Elisabeth de Gramont & Romaine Brooks: The Other Lovers
Love will always find a way. This is the story of Elisabeth de Gramont and Romaine Brooks, who both loved one woman, Natalie Clifford Barney.
Barney strongly believed in nonmonogamy. But despite this, she bore a fierce love for de Gramont and Brooks– and the two women loved her back.
Elisabeth de Gramont: The Red Duchess
Born on 23 April 1875 in Nancy, France, Antonia Corisande Élisabeth de Gramont was the Duchess of Clermont-Tonnerre as well as a French writer.
Elisabeth– or Lily– was the daughter of Agénor, the 11th duc de Gramont, and Princesse Isabelle de Beauvau-Craon, who died giving birth to her.
Her father married the wealthy Marguerite de Rothschild, and Elisabeth grew up with a privileged life. However, despite her upbringing, she was called the “Red Duchess” because she favored socialism.
Elisabeth married Philibert, duc de Clermont-Tonnerre, and they had two daughters together. However, they divorced in 1920.
Prior to that, Elisabeth met Barney in 1909 and became lovers in 1910. Though they weren’t faithful to each other sexually (especially Barney), they were extremely devoted to each other.
But seven years into their relationship, Barney met Romaine Brooks.
Romaine Brooks: The American painter
Born 1 May 1874 in Rome, Italy, Beatrice Romaine Goddard came from a wealthy family but endured a number of hardships.
Abandoned by her father after her parents’ divorced, Brooks’ mother was so mentally unstable that she fostered her to a poor family living in a New York City tenement.
With a long struggle, she inherited her family’s wealth at the age of 28, which left her independent to pursue her artistic career.
She married her friend John Ellingham Brooks on 13 June 1903 but it wasn’t out of love as he was a homosexual but pity as he was in financial difficulty. But their marriage was troubled and she left him for London.
It was only when she moved to Paris that she finally established her reputation as an artist. It was then Brooks met Barney in 1916.
Natalie Barney, Elisabeth de Gramont, and Romaine Brooks
At first, de Gramont was unwilling to accept Brooks into their life. She had become used to Barney’s affairs but she saw how she loved Brooks.
Because of this, Barney offered de Gramont a marriage contract, unofficial though a binding one. However, she refused to give up Brooks.
“Civilized beings are those who know how to take more from life than others,” Barney once said.
De Gramont finally accepted Barney’s relationship with Brooks and they formed a love triangle whose lovers respected each other.
However, Brooks wasn’t as accepting of Barney’s casual affairs and gave her an ultimatum while she was having an affair with Dolly Wilde, the niece of Oscar Wilde.
The three honored their contract until de Gramont died in 1954. Barney and Brook stayed together until the latter died in Nice, France, in 1970 at the age of 96.