(1870 – 5 Oct 1917)
Georgianna "Anna" Robinson was a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Robinson who operated Minneapolis' old Grand Opera Hotel on First Avenue. In about 1893 Anna and her sister, Margaret, left Minneapolis for New York City and their parents later followed them. Anna began as an artist's model but soon appeared on the stage in The Kentucky Girl where her beauty brought her many followers. She became best-known to American audiences in Shenendoah. For a while she was the mistress of American attorney and composer Joseph Redding. On her first European tour her admirers were said to include the King of Belgium and the dissolute Duke of Manchester.
Anna met in Monte Carlo a fellow actor known as "James Erskine" but who was actually James Francis Harry St. Clair-Erskine, the 5th Earl of Rosslyn (16 March 1869 – 10 August 1939), who had obtained a Scottish divorce from his first wife in 1902. His sisters were society hostess Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland, as well as the Countess of Westmoreland. He was a half-brother of the famous beauty, Daisy, Countess of Warwick, who had been a long-standing mistress of the Earl's close friend, King Edward VII, when the king was Prince of Wales.
Erskine served as a soldier with Thorneycroft's Horse at the relief of Ladysmith then was a war correspondent for the London Daily Mail during the South African War. After serving briefly as an editor of Scottish Life, Erskine took to the stage. He married in 1890 Violet Vyner, by whom he had a son and a daughter, but she divorced him for desertion in 1902, the same year in which he appeared on the New York stage in a small role in There's Many a Slip. The production was also the first American appearance of British ingénue Beatrice Irwin who was soon engaged to Erskine. The engagement was called off and Irwin went to Canada while Erskine returned to London where he had a small part in a Pinero play.
Although the Earl inherited 3,400 acres of land along with his titles, his gambling debts were legendary. He was declared bankrupt in 1897 (when a trust was established to look after his estate) and was the first hereditary peer to take to the stage to make his living. By his own estimate toward the end of his life, he admitted to squandering more than £250,000 on horse races and in the card rooms. It was only because he was bankrupt that he was prohibited from taking his seat in the House of Lords. As he later said, "I ended up in Bankruptcy Court. I cannot understand it because I seemed to be winning always." In 1900 he wrote his recollections of the Boer War but later took the book off the market because of his inferences of gross misbehavior on the part of the British military at Sannah's Post. In 1928 he wrote his self-congratulatory memoirs, My Gamble With Life, "strictly for money," and was unapologetic for the resulting scandal over his lack of remorse.
Despite his financial situation, Anna Robinson married on 20 March 1905 in London the 5th Earl of Rosslyn. She had been frugal with her earnings as an actress and acquired a significant amount of savings. She lent her husband £1,000 to lease Scotland's Thurso Castle and to entertain there. She also later testified that, at the time of their marriage, she settled upon him "a generous sum of money... and often paid other sums for him." In the same year that Lord Rosslyn married Anna Robinson, his younger brother, Alexander, married an American, Winifrede Baker, daughter of Henry William Baker of California.
The Earl's memoirs state that he "accepted blindly [Anna's] statement that she had a house in London and sufficient money added to mine to keep us alive until we made good on the stage." He blatantly lied in insisting that, after two days of marriage, they never saw one another again until their divorce trial. His credibility already in doubt, Lord Rosslyn declared in his book that Anna was "a drug fiend and addicted to drink." At one point in the marriage, a shipment 32 cases of wine was delivered to their door at Thurso. Anna was eventually forced to pay for the wine even though it was ordered by her husband, and she was said to remark upon delivery, "See, it is addressed to me. Your credit isn't good enough," although she later insisted that what she actually said was, "I don't think it nice to have boxes of wine all sent in my name." Anna also was forced to pay her husband's gambling debts. Finally bowing to the inevitable, she obtained a Scottish divorce from the Earl of Rosslyn in July of 1907. At the time he was living in Paris and, after the divorce, was served writs for large amounts of money lent to him by his wife. The Earl unsuccessfully appealed the divorce and never repaid the debts to Anna.
In 1908 the 5th Earl of Rosslyn married the much-younger Vera Bayley and they had two sons and a daughter. [...] Anna Robinson went through all her savings and finally returned to New York, virtually penniless, in 1915. She attempted a return to the stage but was unsuccessful, eventually sinking into penury. In 1917 her friends took her to the New York Hospital where she was transferred to the psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital after she had been adjudged insane. On 5 October, Anna Robinson, formerly Countess of Rosslyn, died in the Manhattan State Hospital for the Insane. She was 47.
Minneapolis showgirl Anna Robinson's fairy tale lost its happy ending
By Curt Brown, Star Tribune
SEPTEMBER 5, 2015 – 4:33PM
James Erskine, the Earl of Rosslyn, and Anna Robinson had a short but high-profile marriage.
The front page of the Minneapolis Journal on March 21, 1905, included a story about a Wayzata man committing suicide "in preference to a lingering death of consumption [tuberculosis]." Two men were indicted in the slaying of little Freddie King at Mingo's saloon in Columbia Heights. And the War Department was poised to approve an extension of the streetcar line to Fort Snelling.
But the big headline of the day, in all capital letters, announced: MINNEAPOLIS GIRL IS AN EARL'S BRIDE, above pictures of the mustachioed Earl of Rosslyn and his new wife: Anna Robinson, a former scullery maid turned showgirl, actress and frequent gossip target from New York to Paris.
The quiet London wedding, on a Monday, stayed anything but quiet – making papers across the country. Her hometown Journal dropped in all kinds of juicy tidbits: Anna's affair with Belgium's King Leopold, her gambling hot streaks in Monte Carlo, the "pint of diamonds" that her countless suitors had bestowed upon her.
"The countess is a brunette, tall, stately and with a distinct patrician bearing." the newspaper said.
She enjoyed Paris the most because, she said, "Counts and Barons pelt you with gifts and diamonds. In New York, they step on your toes on the streetcars or drunken cabmen take you to the wrong street."
Paris and New York came after Robinson spent her first 23 years in Minneapolis, where she was born in 1870. Her father died before she turned 15 and her widowed mother rented a dwelling in 1885 on First Avenue North and Fourth Street. She took on boarders, and Anna and her sister, Margaret, made beds, washed dishes and waited tables.
As the boardinghouse business picked up, the Robinsons moved to the St. Leon Hotel on Marquette Avenue. The Grand Opera House and Bijou theaters weren't far and Anna would stop by to lure traveling troupes to stay at their hotel.
"The expression 'gold digger' had not been coined as a synonym for a scheming woman in those days," journalist Merle Potter wrote in 1931. "But Anna Robinson set out to entrap the hearts of men and befuddle their heads with no higher purpose than her own selfish interests."
Potter quoted C.A. Parker of the Grand: "She came to me as coldblooded as anyone could be and said she knew she was beautiful. She said her mirror told her she could have men at her feet and that she intended to use her lure and her physical charm for that purpose."
By 1893, Anna and Margaret were off to New York, where their mother followed and opened an inn for the theater crowd. Anna is sometimes described as a chorus girl, but she also landed roles in theater productions. She would return to Minneapolis to act but before long went on to Europe.
A former soldier in the Royal Horse Guard and a war correspondent in South Africa for the London Daily Mail, James Erskine (aka the Earl of Rosslyn) tried his hand at acting. He landed a New York role in an ironically titled play, "There's Many a Slip," in 1902 – the same year he divorced his first wife and before his second engagement fizzled a couple of years later.
His royal blood helped him inherit a 3,400-acre estate, but his gambling debts mounted.
"I ended up in Bankruptcy Court," he would write in his 1928 memoir, "My Gamble with Life." "I cannot understand it because I seemed to be winning always."
Proud of his conquest, the Earl took his new Minnesota wife to all the hot spots in 1905: Vienna, Venice, Monte Carlo.
By 1907, though, the couple were locked in a nasty divorce in Scotland. The Earl insisted he "accepted blindly [Anna's] statement that she had a house in London and sufficient money added to mine to keep us alive until we made good on the stage."
He called her a "drug fiend and addicted to drink." Among the items in dispute: a 32-case shipment of wine to the castle they called home. He said she ordered the wine, using his name. She said his credit was so lousy, he used her name.
Their divorce, like their wedding, made newspapers around the globe.
Anna drifted around Europe, failing to resurrect her career and plowing through her money. She returned to New York in 1915 – "beaten, in poverty, a wretched remnant of the Anna Robinson who had made that proud boast in Minneapolis so many years before," according to Potter's 1931 profile.
Friends eventually led her to the psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital after a judge deemed her insane, according to a website that tracks Gilded Age women who married into nobility. She died Oct. 5, 1917, in the Manhattan State Hospital of the Insane. She was 47.
" ... unknown, penniless, and unwept," Potter wrote. "The coquette who had once swayed the heads of men died a pauper ....
"It would have been better, perhaps, if she had forever been a scullery maid. But Anna Robinson wanted to live and she lived the only way she knew."