The Leiters: Comeuppance


Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener.

Megan Mosaics Picture


By Megan McKinney

Following the Boer War, Herbert Horatio Kitchener was made commander-in-chief of the Indian Army, which at first did not displease the viceroy, George Curzon, who was happy to have the famous soldier serving with him. Surrounding Kitchener was a group of aristocratic young officers known as the “band of boys,” and, although Kitchener was homosexual, there is no indication any of these men were.


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Kitchener, front row center, and some of the “boys.” Directly behind the commander-in-chief is Raymond Marker, who would have a key role in the downfall that was to come.

There were also other attractive young officers serving as aides-de-camp to Curzon; consequently when Nancy and Daisy Leiter visited, the young women caused significant flurry. Both of the vicereine’s sisters behaved in a flirtatious manner with the officers, who understandably fought to be with them, jockeying for position to sit next to the girls and referring to them as “sweet” and “funny.” At the time, it seemed light and innocent.


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Kitchener in 1902, outfitted for the pomp of the 1903 Coronation Durbar in Delhi, held to celebrate Edward VII’s accession to the throne.

A fundamental disagreement rose between Curzon and Kitchener regarding the position of the military member of the Council of India and the conflict escalated, with Kitchener determined to have military powers dominate the civil in governing the country. Coincidentally, Daisy had developed an attachment to Major Raymond “Conk” Marker, an officer in the Coldstream Guards and a Curzon aide-de-camp. Marker, in turn, fell deeply in love with her, and there was talk of an engagement. When Daisy cooled, the band of boys felt she had behaved dishonorably, and they felt even more strongly that the Curzons found Marker socially unsuitable as a brother-in-law, preferring a more prestigious marriage for Daisy.

It was a fertile emotional atmosphere for disastrous intrigue, with Kitchener convincing the major that he must leave India and go to London. There he became the commander-in-chief’s willing spy at Whitehall, and he followed instructions to send Kitchener all information involving India, in code, and by private mail.


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Major Marker is the ringed man on the right in this 1902 photograph before his departure for London and role as Kitchener’s Whitehall spy.

Consequently, with the jilted Marker conspiring, Kitchener gained the edge in his contest against the aristocratic Balliol scholar who had spent more than two decades designing his life to serve as India’s royal surrogate. The outcome was devastating, resulting in the sudden and complete wreckage of one of the greatest careers of the early 20th century.

The arrogant Curzon — feeling the India Office was favoring his rival — offered his resignation in August 1905. It was accepted immediately. The fall of the 46-year-old Curzon was indeed catastrophic; however, there was even greater heartbreak in store.

Although it was the latest shattering event in a tragic time for the Leiter family, Joe would go on to various grandiose schemes, including an attempt to buy the Great Wall of China.


Leiter great wall

But, less than a decade after his wheat corner, Joe convinced Levi to bankroll him in acquiring 8,000 acres of downstate Illinois. This personal fiefdom, christened Ziegler in honor of Levi’s middle name, was to be the site of a great coal center, a goal Joe achieved much to his eventual regret.



The Ziegler mine.

His corresponding agenda for the city, which he modeled on the circular design of Washington, D.C., was to somehow convince President Theodore Roosevelt to move the nation’s capital to the backwoods of southern Illinois, an endeavor that ended abruptly.


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Joe’s urban design for the downstate Illinois city, with the expectation it would become the nation’s capital.

During the first week of June 1904, 70-year-old Levi joined Mary Theresa in Bar Harbor, with plans to spend the summer with her there. Scarcely had he settled into the house she had taken for the season, when he suffered a heart attack. His death followed almost immediately. Levi had not been well for some time, but his sudden passing on June 9, although not unexpected, traumatized the family and brought a decisive close to the most grandiose of Joe’s plans for Ziegler. The nation’s capital would remain in Washington.


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Levi Ziegler Leiter.

The legacy of Levi Leiter was rich and complex. His will dictated that his fortune remain intact and a Leiter Trust be created to manage his holdings; its income would be shared by Mary Theresa and each of their four children. It further decreed that following the death of the last of the five, a liquidation trust was to be formed to dispose of the estate, with proceeds divided between living descendants. The document also elected Joe as manager of the Leiter properties, a decision that would produce bitter ramifications for the family two decades in the future.

But there was also an intangible aspect to the Leiter inheritance, the indelible personal characteristic that Levi had passed to his heirs many years before and had been in their blood since birth. It was the unrestrained ambition Levi shared with his wife — the determination and drive that had propelled the couple and their children to unimaginable heights — and which would continue to thrust them forward throughout their lives. The Leiter Trust would give his successors — and those they married and bore — the means to continue to pursue their goals, no matter how outrageous or disruptive they might be.


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Mary Theresa Leiter holding her eldest Curzon granddaughter, Irene. Mary Curzon is on the left.

The resilient Mary Theresa would soon recover from the loss of her husband to savor the realization of her dreams. The campaign on behalf of her daughters, which had seemed so absurd when it began many years earlier, was culminating — at least partially — in remarkable success. Thanks to the nudging of the Curzons during the last days of their Indian reign, Daisy and Nancy were both engaged to marry noble aides to the viceroy, and, although their weddings were low-key because of the family’s deep mourning, the marriages were not postponed.

On November 29, 1904, Nancy became the bride of the Scottish Major Colin Powys Campbell, first cousin of the Duke of Argyle. She and Colin had met in India in 1900 and became informally engaged that year. Although of noble birth, Colin did not bear the title Mary Theresa wished for each of her girls, creating an impasse that had delayed the wedding for four years throughout which her mother hoped Nancy’s attachment to Campbell would pass.

During the interval, Nancy’s fondness for all things British increased so intensely that The New York Times reported she was “in manner, speech and dress as English as though she had never been outside the British Isles, and is thoroughly informed on all political and social questions pertaining to that empire as to her native land.”

The noon wedding was held in the drawing room of the Dupont Circle house, with Joe giving his sister away; the only attendees were the bride’s mother, her sister Daisy, Daisy’s fiance, the Earl of Suffolk — who served as Colin’s best man — and Lord Suffolk’s sister Lady Katherine Howard. Nancy wore a severely styled dress of white silk, and her groom was dressed in the uniform of his rank. After a wedding breakfast, the newlyweds departed for the country house of friends who had left it at their disposal; they would remain there until after Daisy’s wedding a month later.


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The new Countess of Suffolk and Berkshire.

The December 26 wedding of Daisy to Henry Molyneux Paget Howard — who bore double titles, 19th Earl of Suffolk and 12th Earl of Berkshire — was a near duplicate of her sister’s, although Daisy’s attire was much less restrained. Her gown was an elaborate white satin Worth creation almost completely swathed in fine lace, and her veil secured by coronet of diamonds, part of a collection that soon would be hers. She also wore Mary Theresa’s gift, a long rope of priceless pearls worthy of an English countess. After a few days in New York’s Albemarle Hotel, the couple sailed for England on the Baltic, accompanied by Nancy and Colin.

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Mary convalescing from her mysterious 1904 illness.

Mary Curzon was unable to attend either of the weddings. The birth of three daughters in rapid succession had intensified her fragile constitution. Life in the Indian climate — where she was plagued by chronic migraine headaches and weakness — had brought further physical decline. And, during a visit to England earlier in 1904, she had become mysteriously ill, for a time appearing to be near death. Although she rallied and was able to return to India, her health fluctuated and she suffered from recurring phlebitis and general weakness. Following Curzon’s defeat and the final trip back to England, the family spent the winter of 1906 in the South of France, where Mary arrived with influenza and a cough. She was also experiencing heart trouble.

On June 12, the eve of the eighth anniversary of the breaking of Joe Leiter’s wheat corner, she wrote to her brother from England, “I sometimes fear and feel I shall never be well again.”

The tragic two years, which had begun in Levi’s death and continued with the fall of Curzon, reached a crescendo a little more than a month later.

On July 18, 1906, Mary Curzon suffered a heart attack and died in her husband’s arms. The beautiful young former vicereine was 36.


Leiter Curzon crypt

George was determined to honor Mary’s memory in the most concrete and monumental way possible. He ordered a  marble sculpture by Bertram Mackennal to cover her tomb, and he arranged for an elaborate chapel to house it built as an annex to the church at Kedleston. Although it was five years before his vision was realized, the result is impressive.


The Leiters: Chicago’s British Aristocracy, Megan McKinney’s series of articles on this remarkable dynasty, will continue in Classic Chicago over the next several weeks.

Next Sunday: Lives of Extraordinary Luxury

Author Photo:

Robert F. Carl