Review: An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew by Annejet van der Zijl


Allene Tew

On Saturday, a second American actress became a Princess. First Grace Kelly back in the 1950s and over the weekend, LA’s own Meghan Markle married Prince Harry, grandson of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth. But, back in the day– way, way back in the day of “between the wars,” another American became a very minor German princess. And, later still, she married a Russian Count. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Women born in the 1870s who wanted the good life had one option: Marry Well. Allene was the child of a less-successful younger son but made up for that flaw by marrying money at a very young age. Divorces followed in 3 of the five marriages. One marriage was for love (the middle one) and one husband survived her. As she put it “The first two married her for her looks, the third for love and the last two for money.” While that’s a high number of marriages (paraphrase, p. 225-226), I believe she got the reasons right.

Allene was amazingly resilient. Her attitude was simple–just get on with it! She didn’t have time to wish for what might have been or to look back at what might have been lost. She just went forward. While one set of in-laws thought her a gold-digger, she had a lot of genuine concern for those she came to love. For example, continued to take care of her stepson until her death, and left him most of her huge estate in a will contested by her own family. Mind you, she made sure to leave his bratty sister out of it completely! A realist. [Note: I loved that she found the Duke of Windsor to be a bore!]

This Book

While Allene’s life WAS interesting, this book was basically a beach or poolside read. I knocked it out in a few hours. The writing may have lost something in the translation–it was written in Dutch and translated into English. Lots of cliches and a tone not normally used in a biography unless it is of a movie star or other celebrity.


Prince Bernhard


Far more interesting to me than Allene herself, was the story of her young, minor-German-princeling-protege, Bernhard von Lippe-Beisterfeld, the one-time Dutch Prince Consort and father of now “retired” Queen Beatrix. Who is again styled as “Princess Beatrix” in her retirement).  ([The author has also written a dissertation and a book on him.] I hope IT has been translated–that would be a good read based on what she presented of him in this book.]

The 1930’s the Dutch were having a difficult time marrying off their the heir to the throne. If she failed to marry and produce an heir then the succession would be in jeopardy. (The same thing had happened in a previous generation for the same reason.) Juliana wasn’t really pretty and was certainly not slim. Very much like another stout Princess– Mary Adelaide of Great Britain a.k.a. ‘Fat Mary,” (Queen Victoria’s cousin, Queen Mary’s mother), a suitably impoverished Prince wanting an easy life had to be found.  In strolls Allene Tew, now familiar with the German minor-aristocracy from her marriage to Henrich Ruess,  to play matchmaker. This is perhaps her “finest hour.”

The similarities between THIS courtship and that of Meghan Markle was astonishing!

See what you think:

“The princess [Juliana of the Netherlands] was now head over heels in love with the charming, worldly young man who had appeared in her life so unexpectedly. [Dutch Queen] Wilhelmina, too, had received a ‘very good impression’ of him…..The fact that neither of them had yet met any of the potential husband’s family member or friends was of little consequence given the relief that there was finally a serious candidate for Juliana’s hand. ‘Beggars can’t be choosers,’ as the Dutch ambassador in Berlin summed up the matter.” (p. 166) 

“The engagement of the Dutch princess was made public on September 8, 1936. It was considerably earlier than had been intended, Bernhard and his mother clearly didn’t want to run any risks that the union might be called off, and they’d had the news leaked through a journalist friend….. Juliana and her mother met Armgard, Bernhard’s mother for the first time.” (p. 169)



Allene Tew, Countess Kotzebue as she was then known, as a godparent to Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands.

An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew is on sale for Kindle for $5.99.




One silly mistake, possibly due to translation: she mentions meeting someone in an Army Jeep before they were invented.


4 thoughts on “Review: An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew by Annejet van der Zijl

  1. I ended up enjoying it more than I expected. I listened to the audiobook. What a complicated life and woman, and this story is as much about her as about that era.

    Liked by 1 person

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