Twenty years before abdicating the throne for Wallis Simpson, Prince Edward VIII was caught up in an explosive scandal.
In the middle of a violent thunderstorm, just before midnight on September 10, 1923, the night porter at London’s Savoy hotel heard three gunshots.
Rushing up to the 4th floor, he found Princess Marguerite Fahmy holding a pistol.
At her feet, her husband Egyptian prince Fahmy, lay dead.
Two bullets in the back, one bullet in the head.
As police arrived to take the princess away it wasn’t long before her identity was revealed. The beautiful woman who’d just shot her husband was also known as Marguerite Alibert, a French high-class prostitute who became the first lover of Edward, the Prince of Wales — heir to the British throne.
And so began a race to stop a scandal that would have greatly damaged the reputation of the future King.
Alibert and Prince Edward had had a passionate affair that eventually exploded in a cocktail of royal infatuation, blackmail, sex, murder and a secret stash of hidden letters.
It was 96 years ago that Alibert appeared at Old Bailey for the murder of her husband. It’s an incredible story about a woman who rose from poverty to a life of extravagance, rubbing shoulders with the Parisian elite before being pursued and loved by a future King.
As Edward’s first mistress, Alibert helped transform him from an innocent 22-year-old to the darling of society and eventually the much-loved King, who abandoned his crown for love. But while Alibert might be remembered as the woman who got away with murder, recent information shows she was also behind one of the biggest scandals of British royal and judicial history.
Princess Marie Marguerite Fahmy, French wife of late Prince Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey of Egypt.Source:Getty Images
A BIGGER SCANDAL THAN THE ABDICATION
Most of us know Edward VIII because he abdicated the throne in 1937 because he couldn’t bear the thought of spending his life without his true love, American divorcee Wallis Simpson. (The fact that she was twice divorced meant that Edward wasn’t allowed to marry her and be King as well.)
It was an enormous scandal at the time, sending shockwaves throughout Europe.
But, it was his relationship with infamous sex worker Alibert twenty years earlier that was equally as scandalous. Why wasn’t this common knowledge?
That’s because the royal family’s notorious “keepers of secrets” worked hard to brilliantly cover it up.
So who was Marguerite Alibert and what made her so powerful?
Throughout the brief love affair, the Prince was very indiscreet, declaring his passion for the prostitute on paper as well as spilling royal secrets. He sent his mistress many letters and Alibert, who was nobody’s fool, kept every single one.
Who knows when they might be needed as a bargaining tool?
A GREAT BEAUTY
Marguerite Alibert was born in 1890 in Paris to poor parents; her father worked as a coach driver and her mother was a domestic servant. From an early age, they knew their daughter’s greatest advantage was her great beauty and they hoped her looks would be her ticket to a world far beyond the one she was raised in.
When she was 15, Alibert was taken out of school and placed in a home where she worked as a servant, but she was fired when she fell pregnant, later giving birth to a daughter who was sent to live with a farming family.
As a homeless teenager, Alibert turned to sex work and quickly became known as a “courtesan” — an upper-class prostitute.
Marguerite Alibert circa 1920. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images.Source:Getty Images
Brothel owner, Madame Denart described her young worker as “the mistress of nearly all my best clients, a gentleman of wealth and position in France, England, America and other countries … It was me that made a sort of lady of her.”
By the time she was 17, she was in a relationship with 40-year-old Andre Meller, a wealthy Parisian, who bought her an apartment so they could conduct their affair in private. Alibert told friends they were married but that wasn’t true; Meller remained married to his first wife throughout the affair before the couple parted ways in 1913. But Alibert frequently used his surname as her own.
By the time Alibert met the 22-year-old Prince of Wales, it was 1917, towards the end of WWI. Edward liked to spend time partying in Paris while he was on leave from his regiment on the Western Front.
Edward, Prince of Wales, in his uniform as a Colonel in 1919.Source:Supplied
AN AFFAIR WITH THE PRINCE
Alibert was a few years older and infinitely more streetwise than the Prince.
According to historian Andrew Rose, the author of "The Prince, the Princess and the perfect murder" the Prince was infatuated with Alibert at first sight and they became lovers for at least a year.
Rose writes: “She evidently taught him a lot about sexual technique. All these stories about him being taught sexual techniques by Wallis Simpson, I’m afraid that’s really out of the window: if he hadn’t learned his sexual techniques from Marguerite he wouldn’t have learned it from anybody!”
According to Rose, Alibert was said to have a mean streak and a nasty temper, and she’d often sleep with a gun under her pillow. But she had plenty of positive attributes; she was intelligent and articulate, as well as being skilled in the bedroom, making her highly sought after as a courtesan.
Rose describes Alibert as a “shrewd operator as well as a renowned boudoir gymnast, who saw the young Prince as a prime business opportunity.” But the affair, which saw the Prince make multiple trips to Paris, eventually fizzled out.
Alibert’s “prime business opportunity” with the prince eventually fizzled out. But she’d already planned ahead.
INDISCREET LOVE LETTERS
The most foolish thing the Prince did during the affair was write several very indiscreet letters to his mistress, detailing military matters as well as revealing intimate information about the royal family, particularly his parents (he allegedly had a difficult relationship with his father).
If it wasn’t for the letters, Edward might have been willing to forget that he ever enjoyed the company of a high-class courtesan.
Even though there were numerous women after Alibert and before Wallis Simpson, his French former lover remained a constant thorn in his side due to her refusal to destroy his letters.
At the height of their romance, Edward sent at least 20 letters, signing with the initial “E”; in some, he referred to Alibert as “mon bébé” (i.e. “my baby”) and referred to official royal duties as “stunts”, as well as his difficult relationship with his father.
According to Rose, when the Prince fell for a British girl, and officially ended his affair with Alibert, she wrote him a letter Edward described as ” a regular stinker,” reminding him that she’d kept all his love letters and nobody could stop her from doing with them as she wished.
King Edward VIII hoped to convince the British people of his love for American divorcee Wallis Simpson and persuade them he should marry her and still keep his throne, records unsealed showed. After his abdication, the pair went on to marry anyway and became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Picture: AP.
Edward wrote to a friend, “Oh those bloody letters. How I curse myself now, tho’ only if I can square this case it will be the last one as she’s the only woman I’ve ever written to.’ “
He wrote to another friend, “I must get those letters back somehow.”
Alibert wasted no time in moving on from her relationship with the Prince, quickly marrying wealthy French man Charles Laurent and divorcing him a short time later. In 1921, she converted to Islam to marry rich Egyptian playboy Ali Fahmy, 10 years her junior.
But, according to Rose, the marriage was a disaster, said to be plagued with domestic abuse on both sides, giving the couple the name “the fighting Fahmys” as their stormy relationship caused havoc across upper-class establishments in Paris, London and Egypt.
And when the marriage failed, it did so in the most explosive, dramatic way.
MURDER AT THE SAVOY
When Alibert shot her husband at the Savoy on September 10, 1923, she later claimed they’d argued about money and her desire for financial independence. But, beyond financial woes, she told police her husband repeatedly raped her until she could finally take no more of his abuse.
But Alibert was never truly worried she’d be imprisoned. After all, she had the ultimate bargaining tool — letters from the Prince (many of which showed the extravagant life he was living during the war, as British soldiers were dying.)
This is where Rose, who is also a criminal barrister, believes he helped unearth the biggest scandal of all.
When Rose was investigating Alibert’s life, her grandson contacted him to tell of her affair with the prince and the love letters between them. It took Rose several years to research the affair, discovering documents in private collections as well as a trail leading to several destroyed documents.
Rose writes: “These definitely existed: the Prince himself said so in a letter of his own that ‘the whole trouble is my letters and she’s not burnt one!’”
According to Rose, once Alibert was arrested, the prince’s protectors made a deal with her that remained secret for nearly 100 years — if Alibert returned all of Edward’s letters — hidden at her home in Cairo — her freedom would be guaranteed.
Rose managed to find a letter by an unknown author close to the royal family revealing the fear that the “French girl who’s going to be tried for murder is the fancy woman who was the Prince of Wales’ keep in Paris during the war and they are terribly afraid that he might be dragged in … it is fortunate he is off to Canada and his name is to be kept out.”
According to Rose, the other side of the deal was that if Alibert kept her mouth shut about the Prince, her past life as a courtesan would remain secret too. Instead, the trial would focus on the dead man’s violence.
Marie Marguerite Fahmy & Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey.
THE SHOW TRIAL
During the trial, Edward was whisked away to Canada on a royal visit and his secret past remained buried for the time being.
Rose writes: “This was a show trial. The authorities wanted Marguerite to be acquitted. A murder conviction would have been catastrophic for the Crown.”
Crowds lined the streets around the Old Bailey eager to catch a glimpse of the 32-year-old French beauty who’d gunned down her husband. There hadn’t been such a crowd-pleaser of a trial since Dr Hawley Crippen was accused of killing his wife, 13 years earlier.
The jury was told that Alibert was a battered wife who eventually snapped. There was no mention of her past as a sex worker and the Prince’s name was never mentioned. So Alibert was acquitted and returned to Paris, where she lived until her death at the age of 80, in 1971.
But years later, her grandson discovered her journal outlining her affairs and also the fact that she’d been married and divorced five times. Her grandson told Rose that Alibert had also been “looked after” by at least four wealthy gentlemen, well into her old age.
Prince Edward and his wife Wallis Simpson (Duke and Duchess of Windsor) stayed married for life, so perhaps his sacrifice was not made in vain. Picture: Supplied
As for Edward, Rose believes the scandal involving Alibert was shocking but somewhat in character with what historians already knew about him; he was a notorious womanizer and that, perhaps, he was never quite suited to the role of being King after all.