Noblewoman, Philantropist, Author of memoirs
Family and the Prime Years
Mary Therese Olivia was born on June 28, 1873, in Ruthin Castle (Denbighshire) in North Wales. Her father was Colonel William Cornwallis-West (born March 20, 1835–died July 7, 1917), merited for his participation in English colonial wars, and her mother was Mary Adelaide Virginia Thomasina Eupatoria (née Fitz-Patrick (born 1854–died July 21, 1920), diminutively called ‘Patsy’, who was related to the finest Irish houses.
It is worth mentioning that Mary, called ‘Daisy’ by her family, had very notable family connections. Among her ancestors was king Henry III of England. She was also related to Winston Churchill , about whom she did not have the best opinion. Her brother George , a peer of Churchill’s, married the mother of the future Prime Minister. Despite magnificent traditions and excellent relations, the family was rather nonaffluent; they owned two minor estates: mentioned already Ruthin Castle and Newlands Manor in Hampshire. Due to financial difficulties, the family had lived for five years at 49 Eaton Place in London, where Mary and her siblings spent their childhood.
The last quarter of the nineteenth century was still a period when women were not obliged to receive formal education: home schooling, along with command of social graces and the high society etiquette were enough. Therefore, in accord with these customs, Daisy received her education at home, and was taught by governesses. However, it is worth mentioning that her first music teacher was Sir Paolo Tosti (1846-1916), Italian composer of salon music, who settled in London and later became the royal master of song. Daisy was also taught by Vanuchini, the director of the Florence opera, and her voice was trained by Jan Mieczysław Reszke, one of the finest tenors who regularly performed in the Royal Opera House in London .
During one of balls in London for the opening of the 1891 season, 17-year-old Daisy met Hans Heinrich XV: the Duke von Pless, the Count von Hochberg, and Baron zu Fürstenstein (born April 23, 1861, Pless, Germany–died January 31, 1938, Paris, France), who was the Secretary of the German Embassy in London at the time. She became his wife the same year, and their wedding ceremony, held on the 8th of December in St. Margaret’s Church in Westminster, became an object of interest both for the Londoners and the press. What is interesting, the bride's wedding accessories were purchased by her fiancé as her parents could not afford the garment corresponding to the family’s position. The couple was given a blessing by Queen Victoria, and Edward VII , the Prince of Wales and the future King, was one of the best men. The wedding reception was held in the house of Duchess Alexandra (Alexis) Dołgoruka (née Fleetwod Wilson) at Potman Square. The couple spent their honeymoon in Paris, and when they returned, they settled in Pszczyna (Pless, currently in Poland). However, Daisy did not like the city. Luckily for her, it was decided that they would permanently move to Książ Castle, the property of the Hochberg family in the vicinity of Wałbrzych.
Daisy and Hans Heinrich XV had four children:
Książ and its vicinity owe a lot to Daisy, who arrived at the castle on July 5, 1892, as the wife of Hans Heinrich XV. The newlyweds were heartfully welcomed by crowds that gathered along the couple’s way from the railway station in Świebodzice up to the castle. Daisy and Hans Heinrich were solemnly welcomed by stewards of Książ Castle and Krucz-Cieszkowo Castle and received a special gift: a greeting letter, containing an inscription and a poem, and aquarelles of both castles and a nearby canyon. The pieces were placed in a folder manufactured by Gebr. Somme’schen Atelier , a bookbindery in Wrocław (then Breslau).
Daisy in the Książ Castle
Daisy was pleased with living in the Castle where she felt like a real duchess, having valets, butlers, and servants at her command. Each of them had particular responsibilities: for instance, Daisy could not open the door by herself or help herself at the table, and when she was sleeping, she had to be accompanied by two chambermaids. Even when she was using the bathroom, she had to be assisted by a chambermaid or a maid of honour. Initially, she was pleased with such careful attention, but it had soon become tiresome and awkward as she was never on her own. One of the staff members was particularly characteristic for Książ Castle: it was a man wearing a double baldric decorated with the emblem of the Hochberg family whose task was to inform the servants that the Duchess or someone from her family was approaching...
To Daisy, however, the most important feature of the Castle was its setting, especially the marvellous park and miniature mansion called “Ma Fantasie” that was created especially for her. It was located to the east of the Castle, by a stream, and was designed in the English style. Daisy would spend plenty of time there. The Duchess had many ideas of how to embellish and improve the surroundings of the Castle: she designed two little thatched cottages conjoined by a shared porch and suggested banking up the nearby brook in order to create a little pond. The cottages were surrounded by a garden that was inspired by the green terraces of Newlands, the property of Daisy’s parents. The Duchess was fond of resting in this place: it served as a refuge from the dull etiquette of European courts and a space where she could enjoy peace and quiet, read books, and remember her youth in England. In her memoirs, Daisy wrote that the cottages were furnished with Louis XV-styled furniture and decorated with paintings and graphics by Morland and Angelika Kaufmann .
Daisy’s sensibility, fashion sense, and her love of the fine arts resulted in an ambitious undertaking: she designed the interiors of the Grand Hotel in Szczawno-Zdrój, which was commissioned in June of 1910. Daisy chose silver cutlery for the hotel restaurant and café, and bed linen.
Charitable and Social Activity
From 1952, Hanna Reitsch began to work very actively for the reconstruction of the sport of gliding in Germany. She successfully participated in the national and world gliding championships, breaking new records. It also won its first diamonds, i.e. glider badges. She also began working as a test pilot at the Focke-Wulf factory. However, in 1958 she had a conflict with the authorities of the German Aero Club, which did not stand up for her against the decisions of the Polish authorities not allowing her to participate in the gliding championships held in Leszno. Offended, she left Germany for many years. First, she promoted gliding in India, and then, in 1962-1966, ran a gliding school in Ghana at the personal invitation of Kwame Nkrumah, the president of the country at the time. In 1968, she took part in the German Helicopter Championships. In the following years she broke new gliding records, e.g. in 1978 the world record for return flight (715 km). She also received many honorable awards. In 1972, she became an honorary member of the American Society of Experimental Test Pilots and the German Veteran Pilots Association, and the German Association of Female Pilots elected her as its vice-president. She also wrote more books about her aerial feats. She died on August 24, 1979 and was buried in Salzburg, Austria, next to the graves of her immediate family members. She never started a family of her own, had no husband or children. Her only and true love was aviation, and in fact she devoted her entire life to it.
The charitable activity was one of Daisy’s priorities, which was supported by her father-in-law, Hans Heinrich XI. The Duchess was a patron of charity concerts in Szczawno-Zdrój, the aim of which was collecting money to establish a school for disabled children. Daisy was particularly focused on patronising lace makers and lacemaking schools. Thanks to her, many such schools, along with crafts schools, were established in the region, and the crafts prepared by students were exhibited in Szczawno-Zdrój and other health resorts across Lower Silesia. Many noblewomen, including the German empress, were fond of Silesian laces, which provided career prospects and a chance for a moderate income for plenty of indigent young women.
At the beginning of twentieth century in Jelenia Góra (then Hirschberg), there was a school of artistic crochet (Schule für künstlerische Nadelspitzen) run by Margarethe Bardt and Hedwig von Dobeneck. It was taken over by Daisy von Pless on May 11, 1911, and gained the name Lacemaking School of Duchess von Pless (Spitzenschule der Fürstin von Pless). Actually, the school gathered a few smaller facilities, for instance, in Cieplice Śląskie and Szklarska Poręba. The school was still managed by the previous owners, who also worked as teachers. Money earned from selling the crafts manufactured at school was donated to social facilities, such as nursing homes and hospitals. Education at the school was free of charge and available for both young girls and elderly women.
The school specialised in teaching embroidery on cloth (Weißstickerei ) and needlepoint lacing and gathered one hundred fifty to one hundred seventy students from nearby towns, such as Rybnica, Barcinek, Pasiecznik, Wojcieszce, Goduszyn, and Janice. The crafts produced by them were exhibited across the region, for instance in the Poolroom of the Grand Hotel in Szczawno-Zdrój in August of 1911. The patients were enthusiastic about the exhibition, and the local press praised the artistic value and uniqueness of Silesian laces. Daisy opened a luxury shop in Jelenia Góra that offered a wide range of laces; they were also sold in health and holiday resorts of Lower Silesia. Spitzenschule der Fürstin von Pless, headed by Hedwig von Dobeneck, existed until 1935.
In the last decade of the nineteenth century, Daisy engaged in the work of Ida’s Fund (Ida-Stiftung), which was established in the middle of the nineteenth century by Hans Heinrich X von Hochberg. It was named after his first wife, Ida née Stechow, who died in 1843. The fund’s main aim was to support children from poor families from the vicinity of Wałbrzych.
Daisy used her acting and singing skills during charity concerts and theatrical performances in England and Silesia. However, her husband was reluctant about her performances on the local ground: he found such activities unsuitable for a duchess, but he eventually allowed them in 1907. The first of these concerts took place on July 20, 1907, in a beautiful Neo-Baroque hall of the Spa Theatre in Szczawno-Zdrój. Among the listeners were Hans Heinrich XV, his brother, Count Friedrich from Iłowa, Minister Georg von Rheinbaben, Robert von Zedlitz-Trützschler, the governor of Silesian Province, and the Earl von Pückler, who helped to organise the event. During the first act of the concert, the ducal orchestra played an overture from Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser, whilst the second act was devoted to singing: Daisy sang a several cantos solo and together with the Earl von Pückler. Ninety hundred Deutschmarks was earned thanks to the concert: Daisy donated the whole sum to the school for disabled children and organisations helping the people in need . Such events, organised at Daisy’s instigation, had been taking place more often: another significant concert, the aim of which was collecting money for building a hospital in Szczawno-Zdrój, took place in the newly commissioned Grand Hotel in in August of 1911. The events had served the goal of collecting money for charity very well: for instance, a staggering sum of fifty-two hundred Deutschmarks was collected during one of the concerts in Berlin, in 1909 .
The period of particularly intense charitable activity was the Christmas time: every December, Daisy would visit places patronised by the Hochberg family, such as schools, homeless shelters, and nursing homes, both Evangelical and Catholic. Students and the residents of these institutions would receive small gifts, most often such as stockings, fruits, and sweets.
Daisy and her husband travelled a lot: they visited many attractive places, such as Egypt, India, and the Red Sea. They were also interested in sightseeing of the region, which is proved by one of their excursions in February of 1906. They arrived in Cieplice Śląskie in their saloon carriage, and thence they took a sleigh ride to Jagniątków (at the time, it was a popular tourist attraction in the Karkonosze region). They went downhill from the Peterbaude (Petrovka) rest house back to Cieplice Śląskie, where they stayed in the Die Prusse Hotel. The next day they, retook the sleigh ride and returned to the hotel at 6 p.m. After supper, they reverted to Książ .
In 1913, when tension between the spouses increased, and their relationship entered a crisis, Daisy went to South America with her brother, George, whose marriage was also facing a crisis. They visited Brazil and Argentina, where they engaged in a number of activities, such as cruising on Parana River, touring coffee plantations and cattle farms, roaming the rainforest, going to the opera, and playing roulette. Unfortunately, this journey did not have a positive effect on their relationships: George divorced Jenny Churchill and remarried, whilst Daisy stayed in the unhappy marriage.
Parenthetically, it is worth mentioning that Daisy and her family travelled around Europe in a private saloon carriage with an apartment for the duchess and special compartments for servants and maids of honour. This carriage was also used for travelling from Książ (from the railway station in Świebodzice) to Pszczyna. Sometimes during these journeys, when the family decided to stay in a hotel for a longer time, Daisy’s favourite armchairs and sofas would be delivered from Książ in order to provide her with a sense of comfort and hominess .
Daisy in Politics
Daisy’s social position and sensitivity to social issues along with her frequent meetings the king of the British Empire and German emperor caused Daisy, who was concerned about the future of both countries, to draw the attention of both rulers to the contemporary political issues. For instance, in July of 1911, when Wilhelm II sent the “Panther” gunboat and the “Berlin” cruiser to the vicinity of Agadir, Morocco, in order to force the Moroccans to comply with the German interests, Daisy sent him a letter encouraging peace. She would also discuss the British-German relationships with the German emperor during the annual autumnal hunting events in Pszczyna .
In June of 1914, the time when the tension in the European politics reached the climax, Sir Arthur Crossfield asked Daisy to give his letter containing suggestions of peaceful solutions to Wilhelm II, which put the Duchess in an unfavourable position. Eventually, the letter was not passed to the German ruler as there was no opportunity to do it. However, when the First World War started, Daisy immediately went to Britain with the aim of taking action for peace. She talked to many influential figures, encouraging a British-German convention in Pszczyna. Unfortunately, it was already too late for changes, and Daisy was forced to immediately leave the United Kingdom as she was a German citizen .
First World War
A few days after the United Kingdom joined the war, on the 6th or 7th of May 1914, Daisy became a Red Cross nurse in the Tempelhof hospital in Berlin. Because she visited the prison camp for the British soldiers, she was accused of espionage, and forbidden to work as the Red Cross nurse and ordered to return to Książ. Wilhelm II lingered on issuing an official statement: it was not until 1915 when he allowed the Duchess to work in an ambulance train, but on the condition that it would be in Serbia. In 1915, the Grand Hotel in Szczawno-Zdrój was transformed into a camp hospital which was malfunctioning until Daisy brought an administrator and well-qualified nurses from Tempelhof. The Duchess would visit the hospital daily and talk to the staff and patients about necessary improvements. The hospital, thanks to Daisy’s initiative, was available not only to the officers, but also ordinary soldiers. What is more, the Duchess establish a lazaret in Wałbrzych and a resort for the families of soldiers in Mokrzeszowo .
Daisy began the work on the Serbian battlefront the same year: she worked in a 500-meter-long ambulance train commanded by Professor Küster, one of the finest German surgeons. After the wounded were transported from Serbia to Berlin, Daisy’s work permit was dismissed again; however, she had soon regained it.
In April of 1916, she began her service on the West Battlefront, in the D-3 ambulance train that was founded by the Earl von Friedländer. She was responsible for healing eighty patients who were being transported between France and Germany. In the second half of 1917, thanks to protection of Hermann, the Duke of Hatzfeld, Daisy was transferred to the imperial-royal military hospital for soldiers and civilians in Belgrade, Serbia. In 1918, she was offered a post of a director of the remedial facility in Constanta, Romania: it was an accolade of her efforts for saving lives of the wounded. Although Daisy accepted the proposal, she never entered the office: before she went to Constancta, she decided to take a vacation in Munich and then I Książ. She was planning to go to Constanta in the autumn, but when she received the news about the supposed abdication of Wilhelm II during a stop in Southern Hungary, she chose to return to Belgrad, and thence to Munich, where she arrived in the early November of 1918. The information about the fall of the German Empire reached her in her house in Partenkirchen, at the bottom of the Alps.
In recognition of her contribution to saving lives during the war, Daisy was decorated with the second-class Order of the Red Cross by the Archduke Franz Salvator of Austria.
The Inter-war Period
After the First World War ended, Daisy had a possibility of claiming Polish citizenship, but she preferred to reclaim the British citizenship instead. She came to Britain in the autumn of 1919, but had no place to stay: both family properties, Newlands and the Ruthin Castle, were hired or used as rehabilitative facility. This caused her to leave Britain together with her ailing mother and go to La Napoule in Southern France. The following years were a very dark period for Daisy, mostly due to progressing health issues and the deepening crisis of her marriage.
On December 12, 1922, Daisy divorced Hans Heinrich XV . Despite the fact that the divorce was through his fault, von Hochberg got the custody of the children, and Daisy kept the dukedom and the title to appanage, medical care, and keeping a minor private courtn .
After the divorce, she lived in her La Napoule house, which she had to sell in 1929. She was also a frequent visitor to Munich and health resorts. When she returned to Silesia, she settled in one of the two villas in a park adjacent to so-called Czettritz Castle in Wałbrzych, which was the headquaters of the office for administration of the Książ property. She also occasionally stayed in her beloved “Ma Fantasie” mansion. In April of 1935, she returned to Książ; however, she did not live in the castle, which was not heated during the winter, but in a building at the castle’s gate. Książ was no longer the place it used to be in the early twentieth century: most of the family’s personal belongings had already been sold out, and after the death of Hans Heinrich XV, Daisy remained the only representative of the family to live on the property (both of her sons, Hans Heinrich XVII and Alexander, already lived abroad).
The Second World War Period
In 1941, Daisy was expelled from the castle by the Nazis, and returned to her villa at 43 Kościuszki Street in Wałbrzych. She had only one servant at the time. The last months of her life were marked by poverty and solitude. She died on June 29, 1943, due to a heart attack . She was interred on July 3, in a park next to the Hochberg family mausoleum . According to some authors, Daisy was interred inside the mausoleum, next to Hans Heinrich XI . The humble funeral was run by Pastor Jäckel, and among the mourners were people of Książ and its vicinity, the most loyal servants, local miners, and administrators of the Książ property. Daisy’s remains had been replaced several times: according to some historians, it was for the fear of the arrival of the Red Army; others claim that it was for the fear of thieves searching for Daisy’s legendary 17-meter-long pearl necklace . Today, it is not known where she is buried.
Paintings and Flowers
Due to her beautiful appearance and social position, Daisy was eagerly portrayed and photographed by various artists. At the beginning of the twentieth century, some of the most prised artists created several interesting portraits of the Duchess: it is hard to enumerate all of them, so I will present only the few most important pieces. The first one is an oil portrait created in 1917 by Bolesław Szańkowski, a Polish painter renowned for portraying noble families across Europe. The painting is titled Daisy in a Crown (pol. Daisy ukoronowana), and the crown pictured in it was, in fact, diamond-studded. Another famous painting is a portrait of Daisy and her son, Hans Henrich XVII, titled Daisy and Hansel. It was painted by Ellis Roberts in 1903, and now is in the collection of the Museum of Pszczyna. In 1912, American painter John Singer Sargnet prepared a charcoal drawing of Daisy in his studio at 31-33 Tite Street. The piece was later presented in various exhibitions, including John Singer Sargnet and the Edwardian Age, which took place in the National Portrait Gallery in London in 1979 and was later presented in Leeds and Detroit in the USA.
In 1900, Daisy and her friend, Princess Mary, the future queen of Romania, visited the London studio of Philip de László (1869-1937), a professional portraitist who was mostly active in Hungary, Austria, and Germany in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Since 1907, he had been living in London, where he was portraying the Royal Family and other influential figures. He also portrayed Daisy and Mary of Romania and described this event in his journal. He wrote: “I remember beautiful Daisy von Pless, who came to visit with even more beautiful Mary, the Princess of Romania, whose beauty is widely admired.” The French portraitist Paul-Cesar Helleu (1889-1927) was another artist to have portrayed Daisy: he painted her in his atelier, and the piece created during that session was sold for 380,000 GBP at the Christie’s auction in London .
In the summer of 1914, the Hochberg family was portrayed by the Italian artist A. Galli, who was visiting in Pszczyna at the time. The series of family portraits contained an expressive pastel drawing of Daisy. The same year, the painting titled Princess Daisy in Mandelieu was created by M. Edgerley: it is a life-sized portrait of the Duchess.
However, the impact Daisy had on culture does not end there: it enhances to botany. In 1911, Peter Lambert, a prised German rose grower, created a variety that he called “Fürstin Pless” (Teehybride, Rugosa hybride). It appeared under this name in rose growing catalogues between 1914-1931, and it is cultured until today. The flowers of “Fürstin Pless” are yellow and pink, with a fresh, light scent, or white with a yellowish centre and strong scent .
Daisy was the originator of lawn tennis tournaments in Szczawno-Zdrój, which had been taking place since 1904. The events inspired extending and improving the existing tennis courts and infrastructure along with building the terraces and a buffet for the audience. The first of such events was the I General Tennis Tournament (I. Allgemeine Lawn-Tennis-Turnier), whose patron of honour was Hans Heinrich XV. He was also the sponsor of prizes, together with the resort authorities and the Lawn Tennis Association. The tournament lasted from June 12 to June 15, 1904, and it was won by players from Wrocław. The event arose interest, and attracted players from outside of Silesia, for instance from Berlin, Poznan, and Königsberg. The prizes were handed in by Daisy and her husband: she was giving watches on golden bracelets to the male winners, and Hans Heinrich XV was awarding female winners with chains with diamond pendants. The most popular prizes were, however, were silver cups and writing implements that were handed in at the courts or in the Spa House on the last day of the tournament. Over time, the event gained more popularity and became international in 1907. Daisy had become the patron of the tournament  and was present at most of the matches, especially the final games. She was often accompanied by friends who were visiting Książ at the time.
The “Daisy” Pond
It is worth to mention a place situated a bit further from Książ, 2,5 kilometers south of Mokrzeszów Górny, which is strongly connected to Daisy. The “Daisy” Pond, earlier called the Green Pond, is a flooded limestone quarry (23-24 meters deep, with a surface of 6600 m ²), which existed until 1870. On the shore, there are remains of lime kilns and the adjacent infrastructure. It was one of Daisy’s favourite places, where she would invite her guests for fishing and other activities. There was also a hunting lodge, where closing ceremonies of the annual hunting events would take place. Nowadays, this infrastructure is utterly ruined: the only elements reminding of its past are the remains of a chimney in one of the lodges.