Trip to Russia
Dorothea’s deferred trip to Russia finally got underway in June 1825. She arrived in July and stayed at the Pavlovsk Palace where the dowager Empress held her court. Dorothea found it difficult to re-adapt to the more formal behaviour required in the Russian court. As Czar Alexander lived as a recluse at Tsarkskoe Selo with his wife, court life centred round Maria Feodorovna.
|Czar Alexander I|
During her visit Dorothea had a 1½ hour meeting with Alexander; she took advantage of the meeting to deliver a critique of
Metternich and Austrian policy. She then had a meeting with Count Nesselrode. That both Alexander and Nesselrode knew of her affair with Metternich only made them take her opinions more seriously. Following the meeting Alexander commented to Dorothea’s brother;
‘Last time I saw your sister she was an attractive girl; now she is a stateswoman.’[i]
A second interview with Alexander towards the end of Dorothea’s stay saw Alexander ask her opinion of Canning, whom he described as a Jacobin. On 19th August, immediately prior to her departure, Dorothea saw Nesselrode again; he informed her that Alexander believed that following Metternich’s advice over Greece benefitted only Austria. The Czar wanted to use Dorothea to persuade the English to open overtures with Russia. Dorothea asked for and received a note for Christopher informing him of this drastic change in Russian policy.
|Royal Lodge, Windsor|
Dorothea’s return journey to England took a month and she arrived back in September. The speed of the journey so exhausted her she had to rest for ten days in Brighton, seeing no-one but Canning and Wellington.
Dorothea wrote to Alexander about her problem child;
‘I am delighted to hear that my mother-in-law is interesting herself in Constantine’s future, and I shall be most anxious to hear what becomes of her care.’[ii]
In October the Lievens stayed with the King in the Cottage at Windsor. Encouraged by Dorothea, George invited Canning to dinner and Canning was able to amuse the King. Dorothea viewed Canning as her protégé and advised him on court etiquette and international affairs. Canning was surprised to be visited by the Lievens on 24th October. They gave Canning details of the disagreements between Russia and her allies over Greece.
|Czar Nicholas I|
Then disaster struck; Czar Alexander died on 1st December 1825 to be replaced by his brother Czar Nicholas, the youngest of Dorothea’s mother-in-law’s charges. Dorothea was devastated, well aware that the new Czar would not entrust her with the responsibilities Alexander had;
‘I cannot sleep I can only weep, I weep from the bottom of my heart, all is over. He [Alexander] gave me a new interest in life. I had great political influence over him ad I should soon have had more.’[iii]
Christopher was recalled to Russia in March. Dorothea was concerned that Nicholas might want to keep Christopher in Russia.
‘He likes my husband, and respects him, and he likes and respects scarcely anybody else in the world….my husband will resist all proposals. He has not a spark of ambition in his make-up.’[iv]
With Christopher absent in Russia, Dorothea played the part of Russian ambassador from the new Russian embassy at Ashburnham House.
Canning sent Wellington to St Petersburg with detailed instructions; he was tasked with dissuading the new Czar from going to war with the Turks over Greece. Being unwell only added to Wellington's disinclination to visit Russia. He went very unwillingly and arrived in March 1826.
Canning ordered Wellington to urge that the Lievens be kept on in London. On 4th April 1826 Wellington signed the Protocol of St Petersburg[v] before returning home. He arrived back to find Dorothea and Christopher had been reporting unfavourably upon his actions in St Petersburg.
When Wellington’s sister-in-law[vi] returned from Vienna in the spring of 1826 she brought home unwelcome news for Dorothea. Metternich had taken to visiting one Mademoiselle Antoinette von Leykam, a 19 year old who was to become his second wife the following year. Dorothea was cutting in her correspondence with Metternich.
Bored with the grasping Lady Conyngham, it was now that the king suggested that Dorothea became his mistress, having summonsed her down to Brighton, claiming;
‘[He had] been in love with me for thirteen years.....never dared tell me; he hoped I should find it out for myself......[she] alone could guide him; our minds are alike; our views agree; my tastes will be his.’[vii]
In Russia Dorothea’s family were the willing recipients of the new Czar’s patronage. Alexander von Benckendorf became head of the Russian secret police and was one of Nicholas’ key advisers and Christopher became a Prince when his mother was awarded the rank of Princess for her services to the royal family. Alexander von Lieven was hoping to be appointed to the United States Mission that his father had been under consideration for.
Dorothea’s elevation brought a spat with Princess Esterhazy; the two had never cared for one another. Now the waning of Dorothea’s relationship with Metternich meant the wife of the Austrian ambassador could vent her dislike, her public put-down of Dorothea at a party at Wellington’s house was greeted with general approbation. Princess Esterhazy was good-natured and well liked while the witty and sharp Dorothea was not popular.
Dorothea wrote her last letter to Metternich on 12th December 1826. When she heard that he had married the beautiful Mademoiselle Leykam, a bitter Dorothea commented unpleasantly that it was a shame that;
‘[The] Chevalier of the Holy Alliance had ended by concluding a mésalliance.’[viii]
Dorothea was at a crossroads and, in a complete volte-face, she now decided to befriend the rising star. Her political courtship of Canning caused amusement among those like Harriet Arbuthnot[ix] who could not forget that Canning’s mother was an actress. Mrs Arbuthnot attributed Dorothea’s political change of heart to the break-up of her friendship with Metternich.
Dorothea was of course now following the political star of one who wanted to undo much of what Metternich had wrought. Her conversion was viewed with disapproval; Canning was viewed as a dangerous liberal who would bring down revolution upon Europe. Her support of Canning also led to a break with Wellington. But Dorothea supported Canning because his policies coincided with Russian interests.
Christopher was busy getting Canning to support a policy opposed by the majority of the British cabinet. Dorothea found support for Canning’s idea of a solution to the Greek question in Lord Grey, who might be persuaded to prop up a Canning government.
|Sir Robert Peel|
Liverpool suffered a stroke in February 1827 and George appointed the detested Canning as Prime Minister. Refusing to serve under Canning’s leadership, Wellington resigned as Master of the Ordnance and Commander in Chief of the armed forces.
Sir Robert Peel and other senior Tories also refused to work with the detested but brilliant Canning who had to rely on the support of the Whigs to remain afloat. Dorothea lent Canning her support and even discussed and approved of the appointment of Lord Dudley as Foreign Secretary.
Mrs Arbuthnot noted Dorothea’s activities in the enemy camp with a growing dismay;
‘She has gained great influence over Mr. Canning and
Lord Dudley and she manages
Lieven as she pleases……it is curious enough that the loves and intrigues of une femme galante should have such an
influence over the affairs of Europe.’[x]
Mrs Arbuthnot was wrong; Dorothea was having problems with Christopher; she told her brother that her husband ignored the fact that she was suffering from palpitations of the heart. Dorothea wrote to Christopher accusing him of no longer loving her. Christopher was not one for emotional scenes and her letters probably caused him acute embarrassment. To add to Dorothea’s troubles news about Constantine failed to arrive despite continued requests in her letters to her brother.
|Naval base Portsmouth|
Canning’s own health was not good and he had to expend much of his energies to keep his disparate cabinet working together. He died in the July, three months into his new job[xi]; Dorothea was greatly distressed by Canning’s death and it made her ill. She was unable to accompany Christopher to meet the Russian fleet which called into Portsmouth en route to the Mediterranean. Never one to under dramatize a situation Dorothea informed her brother;
‘My husband has started for Portsmouth to see our fleet, and I, very ill, am left behind. I was dying to see Russia again, but the wish could only be gratified at the risk of killing myself.’[xii]
The Turks had been given one month to accept the mediation of the great powers in its quarrel with Greece. Failure to do so would result in the recognition of Greek independence.
|Duke of Devonshire|
Dorothea took herself off to Chatsworth for the Doncaster races. The party included the Cowpers and Mr and Mrs Agar Ellis. The race meeting itself brought more friends; Lord Grey, Lord Worcester and Lord Londonderry. Christopher joined the group and immediately the pair were quarrelling again, writing notes to one another on disputed trivialities. Dorothea played the sympathy card once again;
‘Decide whether you can sacrifice your puerile vanity for the reasons I have given you, otherwise I must ask you to arrange that I can live apart from you…..I have just had a haemorrhage…..I think that you want at all costs to humiliate me and to tease me.’[xiii]
These dramatics were over the question as to whether Christopher should wear a red ribbon the Duke of Devonshire had requested he wear. Dorothea had assured him his host was making fun of her husband. Christopher was prepared to humour the Duke’s ‘enfantillage’ and Dorothea was infuriated. The couple returned to London in October but the infighting continued.
The Princess and the Politicians – John Charmley, Penguin Books 2006
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] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[ii] Princess Lieven’s Letters - Robinson
[iii] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[v] Allowing for British and Russian mediation with the Turks on the Greek question.
[vii] The Princess and the Politicians - Charmley
[ix] A Tory party hostess
[x] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[xii] Princess Lieven’s Letters - Robinson
[xiii] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska