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Marie-Hélène de Rothschild

Marie-Hélène de Rothschild (November 17, 1927 -March 1, 1996) was a French socialite who became a doyenne of Parisian high-society and was a member of the prominent Rothschild banking family of France.

Born Baroness Marie-Hélène Naila Stephanie Josina van Zuylen van Nyevelt in New York City, she was the eldest of the three children of Marguerite Namétalla (c.1905-1996) and Baron Egmont Van Zuylen van Nyevelt (1890-1960). Her mother was Egyptian, and her father a Dutch diplomat. Marie-Hélène's paternal grandmother was Baroness Hélène de Rothschild (1863-1947), the daughter of Baron Salomon James de Rothschild, who had married a Dutch Roman Catholic.

She was educated at Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York and after finishing school she went to Paris, where she met Count François de Nicolay, (1919-1963) whom she married in 1950. Their son, Philippe de Nicolay, was born in 1955 but the couple divorced the following year. She began dating her distant third cousin once removed Baron Guy de Rothschild, head of the de Rothschild Frères bank and they were married on February 17, 1957 in New York City. Their only child, Edouard Etienne Alphonse, was born at the end of December that year.

Her husband and his sisters, Jacqueline and Bethsabée, had been raised at the magnificent Château de Ferrières in the country outside of Paris. Seized by the Germans during the occupation of France in World War II, the château remained empty until 1959 when the newlywed Rothschilds decided to reopen it. Marie-Hélène took charge of refurbishing the huge château, making it a place where European nobility mingled with musicians, artists, fashion designers and Hollywood movie stars at grand soirées. Much talked about for the lavish and creative theme balls and charity fundraisers she organized both in Paris and New York, in 1973, she brought together five French couturiers and five American designers for a fashion show at the Théâtre Gabriel ([1]) in the Château de Versailles.

In 1975, Château de Ferrières was gifted to the chancellery of the universities of Paris by Guy and Marie-Hélène de Rothschild but they retained the home they had built in the woods surrounding the château. The couple purchased Hôtel Lambert on the Île Saint-Louis, one of the most luxurious mansions in Paris, where they took up residence in the top floors. Marie-Hélène became close friends with the socially prominent Baron Alexis de Redé who was a tenant on the first floor in Hôtel Lambert and who would be a fixture at her gatherings. In recognition of her importance in the promoting of French culture and fashion on an international level, Marie-Hélène de Rothschild was awarded the Legion of Honor.

After battling cancer and crippling rheumatoid arthritis for more than ten years, Marie-Hélène de Rothschild died in 1996 at her Ferrières country home, aged 68. She was buried in Touques, Calvados where for more than a century her husband's branch of the French Rothschild family has owned Haras de Meautry, a noted horse farm.

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