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

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant! Thank you so much for sharing the story of Dorothea von Lieven's life.