Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The Almack’s Patroness IX

Stratford Canning
Foreign Provocation

Further provocation to the British government came with Russian interference in Portugal. The infant queen Dona Maria’s liberal advisers caused alarm to the Czar and his far from liberal advisers. By March 1833 Palmerston informed Christopher that Canning’s nomination as ambassador to St Petersburg was confirmed.

Britain claimed that Russian objections really boiled down to the fact that Canning, as the former ambassador to the Sublime Porte, knew far too much about Russian actions in the eastern Mediterranean[i]. In May 1834, no longer able to ignore the anti-Russian rhetoric of the British media, the Czar recalled the Lievens. The idea of leaving her home in England horrified Dorothea. When the order came Dorothea was in despair

‘My husband threw up his hands with joy, and I mine with sorrow.’[ii]

On 23rd May the Times published a vindictive article attacking Dorothea. Talleyrand’s mistress the Duchess de Dino[iii] commiserated with Dorothea claiming the article to be a ‘national disgrace.’ Dorothea was horrified by the attack.

Sir James Graham
On 28th May[iv] Palmerstone, as was customary, threw a dinner for the ambassadors and their wives/mistresses. He sat with Dorothea de Dino on one side and Dorothea de Lieven on the other. Dorothea was making a statement in the new national dress which St Petersburg had decreed should be adopted for state occasions. In the midst of a round of farewell parties for the Lievens Grey resigned on 10th July to be replaced by Melbourne.

In July Dorothea was informing Alexander that the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir James Graham, had offered the Lievens a ship to take them to either Hamburg or St Petersburg. Dorothea was concerned about the packing up of a household and sending it abroad.

‘What a nuisance it is to carry off or throw away the contents of a house like ours…..We are bringing away all that is useful for the household….I imagine that we would find our new home furnished. I am getting impatient to find out where that new home will be, and you leave me, dear Alexander, in complete darkness on such points.’[v]

Even by mid-July she and Christopher had not been informed where they would be going or what post Christopher was to take up.

Leaving Home

the Summer Palace
Once back in Russia Dorothea found she loved the idea of her homeland more than the reality. Christopher had been given the important post of the Governor of the heir to the throne the Czarevitch Alexander, whose tutor was the poet Vasily Zhukovsky. The Lievens lived in apartments at the Summer Palace[vi] at Tsarskoe Selo.

Czarevitch Alexander
Christopher was only required to meet with the Czarevitch for one hour a week on a Sunday. Characteristically Dorothea took over and started having long conversations with the 17 year old boy. During the day Dorothea met with the Imperial children and in the evenings had friends for dinner;

‘The Czarewitch shows a desire to profit by my evening gatherings and accustom himself to the forms and ways of general society. He asks many questions and listens attentively to what is said in reply. I try to get him to talk and tell stories. Above all I try not to bore him…’[vii]

But used to a far more varied and intense life, Dorothea soon became bored and characteristically started worrying about her health.

‘Our existence is honourable and brilliant but I would love it more if I were able to forget England, and if I did not live in a climate made for bears.

She wrote to her friends in England, keeping in touch with the political shenanigans that she had once been so closely embroiled in.


In February 1835 Dorothea was to lose the second of her children to predecease her; George went down with scarlet fever[viii], he died in March aged 16. And then in April tragedy struck again. The 10 year old Arthur, who had started to recover from the infection, had a relapse and died. In a letter to Lord Grey Dorothea wrote’;

‘My dear friend, what can I write? I have no words left, and what can you say to comfort me? Was any bereavement more complete than mine?’[ix]

The two boys were buried at the Lieven estate at Mežotne. Christopher and the Czar decided that Dorothea needed to be diverted from her sorrows and Christopher escorted her to Berlin to see a doctor. Dorothea wrote to Alexander;

‘He [Christopher] is kindness itself to me. It will be a bad moment when we must separate, for my dear brother, it will be for good. I can no longer live a life without interest and without occupation.’[x]

Dorothea had decided never to return home and she knew that Christopher would not gainsay the Czar. Paul Lieven visited his mother in Berlin and was shocked at his mother’s condition. Dorothea started a tour around the German spa towns; in Baden-Baden she met with Countess Nesselrode who informed her that the Czar was unhappy with her. Dorothea told Alexander that her doctor had advised that she move to Paris; she was never to see her husband again.

Interest in Paris

Les Tuileries
Dorothea took a small apartment on the Rue Castiglione near the Tuileries Gardens. She kept up her voluminous correspondence but even so she lapsed into depression writing to Christopher;

Bon ami, cher mari, how sad and unhappy I am. I have horrible terrifying moments when I feel I am suffocating[xi], and death takes me by the throat; then I pray to God – it is all I can do……I often think about you after my angels, for they are always foremost in my thoughts.’[xii]

When the Corps Diplomatique returned to town after the summer holidays Dorothea’s spirits rose. Her friend Lady Granville was the British ambassadress. Dorothea had many visitors to her little apartment including the Duc d’Orléans[xiii] and the Ministers of the Crown including one François Guizot[xiv].

Guizot’s father had been guillotined during the terror and his mother had taken Guizot to Geneva where he learnt the carpenter’s trade. In February 1837 Guizot, a widower, lost his son and Dorothea immediately wrote a letter of condolence. He was to offer her a continued window into the political world. Dorothea felt she had found a soulmate.

In July 1837 Dorothea paid a short visit back to the country where she had known such happiness. There she was introduced to the young Queen Victoria, the conversation was reserved as the queen had been warned to be on her guard in the presence of a notorious intriguer. While there Dorothea received a summons home. St Petersburg was concerned about her involvement in politicking.

Intemperate Demands

Count Orlov
Christopher had been escorting the Czarevitch on a tour of the Russian empire. He wrote to Dorothea informing her of her recall and appointing a meeting in Italy. From there he would escort her home. As ever, Dorothea had recourse to her bad health and immediately fell ill.

Back in Paris Dorothea tried to postpone the recall using the medium of Count Orlov, Russian Ambassador in Paris. Under orders from above, Christopher replied;

‘I am obliged to account for any delay on the decision I must take if you refuse my request…..I insist you come to me. I have warned you that if you refuse I shall be obliged to take measures that will be very disagreeable to me. If you do not return I shall cease to support you.’[xv]

Alexander von Benckendorff
Dorothea’s son Alexander was despatched to Paris in an attempt to persuade his mother to return home. From him she discovered that Christopher was not reading the letters from her doctors stating that Dorothea’s health would suffer if she returned to Russia. Nor had he informed the Czar.

Writing to her brother Alexander was of no help either; he was most discouraging in his replies to Dorothea’s pleas. Dorothea’s allowance was cut off in March 1838 and in retaliation she decided to sell her diamonds in England where she would get a better price. Christopher stopped corresponding with his wife for several months, but finally relented at restarted her allowance in June when he paid her 4,000 francs a month.

Further Tragedy

Francois Guizot
Christopher asked to meet Dorothea in August 1838 in Baden; despite encouragement from Guizot, Dorothea refused to go as she was allegedly not fit enough to travel and claimed that Guizot was trying to get rid of her.

In June 1838 Constantine died in America. He had been sent there as his life in Russia was one of dissipation. Christopher did not inform Dorothea of her son’s death and she was shocked to have her letters to Constantine returned to her. She wrote to Lord Grey;

‘They bear simply the statement written on the cover that he is dead….my husband has left me in total ignorance of the event, apparently wishing me to learn it in the brutal manner I have just done.’[xvi]

Christopher wrote to Dorothea again in December telling her he would join her once his current work was finished and they would live wherever was best for her. Dorothea was not impressed by his letter and asked Lady Cowper to reply on her behalf. On 10th January 1839 Christopher died in Rome while escorting the Czarevitch on his Grand Tour.

The Final Act

After Christopher’s death Dorothea received a note from her husband written before his death;

‘Good-bye, chère amie, I embrace you tenderly.’[xvii]

Dorothea de Dino
Despite his overriding attention to duty to his Czar, Christopher had always loved Dorothea far more than she loved him. For a while Dorothea was prostrated by grief, but soon returned to her social whirl meeting with Dorothea de Dino and other close friends. And of course there was always Guizot, her last love.

Once Christopher’s estate was settled Dorothea had £1,000[xviii] per annum to live on. The politicians du jour and their hangers on attended Dorothea’s salon and when Guizot was appointed Ambassador to London in 1840 Dorothea was able to smooth the way with introductions to her friends

Apart from a brief visit in August 1840 Dorothea did not visit England until the revolution of 1848 forced her and Guizot to flee France. They lived in Brighton; at the end of 1849 Guizot and Dorothea returned to Paris. As a Russian citizen she had to leave at the commencement of the Crimean war but returned to her old life with Guizot in in 1856.

In January 1857 Dorothea came down with bronchitis which quickly turned to pneumonia. On 27th January 1857 Dorothea died peacefully at her home, 2 rue Saint-Florentin in Paris. Guizot and her son Paul were with her when she died. Dorothea was buried, according to her wish, at the Lieven family estate near Mežotne, next to her two young sons George and Albert.


Melbourne – David Cecil, The Reprint Society Ltd 1955
The Princess and the Politicians – John Charmley, Penguin Books 2006
Talleyrand – Duff Cooper, Cassell Biographies 1987
Paris Between Empires – Philip Mansel, Phoenix Press Paperback 2003
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
Melbourne – Philip Ziegler, Fontana 1978

[i] With the Treaty of Unkiar-Iskelesi dated 8th July 1833 Russia had come to agreement with the Khedive of Egypt, formerly party of the Ottoman empire
[ii] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[iii] Dorothea de Dino had divorced her husband and moved in with his uncle
[iv] The king’s birthday
[v] Princess Lieven’s Letters - Robinson
[vi] The Alexander Palace
[vii] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[viii] Or Scarlatina
[ix] The Princess and the Politicians - Charmley
[x] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[xi] Possibly panic attacks
[xii] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[xiv] His work at the Ministry of Education was essential in the passing of a law in June 1833 which established and organized primary education in France.
[xv] Arch Intriguer - Zamoyska
[xvi] Ibid
[xvii] Ibid
[xviii] In 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £78,590.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £1,302,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £3,171,000.00 www.measuringworth.com


  1. Thank you so much for this brilliant series about a fascinating lady.

  2. A most unhappy life, I presume she used politics as a substitute for love and happiness. Poor Dorothea.