In a letter dated March 1812, the heroine of our latest book A Georgian Heroine provided us with yet another piece of tantalizing information to work with pertaining to a christening of a child, which ultimately led us to the Countess D’Oeynhausen. With much detective work and some assistance in trying to decipher the handwriting, we finally established who this lady was.
Leonor was also known as the Marquise of Alorna and upon her marriage, she became Countess D’Oeynhausen. Leonor was born in 1750 in Portugal. She spent most of her childhood and youth in a convent and lived in Vienna, the South of France and London for almost two decades. While in Vienna, she was a friend of Maria Wilhelmine von Thun, attended Mozart’s concerts and was acquainted with the Counts Kaunitz and Zinzendorf. Whilst in Paris she socialized with the aristocracy and met people such as Madame de Stael and Madame Necker. Then in London, she moved in the circles of refugee aristocrats fleeing Napoleon, she met the future Louis XVIII and Madame de Stael. She was a wide reader and a poet, and translated from Latin, German, Italian, English and French into Portuguese.
In 1778 she decided to marry Count Karl August von Oeynhausen (1739-1793), a German officer from the house of Shaumburg-Lippe on duty in the Portuguese army. The decision to marry a foreigner, who was also a Lutheran and was in a financially uncertain situation, was made against the will of her father but with the support of the queen,who presided over a public ceremony where Count Oeynhausen abjured the Protestant faith and was baptized having for godparents the queen and king themselves. She and Karl married a year later and moved to Oporto, where Oeynhausen was granted a military post of command until 1780. In 1793 her husband was to die leaving her a widow with six children.
In 1802, for some unexplained reason, but one which was possibly connected to a secret society, she left her native country and spent the years 1803 to 1814 in exile, firstly in Spain then in England. It was reputed that she had become involved in political activities against Napoleon Bonaparte but whether this was true or not we can only speculate. We know our heroine was also involved in politics and espionage, it seems feasible that this was their connection.
Upon arriving in England (according to the London Land Tax records), she was living at Hans Place, Chelsea. If that name looks familiar it is because Jane Austen resided at no. 23 whenever she stayed in London. On Saturday, April 07, 1810, the London Morning Post newspaper lists Leonor as one of the attendees at The Marchioness of Stafford’s First Assembly, other attendees included the Prince of Wales, so it seems clear that she was mixing with the elite of society.
We also note from an entry dated Sunday 12th May 1811 in the Journal of Lady Glenbervie that the Countess and her three daughters had taken a property between Lydney Park in the Royal Forest of Dean, owned by the Bathurst family and Chepstow, which very conveniently for us would have been exactly where our heroine also had property, thus providing extra evidence that we had, in fact, found the right person.
Leonor returned to Portugal on the 1st of July 1814, after her brother’s death and then spent a few years trying to clear her late brother’s name after he had been charged with treason. She was also to become heavily involved in Lisbon’s intellectual society until her death on the 11th October 1839. It was not until after her death that two of her daughters Frederica and Henrietta had her work published which included poetry and translations. She was regarded by some as ‘the daughter of Enlightenment’.
Chelsea from the Thames at Battersea Reach; Canaletto; National Trust, Blickling Hall