Maurice de Forest

Maurice Arnold de Forest.JPG

Maurice Arnold de Forest (9 January 1879 – 6 October 1968) was an early motor racing driver, aviator and Liberal politician in the United Kingdom.[1]

Early lifeEdit

Born in Paris, in the Rue Legendre (in the 17th arrondissement), Maurice Arnold de Forest was reportedly the elder of the two sons of Edward Deforest/de Forest (1848-1882), an American circus performer, and his wife, the former Juliette Arnold (1860-1882).[2] He had a younger brother, Raymond (1880-1912).[2] The boys' parents died in 1882, while on a professional engagement in the Ottoman Empire, of typhoid.[2]

Sent to live in an orphanage, they were adopted on 16 June 1887 by the wealthy Baroness Clara de Hirsch (née Bischoffsheim), wife of banker and philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch, and given the surname de Forest-Bischoffsheim.[3] Baron and Baroness de Hirsch had lost to pneumonia, earlier that year, their only surviving child, Baron Lucien de Hirsch (1856-1887).[4] The de Forest children, however, have been identified as Baron de Hirsch's illegitimate sons by Juliette Arnold de Forest.[5]

Baron de Hirsch died in Hungary at the age of 64 in 1896. His widow Clara died three years later, on 1 April 1899. Maurice inherited his adoptive father's residence, Schloss Eichhorn (now known as Veveří Castle) near Brünn in Moravia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Maurice inherited from the Baroness 25,000,000 Francs, as well as her estates in Rossitz-Eichhorn. Baron de Hirsch had bought the estates in Rossitz (now Rosice) in 1881.[6]

Maurice de Forest-Bischoffsheim was educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford.[1] In 1899, he was awarded the title Freiherr von Forest by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.[7] According to the Court Circular, on 6 March 1899, "The Emperor of Austria has given the title of Baron De Forest to M. Arnold [De] Forest and to his brother M. Raymond De Forest, both the adopted sons of Baroness de Hirsch de Gereuth, widow of the late Baron de Hirsch." Both men inherited millions of dollars from Baroness de Hirsch upon her death.[8][9]

In the following year, he was naturalised to become a British citizen, and was authorised to bear the title Baron de Forest by royal licence.[10] He was commissioned into the Militia as a Second Lieutenant in the Prince of Wales's Own Norfolk Artillery (Eastern Division) on 25 August 1900.[11] He resigned his commission on 20 June 1903,[12] but this was later cancelled[13] and he became Second Lieutenant in the Staffordshire Imperial Yeomanry (Queen's Own Royal Regiment) on 4 July 1903.[14] He resigned this commission on 5 May 1906, by which time he was also an Honorary Second Lieutenant in the Army.[15]

De Forest converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism.

Churchill visited de Forest at his Lancashire home, Rosefield Hall, near Southport.[16] Churchill also spent much time on de Forest's yacht and stayed three times (in 1908 together with his wife during their honeymoon journey) at de Forest´s Schloss Eichhorn (Veveří Castle) in Moravia.[17]


De Forest was married twice, his wives being:

  • Mathilde Madeleine Rose Menier, née Letellier, the widow of chocolate magnate Albert Menier and a daughter of a French newspaper publisher.[18] They married in 1901 and had one daughter, Mabel Béatrix Clara Mary Magdalen de Forest (born 5 March 1902). The marriage was declared null and void by a decree of the Pope in 1902.[18]
  • Hon. Ethel Gerard, daughter of William Cansfield Gerard, 2nd Baron Gerard, whom he married in 1904 and divorced in 1911. They had two sons, Alaric de Forest and John de Forest (both later adopted the surname de Bendern).[18] The marriage broke down in January 1910, due to the baroness's adultery with a younger man.[18][1]

Motoring and aviationEdit

De Forest was an enthusiast for the emerging technologies of motor cars and aeroplanes. An accomplished motor racing driver, he competed in a number of major races including the Gordon Bennett Cup in auto racing.[19] From 1903–1905 he held the Daily Mail Challenge Cup, having attained a record speed over the flying kilometre at Phoenix Park, Dublin, breaking the world land speed record.[20][21][22][23]

In 1909 he offered the Baron de Forest Prize of £2,000 to the first Englishman who could fly across the English Channel in an English-built aeroplane. When a Frenchman, Louis Blériot successfully crossed the Channel in July 1909, he doubled the prize to £4,000. It was eventually won by Thomas Sopwith in December 1910.[24]

He was also a rider of the Cresta Run in St. Moritz where a cup was named after him.[25]


De Forest was active in the Liberal Party, and at the January 1910 general election stood as parliamentary candidate at Southport. Despite the support of Churchill, De Forest was defeated by his Conservative opponent, Major Godfrey Dalrymple-White in a campaign marred by racist slurs.[16]

In March 1910 he was elected to the London County Council as a member of the Liberal-backed Progressive Party, representing Kennington. He held the seat until 1913.[26]

In July 1911 a parliamentary by-election was called for the seat of West Ham North, and de Forest was chosen to defend the seat for the Liberals. In his election address he stated that he was in favour of land nationalisation, Irish Home Rule, revised licensing laws, female suffrage and equality of religion in education.[27] He retained the seat for the Liberal Party, with an increased majority.[28]

1911 West Ham North by-election[29] Electorate 16,504
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Liberal Baron Maurice Arnold de Forest 6,807 54.1 +0.5
Conservative Ernest Wild 5,776 45.9 -0.5
Majority 1,031 8.2 +1.0
Turnout 76.2 -3.1
Liberal hold Swing +0.5

He held the seat until the next general election in 1918.[1]

First World War and aftermathEdit

With the outbreak of war with Germany and Austro-Hungary in 1914, attempts were made to prosecute de Forest as an enemy sympathiser.[24] However, with Churchill's assistance, he was able to resist the pressure. He joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in 1914, subsequently serving in the Royal Naval Air Service Armoured Car Section.[1][17]

Following the war, a decision was taken that persons authorised to use titles granted by "enemy states" should have this right withdrawn. Accordingly, de Forest was requested to "voluntarily" relinquish his title. He initially refused to do so, but finally relented, and a royal warrant was issued on 16 January 1920 that relinquished "the rights and privileges" granted to him "in consideration of the fact that the said foreign titles of nobility appertain to Countries now or recently at war with Us". He became known as Maurice Arnold de Forest.[30]

The family estates in Moravia were confiscated by the new state of Czechoslovakia for which de Forest was paid £100,000 compensation.[1]

Later lifeEdit

In 1932 he was naturalised in Liechtenstein, was granted the title Count Maurice de Bendern, and was appointed a diplomatic counsellor to the principality in 1936.[31] De Bendern amassed a valuable art collection including a work by Frans Hals. He maintained a villa at Cap Martin, on the French Riviera, and Château de Beauregard, which contained an animal sanctuary. He died in Biarritz in October 1968, aged 89.[1]


His son John Gerard de Forest (Bendern) was a good amateur golfer and won The Amateur Championship in 1932. He married firstly Lady Patricia Sybil Douglas, daughter of Francis Douglas, 11th Marquess of Queensberry. Their children included Simon Frederick de Bendern, Emma Magdalen de Bendern, who married firstly journalist Nigel Dempster, secondly Giles Trentham and thirdly Prince George Galitzine,[32] and Caroline de Bendern, who married firstly saxophonist Barney Wilen[33] and associated with Olivier Mosset, Amanda Lear, Salvador Dalí,[34] Andy Warhol and Lou Reed.[33]

Vietnamese Nationalist Party (1929–1945) flag, waved by Caroline Bendern

On 13 May 1968, during the protests in Paris, Caroline de Bendern was photographed by Jean-Pierre Rey sitting on the shoulders of painter Jean-Jacques Lebel waving a North Vietnam flag. The photograph, named La Marianne de Mai 68, featured in the reports on the protests in Life causing her grandfather Count de Bendern to disinherit her.[35] Currently, she lives in Normandy with her partner jazz musician Jacques Thollot.[33]

21st centuryEdit

In 2013 Eurovision winner Emmelie de Forest claimed that Maurice was an illegitimate son of Edward VII (and that she is Maurice's granddaughter).[citation needed] The claim is considered extremely unrealistic by specialists.[citation needed]

Names and titlesEdit

  • Maurice Arnold Deforest, 1879-1887
  • Maurice Arnold de Forest-Bischoffsheim, 1887-1899
  • Maurice Arnold de Forest-Bischoffsheim, Freiherr von Forest, 1899-1920
  • Maurice Arnold de Forest-Bischoffsheim, Baron de Forest, 1900-1920
  • Maurice Arnold de Forest, 1920-1932
  • Maurice Arnold de Forest, Count de Bendern 1932-1968


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Obituary: Count De Bendern. Former Liberal MP". The Times. 8 October 1968. p. 14.
  2. ^ a b c Frischer (Dominique), Le Moïse des Amériques: Vies et œuvres du munificent baron de Hirsch, Grasset, Paris, 2002, pp. 247-248
  3. ^ Frischer (Dominique), Le Moïse des Amériques: Vies et œuvres du munificent baron de Hirsch, Grasset, Paris, 2002, pp. 247-248.
  4. ^ Frischer (Dominique), Le Moïse des Amériques: Vies et œuvres du munificent baron de Hirsch, Grasset, Paris, 2002, pp. 247-248. Lucien de Hirsch had one illegitimate daughter by Irène-Catherine Premelic, named Lucienne Irène Marie Premelic, who became Lucienne Premelic Hirsch (no particule) upon being adopted by her grandparents; she was later adopted by her grand-aunt Hortense Montefiore. Described in 1901 in A.M.F. Monthly as "the world's greatest heiress ... [and] strikingly handsome," Lucienne Premelic Hirsch married a German banker, Edouard Balzer, in 1904.
  5. ^ Samuel James Lee, Moses of the New World: The Work of Baron de Hirsch (T. Yoseloff, 1970), p. 197
  6. ^ Emmelie de Forest is NOT a great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria , royalmusings, 18 February 2013
  7. ^ of Ruvigny, Marquis, The Titled Nobility of Europe, 1914, p. 564.
  8. ^ Isidor Singer and Cyrus Adler, The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, Volume 6 (Funk and Wagnalls, 1912), p. 410
  9. ^ The American Jewess: A Sure Test, Volume 9, Issue: 4, May, 1899, pp. 16+
  10. ^ Home Office (December 1922). "Applications for Royal Licenses to use Foreign titles (HO 45/13725)". Francois Velde ( Retrieved 11 December 2010.
  11. ^ "No. 27226". The London Gazette. 4 September 1900. p. 5467.
  12. ^ "No. 27566". The London Gazette. 19 June 1903. p. 3852.
  13. ^ "No. 27572". The London Gazette. 3 July 1903. p. 4191.
  14. ^ "No. 27572". The London Gazette. 3 July 1903. pp. 4192–4193.
  15. ^ "No. 27910". The London Gazette. 4 May 1906. p. 3082.
  16. ^ a b Tom Duffy (26 March 2010). "The story of Baron de Forest who often entertained his friend Sir Winston Churchill at his home in Rosefield Hall (built in 1908 and originally named Hermons Hill)". Southport Visiter. Retrieved 11 December 2010.
  17. ^ a b Wrigley, Chris (2002). "Winston Churchill: a biographical companion". ABC-CLIO. p. 154. ISBN 978-0-87436-990-8.
  18. ^ a b c d "SLANDER ACTIONS IN LONDON HIGH LIFE; Baron de Forest Lays Bare in Vain His Family Skeleton" (PDF). New York Times. 16 April 1911.
  19. ^ "Englishman's Motor Races" (PDF). New York Times. 29 June 1902.
  20. ^ Montgomery, Bob. The Phoenix Park Speed Trials 1903. Dreolin Publications. ISBN 9781902773032.
  21. ^ "NEW AUTOMOBILE RECORDS; Baron de Forest Makes a Flying Kilometer in Dublin in 26 3-5 Seconds" (PDF). New York Times. 5 July 1903.
  22. ^ Lynch, Brendan (23 October 2003). "Britain's first international motor race". 8W. Retrieved 12 December 2010.
  23. ^ "Automobilism. The Brighton Motor Week". The Times. 22 July 1905. p. 7.
  24. ^ a b Gollin, Alfred M (1989). The impact of air power on the British people and their government, 1909-1914. Stanford University Press. pp. 74–76. ISBN 978-0-8047-1591-1.
  25. ^ St. Moritz Tobogganing Club, Annual Report, No. 90, 2009-2010, pp. 302 and 311.
  26. ^ "London County Council Election". The Times. 7 March 1910. p. 7.
  27. ^ "North West Ham". The Times. 27 June 1911. p. 13.
  28. ^ "The North West Ham Election. An Increased Liberal Majority". The Times. 10 July 1911. p. 7.
  29. ^ British parliamentary election results, 1885-1918, FWS Craig
  30. ^ Home Office (1920). "The revocation of royal licenses for holders of Austrian and German titles (HO 45/10964/383538)". Francois Velde ( Retrieved 11 December 2010.
  31. ^ Who Was Who, 1961-1970. A. and C. Black. 1972. p. 86.
  32. ^ The peerage.
  33. ^ a b c Divenni la Marianna del '68 Oggi le modelle vanno a destraCorriere della Sera
  34. ^ IMDb
  35. ^ Caroline de Bendern, égérie malgré elle, Les femmes de mai (in French), Elle, retrieved 18 December 2011

External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Charles Masterman
Member of Parliament for West Ham North
1911 – 1918
Constituency abolished