Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The Almack’s Patroness V

Dorothea Lieven
Back in England

Almost as soon as her feet touched English soil George summonsed Dorothea to Brighton. He was interested in the paternity of his godson and namesake George Lieven. The king had ascertained a likeness to himself in young George, who looked very much like his father and even more so his grandmother (still going strong at 72).

George had a very vivid imagination, and was prone to telling his courtiers of the battles he had fought in during the Napoleonic wars. Dorothea was well aware of this propensity and informed Metternich;

‘Up to the present he says it as a joke; in a few days he will be saying it menacingly; later he will let it be understood that he had good reason for saying it; and still later he will persuade himself that he really can take the credit.’[i]

George, when not caught up in flights of fancy, was no fool and he was not pleased by the breakup of the Quintuple Alliance. George was well aware of the need to keep an eye on Canning. Dorothea flattered George by telling him that his presence at Verona had been sorely missed.

Spanish Intrigues

Stratfield Saye
Dorothea used the occasion of a visit to Stratfield Saye[ii] to stir up trouble between Wellington and Canning, who had embarrassed Wellington in Verona. January at Stratfield Saye was so cold that Dorothea had problems holding a pen[iii]. Dorothea found Wellington rather a bore who was mostly happy to tell long rambling stories about himself.

To counter Dorothea’s claims that he was a Jacobin Wellington showed Dorothea his copies of the despatches he’d sent to London about the situation in Spain.

Prince Esterhazy
‘Damme, I’ll show you what I wrote about Spain; and you will see if Metternich ever said anything stronger.’[iv]

Dorothea persuaded him to show the papers to Christopher and Prince Esterhazy[v] as well. But whatever Wellington’s opinion of matters in Spain, the British public was firmly against intervention.

When French troops marched into their neighbour’s country London shop windows were full of cartoons depicting Spanish patriots killing the invaders. Canning, who had his finger on the pulse of public opinion, refused to allow the sending of British troops to join the French.

The Anti-Canningites

Although popular with the country at large as a result of his inflammatory speeches, Canning was not popular amongst his fellow politicians and his sovereign detested him. Canning believed that a Europe disunited would be good for Britain. Something the Whigs, Wellington and George did not agree with.

Duke of Wellington
Canning’s unpopularity in political circles and abroad continued unabated. European politicians were not impressed by Canning’s attempts to align Britain with every revolutionary movement going. Canning hoped to take over leadership of the Tory party from Lord Liverpool whenever that worthy resigned; this put him at odds with Wellington who considered the succession as his.

The Lievens gave a dinner party for Canning and the Austrian, French[vi] and Prussian ambassadors were also guests. Wellington, sat on Dorothea’s right, spent the dinner whispering rude things about Canning, sat on Dorothea’s left. To counter Wellington, Canning showed off and even Lady Granville, one of his friends, was unable to smooth matters over. Dorothea was feeling unwell and not up to assisting Lady Granville. Afterwards Christopher reproached Dorothea for not spending more time talking to Canning himself

A Loyal Ambassadress

Alexander von Benckendorff
Paul had been sent back to school in Russia, under Alexander von Benckendorff’s supervision. Her letters to Alexander imply that Paul was viewed as a bad influence on his brothers;

‘I am delighted to know that he is at school , and equally pleased to know that you are prepared to show some sternness in dealing with him…..He has always been extremely idle….he has always hindered his brothers’ progress that we thought it advisable to separate them, and it must be allowed that since his departure they have been going on famously.’[vii]

Dorothea had long outgrown her childish admiration for Christopher who was called ‘Vraiment’ in diplomatic circles, as this was the word he used most often. Christopher was perfectly capable and used his wife dexterously to forward Russian interests. Round about this time Dorothea started writing reports for Nesselrode, supplementing the reports Christopher sent.

Dorothea was well-placed to act as liaison between Russia and Britain; she was intimate with George IV and Lady Conygham and was good friends with Wellington. Dorothea also kept Metternich informed with letters sent via the Austrian Embassy. But, as she informed her lover;

‘Somebody came and told me the other day, that I made an extremely clever compromise between my duties and my personal views. I replied that I must do it far from cleverly if people imagined that my duties and my personal views were not identical.’[viii]

Desperate to keep Metternich’s attention focussed on herself Dorothea kept dropping hints in her letters about a new admirer, Charles Lord Grey. It is possible that Dorothea began an affair with Grey around this time to make Metternich jealous.

Self-Imposed Exile

Dorothea suffered a setback in her health in May 1823 and she wondered whether she was going into a decline. In the summer Dorothea committed an indiscretion; giving out that she was travelling for her health which could not support another British winter, Dorothea arranged to meet Metternich in Milan.

Despite their imminent meeting Dorothea begged Metternich to continue writing to her with news of what was going on in the world;

‘My husband is the soul of prudence.....it is the same with the letters the Duke of Wellington will write me. So, without you, I run the risk of relapsing conventional feminine role; and it seems to me that it would be a pity.’[ix]

Dorothea got her kicks from being a powerful go-between and was naturally reluctant to relinquish the importance placed on her by Nesselrode and the Czar as a result of her liaison with a key player in Europe.

When she arrived in Milan Dorothea was disappointed to learn that she would have little time with him, despite his promises. Dorothea spent the winter in Florence, Rome where she met Lord Kinnaird[x], while Metternich travelled around Europe desperate to keep up support for the Greek insurrection. He did not reply to Dorothea’s letters or provocations.

Dorothea took four year old George with her to Italy and, as ever when she was apart from him, Dorothea missed her husband as did George.

‘At our age and with our experience, domestic happiness is the most important thing, one cannot replace the confidence and habits of a marriage….Mon bon ami, we are both suffering now because of our need for each other, which will still bring us great happiness.’[xi]

Christopher von Lieven
When Dorothea told Metternich that Christopher wanted her to come home he did not respond to this provocation either. Dorothea was caught by the lies she had told at home in order to travel abroad. Dorothea did not return home until May 1824, her passion for Metternich all but spent. She was met at Dover by Christopher and they travelled back to London.

Another Pregnancy

Dorothea now contemplated returning home to Russia to see old friends. The British government offered her the King’s yacht to take her to St Petersburg. She planned to meet Metternich in June en route.

Dorothea reached Dover when the journey halted, not to be resumed. Christopher was the one who stopped Dorothea’s travelling when Dorothea realised that she might be pregnant again. At the age of nearly forty this was to be her sixth child and the journey home to Russia was long and precipitous at the best of times.

Lady Conygnham
Dorothea was the link between George, Wellington and Metternich. Spending a lot of time at with George, Dorothea found herself subject to George’s amorous attentions much to the irritation of Lady Conyngham. Dorothea’s pregnancy was giving her the more voluptuous figure that George preferred.

In July Wellington gave a grand dinner for the King; the hated Canning and the Lievens were also invited. Dorothea flirted with and embarrassed Canning. Dorothea asked him to dine and he in turned picked her brains for information about the Parisian scene. They talked together at a reception hosted by Lady Hertford.

In the autumn Dorothea commenced a correspondence with Lord Grey. In later years she claimed that their relationship;

‘Remained natural to our situations, he very English and I very Russian; but we allowed ourselves a rare degree of confidence, which I never betrayed.’[xii]

In her correspondence Dorothea reported conversations verbatim, useful for any politician, and witty social and political gossip along with details of political events.

Dorothea and Christopher’s fifth son was born in late February 1825 and named Arthur after Dorothea’s friend Wellington who was his Godfather. The confinement had been difficult and for some time afterwards Dorothea was confined to bed or a sofa. She wrote to her brother;

‘I have another boy, much to our mutual regret…..he is remarkably pretty…..The news Paul tells me of himself gives me great pleasure….he is delighted with his start in life[xiii], and speaks in high praise of the Foreign Office.’[xiv]

When Metternich’s wife Eleanore died in Paris in March 1825 and Dorothea wrote to console her friend.


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
Princess Lieven’s Letters – Lionel G Robinson (ed), Longmans, Green & Co 1902
The Russian Empire – Hugh Seton-Watson, Oxford University Press 1988
Metternich – Desmond Seward, Viking 1991
Arch Intriguer – Priscilla Zamoyska, Heinemann Ltd 1957

[i] The Princess and the Politicians - Charmley
[ii] Wellington’s country home, bought by a grateful nation in 1817 for £263,000; in 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £17,200,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £323,900,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £1,029,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[iii] The Duchess of Wellington was not a capable lady of the house and the rooms at Stratfield Saye were insufficiently heated
[iv] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[v] Austrian ambassador to Great Britain
[vii] Princess Lieven’s Letters – Robinson
[viii] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[ix] The Princess and the Politicians - Charmley
[x] A friend of Byron’s
[xi] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[xii] Ibid
[xiii] Nesselrode had given him a job
[xiv] Princess Lieven’s Letters – Robinson

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