chic woman who was the prince’s “fortress” during the war in Paris… and they were terrified he might be implicated.
“It’s fortunate that he’s going to Canada and his name is to be kept secret.”
The process was a sensation. Crying prettily and resorting to smelling salts, Marguerite claimed that she slept under her pillow with a loaded Browning pistol in case of jewel thieves and that she shot Ali in fear for her life when he turned on her after they got the divorce had demanded.
In fact, she had shot him three times in the back as he crouched over the dog.
Marguerite’s attorney portrayed her as a “poor, miserable woman,” the victim of an abusive “Oriental” husband who was not only bisexual (her attorney sneakily hinted at a sexual relationship between Ali and his male secretary), but forced her into unnatural sex practices .
Marguerite’s own erratic behavior was not mentioned, except to admit that she was “not of very strict morals”.
Playing on the racial bias of the jury, he urged them, “Open the gate and let this western woman back into the light of God’s great western sun.”
Meanwhile, the judge openly influenced the jury by calling Ali’s sexual behavior “shocking, disgusting and disgusting… a cruel and heinous act.”
The jury acquitted Marguerite and she returned to Paris, where she attempted to lay claim to Ali’s fortune. His family, distraught by Ali’s violent death, managed to prevent this, so Marguerite simply resumed her life as a courtesan.
As for Edward, he continued to pursue unsuitable women. The establishment cover-up to salvage his reputation was ultimately in vain, as 13 years later he was to relinquish his crown in favor of another manipulative, dominating woman: Wallis Simpson.