Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The Almack’s Patroness III

Dorothea dances at Almack's
Patroness of Almack’s

In Regency times to have the entrée to Almack’s Assembly Rooms[i] was the highest a young lady could aspire to. By 1814 Dorothea was one of the select Lady Patronesses who decided to whom to award vouchers to. The vouchers cost ten guineas per annum[ii]. The club was known as the marriage mart to the irreverent.

Every Wednesday evening in the club’s Blue Room the six or seven patronesses met to decide the fate of those wishing to attend the balls held weekly at the King Street[iii] premises. They also decided the fate of those considered of déclassé behaviour. Contrarily Lady Caroline Lamb was allowed to attend despite her scandalous affair with Lord Byron solely because she was the sister-in-law of Lady Cowper.

Beau Brummell
The Patronesses grew to rely on the advice on Beau Brummell, friend of the Prince Regent, as to the suitability of gentlemen attendees. Brummell wielded power as one of the arbiters whose nod was necessary to gain entrance to Almack’s. The constant vigilance of the Patronesses, aided by Brummell, and their exclusivity kept society under their thrall.

Captain Gronow[iv] said of the Patronesses;
‘The most popular amongst these grandes dames was unquestionably Lady Cowper….Lady Jersey's bearing, on the contrary, was that of a theatrical tragedy queen; and whilst attempting the sublime, she frequently made herself simply ridiculous, being inconceivably rude, and in her manner often ill-bred. Lady Sefton[v] was kind and amiable, Madame de Lieven haughty and exclusive, Princess Esterhazy was a bon enfant, Lady Castlereagh and Mrs. Burrell[vi] de tres grandes dames.’[vii]
Dorothea was credited with introducing the waltz to Almack’s in the spring of 1816, dancing with Lord Palmerston, an acknowledged ladies’ man. The club took pains not to resemble expensive private balls by avoiding sumptuous repasts. The refreshments in the supper rooms consisted of thinly-sliced bread with fresh butter and dry cake. To avoid drunkenness, only tea and lemonade were served in the supper rooms. Despite the paucity of the food and drink the club was extremely popular.

Social Success

Comtess de Boigne
Dorothea’s success in society was assured by her ability to amuse; she had a cache of amusing stories and anecdotes to divert the bored. Dorothea was not beautiful but was flirtatious around men and one of her admirer’s was Harriet’s immensely rich brother-in-law Lord Gower. Most women, bar Harriet, were dismissive of Dorothea, unable to see the attraction she had for men.
Dorothea disliked other women she saw as competition, in particular the other ambassadresses, most notably the Austrian Princess Esterhazy. Most of her rivals were pretty, younger and of the old nobility. It was Dorothea, not Christopher, who was courted by society; the French ambassadress the Comtesse de Boigne[viii], said of him

‘Certainly he was a man of breeding, and grand manners; but to the point, cold, but polite....he was completely eclipsed by the incontestable superiority of his wife, who affected to be very attached and submissive towards him.’[ix]

Comtesse de Perigord
The Comtesse noted that Dorothea was feared but little loved. Dorothea quickly made friends with the hero of the hour Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, with whom she was reputed to have had an affair. To the circles that Dorothea moved in marital fidelity was not important.
The end of the summer of 1816 saw Dorothea take a two week trip to Paris; the Lievens were guests of honour at a dinner given by Pozzo di Borgo, the Russian Ambassador to Paris. Dorothea noted that the women all wore feathers in their hair and that Comtesse de Périgord[x] wore her hair dressed like a ‘pretty serpent’ around her head. Talleyrand himself sat next to Dorothea.

In the autumn of 1816 Dorothea became friendly with the Duchess of Cumberland, whose quarrel[xi] with Queen Charlotte meant that;
Duchess of Cumberland 
‘Private persons hold aloof and subject her to every sort of humiliation……I am able to show her attentions despite the general anathema, and a friendliness I should not have cared to display, had she been in a happier position.’[xii]
The Prince Regent gave a dinner party in his sister-in-law’s honour, but only that she might feel able to leave the country without dishonour. Lady Stafford was the courtier delegated by the Prince to pass on his message. Dorothea stood firm by the Duchess as she stood in shock and Dorothea stood her friend for the three years the Duke and Duchess stayed in England. 
The following November saw Alexander marry Elisaveta Pavlovna Donez-Sacharshevskaya and Dorothea mourned her bachelor brother, fearing that marriage would change him. Dorothea saw Alexander as her closest relative, far closer than Christopher had ever been.

Dorothea was happy to throw herself into the frenetic pace of London society; she suffered from ennui and her frequent complaints of illness arose from boredom. In the summer of 1818 Christopher took Dorothea down to Brighton. And on the beach, in a fit of depression, Dorothea contemplated death by drowning. She later wrote;

‘I was quite well in myself, but I was so desperately depressed. My mind was so vacant I could think of no reason for going on living……Lord Byron says terrible and sublime things about death by drowning…..I felt that nothing could be simpler than to stay on the point until the sea had covered it.’[xiii]

Only the failure of the tide to turn and wash her away left Dorothea to continue contemplating the futility of life.

Cathedral at Aachen
The Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle

In view of his wife’s precarious mental health Christopher decided to take Dorothea with him when he travelled in the autumn of 1818 to Aix[xiv] for the Congress that was to decide the future of Europe following Napoleon’s final fall. She was pleased to be travelling to Aix.

And it was at Aix, on 22nd October that Dorothea met Prince Metternich, the Austrian Foreign Minister, at a reception given by Madame Nesselrode. Three days later Metternich organised an excursion to Spa, where the party spent the night; the Lievens and the Nesselrodes were his guests. Later Metternich wrote to Dorothea;

1897 diorama of Spa
‘I began to see why those who described you as “an agreeable woman” were quite right.’[xv]

The following day Metternich called on Dorothea and on 15th November they became lovers. A few days later Dorothea had to accompany Christopher to Brussels. They accompanied the newly arrived dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna and Christopher’s mother. But Metternich soon found an excuse to join Dorothea and the couple managed to spend four days together.

On 27th the Lievens returned to London where Dorothea found outpourings of ‘love’ from Metternich awaiting her. Dorothea informed friends and family;

‘I made some interesting acquaintances, of whom I shall always retain a pleasant memory.’[xvi]

The affair was resuscitated briefly a couple of times but the pair conducted a frank correspondence that lasted eight years. Metternich liked to have a romantic female confidante and for the next eight years Dorothea was to fulfil that role.

An Unexpected Arrival

Lady Jersey
Dorothea had been feeling unwell towards the end of the Lievens time in Brussels; at home she fell ill with an ‘inflammation of the throat and lungs’. Dorothea seemed unable to throw off her bout of ill-health and soon discovered why she was feeling so unwell; she was pregnant.

By early September Dorothea was visiting Lady Jersey at her home in Middleton to rest and prepare for her laying-in. Christopher’s duties found him much in London and Dorothea had plenty of time to write passionate letters to Metternich.

The Lievens fourth son George was born on 15th October 1819. Christopher wrote to his brother;

‘In spite of the serious fears with which she had approached the birth[xvii], she had never had a happier confinement than this one.’[xviii]

George was named after the Prince Regent but the wits quipped that Clement would have been more appropriate. There can be little doubt that Christopher was George’s father as Dorothea and Metternich had not seen each other since November 1818.


The Princess and the Politicians – John Charmley, Penguin Books 2006
Talleyrand – Duff Cooper, Cassell Biographies 1987
Captain Gronow – Christopher Hibbert (ed), Kyle Cathie Ltd 1991
Wellington – Christopher Hibbert, Harper Collins 1997
Beau Brummell – Ian Kelly, Hodder Paperback 2005
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
Metternich – Desmond Seward, Viking 1991
Arch Intriguer – Priscilla Zamoyska, Heinemann Ltd 1957

[i] Opened in 1765
[ii] In 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £655.90 economic status value of that income or wealth is £11,870.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £39,590.00 www.measuringworth.com
[iii] In St James, now renamed
[iv] Whose memoirs are unreliable
[v] Wife of the Earl of Sefton
[viii] Wife of the Comte de Boigne
[ix] The Princess and the Politicians - Charmley
[x] Married to Talleyrand’s nephew
[xi] Neither she nor her husband approved of the fact that Frederica was divorced
[xii] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[xiii] Ibid
[xiv] Aachen
[xv] Metternich - Seward
[xvi] Ibid
[xvii] Dorothea’s last child Konstantin had been born eleven years before
[xviii] The Princess and the Politicians - Charmley


  1. Some research suggests that the waltz may have been danced earlier at Almack's but the precise date is difficult to track down. Gronow's reminiscences are certainly very flaky, having been written decades later, though one has to assume his recollection of personalities are accurate enough, even if his dates and the precise patronesses of the time are suspect. Which is why that was the quote you chose, of course!

  2. I am delighted by this post. Thank you very much.