Author: Richard Jay Hutto
Reviewed by: Christopher N. Smith, honorary consul of Denmark in Georgia and a Macon attorney
In The Kaiser’s Confidante, Richard Jay Hutto shares the little-known story of how the American-born Mary Esther Lee became a European princess and later a prominent adviser to Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II. Born to a wealthy New York City family, Ms. Lee moved to Paris after the death of her father at 17 in 1855. Her mother and two sisters relocated to Paris as well.
Relevant to today’s readers is to note that long before Meghan Markle became engaged to Prince Harry, a long line of American-born princesses preceded her. Indeed, Mary Lee became the first when she wed Prince Friedrich of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg (Noer) in 1864. The daughter of a self-made business mogul, Ms. Lee was quite the shrewd and nimble negotiator in securing the title of Princess of Noer, not something automatically guaranteed by the marriage itself. It is the keen intellect and adroit maneuvering in the social, political and diplomatic realms by Ms. Lee that makes her life and the book so interesting. Many daughters of wealthy Americans wed into royal and noble families of Europe in the 19th century, but few ever possessed the power and influence of Ms. Lee.
Her union with Prince Friedrich was brief. He died of a fever while the couple were visiting the Middle East just eight months into their marriage. The extremely wealthy, brilliant and now titled American navigated through this difficult time and ultimately wed Count Alfred von Waldersee and moved to Germany.
The bulk of the book involves Ms. Lee’s heavy involvement in the Prussian court as well as the great influence she had as an adviser and confidante to the future Kaiser Wilhelm II. Excellently researched, Hutto’s work brings to life the cast of characters of the era, each worthy of their own biography. The many side stories mentioned in the text and footnotes concerning the people with whom Ms. Lee interacted make the book highly entertaining and educational. It’s a great read for those who enjoy the topic of power and negotiation, as well as lovers of history.