COUNTESS MONA BISMARCK
Countess Mona Bismarck, born Mona Strader in 1899 in Louisville, grew up in the legendary Bluegrass region of Kentucky, in the American tradition of a Southern gentlewoman. In her own words, 'I was brought up in a very 18th century fashion - good manners first, and embroidering and sewing which, I suppose, girls are not taught in these days.'
Young, beautiful and unattached, Mona never lacked for suitors. Her first marriage, in 1917, to a prosperous Milwaukee businessman, Henry Schlesinger was followed only a year later by that to a wealthy executive, James Irving Buch, who was said to be 'the handsomest man in America'. What astonished many people, however, was her sudden marriage in 1926 to Harrison Williams, an Ohio-born financial wizard twenty-four years her elder and one of the richest men in America.
Immediately after the wedding, the Williams took off on a round-the-world cruise on their magnificent steam yacht, the Warrior. Fulfilling the dreams of her childhood to travel the world, Mona developed a particular love for Chinese porcelain, and became quite an expert in antiques. More notably, however, soon after returning from these travels in 1927, Mona found herself the idol of the New York social set. She received wide public attention for her eminence in the fashion world, culminating in being unanimously voted 'the best dressed woman in the world' by the greatest fashion designers in 1933 - a title held in consecutive years by the Duchess of Windsor and Elsie Wolfe... Mona was destined to become a fashion reference for her era.
Cruising in the Mediterranean on the Warrior, Mona discovered the island of Capri and, on it, the house of her dreams: Fortino, a palace dating back to Roman times, commanding a superb view of the Bay of Naples. More than the house, it was the development of the immense gardens that engaged Mona's talents and energy. She worked side by side with her gardeners almost every day.
Mona's friends included monarchs and ex-monarchs, including the Windsors, the Shah of Iran and Princess Grace of Monaco, tycoons like J.P. Morgan and Aristotle Onassis and statesmen, such as Sir Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Pope John XXIII, and President Eisenhower.
After Harrison Williams' death, at the age of eighty, Mona was left with a vast fortune. She shared her life to a considerable extent with Count Edward Bismarck, the grandson of Germany's Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, and in 1953, Mona announced their marriage. They remained married until the Count's death fifteen years later.
The Bismarcks applied themselves vigorously and blissfully to the adornment of the Capri villa, also entertaining in Paris, at their luxurious apartment in the historic Hotel Lambert, and later at the town house along the Seine. Mona was again widowed in 1970, and married Count Umberto de Martini in 1971. She spent her final years between Capri and Paris, in the houses dearest to her.