The Swan and the Prince

We are delighted to welcome a new guest to our blog, Julia Herdman. Julia is a history graduate who has always wanted to write novels. Her debut novel, Sinclair tells the story of a Scottish Surgeon who escapes death in a shipwreck on 6th January 1786. Having broken all his ties with Scotland and left the woman he loves to make his fortune Sinclair is forced back to London where he is introduced to a young widow, Charlotte Leadam, the owner of an apothecary shop in Tooley Street. As their business grows their relationship blossoms but when his old flame unexpectedly turns up in Tooley Street, everything he has been building is thrown into jeopardy. Before he can reclaim Charlotte’s heart, he will be tested, punished cruelly, accused of incest, and forced to face his greatest fear, the sea, once more.  Sinclair will be available to buy in the New Year.

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Princess Dorothea von Lieven (1785 – 1857) by Sir Thomas Lawrence, circa 1813

Today, she is going to tell us about Princess Dorothea von Lieven (1785 – 1857) who was the wife of Prince Khristofor Andreyevich Lieven, Russian ambassador to London from 1812 to 1834. Considered cold and snobbish by London Society Dorothea was not an instant success when she arrived fresh from the Russian court.

Princess Dorothea von Lieven (1785 – 1857) c.1814 by unknown artist showing her long neck.
Princess Dorothea von Lieven (1785 – 1857) c.1814 by unknown artist showing her long neck.

Her long elegant neck earned her the nickname, “the swan” by those who loved her and “the giraffe” by those who did not. Reputation did not bother her however; she was not after friendship she was after power and she used all her intelligence, charisma, and social skills to get what influence she could for the Tsar and the Holy Alliance in negotiations concerning the defeat of Napoleon and reestablishment of absolutist monarchy in Europe.  Not only did she become the Austrian Chancellor, Prince Metternich’s lover she was also reputed to have had affairs or at least very close friendships with Lord Palmerston, Lord Castlereagh and Lord Grey while she was in London.

Prince of Metternich-Winneburg-Beilstein; (1773 – 1859)

Her hard work paid off and soon invitations to Dorothea’s home became the most sought after in capital. She was the first foreigner to be elected a patroness of Almack’s where she is said to have introduced the waltz, a dance considered riotous and indecent, to England, during Tsar Alexander’s visit in 1814. It was during that visit she first met Metternich. It seems they took an instant dislike to one another. She thought he was cold and intimidating and far too self- important. He dismissed her as just a pretty woman travelling in the Tsar’s wake and treated her with complete indifference.

Tsar Alexander I by G.Dawe, 1826

Some four years later, the pair met again at the Dutch Ambassador’s party at Aix-La-Chappelle. Sitting next to each other they found they had much in common – they both hated Napoleon.  Their notorious liaison began a few days later when Dorothea entered the Prince’s apartment incognito.

In Metternich Dorothea had found her equal, a man who could satisfy her physically, emotionally and intellectually. She wrote, “Good God! My love, I know how to rejoice in so few things, do you understand what makes me feel true happiness, it is you, only you! My Clement, if you cease to love me what will become of me?  … My dear friend promise to love me as much as I love you; our lives are pledged in this promise.”

In Dorothea, Metternich had met the woman of his dreams; she could match his intellect and his passion. He wrote, “My happiness today is you. Your soul is full of common sense your heart is full of warmth … You are as a woman what I am as a man.”

1822 caricature of the Holy Alliance trampling those demanding democracy under their feet while nursing the infant state of Prussia

Their heated, clandestine affair soon succumbed to the requirements state; they met occasionally but corresponded frequently. Like many illicit lovers, they were tortured by their separation and the knowledge they could never be together.

Dorothea was well aware of Metternich’s reputation as a libertine seducer but she continued the relationship for eight years until she heard he had thrown her over for a younger woman. Desolate, she broke off their relationship in 1826. By the end references to Metternich in her letters were cold and spiteful and it seems time did not heal her broken heart. She had nothing good to say about him or his third wife when she saw him in Brighton in 1849 describing him as “slow and tedious” and his wife as “stout and well-mannered.”

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Waltzing at Almack’s, George Cruikshank, 1817, Comic Book History. British Museum

She ended her days in Paris as the ‘wife’ of the French politician Guizot. It was said that although  she was a widow she refused to marry Guizot because it would mean giving up her title ‘Serene Highness’ something the proud and regal woman was never going to do. Like her former lover, she was ancien regime through and through.

Dorothea died peacefully at her home in Paris, aged 71, in January 1857. She is a recurring minor figure in many historical novels, notably those of Georgette Heyer. Heyer portrays her as a haughty, formidable, and unapproachable leader of society, but in The Grand Sophy she is described as “clever and amusing“, and there is a passing reference in that book to her role in political intrigues. Metternich died in Vienna two years later aged 86 the last guardian of the ancien regime, which had long since passed into history.

 

Sources:

Dorothea Lieven: A Russian Princess in London and Paris, 1785-1857 By Judith Lissauer Cromwell

The Congress of Vienna: Power and Politics After Napoleon By Brian E. Vick

1815: The Roads to Waterloo By Gregor Dallas

Wikipedia: Klemens von Metternick

Eurozine: Women at the Congress of Vienna

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3 thoughts on “The Swan and the Prince

    1. That is fascinating Sandra. Tooley is an unusual name, in this case the Tooley is a street in Southwark and the name is said to be a corruption of ‘to St. Olave’s’ which is the baroque church there. The church features in my book and is still standing in Tooley Street today.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Certainly according to Ipswich history the street was named for Henry Tooley who was a very big businessman in the mid 16th century, along with his sometime business associate John Leman – there is a Leman street in London as well, I believe – who has a memorial in St Clement’s church Ipswich and who founded the grammar school in Beccles, known as the John Leman School. Ipswich was one of the 5 largest ports at the time, so it would be no surprise that any businessman of any repute would also have ties to the capital. The roads from London to Ipswich were among the very few which were well enough maintained that they remained passable after October and before March which was not guaranteed many places before the implementation of the toll roads.

        Liked by 1 person

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