This is an extraordinary ‘rags to riches’ story. Mai Le Manac’h, daughter of the miller at Prat Guéguen in Belle-Ile-en-Terre, rose through an unconventional life to become Lady Mond, wife of the ‘nickel king’ millionaire Robert Mond. From a simple Breton childhood she came to enjoy enormous wealth and glamorous lifestyle, but she remained inextricably linked with Brittany and her roots.
She was born in 1869, leaving home as a teenager to seek her fortune first in St Brieuc and then in Paris. Here she entered the bohemian world of Montmartre, and this part of her life is little documented, but on record in 1893 is a charge of indecent exposure for showing herself naked in a restaurant.
She moved to London after starting a relationship with fruit and vegetable merchant Simon Gugenheim. They married in 1897 but the union was short-lived as he died of TB three years later. Mai now moved freely in wealthy circles, and met her next love at the Savoy Hotel. Becoming the mistress of the Infant of Spain, Antoine d’Orleans, fixed her place in high society, although it could never lead to a permanent tie. She returned to Brittany now and again, buying a house in Belle-Isle-en-terre.
|Chateau de Coat-an-Noz|
In 1910 she met rich industrialist Robert Mond, and this relationship was to last. They wed in 1922 and he was knighted by George V in 1932. As Lady Mond, Mai remained closely bound to her Breton origins. The couple established their home at the international resort of Dinard, at the mouth of the Rance, in the Chateau du Bec, which became known as 'Castel Mond'. They funded the first lifeboat for the town in 1924.
For Mai’s 60th birthday, however, her husband bought her the chateau on the edge of the Wood of the Night (Coat-an-Noz)at LocEnvel, near Belle-Isle. Many famous people were entertained here before the war, as Lady Mond was a patron of Breton culture. Contests of the gouren or Breton wrestling were also held as this sport was always of great interest to her. Until very recently this chateau could be seen in semi-ruined state, the palatial interior covered with graffiti. It is now being renovated and off-limits.
Widowed in 1938, Lady Mond was imprisoned in Guingamp for a while during the occupation, and the chateau seized by the Germans. Afterwards she decided to build a smaller chateau on the site of her father’s former mill in Belle-Isle-en-Terre. When this on completion was found to be too near the road, she had it knocked down and rebuilt ten metres back... Her generosity had already funded many public buildings there – the post office, town hall, village hall and police station.
She died in 1949 and was buried in a special mausoleum shared with her husband at Locmaria before her remains were later removed to England.