Glamourous, fun-loving Princess of Silesia to have whole of 2023 named in her honour
To readers of the continent’s gossip titles, she was simply known as one of Europe’s most beautiful women; to the people of Wałbrzych (then Waldenburg), however, Princess Daisy von Pless was something so much more – a humanitarian whose work within the community is remembered to this day.
Now, her importance has been further underscored after it was announced by Wałbrzych City Hall that 2023 will be officially titled the Year of Princess Daisy.
Noting her as “the most famous woman in the history of the city”, the resolution was passed so that the event would coincide with the 150th anniversary of her birth – and 80th anniversary of her death.
Speaking to TFN, Matt Mykytyszyn, President of the Daisy von Pless Foundation, said: “This is great news for all of us in the region – for us, she was our Princess Diana.”
Rather than the product of media hyperbole, Mykytyszyn says that such comparisons are well-warranted: “It’s strange to be talking about this on the 25th anniversary of Princess Diana’s own passing, but there are so many similarities we can draw.
“Both were the personification of ‘the English rose’, yet both found themselves trapped in loveless marriages with older, influential men. Similarly, Diana and Daisy dedicated much of their lives to charitable causes and helping others.”
Born in 1873 in Ruthin Castle, Wales, Daisy was initially regarded as “plain” in her early years. Adolescence saw her bloom and she attracted the attention of Germany’s Hans Heinrich XV, the Prince of Pless.
Joined in matrimony in 1891, guests at the wedding included the future King of England, Edward VII. Thereafter, the couple took quarters in Hans Heinrich’s ancestral home: Fürstenstein Castle (now Zamek Książ in Wałbrzych) and Schloss Pleß (Zamek Pszczyna).
Described by some as “a product of her time”, her entry into aristocratic society coincided with the modern obsession for scandal and tattle – when she crashed her car in the early 1900s whilst travelling at the hair-razing speed of 30 km / hr, the story found itself covered as far afield as Australia.
Known for her exceptional beauty, she refused to be constrained by the stiff formalities of aristocratic life – there were stories of raucous pillow fights in the corridors of the castle as well as other youthful high jinks that endeared her to the public.
Something of a fashion icon, she became a media darling and her seven-metre pearl necklace was famed across the globe (later sold to ensure the release of her son who had been arrested by the Gestapo, its location has continued to fascinate treasure hunters to this day).
Yet for all her naïve indiscretions, there was also another face to Daisy. Divorced in 1922, she opted to return to the region in 1935 and continued the charitable work that she had started. It is that prompted City Hall to devote 2023 in her honour.
In a statement released yesterday, City Hall said: “Princess Daisy von Pless directed almost all her life energy and talents towards humanitarian goals, becoming in a way one of the first social reformers in Lower Silesia. Książ and its surroundings owe a lot to her charity and social activities.”
Among other things, she established a school for disabled children and a milk programme that reduced infant mortality. She founded a women’s lace-making co-op and also appeared in a string of fund-raising concerts and theatre performances.
Never afraid to get hands-on, during WWI she worked in field hospitals and sanitary trains on the Serbian, French and Austrian front. Typifying her character, she awarded the same level of care to all soldiers, no matter what flag they fought under.
“Compared to what they had been used to she was full of life and joy – a real breath of fresh air,” says Mykytyszyn. “When the people of Waldenburg spoke about her, they referred to her as ‘our Daisy’.”
Using her standing to lobby for change, never did she overlook the needs of those less fortunate. “When she learned how impoverished many of the locals were, she organised a big Christmas party in one of the castle ballrooms complete with presents and food,” says Mykytyszyn. “She made Christmas come true for hundreds of people.”
Neither were such acts one-off, token gestures. Having a lasting impact, her actions transformed the region. “Her biggest project involving Waldenburg was an ecological one she undertook to clean the river that runs through the town and around the castle. As part of this, a bacteriologist was hired to ensure that the local miners and their families had access to clean water.”
With the Pełcznica River cleansed, the cholera and typhus epidemics that had hitherto haunted the city were brought under control.
Much like Diana, Daisy would die in circumstances tinged with tragedy. Moving into a villa found on ul. Moniuszki 43 in Wałbrzych, she had long since lost her riches. Left largely penniless, as death approached she celebrated her birthday with a glass of Champagne poured by her faithful English maid while a Silesian miners band played Home Sweet Home and other English tunes so beloved by her.
Her memory though has lived on, and thanks to the joint efforts of Wałbrzych City Hall, Książ Castle and the Daisy von Pless Foundation, she is again enjoying fame among a new generation.
“Borders have changed since her death, names have changed and people have changed, but even so her legacy still survives,” says Mykytyszyn. “Here in Wałbrzych we’ve had a musical made about her life, books published and studies conducted. I think thanks to the efforts of all the bodies concerned, she’s again been returned to the pedestal she deserves.”
Although her final residence remains a derelict wreck (“it’s not owned by the City, so there’s little that can be done until the current owner changes priorities,” laments Mykytyszyn), considerable efforts have been made to ensure that she is remembered correctly.
“We’ve continued researching her life,” says Mykytyszyn, “and because of that we only recently discovered she actually died as a Polish citizen.”
Moreover, a busy roster of events and happenings are in the pipeline to mark the Year of Daisy – though many of these remain under wraps, Mykytyszyn reveals that one of the key moments will involve the publication of the first volume of her diaries as translated by Barbara Borkowy, a long-term associate of the foundation and castle.
“Behind the glamour, we want to show ‘the real Daisy’ to the world – a loving human being. She had all the qualities that an English lady of her rank should have, and chose to bring them here.”
Locally, the news has been warmly welcomed coming as it has just days after the death of Daisy’s grandson, Prince Bolko von Pless.
“He himself was also a great friend of Wałbrzych and Książ and shared family heirlooms, personal documents and photographic collections with us,” says Mykytyszyn. “In 2020, he even donated two paintings made by the last court painter of the German Emperor.”
Helping increase historical knowledge of the castle, its habitants and his grandmother, his death comes just months after he published Memoirs of a Silesian Prince.
“Closely connected to Poland, he was a great European citizen,” says Mykytyszyn. “It is the end of an era.”