While sailing around the Dodekanese with the Italian Governor, Count Alessandro de Bosdari, Gilbert met Count Elim Demidoff and his wife. “The Prince and Princess are very nice people of that sort. He was educated at Eton”
The Demidoffs were immensely rich Russian industrialists and landowners. Their ancestors manufactured iron and steel weapons for the Russian army and owned copper and malachite mines. Members of the family had moved to Paris and Florence and became prominent arts patrons. Nikolai Demidoff as Ambassador to Tuscany established a silk factory there and was ennobled as the Count of San Donato. When his younger son Anatoly married Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, Napoleon’s niece, in 1840, Anatoly was made Prince of San Donato so that his wife would not lose her royal title. When he died without legitimate children, his title passed to his older brother’s son, Pavel. His first wife died two days after the birth of their son, Elim, in 1868.
Elim Demidoff married Countess Sophia Hilarionovna in 1893. Tsar Nicholas II appointed him as Ambassador to Greece, the last Tsarist Ambassador as it turned out, since the appointment ceased with the Russian revolution in 1917, when the family would have lost the basis of its fortune.
Weeks after meeting them, in August 1, Gilbert accepted an invitation to lunch at the Demidoff’s house in Athens. “Quite a good lunch and a lovely house. He is nice but not very intelligent, she charming. … . Demidoff said that he was very surprised to find out how anti-French all the Italians were.”
In 1923, Demidoff arranged the marriage of his step-sister’s son, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, to Princess Olga of Greece, a daughter of Prince Nicholas, but the Greek royal family was forced into exile itself until 1936.
Although the family had villas and art collections in Paris and Florence, Elim and his wife remained living in exile in Greece for the rest of their lives until he died there in 1943 and she in 1953; they are buried in the Russian Orthodox Church in Athens. He was succeeded in the title by his half-brother Anatoly who died in Marseilles later in 1943.
For a man once considered one of the world’s richest men, little has been written about Elim Demidoff. One wonders why he did not join his half-brother and sisters in France and Florence.