Legend Princess Cantacuzene
Princess Balasa (Marie Blanche) Cantacuzene
Date: 9 June 1920
Daughter of Roumanian Prince Leon Cantacuzene and sister of Prince Gregoire Lwovitch Cantacuzene, Councellor at the Embassy, London
Legend Princess Helene Cantacuzene
Princess Helene Cantacuzene
Date: 9 June 1920
Daughter of Roumanian Prince Leon Cantacuzene and sister of Prince Gregoire Lwovitch Cantacuzene, Councellor at the Embassy, London.
Could these society beauties possibly be Patrick Leigh Fermor's 'first great love', Bala?a, and her sister? The original source of these photos is the Lafayette Negative Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. For Balasa see -
Biog: Daughter of Roumanian Prince Leon Cantacuzene and sister of Prince Gregoire Lwovitch Cantacuzene, Councellor at the Embassy, London.
"Of course I knew Helene Cantacuzino, married to Constantin Donici. She was a very agreeable person, very cultivated and full of fantasy. She died at 80 in Puciora, a small town not far from Targoviste. She had become a very popular and able teacher of English and French to children and students whom she pulled through their classes up to university.
The local authorities had a great respect for her and she was always provided with excellent food. I used to come for the weekend in Puciora where she had passed through great difficulties until she started using her knowledge of foreign languages." [Princess Ileana Sturdza]
Date: [9 June 1920]
Occasion: Publicity photograph prior to presentation at Court, 10 June 1920.
Location: The Lafayette Studio, 160 New Bond St., London, W.
Helene appears in three poses.
Can we connect these girls to Patrick Leigh Fermor?
The date of the photographs, June 1920, seems exceedingly early. Balasa can scarcely have been younger than 15 when the photograph was taken, but probably rather older. That would put the year of her birth as 1905 or earlier. Sir Patrick was born in February, 1915, (my father was born in August of the same year), so the Balasa of the photographs was at least 10 years older than Paddy.
Nonetheless a direct link exists. Princess Ileana Sturdza ['Ileana' is the Romanian form of 'Helen'] is quoted as saying that Helene's husband was Constantin Donici. And Artemis Cooper mentions the same gentleman (see Part 3). The Balasa of the photographs is the very "Bala?a Cantacuzčne" to whom this series is dedicated. Lafayette confirms that she was a painter.
Alan Dobie as Prince Andrei
There are a variety of startling consequences. Bala?a and her sisters were genuine Princesses - though not, perhaps, in the British sense, denoting royaly, but rather in the European sense denoting nobility. Compare "Prince Andrei Bolkonsky" in War and Peace. Although Paddy came from a distinguished family - his father was an important scientist - I don't believe that the Leigh Fermors were aristocracy.
Secondly, the two sisters were in London in 1920 and were presented at court. Paddy wrote of the sisters that they were "Sent to school in France and England and finished and brought out all over the place". Still, in my understanding, that is rather short of being presented at court.
Thirdly, the girls' father was Prince Leon Cantacuzene, and their brother was Prince Gregoire Lwovitch Cantacuzene, a Councellor at the Romanian Embassy in London. It may have been through the latter connection that the sisters were presented at court in London.
Fourthly, the family. The English "Cantacuzene" comes from "Cantacuzčne", the French form of the Romanian "Cantacuzino". Paddy writes "Cantacuzčne" - the family used the French language among themselves, the high-status language of culture and diplomacy.
Sarcophagus of Princess B?la?a Cantacuzino
The Cantacuzino family is one of Romania's most famous. Paddy mentioned 'a handsome great-grandfather called Prince George Cantacuzčne, in a Byronic Greek general's costume and scimitar, taking the surrender of the Pasha of Monemvasia'. His home was possibly Baleni, but the family boasted many other famous and notable members. One of these was a "Princess B?la?a Cantacuzino", whose sarcophagus is kept in the National Museum of Romanian History.
Moreover, the family claims to have its roots even deeper in the past, in the Byzantine Greek emperor John VI Kantakouzenos. The Byzantine historian, Anna Komnena, recorded that a General Na. Cantacuzino led Byzantine troops at the siege of Antioch during the First Crusade.
Today, sadly, the family survives mainly in Western Europe. There's a family tree at
which may be viewed using the 'magnify' tool. But I can't find Bala?a or Helene there.
Fifthly, Princess Ileana Sturdza confirms the hardship the sisters endured until they "started using her knowledge of foreign languages", as the Princess puts it. She identifies Puciora, a small town not far from Targoviste, in Wallachia, as their domicile. Puciora seems utterly obscure and I can find no further details.
And so the search has turned up these surprises. Perhaps further details of the Princess will emerge.
Part 1Between the Woods and the Water Part 2 Dalrymple's Review of Words of Mercury Part 3Rumania-Travels in a Land before Darkness Fell (a) before the War Part 4Rumania-Travels in a Land before Darkness Fell (b) after the War