Marguerite was born on 9 December 1890 in Paris into a working-class family; her father Fermin was a driver, and her mother Marie was a housekeeper. Marguerite had a normal upbringing until her younger brother was killed one day while in her care. After being blamed by her parents for this, Marguerite was sent away to a boarding school where she was badly treated by the nuns and given little education aside from tuition in singing which she would fall back on later in life.
At sixteen, after being placed in a domestic service role by the nuns from the school, Marguerite became pregnant after a fling and gave birth to a daughter named Raymonde. The nuns cast out Marguerite for becoming pregnant. She spent the next few years moving from place to place, caring for her daughter when she could but then sending Raymonde off to live on a rural farm when she couldn’t afford to keep her.
After working in serving roles in a number of wealthy households, Marguerite began to see how the other half lived and wanted more for herself. In time she began working as une dame à cinq heures or a five o’clock girl, which was a high-end escort. As well as sexual duties, Marguerite would accompany wealthy businessmen on trips and to dinners where she would meet more people in high society. Soon Marguerite was working for Madame Denant, who was a highly regarded brothel owner.
In 1907, Marguerite got into her first long-term relationship and realised she could use relationships with wealthy or married men to earn money for herself. The first man was called André Mellor, and he was the son of a successful wine merchant; he was a married man, but it was acceptable to keep a mistress at the time. Marguerite was given a luxury apartment, and André paid for her lavish lifestyle. Though the couple were not married, they were together for six years, and Marguerite began to use André’s surname. Marguerite continued her work at the Maison de Rendezvous during her relationship with André and was able at this point to get her daughter back as she had the means to support her.
By 1913, Marguerite had moved on from Mellor after he became increasingly jealous of the attention she got from other men. After her relationship ended, Marguerite also moved on to another workplace, the house of Mme Sonia de Théval. This house was even more high-end than the last, and Marguerite was one of the most sought-after girls on the books with a celebrity-like status. Marguerite was soon entertaining members of the English aristocracy and French nobles and could make huge amounts of money from these liaisons. One of her first notable clients was the 2nd Duke of Westminster before his relationship with Coco Chanel. After entertaining the Duke, Marguerite became known amongst his glittering social circle and would host parties and events. Through these connections, Marguerite was introduced to Edward, Prince of Wales – the future King Edward VIII.
Edward and Marguerite met in a Paris hotel in 1917 while Edward was stationed in France with the Grenadier Guards due to World War One. It is believed that Edward was introduced to Marguerite by friends in order that she would provide him with a sexual education. He had already had a fling with another courtesan, but friends thought Marguerite had more experience. The relationship soon became more than a sexual one, and the pair were often seen chatting together in hotel lobbies and sent explicit love letters to each other. Edward would also write about the war and mentioned his father, King George V, in his letters. Edward was obsessed with Marguerite, and the pair were in a very intense relationship for around a year, but with the end of the war came the end of their relationship, and the prince returned to England and probably thought little about his dalliance with a French courtesan.
After her fling with Prince Edward had finished, Marguerite got married to a man named Charles Laurent. However, the relationship was over within months, but Marguerite managed to secure a large divorce settlement for herself. By this time, Marguerite owned a huge property with stables and had two limousines; she could even afford to send Raymonde to an excellent boarding school. However, most people she met had no idea that she was a courtesan, and she blended in with the other society ladies.
In 1921 Marguerite had moved on to her next conquest, an extremely wealthy Egyptian businessman called Ali Fahmy Bey. Ali was so high up in Egyptian society that he was known as ‘prince’ though he wasn’t actually royal. The twenty-two-year-old Ali met Marguerite, by this point in her thirties, while she was on a trip to Egypt with another man, but it is believed that Ali never knew Marguerite was a courtesan. A year later, the pair began a relationship when Ali was on a trip to Paris. For some time, the couple were happy together and travelled around France having fun. The couple got married after Marguerite moved to Egypt to be with Ali and converted to Islam.
Soon after her wedding to Ali Fahmy Bey, things began to fall apart for Marguerite. Ali tried as best as he could to control his new wife; he imposed strict rules and Egyptian traditions on her, and he continued to marry other women and ignored her half of the time. When Ali changed the couple’s prenuptial agreement, removing Marguerite’s right to seek a divorce, she became very panicked and felt completely trapped. Marguerite had been ignorant of her new country’s customs when she agreed to the marriage and was very unhappy with the rules on dress and the fact that her husband was allowed to take other wives.
Marguerite began to keep a diary and wrote about the constant arguments with her husband and how he had become very controlling with her. She even wrote about being forced into sexual activities, which she did not want to do. It was clear by this point that the couple were unhappy together, and Marguerite sought a way out.
In July 1923, Marguerite was probably feeling a little more like her old self as the couple were taking a trip to London on holiday and staying in the Savoy Hotel, and they took an entourage of serving staff with them.
On 9 July, after attending the theatre for the evening, the couple started having one of their usual blazing rows in the hotel room. At 2.30 am the next day, gunshots were heard, and it turned out that Marguerite had actually killed her husband, Ali. With the multiple bullets entering Ali’s body from behind, it seems that Marguerite planned the attack and waited until she was out of Egypt to strike. Ali was taken to hospital but did not survive.
Marguerite was arrested for her husband’s murder, and the fact that there were witnesses at the scene meant that she was bound to be found guilty and hung for her actions. Marguerite, however, was a very clever woman and knew how to get herself out of a difficult situation- even a murder trial.
It turned out that Marguerite had kept hold of all of her letters from Prince Edward from years before; the letters filled with sexual details and comments about the royal family and the war. There was no way the British Royal family could afford to have these letters leaked or for people ever to find out that Edward had been involved with this French courtesan. As the trial progressed, it never came out that Marguerite was an escort, and the famous Sir Edward Marshall defended her. He spent his time convincing the court that Ali Fahmy Bey was a horrible, abusive man (which does seem to some extent to be true). Stirring up a lot of anti-Egyptian sentiment against Ali, it was easy to make Marguerite seem innocent and that she acted in self-defence.
All of the charges against Marguerite were dropped, and she was declared not guilty; it is rumoured that the royal family convinced the judge to declare her not guilty in return for her handing back the collection of letters. As a result, the letters and the secret relationship between Edward, Prince of Wales and Marguerite stayed buried for over a century.
Marguerite tried to claim her murdered husband’s fortune from his family in Egypt but failed in this endeavour. She soon went back to her old ways, however, and had a string of love affairs in Paris where she lived as a wealthy woman, known as “princess Marguerite” or “princess Fahmy” for the rest of her life, using her murdered husband’s title and status for her own gain.1