Clara M. Ward

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Clara M. Ward

Also Known As: "Princesse de Caraman-Chimay"
Birthplace: Detroit, MI
Death: December 09, 1916 (43)
Padua, Province of Padua, Veneto, Italy
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Capt. Eber Brock Ward and Catherine M. Ward
Ex-wife of Joseph, XIX. Prince de Chimay; Peppino Ricciardo and Rigó Jancsi
Mother of Marie Elisabeth Catherine Anatole de Riquet and Marie Joseph Anatole Pierre Alphonse de Riquet de Caraman
Half sister of John P. Ward; Henry Ward; Eber Brock Ward, Jr.; Mary Ely; Charles Ward and 3 others

Managed by: Alice Zoe Marie Knapp
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Clara M. Ward

The story of Clara Ward, who commonly used one or another version of the title "Princesse de Caraman-Chimay", is poorly known today, but for some years in the early 1890s she was the toast of the United States. During the late 1890s and the Edwardian years she spent much time in both the society and gossip columns of two continents. She was widely known, envied and admired, desired, loathed and reviled.

Clara Ward was born on June 17, 1873, in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Captain Eber Brock Ward (1811–1875) and his second wife, Catherine Lyon. Ward was a wealthy man, often stated to be Michigan's first millionaire; he had holdings in Great Lakes steamships, lumbering at Ludington, Michigan, iron and steel manufacturing at Wyandotte, Michigan, Leland, Michigan, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Chicago, Illinois, and silver mining in Colorado. He manufactured the first Bessemer steel to be made in the United States at his plant in Wyandotte. Ward was president of the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad from 1860 until his death in Detroit on January 2, 1875.

Captain Ward died when Clara was less than two years old. The mill and timber holdings at Ludington passed into the hands of Clara's mother and were managed by her brother, Thomas R. Lyon, as the firm of Thomas R. Lyon, Agent. As a child Clara and her mother periodically visited Ludington to see their kin and inspect the mills.

First marriage

She came to the public's attention in 1889 or early 1890 when it was announced that the distinguished Belgian visitor to the United States, Marie Joseph Anatole Pierre Alphonse de Riquet, Prince de Caraman-Chimay, a member of the Belgian Chamber of Deputies, had proposed marriage to the very young, very attractive daughter of a very wealthy family.

The Chateau of Chimay then, as now, was in the county of Hainaut, Belgium, near the French border. The holder of the title "Prince" did so rightfully, and possessed a long and proper noble pedigree. The title was of the type of the old French monarchy, in which "Prince" is a rank, rather than a method showing the degree of relationship to the crown. The wife of that sort of prince becomes a "Princess", and so Clara became, entirely legitimately, a European princess. That her husband-to-be was more than twice her age, quite poor, and even, perhaps, not very handsome, seems to have been of minor consequence. They were married on May 19, 1890, in Paris.

A German chromolithograph of Clara Ward on an English post card from about 1905 Ward was now properly called "Princesse de Caraman-Chimay", but usually went by "Clara, Princess of Chimay". Americans were ecstatic about their new princess. (The first American princess had been Catherine Willis Gray, great grand-niece of George Washington, who married Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew, Prince Achille Murat of the Kingdom of Naples.) In 1891 she was the subject of a portrait by G.P.A. Healy, today in the collection of the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, Illinois.

  • Two children shortly followed the marriage:
  • Marie Elisabeth Catharine Anatole de Riquet, Comtesse de Caraman-Chimay (1891–1939)
  • Marie Joseph Anatole Pierre Alphonse de Riquet, Prince de Caraman-Chimay (1894–1920)

There is evidence that she and the Prince favored the more prestigious Parisian restaurants with their patronage. Specifically, the great chef Escoffier named both Oeufs à la Chimay and Poularde Chimay after Princess Clara.

Second marriage

Some time after the birth of their second child, probably in 1896, the Prince and Princess Chimay were dining in Paris, at what may be expected to have been a suitably elegant establishment. Present at the restaurant was a Hungarian, Rigó Jancsi, who eked out a living providing Gypsy music. (Being Hungarian, "Rigó" was the gentleman's family name and "Jancsi" his given name.) Rigó was a Gypsy violinist (he is sometimes listed as a chef but it is not true.)

After a series of secret meetings, Ward and Rigó eloped in December 1896. To her family's consternation, the Ludington Record of December 24, 1896, carried a news service dispatch about the elopement with a woodcut illustration of Ward and the headline, "Gone With a Gypsy". It was stated that Prince Joseph would at once institute divorce proceedings against his wife. Subsequent editions of the newspaper carried brief notices as to where Ward and Rigó had been reported seen during their trek across Europe to Hungary. In Budapest a well-known cube shaped chocolate and chocolate cream pastry was named Rigo Jancsi after the scandalous affair Ward and Rigó were having. The Prince and Princesse de Caraman-Chimay were divorced on January 19, 1897. The new couple married, probably in Hungary. Some accounts indicate that they soon moved to Egypt, where Clara taught the love of her life the intricacies of reading and writing.

Not too surprisingly, Clara Ward, still usually called the Princess Chimay, soon found her resources dwindling. The never-very-full Chimay coffers were certainly closed to her, and although Ms. Ward was resourceful, her American family had to intervene from time to time to straighten out her tangled finances.

Her main talents were being beautiful by the standards of the time, and being famous. She combined the two by posing on various stages, including at least the Folies Bergère and probably also the Moulin Rouge, while wearing skin-tight costumes. She called her art-form her poses plastiques. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec made a scarce lithograph of her and Rigó in 1897, "Idylle Princière". She was often photographed, and featured on many post cards during the Edwardian period, sometimes in a pose plastique and sometimes in more or less conventional dress. Kaiser Wilhelm II is said to have forbidden the publication or display of her photograph in the German Empire because he thought her beauty "disturbing".

Third marriage

Perhaps the income from this odd occupation was sufficient for the couple to live reasonably well. The idyll was not to last, Rigó being unfaithful to her. They were divorced fairly soon after their marriage, either shortly before or after Ward met her next true love, one Peppino Ricciardo, sometimes stated to have been Spanish, but who was most likely Italian. He is believed to have been a waiter whom she met on a train. They married in 1904, but Peppino Ricciardo probably did not last long.

Fourth marriage

The timing is vague, but Ward's next true love, and her last husband, is thought to have been a station manager of the little Italian railroad that helped visitors tour Mount Vesuvius, a Signore Cassalota.


Ward is believed to have still been married to her fourth husband when she died in Padua, Italy, on December 9, 1916. It was not until some three years after Ward's death that her first husband, Prince Marie Joseph Anatole Pierre Alphonse de Riquet of Chimay and Caraman, finally remarried - to a young lady who had only been a few months old when he and Clara originally married.


The character of Simone Pistache (played by Shirley MacLaine) in the film version of Cole Porter's musical Can-Can was based in part on Clara Ward. In the film, set in Paris in 1896, MacLaine dances in a skin-tight, flesh-colored costume like that favored by Ms. Ward.



She was born into a family for whom insanity was just a familial trait and scandal followed her almost from day one. Clara was the youngest daughter of Detroit's first millionaire by his second wife who was thirty years his junior. He had married her just two months after the death of his first wife who'd divorced him for serial adultery before being committed to an insane asylum where she conveniently died. Clara had one brother and seven elder step-siblings. Her brother, Eber, displayed an unhealthy infatuation with his stepdaughter before running off with his wife's maid. Then there were her half-siblings: John was shot on his boat; Charles was “deranged and eccentric”; Henry was committed to the Michigan State Hospital for the Insane; Frederick committed suicide; Elizabeth was "mentally incompetent"; and, Mary was merely “eccentric”....!

Her father died when she was two and almost the entirety of his $6 million fortune was left to her, her mother and brother. For obvious reasons, despite its magnificence, her mother did not linger at the family mansion at 792 Fort Street (which had been left to her step-children) and quickly whisked Clara and her brother off to New York. In 1878, her mother remarried a Canadian millionaire, Alexander Cameron, and they moved with him to Windsor and then Toronto, before Clara was sent to finishing school in England.

After one year in England, Clara was sixteen and had already been booted out of two finishing schools. In the meantime, her mother had grown bored of life in Canada and leaving her husband in Toronto had taken up in Paris where she opened a salon that was immediately popular with the aristocracy. Clara was now brought to Paris and packed off to yet another finishing school, where she went missing only to be found nearly three weeks later in the attic-room of a penniless student! Many stories have been circulated about her various misadventures, some true, some not, but all leave little doubt that she was a spirited, fearless rebel - and a ravishing, extremely wealthy one at that!

Schooling having proved unsuccessful, there was only one thing left for the young heiress: marriage. Having the distinct advantage of being able to pick from the cream of the crop (something most American heiresses could only dream of), her mother singled out a not-so-young Prince, but a Prince no less. Prince Joseph de Caraman-Chimay was the 32-year old cousin of Belgium's King Leopold II. Clara first came to his attention at the opera in Nice on the French Riviera when the entire audience shifted around in their seats to gaze up at her as she took her place in her box - the public and press were captivated.

The Prince's family was wealthy and his title and lofty chateaux were certainly dazzling, but he himself had got entangled in a web of debt. Marrying the teenaged American would not only bag him who the press were now calling, "the most beautiful girl in Europe," but her fortune would clear him of all financial embarrassment. He made arrangements through his sister for a proposal and he and Clara were married in May, 1890.

On marrying, Clara came into her full inheritance of $3 million. After the honeymoon was over, she settled her husband's debts of $100,000 and then spent a further $300,000 on repairs to their 'new' home - his old ancestral seat, the Chateau de Chimay. They frequented the usual watering holes of the wealthy in Europe but spent most of their time at Chimay where Joseph indulged his passion for hunting. Clara quickly became disenchanted with her new life and rumors began to circulate of various affairs. This didn't bother her disinterested husband, but when King Leopold II himself (who was old enough to be her father) became obsessed with her, she now drew the ire of the Queen and the entire Belgian court who insisted that her husband remove her from the country.

By 1896, life had become untenable in Belgium and the young family (Clara was now the mother of two children) moved up to Paris. Clara, who was still only 23, found herself reinvigorated with life and quickly gained a reputation as "the most riotous" American in the capital! While out at the Café Gaillard (an exclusive night club), Clara first set eyes upon the Hungarian violinist/fiddler Rigó Jancsi who was playing from table to table and just ten days later, they ran away together! The press were beside themselves: They had long been captivated by this unconventional heiress, but a Princess running off with a Gyspy fiddler was just too good to be true and they followed them from Paris to Budapest.

In Hungary, Clara took up with Rigo in his mother's cottage in the mountains before they were married in 1898 and left for Egypt where it was said she indulged him with, "a white marble palace and other lavish gifts". But reality soon bit as her mother cut off her allowance which necessitated their return to Paris. She signed a deal with two of the city's best-known nightclubs (the Folies Bergère and Moulin Rouge) to pose on stage in skin-tight costumes while Rigo played violin. One such show was reported in a London paper:

Something in white flashed between us and the semi darkness… I saw that it was the ex-Princesse of Chimay-Caraman, better known to the world at large as Clara Ward. Her beauty was heightened by a loose clinging dress which simply blazed with costly jewels. Then she began her dance to weird, barbaric music, softly, lightly with a voluptuous, sensuous charm, her feet keeping time to the fantastic measure... There was dead silence throughout the crowded theatre. Suddenly a man sprang on stage and in a loud voice declared: ‘I forbid this performance in the name of the Law.’

It transpired that Clara's ex-husband had appealed to the authorities to stop the performance of the mother of his children! In the meantime, the resourceful former Princess modelled and licensed her image on postcards, though they were banned in Germany as Kaiser Wilhelm II found her beauty "disturbing"! She also accepted money for “private performances” and this infuriated Rigo. Stories began to repeat themselves that she had, “quarrelled violently with her gypsy lover (and) loud screams of rage and deep curses were heard issuing from the room at the hotel”. Clara and Rigo divorced in 1904.

Months after her second divorce, Clara was married for the third time to a dashing Italian by the name of Guiseppe “Peppino” Ricciardi who worked on the tourist train that wound its way up Mount Vesuvius either as an agent, waiter or baggage clerk. The marriage lasted until 1911 when he filed for a divorce on the grounds that she was having an affair with their butler - a claim she strenuously denied. That claim then looked somewhat shaky when no sooner was she divorced than she married Abano Caselato (husband number four) who was variously described as either a butler or a chauffeur! Details of this fourth marriage were obscure and her family were only made aware of it when he wrote to inform them of her death from pneumonia at their villa in Padua in the north of Italy.

An obituary in the Detroit press read: “She died a woman without illusions. She had gone the pace. She lived intensely, a slave of her desires; she died an outcast, an old woman of 43 years, just when she should have been in her prime”. It was popularly bandied around in the papers that she died penniless, but in fact she left a substantial fortune of $1,124,935 in cash and real estate valued at $50,000. But, as she had not altered her will since her previous marriage, one third went to her ex-husband Guiseppe Ricciardi while the remainder was divided between her two estranged children back in Belgium.

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Clara M. Ward's Timeline

February 21, 1873
Detroit, MI
Age 17
August 6, 1894
Age 21
December 9, 1916
Age 43
Padua, Province of Padua, Veneto, Italy