Through history, the figure of the female heir has triggered mixed emotions, from uneasiness to envy and even lust. Heiress have come in all shapes and sizes, from the spoiled scions to the princesses of industry and even freedom fighters with big guns to match their purses. Who doesn’t love a good story about a scandalous heiress, whether she’s up to good or bad? Does more money mean more problems, especially for women? Charge it to daddy’s credit card with these 42 outrageous facts about the world’s most “spoiled” heiresses.
Spoiled Heiresses Facts
1. Not a Sleeping Beauty Story
Born to wealth herself, Eva Kemeny met her match in Hans Kristian Rausing, the heir to the Tetra-Pak packaging fortune in the 1990s. At the time, they were both in rehab. Both appeared to feed each other’s worst habits, i.e. drugs. In 2012, Hans’ arrest for Class A drug possession led to a raid of the couple’s $70 million-dollar home. Police found that the mansion ravaged by squalor, but the nightmare was just beginning. They soon discovered Eva’s dead body. It had been decomposing from drug overdose for two months.
2. My Favorite Way for Rich Friends to Cope Too
Lady Henrietta Guinness—yeah, of that Guinness brewing fortune—once said, “If I had been poor, I would have been happy.” Alienated by her own wealthy birth, Henrietta coped by bestowing extravagant gifts upon her pals. She once bought a $70,000 hair salon for her hairdresser and a $28,000 Belgravia restaurant for her Italian chef fiancé. The pair never married, but at least they enjoyed the eatery. And hey, food > love any day.
3. The Highborn Falls Harder
Despite a life of generosity, Guinness heiress Lady Henrietta met a mysteriously violent end. On May 3, 1978, she took her own life in grisly fashion. She climbed up the Ponte delle Torri bridge and fell to her death at the age of 35. Fifteen years earlier, Henrietta suffered intense hospitalization and depression after a car crash. To this day, however, no one is sure what pushed her over the edge.
4. Ice Cold Adventure (and Cash)
Not content with the gala scene, American heiress to the Bodie Gold Bonanza of 1877, Louise Boyd, made her name in Arctic exploration. Boyd underwent so many exploits that she received a medal of honor from the King of Norway himself. A part of Greenland itself is even named in her socialite honor: Louise Boyd Land.
5. A Woman’s Right to Choose (Badly)
Nancy Astor is a complicated heiress. On one hand, the Gilded Age American is celebrated for her charity and women’s rights advocacy, and for becoming the first elected female representative in the UK House of Commons. On the other hand, Astor was an outspoken supporter of the Nazis before World War II. History thus extended “mixed” feelings to her legacy. Her famous helping hand did not extend to everyone…
6. An Inheritance of Her Own
Paris Hilton is the archetypal “spoiled heiress” of the 21st century. Although most of her grandfather’s Hilton hotel fortune goes into charity, the socialite managed to turn her status into fame in her own right. From frequent write-ups in tabloids to that now-infamous tape and reality show—with fellow heiress Nicole Richie—on Fox, does she really need help from grandad anymore?
7. Prime Minister’s Mom Likes to Party
History best remembers Lady Randolph Church as the mother of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. But Lady Randolph stoked more than enough scandal to be remembered in her own right. She was of the notorious heiresses to her financier father’s fortune. If you believe the high society rumor mill, Lady Randolph took lovers while married.
Plus, her party-girl ways were so legendary that history often (falsely) credits her with the invention of the Manhattan cocktail.
8. The Preteen Patroness
Peggy Guggenheim became a millionaire at the age of 13. She inherited her father’s fortune after he perished on the Titanic (yes, that Titanic), but she turned the loss into something beautiful. The girl became the Guggenheim, investing in all forms of art and eventually founding the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. Today, we remember the teen heiress as the grandmother of the Modern Art movement.
9. The Not So Sweet Life of Casey Johnson
Casey Johnson was heiress to the Johnson & Johnson estate, but one might not have known it from her life of squalor on Mulholland Drive. The heiress had longtime struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. It got so bad that Johnson’s family cut her off until she agreed to enter rehab. Unfortunately, the tough love approach backfired.
In 2010, the 30-year-old Johnson was discovered dead by her maid. Her official cause of death was “diabetic ketoacidosis,” a condition onset by lack of insulin for her diabetic needs.
10. A Picture is Worth a Thousand Fortunes
Most remember Edie Sedgwick as the iconic muse of Andy Warhol. Less people remember that she was also of wealthy birth: her mother descended from Southern Pacific Railroad family money while her father’s lineage had connections to the Declaration of Independence’s signing! Alas, not all the money of the world saved this model from her final fate. She was discovered dead from a barbiturate overdose at the age of 28.
11. Secret Struggle
Nancy Cunard was a literary-minded heiress who aimed higher than her mix of British and American gentility. Instead of spending her money on luxury goods, she was a socialist activist who rubbed elbows (and other body parts) with the literary leaders of her day. Her verbose lovers included Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Ezra Pound, and even James Joyce.
The heavyweight in star power, however, was dangerously underweight. Behind the stylish lifestyle, Cunard struggled for years with anorexia. She weighed just 57 pounds at the time of her death in 1965.
12. A Cinderella Litigation Story
You can’t blame a former First Lady’s stepdaughter for feeling a little eclipsed. Christina Onassis is best remembered as Greek businessman Aristotle Onassis’ child and heir—and of course, as the legendary Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ step-daughter. Unfortunately, Christina reportedly never liked her step-mom.
After Aristotle’s death, Jackie Kennedy could legally inherit a limited amount of the estate as a non-Greek widow. But she put up a fight against Christina. After two years of legal fighting, Kennedy received a modest settlement of $26 million in exchange for surrendering all other claims to the heiress stepdaughter.
Christina was described by a paternal stepsister as “one of those people who would never be happy. She would become impatient. It had all come too easily—all the money, houses all over the world, few real responsibilities.”
13. Designed to Lead
At the age of 28, Delphine Arnault Gancia became the youngest woman to ever serve on the board of Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) luxury goods. Of course, she is also the daughter of Bernard Arnault, the Chairman of LVMH and—as of April 2018—the richest man in the fashion world. You could say she had some early job prep.
14. The Mother of All Cease and Desists
At the age where most girls are just worried about starting high school, 14-year-old Doris Duke sued her own mother for control of her trust fund. Two years earlier, Duke inherited a huge tobacco fortune after the untimely death of her father, Buchanan Duke. The younger Duke took her mother to court to prevent the sale of more family assets. At least Mama Duke got a modest trust fund out of it, but still. Ouch.
15. Good Help is Hard to Believe
Preteen tobacco heiress Doris Duke lived a long but controversial life until the age of 80. After two failed marriages, the death of her daughter, and a long struggle with pill addiction, Duke changed her will at the last second and left $1.2 billion to her butler, Bernard Lafferty. This raised eyebrows and the accusation that Lafferty conned the feeble Duke into a change of heart. Despite talk, charges were never filed again the fortunate helper.
16. Paying Tribute to the Jazz Princess
Pannonica Rothschild was born to a great European house in 1913 and did the expected noble thing of marrying a baron…that is, until she ditched the titled hubby to fight alongside the WWII French Resistance in the Congo. Despite her military service, history best remembers her as a glamorous patroness of jazz icon Thelonious Monk and many others. She also took the fall for Monk when he was charged with drug possession.
To show their appreciation of Pannonica, jazz artists wrote several songs in her honor. She was known as “Nica” in this circle and songs from Monk’s “Pannonica” to Gigi Gryce’s “Nica’s Tempo” and Freddie Red’s “Nica Steps Out” are all about the Jazz Princess herself.
17. Too Pretty to Pay in Credit
Lady Hazel Lavery was born to an Irish-American industrialist legacy. Known as “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Midwest,” Lavery even appeared on Irish banknotes. But she had some devious inside help; Lavery’s husband was the famous painter in charge of designing the new banknote. He simply chose his favorite image, i.e. the pretty Hazel herself.
18. Even Rich Girls Have Problems
Barbara Hutton is literally why the phrase “Poor Little Rich Girl” was invented. At the onset of the Great Depression in 1930, Hutton was given an elaborate and expensive debutante ball when most Americans were struggling just to eat. The press took note of this show of poor taste and coyly dubbed her “Poor Little Rich Girl.” The label—and tabloids—would follow Hutton into her adult exploits.
19. She Met Her Prince Charming, Who Was the Real Beast
Known as the “Pocket Venus” for her petite beauty, Catherine Tylney-Long became the richest commoner in 18th-century England at just 16 years old. Tragically, due to a bad marriage, her fortune peaked at that moment. Knowing her worth as an eligible heiress, Catherine tried to play it shrewd with her hand in marriage, giving in only to one William Wellesley-Pole. He seemed like a nice guy…until he got his wife into a quarter-million pounds of gambling debt, lost her estate, and fled the country.
Yup. Wellesley-Pole was a shameless fortune hunter. While Tylney-Long clearly believed that she’d found love, you have to think she had doubts when Wellesley-Pole showed up to the wedding without a ring? (Apparently he forgot. Um, bad move, dude.). After he abandoned the heiress, Catherine took shelter with her children and other relatives. She died at the age of just 35. It is rumored that her cause of death was venereal disease, which she had contracted by proxy from her husband’s many affairs.
20. Bank of Our People
In 1538, Gracia Medes-Nasi became one of the richest Jewish ladies of the European Renaissance when she inherited her late husband’s fortune at the age of just 26. But Gracia didn’t just sit on top of that money: she used it to shield Jewish people fleeing persecution from the Portuguese Inquisition.
Even after the authorities discovered her strategies and confiscated her fortune, Gracia managed to negotiate her wealth back in just two years. She discretely funded Renaissance synagogues, bribed officials for the release of Jewish prisoners, and gave away money to Jewish refugees seeking safe haven in other countries. Today, the Sephardic peoples exalt Medes-Nasi as “Our Angel.”
21. The Madame of Movement
Do you like the taste of French bubbly, aka champagne? Thank the French heiress Madame Barbe-Nicole Clicquot. She survived the French Revolution and reinvested her inheritance in a bizarre invention: a fermentation process called “riddling.” You may not know the term but this is now the powerhouse behind the modern champagne industry.
Barbe-Nicole was directly involved in its development and believed in the potential of motion to the point of telling her grandkids: “The world is in perpetual motion, and we must invent the things of tomorrow. One must go before others, be determined and exacting, and let your intelligence direct your life. Act with audacity.” Good advice, if you have the capital to back it up.
22. The Only Trainwreck is Our Meet Cute
You’re never too old to start living that outrageous heiress life. Take Helen Miller Gould, the turn-of-the-century wealthy spinster who was brushed off as an old maid (single at age 44!). One day, she met her prince charming…in the middle of a trainwreck. In 1912, Miller rode aboard a Chicago-bound train that ended up on track to crash with another car.
Refusing to save herself first, Gould stayed behind in the twisting car to help other passengers. It was there she met her husband Finley Johnson Shepard, who was also lending a hand. The two wed within the year.
23. Blame it on the Rock
Why should an heiress be afraid of curses? It was love at first sight when American socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean set her eyes on the Hope Diamond, an infamous jewel with a doomed line of owners. From the beheaded Marie Antoinette to the overthrown Ottoman Sultan Abd-Al Hamid, the Hope Diamond’s owners never seemed to lead happy lives. Feeling invulnerable as well as indulgent, McLean pressured her husband into buying her the jewel for a paltry $180,000.
Over the next few years, the heiress lost her son Vinson “the $100 million baby” McLean in a car accident, her spendthrift husband to a mistress, her daughter to overdose, and even her family newspaper, The Washington Post. McLean blamed all these misfortunes on her cursed accessory, saying “What tragedies have befallen me might have occurred had I never seen or touched the Hope Diamond. My observations have persuaded me that tragedies, for anyone who lives, are not escapable.”
24. Take Your Best Shot, Twice
Alice de Janze was the 20th century American business heiress who got away with (allegedly) shooting two separate lovers. After a 1926 affair, Janze shot Raymond Vincent de Trafford on a train to Paris. He had tried to break things off and evidently, she wasn’t happy about it. But the drama was just beginning: Janze then turned the gun on herself but both survived. In the end, the duo was fined for the commotion and no serious charges were laid. Wealth can do wonders.
Then, in 1941, Jazne’s new lover, Lord Erroll, was found shot to death in a car in Kenya. He allegedly stepped out on the heiress with a much younger woman. Although Janze was acquitted of this murder, Erroll’s death remains unsolved. Given her history, many are still of the opinion that the heiress felt entitled to the right over life itself.
25. Born to Inherit Anyways
At the time of her conception, American actress Brooke Shields was not considered good enough to continue her paternal family’s noble blood. On her father’s side, the actress descended from princes of Genoa and Rome. In a heartbreaking twist, Shields’ father paid her mother to terminate the pregnancy. Shields’ mother took the money, but she secretly kept her daughter.
She raised her with a robust heiress’s education in horse-riding, piano, and ballet. Though Shields’ parents were married, their union was doomed to end. They divorced when Shields was just five months old.
26. Its Pays (Her) to Read
Carly Simon is best remembered for her hit songs like “You’re So Vain” and other late 20th century bops. Her musical fame has somewhat eclipsed her less-than-humble origins. The singer is also heiress to a huge publishing fortune. Her father was Richard L. Simon, aka “the” Simon and co-founder of the Simon & Schuster publishing house.
27. Life Doesn’t Always Intimate Art
A Little Princess (1995) stars a real-life American “princess.” As a child, Liesel Anne Pritzker, or “Liesel Matthews” on-screen, starred in the movie about an unfortunate orphan with big dreams. In real life, however, the child star was one of the heiresses to the Hyatt hotel fortune. Among her holdings is even Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. A far cry from the orphanage, eh?
But in a seemingly-mandatory poor little rich girl moment, Pritzker encountered troubles because of her wealth. While still a teenager, she entered a high-profile legal battle with her own father and some cousins. She alleged that they had mismanaged her and her brother’s money. After a dramatic and lengthy trial, Pritzker and her brother won. They each received $280 million in cash, and that doesn’t even include the new trusts they controlled.
Somehow I don’t think Pritzker’s family will try to mismanage her funds again…
28. A Star is Raised
American actress Olivia Wilde was originally born “Olivia Jane Cockburn” to big players in the Washington, DC socialite scene. Her father is world-famous journalist and Harper’s Bazaar editor Andrew Cockburn; her mother, Leslie Redlich, descends from a family of shipping magnates. As a result of her parents’ connections, the young Wilde grew up socializing with stars like rocker Mick Jagger and even novelist Salman Rushdie. In other words, she knew fame before she became famous.
29. It’s the Bragging Rights That Count
Allegra Versace is a niece and one of the heirs of the famed designer Gianni Versace. After her uncle’s untimely murder, Allegra’s mother took charge of his brand, and Allegra reaped both the financial and social benefits. When she was still a kid, Sir Elton John gave her a piano. Unfortunately, the designer scion never learned how to master the keys.
30. Rhythm Takes a Trust
Frances Bean Cobain is the daughter of late grunge rocker Kurt Cobain—and primary heir to his immense empire. When she turned 18, Frances inherited control of her own trust fund, receiving $95,000 each month in her father’s publicity rights alone. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. In 2009, Frances got a restraining order against her own mother, Courtney Love, to keep the widow’s hands off the estate.
31. Don’t Do as I Do
Bobbi Kristina Brown came into her family fortune under the worst circumstances. Her mother, music legend Whitney Houston, drowned to death in her own bathtub in 2012. The 19-year-old Brown inherited her mother’s estate of $20 million. However, this windfall could only bring cold comfort to Brown for a short while.
In 2015, Bobbi Kristina’s unconscious body was found in a bathtub—yes, like her mother. Tragically, the 22-year-old passed away after six months in a comatose state. Her fortune was subsequently passed up to her grandmother and maternal uncles.
32. Bark If You’re a Beneficiary
Not all heiresses are human. In 2014, wealthy accountant Rose Anne Bolasny left a $100,000 per year trust to her Maltese dog, Bella Mia. In a swoop, the pup became the richest non-human animal (and non-human heiress) in the world.
33. Get Her While She’s Not Cheap
In the early 20th century, it was all the rage for American heiresses to “import” a husband from Europe. This wasn’t because European guys are oh-so-charming, but because these men had something American dudes did not: a noble title. This worked out for the lords and gentlemen; the dwindling aristocracy welcomed the bride’s influx of cash, even if she was a commoner.
This arrangement became so popular among the elite that the press coined a name to describe the brides: “Dollar Princesses.”
34. Every Rose Has Its Golden Thorns
After her father’s (rumored) suicide, the child Margaret Beaufort became the sole heir to his fortune as the Duke of Somerset. As a child—and a child in the War of the Roses, no less—she didn’t get to enjoy it. Power players swept in to secure her money for themselves. Margaret had her childhood engagement broke to be married to Edmund Tudor, half-brother to King Henry VI, in 1455, when she was just 12 years old.
However, the pawn Margaret had the last laugh. Margaret’s son became Henry VII of England. In turn, she became the de-facto queen of his court and mother of the House of Tudor.
35. Grand-Damsel in Distress
In 1959, Brooke Astor inherited a $60 million estate from her notoriously belligerent husband, Vincent Astor (whose ex-wife encouraged him to marry Brooke so that Astor wouldn’t die alone, if the rumor mill is to be believed). Brooke Astor enjoyed an illustrious career as a philanthropist, but her male relatives proved to be her tragic undoing.
In 2006, Brooke’s grandson filed a lawsuit to remove care of the elderly Brooke from his own father, her son Anthony Marshall. The suit alleged that Marshall committed elder abuse by letting Brooke live in squalor, withholding her medication, and selling prized assets. Rescuing his grandmother cost grandson Phillip Marshall a total of $9 million (and favors from rich friends like Annette de la Renta and even Henry Kissinger), but he declared zero regrets.
36. She Who Wears the Pants, Holds the Wallet
Known as “The First Woman of Wall Street,” Tennessee Claflin was an unconventional heiress. Although she wasn’t born rich, Tennessee helped her family build their fortune by going into the superstitious snake oil business of faith healers. In 1870, she and her sister attracted a rich benefactor and began America’s first all-female brokerage firm, Woodhull, Claflin & Co.
Patrons flocked not just to get their cheques verified, but to gander at the peculiar sight of short-haired ladies (in boots!) taking control of their own money. Tennessee put her profits into the promotion of charity but also gender equality and even the taboo new topic of sex education. Oh, and she also owned a newspaper where she could spread her views. Nbd.
37. There’s More Where That Came From
Caterina Sforza was born to humbler origins than most ladies on this list. Although she was “just” the illegitimate child of the Duke of Milan, this “natural daughter” rose to great heights. She used her noble connections to become a warlord, the bane of the Pope, and—allegedly—the torturer of a few enemy soldiers.
After rival swords threatened to execute her children, Sforza allegedly lifted up her skirts, grabbing her baby-making equipment and declared “Do it, if you want to: hang them even in front of me…here I have what’s needed to make others!” She was an heiress who knew her worth.
38. Patty Get Your Gun
Patty Hearst requires little introduction. Although she is best remembered for her kidnapping by—and subsequent joining of—the Liberation Army, Hearst began as the heiress to William Randolph Heart’s legendary publishing empire. The whole participating in her kidnapper’s crimes, however, kind of eclipsed this legacy in the eyes of the public.
Hearst’s mental and legal culpability during this period of trauma remains hotly contested. After all, not many terrorist cell abettors got their sentences commuted by President Jimmy Carter.
39. Little Big, Big Money Problems
Gloria Vanderbilt founded her personal brand on her fashion designs—but few people know her dark history. As a child, the wealthy heiress was at the center of the “trial of the century.” Little Gloria’s mother and aunt battled for control over the young girl’s custody, which surprise, surprise, also included control of the massive family trust. When Vanderbilt was just 18 months old, Vanderbilt and her sister became heiresses to an estate worth a $71 million trust in 2018 money.
40. Poor Little Rich Secondary Custody Holder
Little Gloria’s custody trial was so sensitive and heated that the judge frequently forced everyone to exit the room so that the girl could give her testimony without being pressured by her family members. In these closed-door meetings, bystanders frequently heard wailing and crying coming from inside the courtroom—and even though these were private sessions, the press got ahold of one tragic detail.
In one such communique, little Gloria apparently admitted to the judge that she was lonely when she was with her mother, and that she wished she could go live with her aunt instead. This vulnerable admission was very likely what won the custody battle for Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, but that doesn’t mean that justice was served on that fateful day.
When she looked back on this painful time in her life, Gloria made a heartbreaking confession: she had memories of her aunt actually coaching her on the testimony.
41. The Best Part of Waking Up…Is Waking Up
Abigail Folger was an heiress committed to giving back—but she met a famously tragic end anyways. The Folger coffee heir raised her cup to public service, volunteering as a social worker in Los Angeles. But in April 1969, Folger and her boyfriend Wojciech Frykowskiwere decided to stay in the house of their friends, Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski. You can see where this is going…
Alongside Tate, Frykowski, and Jay Sebring, the coffee heiress became one of the victims of the Manson Family murders.
42. Checking In, Checking Out
Not all Hiltons were as lucky as Paris. Francesca Hilton (b. 1947) had the misfortune of being born after her father, the hotel tycoon Conrad Hilton, divorced her mother, actress Zsa Zsa Gabor. As a result, she did not grow up close to the patriarch. When Hilton died, Francesca received a paltry $100,000 (her father held a fortune of $200 million). After failed legal attempts to get the will changed, Francesca survived on odd jobs until she died of a stroke in her car—where she had been living—in 2015.