About Louis Jacques Balsan
Louis Jacques Balsan (September 16, 1868-November 4, 1956) was a French aviator and industrialist, born at Châteauroux (Indre) in 1868, who was the second husband of society beauty Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough. He married her immediately after her divorce from the 9th Duke of Marlborough in 1921.
Jacques Balsan came from a manufacturing family which supplied the French Army with uniforms from the time of Napoleon onwards which were the origin of the famous cloth "the blue horizon". The family's textile factories were situated at Châteauroux.
At the age of 24, Jacques Balsan entered the family business and travelled the world buying wool. Passionate about ballooning, he held the record for the highest altitude flight at the "Exposition Universelle" in 1900. A pioneer of flying, he bought his first plane in 1909 and obtained a Number 22 licence to pilot aircraft.
In February 1910, in his monoplane Blériot, he won the "Le Prix d'Héliopolis" (in Egypt). During the First World War, General Maunoury gave him charge of the aerial reconnaissance of the site of the First Battle of the Marne.
Balsan first saw and immediately fell in love with wealthy American, Consuelo Vanderbilt, when she was 17, before her marriage to the 9th Duke of Marlborough. She was considered the most eligible woman of the late Victorian Age. A memorable portrait of her by Carolus Duran hangs at Blenheim Palace. Balsan married her on 4 July 1921, after which she was titled 'Mme Jacques Balsan', until her death in 1964. Known for his attentions to her, it was a very happy marriage. Consuelo wrote to her close friend Winston Churchill, during the Second World War, while Jacques worked with the Free French in London, to request his special protection and safe return. Winston obligingly facilitated his safe return to America.
The Balsans were hosting Winston and Clementine Churchill in September 1939, just before the outbreak of war at their chateau Saint-Georges-Motel, near Dreux north of Paris. They also owned a property in Eze (Alpes-Maritimes) where they received a number of celebrities such as The Duke of Connaught, son of Queen Victoria, The Maharajah de Kapurthala and Charlie Chaplin. Balsan supported his wife's work with French children. They lived in their hotel particulier in Paris, 9 rue Charles-Floquet.
Consuelo Vanderbilt's ghosted autobiography "The Glitter and The Gold" refers to her time with Balsan as "gold", as opposed to the "glitter" of her earlier, aristocratic marriage. In it, she tells the story of the Balsans' daring escape from the Nazis through Spain to Portugal and eventually to America where they lived for the rest of their lives. Jacques Balsan died in 1956 in America and was buried in Paris.
Jacques Balsan was the brother of Étienne Balsan, who was the first patron of Coco Chanel.
Stuart, Amanda Mackenzie. Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and Mother in the Gilded Age. Harper Perennial, 2005.