Saturday, January 02, 2016

Hero or grifter? (I)

Here's as much as I've been able to piece together of the story of Ernest de Lipowski, the father of the young girl whose 1887 photographic portrait was the subject of an earlier post.

Joseph Antoine Ernest, Comte de Lipowski (one source includes the additional given name of Raoul) was born in Strasbourg in 1843; his parents were Pierre Nicolas Joseph Albert de Lipowski, a Spanish-born descendant of Polish nobility, and Marguerite Sophie Laroche. He was married twice, with both weddings occurring on English soil. His first wife, Marie Eggerickx (the name may be Flemish), whom he married in 1870, died within a few years, and in 1876 he married Marianne Eastwood, who reportedly brought him a substantial dowry. Although there are Jewish families surnamed Lipowski, he was presumably a Roman Catholic, as one or two members of the family, according to his death notice, evidently became nuns.

After attending the French military academy of Saint-Cyr, de Lipowski embarked on a career as an officer, but he resigned his commission in June 1870 due to a series of financial embarrassments. A note in his dossier states dryly that "M. Lipowski's colleagues no longer have the regard for him that is always indispensable to good comradeship." In 1870, however, during the Franco-Prussian War, he was named captain of a corps of franc-tireurs, and rapidly rose to the rank of général de brigade in the armée auxiliare. The highlight of his service, which earned him the title of chevalier in the Légion d'honneur, was the Battle of Châteaudun. He was sidelined during the Paris Commune of 1871, reportedly because of his friendship with Gen. Napoléon La Cécilia, a commander on the Communard side, who had also served at Châteaudun.

So far so good. Look ahead to his death and we see subsequent service in the Austrian army and under the Tsar of Russia, and (from 1880) the higher rank of officiér in the Légion d'honneur. But in 1873, his name had in fact been expunged from the rolls of the Légion as a consequence of his conviction for the crime of escroquerie — a type of fraud.

A prelude to the affair took place in Geneva in September 1871. Evidently there were again some issues of unpaid bills, and de Lipowski seems to have claimed immunity from Swiss prosecution on the grounds that he was a citizen of France and thus protected by treaty between the two countries. According to a later report, "he claimed to be married to a very rich woman — but many people doubted this marriage." There was also some suspicion (unfounded, as it happened) that he might be a certain escaped convict posing under a false name. It was noted that he displayed medals he claimed to have received from one M. Walewski (possibly Alexandre Colonna-Walewski, a noted diplomat and reputed illegitimate son of Napoleon Bonaparte); that claim, if he made it, may well have been true, but it would not be the last time that de Lipowski would lean on his titles and honors.

Not long after, de Lipowski arrived in Bordeaux, where he made frequent changes of address, but soon fell afoul of the local authorities.

(To be continued.)

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