Clara M. Ward

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Clara M. Ward

Also Known As: "Princesse de Caraman-Chimay"
Birthdate: (43)
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; Elizabeth Ward; Eber Brock Ward, Jr.; Mary Ward and 4 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.

Death 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.

Legacy 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.


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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