Sunday, September 8, 2019

In Profile: The Swiss-Born American Heiress (And Romanov Step-Daughter) Who Forged Her Own Path

Sumner Moore Kirby
On 6 November 1934, one of the heirs to the F. W. Woolworth and Co. fortune, Sumner Moore Kirby (1895-1945), married for the third time. The bride was Princess Leonida Georgievna Bagration-Moukhranskaya (1914-2010), the daughter of Prince Giorgi Bagration-Moukhransky and Elena Sigismundovna Zlotnitzkaya. 

Report of Helen's birth by the American Consular Service.

Sumner and Leonida's only child, Hélène Louise Kirby, variously known as Helen/Helena/Elena, was born at Geneva on 26 January 1935.

Wedding announcement of Sumner M. Kirby and Princess Leonida Bagration (1934)
Sumner and Leonida divorced on 18 November 1937. Hélène's father died on 7 April 1945 in hospital at Leau, near the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, where he had been deported from France after being arrested along with other U.S. and British civilians by the Vichy regime in 1944. Sumner Moore Kirby was the son of Fred Morgan Kirby (1861-1940) and Jessie Amelia Owen (1861-1933).

Wedding announcement of Sumner M. Kirby and Doris L. Wayland (1925)
Sumner M. Kirby had been firstly married from April 1925 to October 1931 with Doris Landy Wayland (1901-1969). Doris Wayland was the daughter of Samuel Ewing Wayland (1858-1928) and his wife Blandina (b.1866; née Landy). Sumner and Doris had one daughter: Gloria Price Kirby (1928-2017; married to Robert St Clair Conahay III). In January 1932, Sumner took as his second wife Valentine Wagner; the pair divorced in July 1934; they did not have issue. Several months later Kirby married Leonida, who was to be his final wife. Leonida received custody of their daughter Hélène following the Kirby/Bagration divorce.

Princess Leonida and her daughter Hélène
In 1960, Hélène Louise Kirby became engaged to a Spanish lawyer, don Antonio Bermúdez de Castro y de Collantes. Antonio was a son of don Arturo Bermúdez de Castro y Blanco (killed at Madrid on 22 August 1936 during Spanish Civil War) and doña Dolores de Collantes y Menéndez de Luarca (died at Madrid on 15 December 1980). Antonio had three sisters (Maria de los Dolores, Cristina, and Maria Josefa [d.2014]) and one brother (Luis). The eldest sister, Maria de los Dolores, was married in 1949 to Juan Bautista de Castillejo y Carvajal, XI Conde de Villa Amena de Cozbíjar - she is currently the Dowager Duquesa de Montealegre.

Death announcement for don Antonio Bermúdez de Castro y de Collantes (1960)
Sadly, Antonio died on 10 October 1960. Among others, his obituary mentioned that he is survived by "su prometida [his fiancée], señorita Helene Kirby Bagration."

(left to right) señora del Arenal, condesa de Albercón, duquesa de Franco, señora Mariam Martín-Barbadillo, duquesa de Montealegre, and Hélène Kirby (2014)
Three years later in 1963, Hélène became the godmother of her late fiancé's newborn niece, Elena Bermúdez de Castro (third daughter of Luis Bermúdez de Castro y de Collantes [d.2015] and María de la Consolación "Cocolo" Fernández-Santa Eulalia y Palicio [d.2015]). Hélène remained close with the family of her late fiancée, particularly with Antonio's sister Maria de los Dolores (duquesa de Montealegre) and the parents of Antonio's niece/Hélène's goddaughter Elena, Luis and Cocolo.

(Left to right) Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, Hélène Kirby, Mr and Mrs William Rahn, Grand Duchess Leonida and Grand Duke Vladimir of Russia (1965)
In 1965, Hélène Kirby and Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, the nephew of Helene's stepfather Grand Duke Vladimir, began a relationship. The couple apparently met in Paris. On 25 August 1965 the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner carried a photo of Friedrich Wilhelm, Hélène, Grand Duke Wladimir, Grand Duchess Leonida, and Mr and Mrs William Rahn (an American couple from Madrid) during a brief visit to Alaska. The relationship between the Hélène Kirby and Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia had already ended by 1966.

Engagement of Hélène Kirby and Juan Pérez de Guzmán y Castillejo, II conde de Hoochstrate (1966)
On 30 October 1966, the Imperial Chancellery of the Russian Imperial House announced the engagement of Hélène Kirby and Juan Pérez de Guzmán y Castillejo, II conde de Hoochstrate. Juan was the son of José María Pérez de Guzmán y Sanjuan (1895-1943), I conde de Hoochstrate, and María de la Concepción Castillejo y Wall (1899-1986), V condesa de Torreblanca. Juan's maternal aunt doña Dolores Castillejo y Wall (d.1983), Dowager Duquesa de Almenera Alta y de Escolano, was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain. The wedding between Hélène Kirby and the Conde de Hoochstrate was scheduled to take place on 19 January 1967 at Madrid. 

Hélène's second fiancé: Juan Pérez de Guzmán y Castillejo, conde de Hoochstrate (1976)
For whatever reason, the union never materialised. Juan Pérez de Guzmán y Castillejo (d.2015), conde de Hoochstrate, later married María Cristina de Armiñán Jordán. Hélène Kirby has never married.

Hélène Kirby, Countess Dvinskaya, at the wedding of her half-sister Grand Duchess Maria (1976)
Hélène Kirby was granted the title Countess Dvinskaya with the style of Illustrious Highness in 1976 by her stepfather, Grand Duke Vladimir of Russia. This was the same year that Hélène's younger half-sister Grand Duchess Maria of Russia married Prince Franz-Wilhelm of Prussia. Hélène became the godmother of her nephew, Grand Duke George Mikhailovich, in May 1981. 

Pictured: Hélène Kirby holding her godson, one of the Princes of Bulgaria, and King Simeon II of the Bulgarians. Shown behind Hélène is Queen Mother Geraldine of the Albanians. In the background are several Bagration relatives.

Hélène Kirby photographed behind the Countess of Barcelona (1960s)

Embed from Getty Images

Hélène Kirby has remained close to the Bulgarian, Georgian, and Spanish royal families over the decades. She served as godmother to one of King Simeon and Queen Margarita's sons. In 2002, Hélène attended the wedding of the king's only daughter Princess Kalina, together with her friend the Duchess of Franco. Hélène is a friend of Infanta Pilar of Spain, with whom she has collaborated in promoting the fundraising events for the charity Rastrillo Nuevo Futuro for many years. In 2009, Hélène was present at the wedding of her first cousin once removed, Prince David Bagration-Moukhransky, and Princess Anna Bagration-Gruzinskaya - the wedding of the century in Georgia which united two branches of the Bagrationi family.  

Hélène Kirby, Countess Dvinskaya, attends the memorial service for her mother Grand Duchess Leonida (2010)
Gloria Price Kirby on the occasion of her marriage to Robert St Clair Conahay III (1948)
In May 2010, Hélène's mother Grand Duchess Leonida died at Madrid, aged ninety-five. Hélène had long supported her mother, stepfather Grand Duke Vladimir, and younger maternal half-sister Grand Duchess Maria. In 2017, Hélène's older paternal half-sister Gloria Price Kirby passed away at Tangiers. Hélène maintained strong ties with Gloria and with Gloria's children, Hélène's niece and nephews. 

Hélène Kirby and Alfonso, Duke of Cádiz
An agent of discretion and dignity, Hélène Kirby continues to make her home in the Spanish capital.


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