Privileged Facts About Lady Ursula d’Abo, More Than Just A Pretty Face

November 20, 2023 | J. Clarke

Privileged Facts About Lady Ursula d’Abo, More Than Just A Pretty Face

Many girls grow up dreaming about life as a princess. Lady Ursula d’Abo didn’t technically come from royalty, but she lived a life just as posh. Sadly, her story is proof that all that glitters isn’t gold.

1. She Had It All

Born in London in the early 1900s, Ursula d’Abo likely never wanted for anything. Her father, a duke, and her mother, raised her and her four siblings, and she spent much of her time on her family's magnificent estates. Servants waited on her and her family, and she received the best education available. She even brushed elbows with some of the future icons of British history.

lady ursula d'abo

2. She Played With Royalty

An aristocrat by birth, d’Abo found herself in the company of future royalty as a child. She grew up playing with young Prince Edward, as well as Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth. While she enjoyed her ritzy playmates, though, she longed for something more than the lavish norm. Her yearning led her to a shocking discovery.

Wallis Simpson FactsFlickr

3. She Found A Treasure

Her father favored her over all his children, and often took her along on both work and play rendezvous. On one occasion, he engaged a then 8-year old d’Abo in helping him restore the aged Haddon Hall. While chipping at whitewashed walls, she discovered original medieval art. All her hobbies weren’t quite so tame, though.

Portrait of Lady Ursula d’Abo at Belvoir Castle as Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother dressed by Norman Hartnell.Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

4. She Loved A Thrill

D’Abo shared many pastimes with her father, but when it came to hunting, their interests diverged. She loved the thrill of it all, and considered herself a bit of a “daredevil” when riding out to the hunt. Her father, on the other hand, didn’t like hunting at all. Unfortunately for her, it didn’t prove to be the only thing they disagreed on.

John Manners, 9Th Duke Of Rutland - 1914George Grantham Bain Collection, Wikimedia Commons

5. She Gave Up Her Dream

Like many little girls, D’abo felt totally enamored with the idea of becoming a ballerina. Her wealth afforded her the chance to train with a famed Russian ballerinabut her father cut her dreams short. Becoming a dancer didn’t fit the expectations her father had for her. When she grew up, those expectations became even harder to bear.Anna Pavlova FactsGetty Images

6. They Put Her To Work

As a grown daughter of a Duke, d’Abo had responsibilities to the royal court. This entailed travel and service to charity. This doesn’t sound like a lot, considering the work more common people did to simply survive. But, luckily for her, her father seemed to be proud of her commitment.

People are having a drink in lobby - 1953Nationaal Archief, Picryl

7. Her Dad Did The Most

Parents of status customarily threw elaborate events to honor their daughters becoming eligible to date. D’Abo’s father spared no expense. Not only did he host a ball at Belvoir Castle, but he also gifted her an aquamarine necklace with her name encrusted in diamonds. All that luxury came with a cost, and not just in money.

Belvoir Castle Leicestershire - 2006Nancy, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

8. Things Got Weird

D’Abo grew into a beautiful young woman, and didn’t at all struggle to attract the attention of potential suitors. Oddly enough though, her close connection with her father seemed to create an unusual phenomenon. She didn’t find much of anything in common with men in her own age bracket. She liked them older—much older.

Robert Walker, James Whitmore, and Deborah Kerr. - 1950Susanlenox, Picryl

9. She Wasn’t Ready

Perhaps she didn’t think much of her inability to connect with younger men—until one particular incident that happened when she was still 17. One of her father’s 50-year-old friends ended up in her bedroom that day. Either way, she writes in her memoir that he surprised her with a kiss. Her initial reaction was one of total shock.

Peter Lawford, Robert Walker, Mark Stevens and Deborah Kerr - 1950Susanlenox, Flickr

10. She Went With It

When Lady Ursula d’Abo pulled away, her senior suitor took off quite quickly. She remembered feeling confused by the entire thing, though she eventually found it intriguing and a bit impressive. She figured she must be very enthralling, and only occupied herself with older men thereafter. But her father lorded over more than just her love life.

Ciro's Nightclub John Payne, Shelley Winters, Herman Hover Nov. - 1950The World Famous Comedy Store, Flickr

11. He Chose Her Friends

When Prince Edward officially gave up his right to the throne of England to marry a divorced “commoner,” it caused quite the stir. D’Abo’s father refused to receive the demoted royal at his home anymore. While she quite possibly disagreed with her father’s finality, her next opportunity proved he probably chose the right side.

George VI FactsWikimedia Commons

12. She Turned Royal

Lady Ursula d’Abo may have been close to the royal family, but she got even closer when she received the honor of being a maid of honor during the royal coronation of King George VI in 1937, helping to carry the Queen’s elaborate train. Her entire family took part, actually. And though she recalled being nervous during the official ceremony, the best—or worse—was yet to come.Portrait of King George VI in official clothes - between 1940 and 1946Walter Stoneman, Wikimedia Commons

13. She Took The Attention

One major tradition that accompanied the ceremony required the King, Queen, and their court to greet the people on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. D’abo headed out with the court as expected, standing reverently alongside her royals and being photographed as such. She never knew what a stir it would cause. 

Photograph of King George V and Queen Mary standing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace - 1911Wikimedia Commons, Picryl

14. Her Hair Made Headlines

And quite literally so. In today’s terms, the photo of d’Abo alongside the royal court went viral. Reporters just raved on and on about her beauty, specifically calling out how attractive her widow’s peak appeared. Seems random, but people felt especially enthralled by her unusual hairline—and not just in England, either.

Balcony of Buckingham Palace - 1948National Archive ,Picryl

15. Her Face Went International

The photo of Lady Ursula d’Abo photo caused quite a scene in the US as well. One letter to the editor of an American paper asked, “Who is the girl with the widow’s peak?” Her beauty drove others to create art, with one American poet publishing a poem that repeatedly questioned “Who is that beautiful Lady in Waiting?” The moment changed everything.

Murray Kempton, American journalist - 1967Library of Congress, Picryl

16. She Couldn’t Hide

After her face (and hairline) turned into a spectacle, d’Abo found herself recognized by strangers just about everywhere she went. Luckily, her status served as more than enough to keep her protected and distanced from any crazed fans. But life never quite returned to anonymity. She even caught the attention of one iconic leader.

B&W photo of photographer - 1979Library of Congress, Picryl

17. He Noticed Her

Being a member of the Queen’s court also meant d’Abo traveled with the queen’s party on certain excursions. One one trip to Paris, famed prime minister Winston Churchill joined the crew. Impressed by her youth and beauty, he nicknamed her the “cygnet”—a young swan. A nice sentiment, but she didn’t always love the attention.

Pamela HarrimanFlickr

18. She Didn’t Live Up To The Standards

D’Abo’s aunt, Lady Diana Cooper, spent copious amounts of time with her young niece. She made quite a name for herself as an actress and socialite, and handled her own image with much care. Though Cooper took care to wear the latest fashions and remained prepped for an audience—this is where her influence on d’Abo ended.

Lady Diana Manners factsGetty Images

19. She Couldn’t Keep Up

Lady Cooper often reprimanded d’Abo for not paying more attention to how she dressed. In fact, she told her niece that her refusal to dress accordingly was “very selfish because other people have to look at you.” Perhaps her aunt had a point, considering the way d’Abo soon became a regular at the best social gatherings.Lady Diana Manners factsGetty Images

20. She Partied Hard

D’Abo’s life as a socialite only glimmered all the more after her moment in the spotlight. She found herself choosing between several invitations to elaborate events each night, and lived a life of indulgence. Unfortunately, her days of carefree fun were numbered. A worldwide tragedy was on its way to transform life as she knew it.

Swing Dance school Daniels - 1950National Archive ,Picryl

21. Tragedy Struck

WWII changed the way the world operated on every conceivable level. D’Abo’s wealth and status certainly shaded her from some of its effects, but even her father ominously noted, “We shall never lunch round this table again”. He turned out to be right on the money, but not in the way he expected.

London-Blitz 9 September - 1940Wikimeida Commons, Picryl

22. She Lost Him

Lady Ursula d’Abo was already struggling through the conflict’s effects on her day to day life when a brutal tragedy struck. Her father passed in 1940, leaving her devastated. He suffered from a fatal blood infection. John Manners had been just 53 years old. Still, national strife raged without much time left to grieve. And unlike some aristocrats, d’Abo didn’t take the worldwide unrest lying down.

Public domain photograph of funeral procession - 1930Digital museum, Picryl

23. She Pulled It Together

Lady Ursula D’Abo volunteered her time in service to the British armies, working with the Red Cross. The job entailed much more hands-on physical labor than she’d grown up doing, like cleaning the carriages of trains. Still, she took to it full force, and moved on to assisting at a hospital as a nurse. This is when things took a dangerous turn.Clara Barton FactsWikimedia Commons

24. She Barely Escaped

While serving at the Battersea General Hospital, d’Abo just barely managed to get out alive.  The place where she had been living fell under enemy assault. Still in service mode, she helped patients evacuate the hospital, no doubt helping to spare lives. She did survive that close call, but it wouldn’t be the last serious risk she faced.Wounded soldiers being wheeled about the grounds of the American Red Cross - 1918Imperial Museum, UK, Picryl

25. She Got Away (Again)

Undeterred by that experience, Lady Ursula d’Abo took up another volunteer position at St. George’s Hospital, preparing patients for operations. This too, however, turned out to be short lived. Another attack from the air forced D’Abo out of her lodging. This time, she decided to remove herself from imminent danger. She didn’t give up, though.St. George's Hospital, Hyde Park Corner - 1745Unknown Author, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

26. She Became The Boss

Lady Ursula d’Abo moved on to her next service gig, heading up a Grantham factory. There, she supervised thousands of women as they crafted supplies for the servicemen and servicewomen. Considering her father’s loyalty to Great Britain, perhaps she felt this doing him some honor. Before the conflict concluded, however, her status proved inadequate to fulfill her own ambitions.

Taylors Butter Factory - 1906Gawler History ,Flickr

27. Tradition Held Her Back

Even with all her contributions, societal traditions still held d’Abo down in some ways. Her parents raised her according to the patriarchal traditions of the times. That meant that, no matter who her family was and what she accomplished herself, society still considered her to be less than a man. Her womanhood wasn’t her only weak spot.

Woman at Telegraaf  station - 1950Digital museum, Picryl

28. She Didn’t Have Much

It seemed like d’Abo had it all—but nothing could be further than the truth. She didn’t truly possess any wealth of her own. A slave to the times, she needed to marry well to maintain her life of luxury. Her father hadn’t wanted just any man for her, though. Reportedly, he hoped she’d marry a Duke like himself. And interestingly enough, things certainly looked like they might head that way—at first.

Worried Woman - 1962National Archive ,Picryl

29. She Dated Around

As I’ve mentioned, d’Abo certainly had no trouble finding interested suitors. In one instance, she courted the man set to become the Duke of Buccleuch. This would have pleased her father, had he been alive. All things considered, it might have been in his own favor that he didn’t live to see who she actually married—or how she did it.Len Siffleet and his fiancee Clarice Lane at Circular Quay - 1943Australian W.a.r Memorial, Picryl

30. She Married Quick

Sometime amidst all her service, Lady Ursula d’Abo made acquaintance with a lawyer, Anthony Marreco. They headed to the altar in 1943—but in a far from traditional way. First of all, d’Abo barely knew Marreco. This might not seem all that unusual, as arranged marriages have existed for centuries. But that wasn’t the only weird aspect.Rover wedding car  -, Picryl

31. He Gave Her A Dangerous Ultimatum

D’Abo’s own romantic feelings—or lack thereof—for Marreco remain vague in most accounts. On the other hand, however, Marreco was positively obsessed with having her for his wife. It was a goal he achieved in a seriously twisted way. Reportedly, he insisted he would end his own life if she didn’t accept his proposal. Definitely dramatic, if nothing else. The wedding itself didn’t go too well either.

Prince Charles and Princess Anne from Storbritannia (1969)Municipal Archives of Trondheim ,Flickr

32. He Embarrassed Her

Likely under the influence of their families and the pressures of the continuing situations abroad, the two married very quickly. They tied the knot so suddenly that the minister who performed the marriage procured a seat for d’Abo to rest during the ceremony. He thought she must be pregnant! Take one guess at how the marriage itself went…Wedding at church - 1950Digital museum, Picryl

33. He Disappeared

Not too long after their ceremony, Marreco took off to join the forces in WWII. Then, the strangest thing happened. The couple lost all communication for several years while he was gone. It’s quite possible that d’Abo felt no real ties to Marreco, or that she assumed the worst when she didn’t hear from him.

Either way, she didn’t just sit and wait for him to get back either.

Virginia Hall FactsFlickr

34. She Got Busy

Lady Ursula d’Abo occupied her time away from her husband…with another man. And not just any man, either. With her husband completely out of reach, d’Abo occupied herself with another, much steamier romance. She had grown a love for India throughout her life, and eventually found herself in the arms of Maharaja of Jaipur, Man Singh II. She wasn’t the only one in his sights, though.

Gayatri Devi FactsWikimedia Commons

35. She Was A Sidechick

Man Singh II boasted a total of three wives. Seems like a lot, if you ask me. But, per tradition, it turned out to be quite customary for an Indian prince to have more than one wife. He didn’t disregard any of these wives during his dalliance with d’Abo. And it’s a good thing, too—considering who was waiting in the wings.Gayatri Devi FactsWikimedia Commons

36. It Didn’t Work

In 1946, when WWII ended, d’Abo was faced with a blast from the past. Anthony Marecco, the husband she seemed to have forgotten, came back—though he wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. Within two years, they were divorced. D’Abo was no old maid, though.

In fact, less than a year after she and Marecco officially divorced, she acquainted herself with the man soon to become husband number two.

WW2 Facts

37. They Crashed (Literally)

D’abo bonded with her second husband in a most peculiar way. It’s not clear where the two were headed or how exactly they found themselves together, but a ride in one Erland d’Abo’s vehicles in London ended abruptly with a terrible car crash. They both survived, but one of D’abo’s most valuable assets took some serious damage.

Public domain photograph of damaged  automobile, car, the 1920s or 1930s,Library of Congress, Picryl

38. She Broke Her Money Maker

Ursula paid a brutal price for her involvement with Erland d’Abo. The car accident caused major disfigurement to her famous face. Luckily for her, she could afford just about the best plastic surgery available at the time. Still, it took three separate operations to return her face to normal. Maybe the shared trauma pushed the two closer together…Screenshot: Doctor making a surgery in O. Room - from The Sex Change Spitfire Ace (2015)Channel Four Television, Secret History - The S.e.x Change Spitfire Ace (2015)

39. She Made It Work

The new couple tied the knot in 1951. Whatever drew them together, d’Abo turned out to be a much better match than husband number one. They owned several homes together, and birthed three children. She remembered their time together as quite happy. Unfortunately, their relationship came to an end all too soon.

Publicity photo of sportscaster Red Barber with wife Lylah and daughter Sarah, 1950.Wikimedia Commons, Picryl

40. She Lost Her Man

Her husband passed suddenly in 1970, after nearly two decades of marriage. In the end, a heart condition took him. D’Abo claimed she mourned for her lost husband and missed him terribly, which we’d expect at this point. Except, one side interest—or should I say side man—brought the whole thing under scrutiny.

Isabella McQue alias Hubbart - 1915Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, Picryl

41. She Cheated (Again)

Even before d’Abo passed on, dark rumors swirled about Lady Ursula. She may have been romantically entangled with another man long before her husband actually passed on. Reports claimed she’d involved herself with a ridiculously wealthy J. Paul Getty. You may not know Getty by the name, but you’ll likely know him by his type. D’abo definitely had questionable taste.Abductions FactsGetty Images

42. She Loved A Play Boy

By all accounts, Getty proceeded through his romantic life being everything but faithful. He always courted several women at once, and even took many of them to live with him in his huge home. If you’re keeping track, you’ll notice it wasn’t d’Abo’s first run in with an insatiable man. Maybe she liked her love life messy?

Portrait of JP Getty - 1944Los Angeles Daily News, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

43. She Fell Hard

D’Abo claimed her sadness over the loss of her husband played a role in her relationship with Getty—though the timing brings that into question! In fact, she said “I felt so lost and lonely, I fell for this dear old man’s kindness and charm.” At the time, d’Abo was in her late 50s, and her suitor was 78. “Dear old man” indeed.

B&W Sad woman - image, Picryl

44. He Took Her Away

Getty took d’Abo away on a romantic escapade to Italy. Sometime after their tryst, d’Abo moved into his home, Sutton Palace, and ended up staying there for several years. It might have been a romantic love story—but d’Abo was in for a dark plot twist.

Entrance Facade At Sutton Place - 1995Michael FORD, Wikimedia Commons

45. She Fought For Him

During her time living with Getty, she reportedly didn’t feign ignorance about his fidelity to her—she knew the unfaithful man she dealt with. She did, however, engage with spats with other women, claiming herself to be the one woman he truly cared about. She might have been right, considering one responsibility that fell to her.

Couple - 1910Museum of New Zealand ,Picryl

46. She Worked For Him (Kind of)

Getty entrusted d’Abo with the duty of playing hostess at his palace. This likely made her something like a head of household, although she didn’t do it alone. She shared the responsibility with Rosabella Burch, a woman who’d lived with Getty for ten years prior. Still, perhaps Getty did feel particularly amorous toward her.

Russian tsar, Nicholas II, and his family in Livadiya, Crimea. - 1915Romanov Empire ,Picryl

47. He Wanted Her To Stay

Some reports indicate Getty actually proposed to d’Abo, and that she turned down his proposal. If that proves true, it’s to her credit. However, many reports claim Getty never had any intention of actually marrying a woman. He considered it a loss of power. So perhaps all the proposal talk was just sweet nothings? Or maybe not, considering his parting gift.

J. Paul Getty (1892 – 1976), June 12th 1964.Terry Fincher. Getty Images

48. He Left Her A Bag

Not the biggest one, by all accounts. However, d’Abo turned out to be only one of a few women (12 women, but a few by his standards) he actually left money for. When he passed in 1976, she inherited over $150,000 in stock from his will. She took it well, and made one more flashy move as she moved into her older years.

Ava Gardner dining with Stewart Granger, 1950Wikimedia Commons, Picryl

49. She Spilled Everything

Two years shy of one hundred years old, d’Abo published a memoir—The Girl with the Widow’s Peak: The Memoirs. In it, she unveiled the particulars of her life as an aristocrat in Great Britain in the 18th century, as well as the perils of battle. While it hadn’t exactly been all roses and sunshine, she showed her life as one dominated by more good than bad, even to the very end.

Actress Greta Garbo filling out paperwork for United States citizenship - 1950Wikimedia Commons, Picryl

50. She Made It Last

In the end, D’Abo achieved a feat most humans never will. She lived a very long life—one hundred years, to be exact. She passed on less than a week before her 101st birthday. D’Abo took her last breath on earth surrounded by her family, and comfortable in her own home.Haunting Last WordsGround Picture, Shutterstock

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