|Countess Dorothea Lieven|
Dorothea’s correspondence with Metternich provided him with a much needed insight into Russian and English political life. For the English 1820 was the year of the royal divorce; George III died in January and the Prince Regent finally became king. George IV was determined to get rid of his hated wife and Princess Caroline was determined to be acknowledged queen. The couple had lived separately since 1796 and Caroline had left England in 1814.
George’s plans for a divorce were scuppered when his advisers informed him that not only Caroline’s affairs but his own would become a matter of public knowledge.
‘The whole business has become such a party question, that there are no ties of family and friendship that still hold good.’[i]
Support for the divorce bill going through parliament slipped away, while the king worried about his upcoming coronation, Caroline had intimated her intention to attend.
Despite spending over a quarter of a million pounds[ii] on the ceremony and accompanying festivities, the attention was all outside the abbey where Caroline was refused admittance[iii], much to the delight of the spectators. During the five hour ceremony George was unable to keep his eyes off his latest mistress Lady Conyngham. According to spectators the king was;
‘Nodding and winking......and sighing and making eyes’[iv]
at his lover. Dorothea kept Metternich fully informed of the convolutions caused by the divorce attempt. The Duke of York attempted to play on his brother’s unpopularity with the masses and the result of his antics was a further lessening of the unflattering view held of the monarchy. George IV was not viewed with the love and respect that the British had given George III in his old age.
A Trip to Europe
|Princess of Orange|
Christopher was called back to St Petersburg to discuss Greece where the Czar’s co-religionists had rebelled against their Muslim masters, the Ottoman Turks. Dorothea travelled to Brussels with the 18 month old George. The Lievens travelled together to Rochester where Christopher left his wife and son.
‘I am quite miserable at our separation, I imagine storms and every possible contrary wind…..Baby is delicious, every time he sees me crying he comes and kisses me and says, “Papa, gone, gone.”’[v]
Dorothea travelled on to Dover and she and George crossed the channel in 2½ hours. In Brussels Dorothea was the guest of the Princess of Orange[vi]. From Brussels Dorothea travelled to Spa which she found very boring despite the attentions of Prince Louis de Rohan who’d travelled thence from Paris just to be with Dorothea. Dorothea’s main interest was in her post from England which she would forward to Christopher and sent tit-bits to Metternich. Wellington wrote to her detailing the trials and tribulations over the divorce and coronation.
By July Dorothea was in Schlagenbad, a small watering place near Weisbaden. Schlagenbad was conveniently near Metternich’s country castle at Johannisberg. Dorothea had hoped to meet Metternich but he was too busy trying to sort out the Greek problem to take leave of absence. Dorothea visited in his absence and gloried in the view.
From Schlagenbad Dorothea moved to Frankfurt and it was here, in September, that a summons from George IV reached her. Her presence was required in Hanover where Christopher was expected en route from St Petersburg. Christopher did not arrive until the eve of George’s departure and Dorothea was able to spend her time in Hanover with Metternich who was also meeting with George.
|Lady Castlereagh (National Portrait Gallery)|
British politicians were becoming aware that to pass information on to Metternich they only needed to inform Dorothea. In turn Dorothea made use of the affection Lord Castlereagh had for her, to forward her letters to Metternich. Castlereagh liked talking to Dorothea and he insisted on waltzing with her. Castlereagh used to ride along Dorothea’s favourite walks in the hopes of meeting up with her.
Dorothea offered to act as an intermediary between Lady Conyngham who had conceived a violent dislike for Lady Castlereagh[vii], niece of George’s former lover Lady Hertford. Lady Conyngham refused to attend a banquet in honour of the Crown Prince of Denmark as Lady Castlereagh was also invited.
Despite despising the favourite for her grasping behaviour, Dorothea managed to persuade Lady Conyngham, much disliked by the court, that the Foreign Secretary and his wife were obliged to attend the banquet. Her work was made more difficult by Lady Castlereagh’s refusal to bend with the wind and curry favour with the favourite.
Castlereagh flew into a rage when Dorothea informed him of Lady Conyngham’s presumption;
‘Things cannot go on like this. We cannot put up with a Lady Conyngham who is powerful enough to offer us such affronts.’[viii]
He threatened to resign if matters deteriorated, despite Dorothea reminding him that such as Lady Conyngham had to be put up with. Castlereagh’s wild appearance and confused talk worried Dorothea. He was infuriated and humiliated that his wife’s presence at the banquet was solely due to the intervention of a foreign ambassadress.
Death of a Foreign Secretary
Castlereagh’s half-brother, Sir Charles Stewart, claimed that Castlereagh was suffering from overwork. Castlereagh felt he was not being supported by his colleagues and that the weight of government was borne on his shoulders. Castlereagh was a broken man fearing that his colleagues were conspiring to replace him with Wellington.
On 9th Castlereagh had an audience with the king and then met with several ambassadors including Christopher. He acted oddly during the meeting but Christopher was inured to the Foreign Secretary’s eccentricities and took no notice.
On 12th August Castlereagh committed suicide; he cut the artery in his neck with a penknife while his wife was in her dressing room. Dorothea was shocked by the loss of someone she counted as a friend. She wrote to Metternich;
‘I cannot get over it. I see him in front of me all the time; that noble face, so serene and handsome.’[ix]
Castlereagh’s successor George Canning was no friend to Russia. His detractors were legion; the king disliked him[x], the Opposition hated him and even his own side distrusted him. Canning had ambition writ large upon him[xi]. Canning described the letter from the king offering the Foreign Office post as;
‘Exactly the same as being given a ticket for Almack’s and finding written on the back: “Admit the Rogue.”’[xii]
Dorothea had hoped the Foreign Secretary post would go to Wellington, who she counted as a personal friend. Indeed when Dorothea played waltzes on the pianoforte the unmusical Wellington had been known to accompany her on the triangle. Wellington also sufficiently unbent to act in country-house charades with Dorothea. He’d assured Dorothea that Britain’s policy towards Russia would not change as change would result in plunging Europe into chaos.
Congress of Verona
|Marie Louise (1812)|
In October 1820 the Lievens, Wellington[xiii] and the Metternichs all converged at the Congress of Verona, where Marie Louise Duchess of Palma[xiv] was among those who haunted Dorothea’s salon. Card tables and the hostess were the main attraction in the evenings. Mornings were reserved for Metternich, Nesselrode and Wellington.
‘The Princess de Lieven is my only refuge in society here. I pass every evening at her house, and most of the congress members follow my example’[xv]
Metternich wrote to his wife. The Czar and the Emperor of Austria also attended the congress.
The doyen of the Paris salons during the First Republic, Juliette Récamier was in Verona, as the mistress of the French representative the Vicomte de Chateaubriand.
Chateaubriand was recently returned from America and full
of stories of the animals he had seen there. He and Dorothea disliked one
another. Dorothea characterised Chateaubriand as a bore while he, in turn,
called her the ‘dowager’ of Verona
and wrote spitefully of her in his memoirs[xvi].
The congress had been convoked to deal with problems in Spain, Italy and the Ottoman Empire. Alexander and the French were ready to march into Spain where the king had called for help against the liberals, a project viewed with distate by Canning. On 30th October Wellington had to inform Metternich that Britain was not prepared to intervene in foreign affairs. Wellington was convinced that;
‘There is nothing so improper as for one government to interfere in the internal affairs of another.’[xvii]
He left the congress the day before it wound up and was back in London by Christmas.
Dorothea suffered a setback in her personal affairs; while in Verona she took advantage of her access to Nesselrode to press for the Lievens transfer to Vienna so she could be close to Metternich. Dorothea also urged her brother Alexander to ask the Czar to favour the move. But Nesselrode and Czar Alexander were worried about Dorothea’s trustworthiness and the move did not take place.
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
Metternich – Desmond Seward, Viking 1991
Arch Intriguer – Priscilla Zamoyska, Heinemann Ltd 1957
[i] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[iii] She had not been given a ticket; George was frightened that Caroline would create a scene on his big day and demand to be crowned with him
[iv] George IV - Palmer
[v] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[vi] Sister of the Czar
[vii] The feeling was mutual
[viii] The Princess and the Politicians - Charmley
[ix] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[x] Canning had been Caroline’s ‘intimate adviser’
[xi] Ambition was distrusted by the landed politicians and Canning’s ambition was attributed by those who wished him ill to the fact that his mother had been an actress for a while
[xii] The Princess and the Politicians - Charmley
[xiii] In place of Castlereagh
[xiv] Napoleon’s widow
[xv] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[xvii] Wellington - Hibbert