Oh baby, when I look in your eyes I go crazy


Amelie Rives, Princess Troubetzkoy

Amelie Rives, Princess Troubetzkoy

One of the benefits of having a family obsessed with old family stories is, just that, many old family stories. My grandmother is from an ancient Virginia family and she often referred to cousins, aunts, and great-great grandparents in polite and obscure language. “Well,” she would say, in a very slow Virginia drawl, “she was a true beauty, and quite eccentric.” And that would be that. As I’ve looked deeper into some of these relatives, the truth is far more interesting.

For example, my grandmother’s cousin Amelie Rives’ godfather was General Robert E. Lee and granddaughter of Senator William Cabell Rives. She was born at the end of the civil war and lived at Castle Hill, built by one of my distant grandfathers Dr. Thomas Walker, near Charlottesville. In 1888, she married John Armstrong “Archie” Chanler, grandson of John Jacob Astor. The marriage was a disaster with details including morphine addiction in France, affairs, and eventual madness. The Astor family claimed that Amelie drove Archie mad, my family claimed that he was already mad. Donna M. Lucey’s biography, Archie and Amelie, Love and Madness in the Gilded Age retells the story, albeit in a salacious way.

In the end, Archie descended into madness, including delusions that he could put himself into a sort of trance in which his face would somehow morph into the death mask of Napoleon. In the meantime, Amelie became the toast of European society, divorced Archie, and married Russian Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy, “an artist and an aristocrat,” who possessed more glamour and panache than money. The two settled at the family home, Castle Hill and were together for the rest of their lives. The scandals continued, when Amelie began writing novels and plays including the shocking The Quick and the Dead?, an erotic story. However, as my grandmother said, “Why, she was such a fine beauty.”

Castle Hill, near Charlottesville, Virginia

Castle Hill, near Charlottesville, Virginia

Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy

Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy

Amelie Rives 1890

Amelie Rives 1890

John Armstrong "Archie" Chanler

John Armstrong “Archie” Chanler as Napoleon’s death mask, and riding
Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy

Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy, by Frances Benjamin Johnston (infamous lesbian photographer) 1910

Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy by Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy c. 1890

Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy by Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy c. 1890 (found hidden after my grandmother died.)

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7 Responses to “Oh baby, when I look in your eyes I go crazy”

  1. marian bantjes Says:

    Wow, Sean! A great story and great pictures, esp. the nudity (thanks for delivering), and what a great delusion this is “that he could put himself into a sort of trance in which his face would somehow morph into the death mask of Napoleon” …!

  2. Nancy Bernard Says:

    Such an illustrious family. My forebears include a German ironworks merchant, a French leather merchant, and an Irish violin maker. No contest here…

  3. Sean Says:

    He’s not as good as your Laura Linney imitation, but pretty cool

  4. Sean Says:

    You mean morphine addiction and insanity trump good hardworking stable people? And between you and me, the women in my family do kind of drive men nuts.

  5. Michael Miller Says:

    Hi My name is Michael Miller. I am a direct descendant of Thomas Walker and writing a book about him and his descendants. I ran into your article about Amelie Rives who is a Great Great Granddaughter. I like to hear from you and learn more about your branch of the family tree. Thank you for the article and pics of Amelie and her husbands. Take care

    Michael Miller

  6. Sergei Malinin Says:

    Dear Sean,
    I am fascinated with your story about Amelie Rives Troubetskoy.
    I am a Russian Art collector from New York and admirer of Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy and his works. I recently bought at an auction a beautiful female portrait by Pierre Troubetzkoy, signed and dated May 1917. The painting was offered as the “Portrait of a Woman”. I conducted my own research and came to a conclusion that the sitter in the portrait looks very much like Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy who was an “all-out femme fatale” and known for her ravishing beauty. I wonder if you can take a look at the portrait: maybe I have a portrait of your grandmother! Kind Regards,
    Sergei

  7. Sergei Malinin Says:

    Dear Sean,
    I am fascinated with your story about Amelie Rives Troubetskoy.
    I am a Russian Art collector from New York and admirer of Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy and his works. I recently bought at an auction a beautiful female portrait by Pierre Troubetzkoy, signed and dated May 1917. The painting was offered as the “Portrait of a Woman”. I conducted my own research and came to a conclusion that the sitter in the portrait looks very much like Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy who was an “all-out femme fatale” and known for her ravishing beauty. I wonder if you can take a look at the portrait: maybe I have a portrait of your grandmother! Kind Regards,
    Sergei