The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Prince Robert de Rohan Courtenay

November 12th, 2010 · 3 Comments

I don’t know much about Prince Robert de Rohan Courtenay.  He was, apparently, a familiar figure in Greenwich Village in the ’50s and ’60s; he claimed a number of grandiose titles, and was said to live in a cheap residential hotel around Times Square.  His name shows up in accounts of parties and funerals (he attended, for example, the services for Joe Gould and Hobo Dan O’Brien).  He was photographed by Diane Arbus, and featured in a portfolio in Harper’s Bazaar (November 1961).

I found some bits about him in an old issue of the Bowery News (#68, December 1960), and offer them here for those who, like me, are intrigued by the often overlooked history of New York City’s bohemian eccentrics.

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(Posted by Doug Skinner)

Tags: Ancient History · Eccentrics

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 angela // Nov 14, 2010 at 9:35 am

    This “Prince” was quite a character.

    His calling card was gorgeous and sadly, his prose is spot on.

    from: http://www.nysun.com/on-the-town/men-who-would-be-kings-or-knights-or-counts/15429/

    Finally, there are bogus noblemen. Prince Robert de Rohan-Courtenay, of Guthrie, Okla., claimed to be de jure Emperor of Byzantium. Profiled by Joseph Mitchell and photographed by Diane Arbus in top hat, cane, and medal-encrusted frock coat, the self-proclaimed “Successor of the Apostles in the God-Protected Throne of the Christian East” exemplified what the sociologists call dependent individualism: Rather than work for a living, he lived off welfare in a Times Square fleabag hotel. From 1970, Prince Robert M.N.G. Bassaraba de Brancovan-Khimchiachvili-Dadiani ran a bogus Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta from his faux-marble apartment (filled with equally genuine Louis XV furniture) at 116 Central Park South. If you had a passage fee, he had a gong for you, and hundreds of men and women with more money than sense each paid him up to $30,000 for his phony knighthoods.

    Prince Robert styled himself an “Imperial and Royal Highness.” This is not bad: A Roman Catholic cardinal is merely an eminence. In a program for one of his ceremonies, held at Manhattan’s Christ Church, he described himself as “Grand Master, Grand Chancellor, Grand Bailiff, and Grand Prior of the Knights of Malta.” This was a few years before the prince vanished after his 2001 indictment for wire fraud.

  • 2 Gail // Dec 6, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    another regal chap after my own heart…….in a place next to “Screaming Lord Sutch”

  • 3 Donald Traver // May 2, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Dear All,
    About 20 years ago NYC had a probate sale in one of their numerous warehouses. I had the great fortune of purchasing 30 original artworks, Paintings, watercolors and collages by Robert de Rohan Courtenay. Several works are in the photo graph by Arbus.
    Anyone interested in viewing just let me know. Cheers, Donald

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