An Evil King, His Teenage Prostitute & the Most Expensive Villas in the World
This is the story behind two of the largest and most expensive villas in the world — bought with blood money, as gifts to a prostitute-turn-mistress:
The Evil King
King Leopold II was the evil Belgian King who exploited the Congo. A pedophile and white supremacist extraordinaire, he was once dubbed “Satan and Mammon in one person.” The ambitious and greedy king kick-started Europe’s so-called “Scramble for Africa” in the 1880s.
He shrewdly convinced the world that his bloody and enormously lucrative land-grab in the Congo was for humanitarian reasons. Instead, it was pure greed and approximately 1.1 billion he stole from the Congo went to financing his lavish lifestyle and spoiling his mistresses with gifts. The atrocities he oversaw were unknown to the outside world for years. Leopold told European and American powers that he was only in Africa to save the natives from the Arab slavers and bring Christianity to what Stanley dubbed the “Dark Continent.”
Because of British weaponry and technology, “a few thousand white men working for the king were able to dominate some twenty million Africans,” according to King Leopold’s Ghost. They turned the Congo into a massive forced labor camp, mainly involving the harvesting of wild rubber. Whomever resisted was either murdered or had their hands and feet chopped off with a machete — including women and children.
Leopold named his colony Congo Free State, although it was anything but.
But they did more than dominate. Their cruelty—casually burning down villages, shooting Africans for sport, torturing them, amputating limbs, forcing them to work until they keeled over or were lashed to death—was beyond sadistic. One of the weapons of choice was the chicotte, a vicious whip made out of hippopotamus hide that left permanent scars. Twenty strokes of it sent victims into unconsciousness, and a 100 or more strokes were often fatal.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, Leopold had a Jeffrey Epstein-like penchant for underage, preferably ‘virginal’ girls….
The Teenage Prostitute
The King met his mistress, Blanche Zélie Joséphine Delacroix (later known as Caroline Lacroix), when she was a 16-year-old Romanian-born prostitute 1899 (the King was 65 at the time). And as an even younger girl, instead of being in school, she was the mistress of Antoine-Emmanuel Durrieux, a former officer in the French army, who supported the two of them by betting on horse races. When his luck soured, he became a form of pimp, prostituting her to well-born clients to pay his gambling debts.
One day in 1900, while residing in Paris, Leopold II of Belgium was shopping for yet another mistress and heard of her “attractions”. A meeting was arranged for the following day; Blanche went to a secluded room, where Leopold arrived with two aides who interviewed her. Leopold was pleased and invited Blanche to Austria with him; a large sum of money duly arrived the next day, along with some empty trunks, as Leopold was aware that she loved to buy clothes.
As a mere sixteen-year-old (compared with Leopold’s age of 65), Caroline’s relationship with the old king quickly became public knowledge, causing Leopold to be labeled lecherous and besotted. Though Leopold had previously embarked upon affairs with other mistresses (earning him the nickname ‘The King of Belgians and Beauties’), his affair with Caroline was unique, and the Belgian press in particular enjoyed publicizing their affair for years.
Leopold lavished upon her large sums of money, estates, gifts, and a noble title, baronne de Vaughan (Baroness Vaughan), as well as gifting her Villa Leopolda in 1902. She frequently traveled to Paris to visit her dress- and hat-maker, once bragging that she spent three million francs on dresses at a single store on one occasion. Because of these presents, she was deeply unpopular both among the Belgian people and internationally.
Around this time, Leopold became increasingly criticized for his greed-induced actions in the Congo Free State, which he treated as his own personal colony. Her unpopularity in Belgium increased dramatically once its people began to realize that all of Leopold’s riches from the Congo were not benefiting his country, but rather himself and his young mistress. As she largely profited from the King’s income from the colony, she became known as La reine du Congo (“The Queen of the Congo”).
She later gave birth to the King’s two illegitimate sons (one birth happened at the villa Les Cèdres).
She and Leopold married in a religious ceremony when he was 74-years-old. He died just five days later.
Their failure to perform a civil ceremony rendered the marriage void under Belgian law. After the King’s death, it was soon discovered that he had left her numerous properties, items of high material value, Congolese bonds, and other valuable sources of income – all of which turned her into a multimillionaire.
Seven short months after Leopold’s death, she married Durrieux, the man who had been pimping her when she was a teenager, and whom she had been cheating on Leopold with throughout their relationship. Durrieux helped her steal the necessary papers to secure her inherited fortune and keep it shielded from Leopold’s other family members.
For years, the Belgian government and Leopold’s three estranged daughters attempted to recover some of this wealth, with varying success. Since most of Leopold’s wealth was hidden, his offspring from previous marriages received very little in the end, and she and Durrieux got the last laugh.
Caroline and Durrieux divorced soon after, and she was able to keep the bulk of her wealth intact (though she settled with Durrieux and gave him a sum of one million dollars in order to retain custody of her two sons). Various suitors such as Count Boni de Castellane and Gaston Bonnefoy, were reported to be engaged or interested in her, particularly after her divorce.
The Extravagant French Riviera Villas
Even before becoming King of the Belgians, Leopold II discovered the breathtaking beauty of the Côte d’Azur. In 1895, the king stayed at the Grand Hôtel de Nice, and purchased a big property in Villefranche.
Léopold II first became interested in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat in 1899. He initially bought a small villa (which today is called Ibéria) close to the Passable area, with a private port which allowed him to moor his yacht Clementine during his trips to the Cote d’Azur.
From this time, his purchases became gigantic. He paid people to investigate the area and to find pieces of land for sale and the king used an intermediary to obtain the lowest price. To hide his extravagance from the citizens of Belgium, his purchases were not done in his name, but under companies.
After a few years, the king of Belgium found himself the owner of the whole of the west side of the Cap Ferrat — more than 50 hectares. Fortunately, Leopold is only a footnote on today’s Cap Ferrat, where his legacy is buried in the past and where the beauty of the villas live on despite their provenance. Here are the stories behind the two most significant villas:
La Leopolda in Villefranche Sur Mer
Purchased by King Leopold II of Belgium in 1902, it Villa Leopolda stands on a 50-acre estate on some of the most expensive land on the French Riviera. Described as the third-largest home in the world, the sprawling property has 19 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, multiple swimming pools, a bowling alley, a movie theater and an twenty-acre orchard of olive and fruit trees that require a team of 50 full-time gardeners just to care for it. The villa is not only known to have the best sea views in the south of France, but it also sits on 10 acres of immaculate grounds that run right down to the resort of Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Later, the villa was owned by a woman who made her money through inheritance from two husbands who were murdered under very suspicious circumstances, leaving many to believe that she killed them. She went from living in poverty in Brazil, to living in Monaco as one of the world’s wealthiest women.
Here’s the incredible story behind this villa: Villa Leopolda and Murder in a Monaco Penthouse.
Les Cèdres in Cap Ferrat
Despite turning Les Cèdres into a paradise, King Leopold II chose to live in Monaco instead, and Cap Ferrat became home to his teenage mistress. Cap Ferrat was the ideal spot for an illicit love affair, well-hidden from prying eyes. The King set Blanche up at the ex-villa Vial at Passable, renamed the “Radiana” until his expansion and renovation project was completed and it was renamed to “Les Cèdres”. A golden prison with panoramic sea views lost in the midst of luxuriant vegetation. Blanche spent her days at Les Cèdres alone, waiting for her royal lover who forbade her to go out or to receive other visitors.
Later, the villa was sold for €200 million (it had been on the market for €1 billion) to an oligarch who is a known crime boss, suspected of murder, but who fled to Monaco to escape prosecution in the Ukraine.
Here’s the whole story behind this villa: Villa les Cèdres, a Murderous Oligarch, and a Cruel King.
Want more? Here’s a list of famous villas, the celebrities who owned them, and the crazy things that happened there.