Bruce Condé – Enigmatic Tangier American

TALIM Bruce Conde Photo in Yemen2013 is the centenary of Bruce Conde's birth, not that anyone is marking it.  Conde passed away in Tangier in 1992, not altogether anonymously: The Independent provided a detailed obituary written by Alan Rush, and he was no doubt missed by his friends.  Here, Conde friend and then Tangier expat Graeme Steel provides his memories of Conde, who the Miami News once described as "a new Lawrence of Arabia" during his exploits on the losing monarchist side of Yemen's civil war in the Sixties.  Left: photo of Bruce Conde, courtesy Graeme Steel.

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Yes, I knew Bruce rather well (we called him Bruce, but he signed himself as H.S.H. Abdurrahman B.A. de Bourbon, Prince of Conde).  Just before I left Tangier in 1989 I was helping him on his book on the Battle of the Three Kings by taking photographs of the battle sites and extant remains, which were mostly around the town of Ksar-el-Kebir and Larache.  We travelled and stayed for days. I am sure the book was never published, but I saw the manuscript and it was well nearly completed. I kept in touch with him and saw him a few months before he died of cancer in Tangier in 1992.

When he came to Tangier he was stateless but had joined up with the Knights of Malta Ecumenical and membership of that organization entitled one to a "diplomatic" passport (of no legal standing I gathered) and amazingly he had used this passport to enter Ceuta and the authorities had fallen for it and stamped it on both sides of the border. He also had a stateless persons document from Lebanon (he had fled there after the debacle in Yemen) and he showed me this – a long concertina like document. I do recall that he was granted the honour of the Knights of Malta Ecumenical through his friendship with a man called Alexis Brimeyer, who lived in Spain and was senior in the organization.

In 1984 in Nador (I think) he married Beatrice Dolgorouky, who claimed to have been descended from the Russian / Ukrainian royal families. Bruce adopted Alexis, who was her son. Alexis spent all his time attempting to prove his connection to European royalty. All these extraordinary procedures were some sort of deal arranged to help him with his paperwork. Beatrice did not live with him and I think she returned to Spain. Interestingly enough, through Alexis, Bruce had managed to get some meagre Spanish pension, which may have been a main reason for marrying Beatrice as I think she had Spanish citizenship.

One thing I do know is that he felt stuck in Tangier and unable to cross over to Spain where he could get a full pension (maybe he thought the Spanish would smell a rat with the phony diplomatic passport).  Apparently Bruce had renounced his American citizenship in the 50s when he came to Yemen, converted to Islam and become the Postmaster General, later joining the Royalist forces in the North Yemen Civil War, made rank of General (Bruce wore his Yemeni uniform with full battle honours at his wedding, and his bride was dressed rather regally).

Bruce became romantically entangled with a Tangier Moroccan man. He rented a house for this young man and invested his meager savings in setting up a photographic developing business for him. As often happens in these relations of great economic disparity he was rather taken advantage of and Bruce found himself eventually relegated to an outhouse on the roof, while the family lived in greater comfort below. Bruce had a wonderful collection of old Yemeni memorabilia including a fine silver framed portrait of himself as a general on a tank in the Yemen war.  He also had albums of stamps which he had designed when he headed the country's philatelic office including printing masters. It was a valuable collection I am sure. When Bruce died the young man tried to sell Bruce's things, but in some sort of pique burnt all or some of his things…

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Graeme Steel's account appears to settle the question that has intrigued us since first hearing about Bruce Conde: did he leave any papers behind?  One researcher wondered whether the Legation had been the repository of any of his writings, and our search turned up nothing.  The internet turns up bits and pieces: a list of Bruce Conde's voluminous philatelic articles; an image of a postcard from postwar Japan, giving his US military return address; an account of his fitful presence in Lebanon.

In his obituary of Conde, Alan Rush wrote of "his astonishingly detailed knowledge of things Arabic, Islamic and royal but also of his knack of manipulating facts in order to wrap myths around his own persona."

Bruce Conde's royal pretensions may have come from whole cloth, but the nature of his real life – his World War II service, and later his fighting on behalf of the Yemeni king – provided more than enough color.  Maybe some day we'll find some space on our walls for this American "Lawrence" in Arabia Felix.

TALIM Bruce Conde Miami News

Gerald Loftus

7 thoughts on “Bruce Condé – Enigmatic Tangier American”

  1. Dear Graeme Steel
    Thank you very much for the comments about Bruce Condé.
    There are aspects that help to clarify doubts on complex aspects of his biography, while confirming the intrigue of the loss or disappearance of documents that are supposed should be with him prior to his death.
    I am gathering information to help me write a biography of Bruce Condé. I live in Spain, where I had the pleasure of meeting some friends of Condé. I would appreciate any information concerning his life in Tangier or elsewhere.
    Graeme, having been near Condé would like to contact you to share information.
    My e-mail is @
    Best wishes

  2. He got a Sharjah passport in 1961, while he was in Lebanon, then by using it, he arrived in Sharjah. I guess, he used this passport to fly to Yemen!

  3. Did Bruce Condé eventually acquire Spanish, Morroccan or any other nationality? I am asking this because I was wondering on which passport Condé was travelling when visiting his friend Theo Klewitz in Fulda, Germany. Theo Klewitz was born in 1915 and died on 29 November 2004. He was a Yemen specialist for many decades, and he is rumoured to have manufactured a lot of Yemen material together with Condé behind closed doors. But perhaps this was even before 1970 – did Condé travel on a Yemeni passport then?

  4. Hello,
    I appreciate your article and link to his stamp articles. The philatelic articles that he wrote in the 1950s are especially interesting for his capturing some of the changes that went on in the Middle East.
    Best wishes,

  5. Nina, it is highly likely that the book was the property of Bruce Conde as he often styled himself “Bruce Alfsono Bourbon de Conde”, one of several variant titles he used. I don’t believe he ever stepped on American soil again after the late 50s, so presumably the book was one he had there before he left for a life abroad. Bruce’s claim of royal connections first came through his mother Margaret Bruce (born 1887 at Santa Cruz, California and died in 1913 five days after Bruce’s death). Margaret claimed descent from Louis I of France. On June 29th, 1939, Bruce Chalmers obtained a judgment of the Superior Court for Alameda County, California, changing his last name to Bourbon-Condé. Under that name he served in the US Army Air Corps in W.W.II and in the Korean War on General Ridgeway’s staff. The book you have was published in 1912, and Bruce was born in 1913, so presumably he came by the book later and put his book plate in it. Of course it may have belonged to his parents first. The connection with Concord Mass. is a mystery, but who knows where your bookseller sources their stock?

  6. Hello,
    I read the recent article about Bruce Conde with interest because about twenty years ago, in an antique store in Concord, Massachusetts, I bought a book that had been placed in a dusty old discount book bin. The book contains the armorial bookplate of Bruce de Bourbon Conde. Could this be the bookplate of your Bruce Conde? The 5″ x 4″ plate is on minty green laid paper and bears a very simplified resemblance to the armorial of the Bourbon Restoration. It looks like something that Conde might have designed himself.
    At the time, I bought the book for its title and provenance, not for the bookplate because I’d never heard of Bruce Conde 20 years ago. The title is “My Friends at Brook Farm (1912), which was authored by John van der Zee Sears, the last known survivor of Brook Farm. As you probably know, Brook Farm was a utopian community founded in the 1840s by several luminaries of American Transcendentalism. It was immortalized by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his novel “Blithdale Romance.” My copy of Sears’ book is inscribed by him in 1913 to Mrs. Cornelius Kirby Brown. Sears identifies himself as a “old time pupil of her mother at Brook Farm.” He apparently is referring to Georgiana Bruce Kirby, who spent 4 years at Brook Farm and later began a career in teaching.
    I have no idea how this book could have come into the possession of Bruce Conde, if the owner of the bookplate is indeed the Bruce Conde in the article. Can you shed any light on this?
    Sincerely yours.
    Nina Allen
    Cambridge, Massachusetts

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