Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The Almack’s Patroness II

Queen Louise of Prussia

Prussian Interlude

In 1808 Christopher applied to transfer to the diplomatic core and the following year Alexander sent Christopher to escort fellow monarch, and unwilling ally of the French, King Frederick William III and his wife Queen Louise of Prussia[i] to St Petersburg for a visit. Queen Louise took a liking to Christopher and later in the year Alexander sent Christopher as Ambassador to Berlin. Dorothea accompanied him and was deeply unimpressed by Berlin society and the king who had;
‘Little strength of mind, and is as obstinate as a beast. He has been advised not to adopt too friendly an air towards us, and he follows this advice very carefully and even goes beyond it.’[ii]
Life in Berlin was boring according to Dorothea and she fell ill. But boredom was not to last for long. The death of the much admired Queen Louise, in July 1810, aggravated the Lievens’ task. But by the end of the year Alexander had extracted himself and the Prussians from Napoleon’s grip; the two countries planned to join with Britain in an anti-French alliance. In response Napoleon now turned his eye on Russia.
The Grand Armee crosses the Nieman
n the spring of 1812 Napoleon launched the
invasion of Russia; the Leivens left Prussia on 30th June 1812 as the French crossed the Nieman. Christopher was appointed Ambassador to the Court of St James in London. The family’s arrival in London made a great impact; Britain had been virtually cut off diplomatically for five years.
London’s high society was fascinated by the Lievens and at the first ball Dorothea and Christopher attended, Lady Jersey, mistress of the Prince Regent, climbed onto a chair to get a better look at the ‘white bear’. Dorothea was unimpressed with English society, so different from Russia, and her reserve put off those who wished to get to know the Russian ambassadress. Lady Granville wrote;
Lady Granville
‘It is everything that makes a person amiable which is wanting in her – gentleness, sweetness, cheerfulness, abnegation de soi. There is a great deal of decorum and propriety and I cannot believe any ardent feelings under it.’[iii]
Naturally the Lievens were extremely interested in the campaign back home, information about which seemed so much more vital and important than the peaceful country they found themselves in. Although England had been at war almost continually since 1793[iv], the fighting had not ravaged the English countryside and Dorothea viewed the English countryside as beautiful but the English themselves as sadly unemotional.  
Dorothea was fascinated and repelled by the antics of the elected members of parliament in the House of Commons. She was used to rule by an autocratic monarch and the idea of devolved rule was repugnant to her. Dorothea was, however, very much interested in the role of women in politics able to make good use of their influence. Dorothea, with her taste for the great and good, found the Whig grandees more to her taste than the Tories.


The Russian embassy in Harley Street[v] was not large enough to accommodate the Lieven family so they took a white house[vi] at Streatham Park[vii].
‘We are living very quietly, seeing people every day, for the distance from town is so trifling that we are easily reached, and our house is large enough to house a number of guests.’[viii]
While Christopher was welcomed by the politicians, Dorothea was finding it harder to break into society circles, much to the disgust of Count Nesselrode, the Czar’s State Secretary. But Dorothea was to find a friend in Harriet Granville, a sister of the Duke of Devonshire. Harriet took her new friend to view Chatsworth, which Dorothea approved of as ‘an establishment worthy of an emperor.’

Christopher and his staff were successful in obtaining subsidies from Castlereagh, the Foreign Secretary who persuaded the Commons to pay for Prussia to raise an army of 80,000 to fight against Napoleon; the Russians agreed to put 150,000 men on the field.
Carlton House
The Prussians, Russians and Austrians had been heartened by the collapse of the invasion of Russia; of the 500,000 French and allied troops who crossed the Nieman in June 1812, barely 100,000 straggled back barely six months later. Both Dorothea’s brothers were fighting on the Rhine.
The Quadruple Alliance, between England, Russia, Austria and Prussia, came into action in March 1814 and within weeks Napoleon had abdicated[ix]. Dorothea drove to see the celebratory illuminations[x] at Carlton House.
A Visit from the Czar
Grand Duchess Catherine
Following the signing of the alliance the Prince Regent invited Frederick William, Alexander and the Austrian Emperor Francis to London. Alexander sent his sister, Grand Duchess Catherine in his stead as his visit had to be delayed until June. The Lievens met Catherine upon her arrival at Sheerness[xi] using a coach lent by the Prince Regent; they had an escort of cavalry. The Grand Duchess stayed at the Pulteney Hotel in Picadilly, costing the embassy 210 guineas a week[xii].

The Regent’s charm offensive failed miserably; he arrived at her suite on time, to find the Grand Duchess still in the hands of her maid. Dorothea had to explain Catherine’s non-appearance. Things went downhill at the formal dinner at Carlton House that evening; Catherine, wearing mourning for her late husband[xiii], exclaimed that the music made her ‘vomit’.

Princess Charlotte
Catherine went out of her way to annoy the Regent, socialising with the Whigs and the Regent’s estranged daughter Charlotte; she also insisted on attending men only dinners much to the horror of society at large. It was not until Catherine threatened to visit the Princess of Wales[xiv] that Christopher put his foot down; he threatened to resign. From then on Catherine refused to deal with Christopher and saw only Dorothea, who became the sole link between the embassy and the Czar’s favourite sister.
‘It was there that I entered on my diplomatic apprenticeship…..I disputed the invitations [to dine with Catherine] step by step and I often managed to exclude favourites and get people put in whom she greatly disliked…..never did she speak a word to him [Christopher]. These dumb dealings went on for two months, and she only began to speak to him again just before the emperor’s coming.’[xv]
Lady Hertford
Alexander arrived in London incognito and, refusing the Regent’s offer of a berth at Carlton House, joined his sister at the Pulteney Hotel. Unimpressed with the Regent Alexander declined to notice the prince’s latest mistress, Lady Hertford. In attempt to correct the Regent’s grievance Dorothea and Christopher threw a ball at the embassy. Once again Alexander refused to go anywhere near the ‘old woman’.
Dorothea was instrumental in ensuring that Alexander did not meet with Caroline of Brunswick and frustrated his attempt to meet with King George. Nevertheless Alexander was a social success and Lady Jersey threw a ball in his honour on 15th June.
Entrée into Society

Royal Pavilion
Dorothea’s efforts to smooth down the differences between the two rulers were appreciated by the Regent. Dorothea and Christopher were given the entrée to his intimate entertainments at his Pavilion in Brighton. Aware of her dislike of late nights the Regent condescended to allow her to leave at 11.pm. while Christopher stayed on.
On one such departure Dorothea had the misfortune to be importuned by a drunk Duke of Clarence. She managed to divert him by talking of the future of Hanover. The following day Dorothea informed a highly diverted Regent of her escape.
‘[The Regent] laughed like a madman. I have never seen him so diverted.’[xvi]
Christopher however was less amused.
The Regent’s favour, allied with the Czar’s visit, opened the doors of high society to Dorothea. Dorothea’s friends were the Whigs, she found the Tory politicians boring and both Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, and Lord Castlereagh lacked fashionable wives. Lady Castlereagh was eccentric in her dress[xvii].
Lord Granville had acquaintance with many of the Lievens friends in St Petersburg, having made a trip to Russia. Harriet Granville introduced Dorothea into the Devonshire clique, getting the Lievens invited to a grand dinner at Devonshire House to celebrate the victory at Waterloo.
Sadler's Wells theatre
Paul, Alexander and Konstantin were sent to English schools; Paul was sent to boarding school while the younger ones appear to have been day boys. Dorothea wrote to her brother;
‘My children are growing apace, are learning somewhat and are as thorough little scamps as you could wish. Paul is the leader of all the disturbances at the school where he is….he boxes in a ring, he makes as much as much noise as a regular John Bull and….is extremely courageous.’[xviii]
While Paul was home for the holidays Dorothea took the boys out to the Sadler’s Wells theatre to see the Panorama of the Island of Elba.
The Princess and the Politicians – John Charmley, Penguin Books 2006
Captain Gronow – Christopher Hibbert (ed), Kyle Cathie Ltd 1991
Wellington – Christopher Hibbert, Harper Collins 1997
Paris Between Empires – Philip Mansel, Phoenix Press Paperback 2003
The Life and Times of George IV – Alan Palmer, Book Club Associates 1972
The Russian Empire – Hugh Seton-Watson, Oxford University Press 1988
Arch Intriguer – Priscilla Zamoyska, Heinemann Ltd 1957

[i] Napoleon had overrun Prussia and after Tilsit the situation deteriorated.
[ii] The Princess and the Politicians - Charmley
[iii] Ibid
[iv] The formation of the first anti-French coalition
[vi] Belonging to Hester Thrale
[vii] Between the villages of Streatham and Tooting
[viii] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[ix] 11th April 1814
[x] Fireworks
[xi] Catherine had already met the Duke of Cumberland, later William IV, in Holland where she had refused his offer of marriage
[xii] In 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £13,770.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £249,200.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £831,300.00 www.measuringworth.com
[xiv] Caroline left England in August 1814 having negotiated an agreement with Castlereagh
[xv] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[xvi] The Princess and the Politicians - Charmley
[xvii] She liked to wear her husband’s garter ribbon in her hair
[xviii] The Princess and the Politicians - Charmley

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Almack’s Patroness

Old Riga
Dorothea, Countess Lieven, was born in Riga on 17th December 1785, the youngest of four children of Christopher von Benckendorff[i], the military governor. Dorothea’s mother, Charlotte Schilling was one of the attendants of Czarevitch Paul’s new bride, Sophia Dorothea of Wurttemberg, who like all Russian royal brides converted to the Orthodox faith and took the name Maria Feodorovna. Charlotte stayed at court to serve her mistress. supporting her in her antagonism towards Paul’s mistress and aggravating a marital feud.
But when the Empress Catherine died Paul became Czar, Charlotte was no longer required at court[ii] and she joined her husband in Riga. The rigours of fortress life did not suit Charlotte and she died not long after her arrival leaving her children to the care of their godmother. The Empress paid for Dorothea’s brothers, Constantine and Alexander, education; Maria Feodorovna had Marie and Dorothea educated at the former convent at Smolny[iii],

Empress Maria Feodorovna
Before she died Charlotte had encouraged the suit of a Count von Elmpt who wanted to marry Dorothea. The Empress forbad the match and sent the 11 year old Dorothea back to Smolny. In later years Dorothea recalled that she;
‘Loved him with all my heart, I thought of nothing else.’[iv]
Dorothea entered into a clandestine correspondence with Elmpt who had been banished from St Petersburg. One of her governesses acted as a go-between, but the correspondence was discovered when the Empress unexpectedly descended upon Smolny to visit Dorothea and Marie. Elmpt was sent packing.
An Engagement

Winter Palace
At the age of 15 Dorothea joined Marie, now one of the Empress’ ladies-in-waiting, at the Winter Palace. Dorothea was not considered a beauty; she was tall and thin with little to show in the way of a bust. She relied on her wit and conversation to ensnare the men. But the Benckendorff family’s proximity to the fount of all power in Russia ensured that Dorothea did not go short of suitors.

Count Aracheyev
The Empress proposed that Dorothea marry one Count Aleksei Aracheyev, a provincial noble who was a brutal military man. She escaped the marriage by dint of the Czar’s whim; Arakcheev fell out of favour before the marriage could be agreed[v].
While still at Smolny Dorothea was engaged to the third son of Charlotte von Gaugreiben, Imperial governess, Madame de Lieven. Christopher Andreivich Lieven[vi] was a Livonian nobleman and a general in the artillery.

In 1797 Christopher was made Emperor Paul’s aide-de-camp and the family was given hereditary title to an estate at Mežotne. In 1798 he was promoted to the rank of Major-General and assigned to the post of the Director of the Mobile Field Chancellery and Minister of War. On 22nd February 1799 Madam de Lieven was made a Countess and her son automatically became Count Lieven.

Countess Charlotte von Lieven
As Christopher’s fiancée Dorothea was allowed to attend court; she revelled in the attentions bestowed upon her by the young male courtiers. Christopher was jealous of Dorothea’s court and she was packed back off to Smolny where she was freely disparaging with her remarks about her fiancé. Christopher was upset by Dorothea’s comments which made their way back to him;
‘Mlle de B. said openly that she no longer loves you, that she will never stop flirting….and that she is only marrying you to get away from the convent.’[vii]
For several days Dorothea did not get her daily letter from Christopher and got ribbed by the other schoolgirls.
Bending Before the Wind
Finally Christopher wrote to Dorothea;
‘All my happiness has changed into black grief....you forgot, and even humiliated a man who was utterly devoted to you....it does not surprise me that you found in this society several men you preferred to me, and who suit you better than I do.’[viii]

He offered to break off the engagement.
But Dorothea, who was desperate to leave the convent, was shrewd enough to know that losing such a fiancé would not improve her marital chances. She turned to illness, as she was to do so often throughout her life, to get herself out of trouble. She wrote to Christopher informing him of her illness and begged for forgiveness.
At a hastily arranged meeting between the affianced couple Dorothea promised to change her character to suit Christopher who did not want a society wife. Dorothea married Christopher on 24th February 1800; she was wearing diamonds, a gift from the Czar.
Regime Change
Gatchina Palace
But it was not long before Christopher fell foul of the Czar, having failed to attend a military parade at Gatchina. The Czar, a military martinet, called Christopher an imbecile to his face. Christopher and Dorothea retired from court on the grounds of Christopher’s ill-health. The Czar’s own English doctor, Dr Beck, was sent every day to check on the state of Christopher’s health.
Paul had alienated many of the nobility by removing many of the privileges his mother had granted them. Paul’s autocratic behaviour and overt control of social life down to dress, dance and even colour of permissible clothing along with the militarisation of government led to his downfall. During 1801 over 100 officers of the Imperial Guard were imprisoned for trifling offences[ix].

Czar Paul
His mother Catherine had been an autocrat, but an enlightened one. One diarist recorded;
‘The late Catherine had had the intention.....to give up the crown to her favourite grandson Alexander, for in her son she did not find the abilities to administer so extensive an empire.’[x]
Paul’s murder on 23rd March 1801 came only 12 days after Paul had removed Christopher from his posts, claiming he had been ill for too long.
‘Your indisposition has lasted too long, and as business cannot depend on your intestines you will have to send back your portfolio of war to Prince Gagarin[xi].’[xii]
Neither Christopher nor Dorothea were implicated in the Czar’s murder and Christopher found favour with the new Czar, Paul’s son Alexander I who made Christopher his Aide-de-Camp.
Family Affairs
Prince Dolguruky
Dorothea and Christopher had one daughter, Magda born in 1804, and three sons: Christopher was enraptured by his daughter as Dorothea wrote to her brother Alexander;
‘I wish you could see my husband with his child. He is altogether wrapped up in her. But then she is so attractive.’[xiii]
Their son Paul was born on 24th February 1805, Alexander on 9th March 1806 and Konstantin was born in 1807. The Empress was godmother to all three boys.
One of Dorothea’s earliest lovers was Prince Peter Dolguruky who was a friend of the family. She also had an affair with Grand Duke Constantine[xiv], heir presumptive and a military martinet who drove his wife out of Russia. Even Dorothea admitted that his virtues were outweighed by his vices.
Napoleon at Austerlitz
Christopher was very much involved in the Russian fight against Napoleon, whose drive for empire saw him conquer much of Europe. While Napoleon was conquering much of Europe Alexander saw himself as a peacemaker; it was not until the French crept closer to the Russian borders that Alexander became concerned.
Christopher was present at the battle of Austerlitz at which Napoleon crushed the armies of Russia and the Holy Roman Empire., and at the signing of the Treaty of Tilsit[xv] on 7th July 1807, the year Christopher was made Lieutenant-General.
Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo
Magda died in 1807, possibly from the poor St Petersburg climate[xvi]. Dorothea’s grief embittered her against Christopher, absent on the Czar’s business. She withdrew to Tsarskoe Selo and refused to journey to Tilsit for the signing of the treaty.
When Christopher was with her the couple argued, although Dorothea assured her brother this was only because she was arguing with anyone she came into contact with. This may have been a way of easing her grief coupled with her anger at Russia’s defeat at the hands of the French. That France and Russia were now allied only added to Dorothea’s anger.
‘From morning to night I argue with everyone I meet…..In fact I need to argue to kill my bad temper which I cannot overcome……I am established here in spite of my husband’s return, and am content to see him for a few hours once a week.’[xvii]
Catherine the Great –John T Alexander, Oxford University Press 1989
The Princess and the Politicians – John Charmley, Penguin Books 2006
Paris Between Empires – Philip Mansel, Phoenix Press Paperback 2003
The Russian Empire – Hugh Seton-Watson, Oxford University Press 1988
Arch Intriguer – Priscilla Zamoyska, Heinemann Ltd 1957

[i][i][i][i] A protégée of Catherine the Great, possibly one of her lovers
[ii] She’d antagonised Paul by encouraging Maria Feodorovna in her antagonism towards Paul’s mistress
[iii] Catherine had it turned into a ‘school’ for girls to learn French, German and Italian, learn to play the piano and dance
[iv][iv] The Princess and the Politicians - Charmley
[v] He was still in exile by the time Paul was murdered in 1801
[vi] The links for Christopher and his mother have been translated from the Russian
[vii] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[viii] Ibid
[ix] Including having hair too long or wearing waistcoats
[x] Catherine the Great - Alexander
[xi] Prince Grigory Ivanovich Gagarin, later ambassador to Italy
[xii] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[xiii] Ibid
[xiv] Possibly little more than a flirtation
[xv] Signed by Napoleon, Alexander and Frederick William
[xvi] Renowned for diseases spread by insects living in the surrounding swamps
[xvii] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska