Dandy in a Droshky, Russia, 1820s

Chatsworth’s Russian Coachman

This is the third in a series of blogs in which we have taken a closer look at some of the staff and servants of the Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire. Today we’re taking a look at the 6th duke’s trips to Russia and concentrating on just one man, a larger than life Russian coachman. He certainly merits his own blog.

William Spencer, 6th Duke of Devonshire by Thomas Lawrence
William Spencer, 6th Duke of Devonshire by Thomas Lawrence (via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1817, William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (known as Hart due to his former title, the Marquess of Hartington) travelled to St Petersburg in Russia with a whole host of attendants for the wedding of his friend, the Grand Duke Nicholas Pavolvich of Russia (later Czar Nicholas I and Catherine the Great’s grandson). The bride was Charlotte of Prussia (subsequently known as Alexandra Feodorovna); Hart loved St Petersburg and thought it ‘more beautiful than Paris’.

The Empress Catherine the Great of Russia (1729-1796); Russian School
The Empress Catherine the Great of Russia (1729-1796); Russian School; The Bowes Museum

His Grace the Duke of Devonshire is about to sail for the Continent, in company with the Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia. His Grace has seceded to an invitation from the Grand Duke, to make a tour in Russia, and other parts of the Continent, which will occupy the whole of the ensuing summer.

During the trip, one of the duke’s attendants was his courier, Xavier Faldyer. He was ‘not agreeable, a sort of obstinate old Don Quixote, in an eternal wrangle with the Doctor, who had undertaken to regulate the expences and never ceased to exclaim, “terrible! terrible!”’ From the Chatsworth archives relating to the family’s servants, we can glean further information. Edwin Jones was the clearly long-suffering doctor who accompanied the duke.

Michael Lemm went along as a footman but didn’t think much of Russia, observing that ‘he would rather be hung in England than die in Russia’. Mr Worrall was the coachman.

Another expedition to Russia took place in 1826 when the 6th Duke of Devonshire travelled there to attend the coronation of Nicolas I. George Spencer Ridgway, the duke’s valet and ‘foster brother’ was by his side; George’s mother, Mrs Ridgway had been the duke’s wetnurse and George’s middle name, Spencer, indicates a close relationship with the family. He started at Devonshire House as a footman in 1802 and, when appointed the duke’s valet, Ridgway was his most trusted servant, acting as personal secretary, agent and steward too until 1858.

Miniature portrait of Emperor Nicholas I, 1826-1830; The State Hermitage Museum

In Russia, the duke and George were given a Russian coach by the emperor, known as a droshky. They also acquired a coachman who they brought back to Chatsworth along with the droshky. Peter Wisternoff (also Westerney, Wisternou and Ustinowica and born c.1796) was known as Peter the Russian or just the Russian Coachman; his helper was a man named Thomas Hawkins (who seems to have ended up the Porter at Devonshire House). Wisternoff stayed at Chatsworth until the early 1840s, a brilliantly eccentric character, tall and with a fine, intelligent countenance who wore his traditional Russian clothes rather than livery and sported the biggest and bushiest of beards.

Major General Norcliffe of Dalton Hall Riding in a Russian Droshky
This is titled ‘Major General Norcliffe of Dalton Hall Riding in a Russian Droshky’ although it’s very similar to a Russian print from the 1820s, ‘Dandy in a Droshky’ (see next image). Nevertheless, it is exactly how Peter the Russian must have appeared as coachman of the Duke of Devonshire’s Droshky. Portrait by David Dalry; Scarborough Collections

He is habited in the costume of his country, which consists of a large coat, generally green, which is gathered in folds round the waist, crimson sash, with an ample flow of black beard.

Dandy in a Droshky, Russia, 1820s.
Dandy in a Droshky, Russia, 1820s; The State Hermitage Museum

The Russian Coachman is one of the subjects in Bolton Abbey in the Olden Time by Sir Edwin Landseer, the original of which hangs in Chatsworth. The image below is a very good copy of the painting in tapestry; there are three men with beards but Peter the Russian is the one in the foreground, kneeling with the stag.

Tapesty of Bolton Abbey in the Olden Time
Tapestry of Bolton Abbey in the Olden Time; Massachusetts Collection Online

In 1832, Princess Victoria visited Chatsworth.

[Saturday 20th October, 1832] … we went to the stables where we saw some pretty ponies and a Russian coachman in his full dress, and the only Russian horse which remained reared at command; there were 3 other horses, English ones, but trained like the other.

A Russian Droshky (light horse-driven carriage) from the 1820s
A Russian Droshky (light horse-driven carriage) from the 1820s; The State Hermitage Museum

[Sunday 21st October, 1832] … Mamma and me drove in front in the pony phaeton and the Duke and Lady Cavendish behind; Lady Catherine and Lehzen going in another little phaeton; while Lord Morpeth and Mr Cooper went in the Russian drotchky. This curious carriage is drawn by one horse (which was the piebald one) in the shafts with a houp over its head, and the harness is golden without and winkers, and the horse in the shafts always trots, while the other, a pretty chestnut one, always gallops and puts its head on one side; the coachman, called Peter, sitting in his full dress on the box and driving the horses without any whip.

Princess Victoria by Henry Collen, 1836.
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

Peter the Russian married a girl named Sarah from Clowne, Derbyshire by whom he had at least eight children, one of whom was disabled. He fell foul of the duke’s Steward, George Spencer Ridgway, who forbade Peter from taking beer from the cellar, a disagreement which seems to have culminated in Peter leaving the duke’s service.

Peter, the Duke of Devonshire's Russian Coachman, portrait painted soon after his arrival in England
Peter the Russian Coachman, portrait painted soon after his arrival in England; Chatsworth.org

In the early 1840s (certainly after the 1841 census when Peter was living with his family at the Chatsworth stables), the duke broke up his Russian establishment and granted a liberal pension to Peter who subsequently lived – rent-free – on a 10 acre farm at Nether Handley near Staveley where, in 1851, he described himself as a ‘retired gentleman’. One the 1861 and 1871 census returns his occupation was that of a farmer of 10 acres. Peter died on Saturday 4th May 1878 at the age of 82 years, having been a pensioner ‘on the bounty of the Dukes of Devonshire for nearly forty years’.

South west view of Chatsworth House, 1812.
Southwest view of Chatsworth House, 1812. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Sources for all three of our blogs on Chatsworth’s staff and servants not referenced in the relevant articles are:

The Eighteenth-century Woman by Olivier Bernier (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1981)

Queen Victoria’s Journals (online resource)

Chatsworth: Historic Staff and Servants database

Chatsworth blog: The Russian Coachman’s Beard

Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, 18 May 1878

Carlisle Patriot, 15 March 1817

If you want to explore the database of staff and servants further, you can find it by clicking here. It lists those who have worked at Chatsworth or on the Cavendish estates going back to 1700, and will be added to over the coming years.

The excellent Chatsworth servants and staff database and associated blog posts on the Chatsworth website were created by Lauren Butler (@HistoryButler), Hannah Wallace (@hwallace24) and Fiona Clapperton (@feeclapperton) as part of a collaborative PhD with the University of Sheffield and is the culmination of many years work.

Adophus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Duke Ernest Gottlob of Mecklenburg, probably by Daniel Woge, painted after January 1766 as Christiana wears the red sash denoting the Order of St Catherine.

Queen Charlotte’s sister: Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

Princess Christiane Sophie Albertine of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was the elder sister of Queen Charlotte, consort of George III.

Born on the 6th December 1735 at Mirow (in north east Germany, then in the duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz), Christiane (also known as Christiana) was destined to have her heart broken, and it was all because of the good fortune of her sister, Charlotte.

Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; German school, 1766 or later (as she is wearing the Order of St Catherine).
Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; German school, 1766 or later (as she is wearing the Order of St Catherine). Royal Collection Trust

Duke Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg and Princess Elisabeth Albertine of Saxe Hildburghausen had ten children, six of whom survived infancy. Christiane was the first born, and after her came:

Adophus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1738-1794)

Charles II, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1741-1816)

Duke Ernest Gottlob of Mecklenburg (1742-1814)

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen Consort to George III (1744-1818)

Duke George Augustus of Mecklenburg (1748-1785)

Lid of a snuff box, c.1770 depicting Queen Charlotte (seated, centre left), her sister, Princess Christiane (wearing a blue dress and the red sash of the Order of St Catherine), their brothers, Charles, Ernest, George and Adolphus and on the far right is Charles' wife, Frederica and their infant daughter.
Lid of a snuff box, c.1770 depicting Queen Charlotte (seated, centre left), her sister, Princess Christiane (wearing a blue dress and the red sash of the Order of St Catherine), their brothers, Charles, Ernest, George and Adolphus and on the far right is Charles’ wife, Frederica and their infant daughter. Royal Collection Trust

Together with her sisters, Christiane received a rudimentary education; Charlotte’s upbringing was later described as one similar to an English country gentleman although accounts suggest the girls were taught Latin, French and Greek as well as botany and history. With a good grounding in how to run a household and, as the eldest daughter, Christiane could perhaps have expected to make a highly advantageous marriage. However, by 1761 – aged 25 years – she was still unwed.

Adophus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Duke Ernest Gottlob of Mecklenburg, probably by Daniel Woge, painted after January 1766 as Christiana wears the red sash denoting the Order of St Catherine.
Adophus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Duke Ernest Gottlob of Mecklenburg, probably by Daniel Woge, painted after January 1766 as Christiana wears the red sash denoting the Order of St Catherine. Staatliches Museum Schwerin

In the early 1760s, John Ker, the young 3rd Duke of Roxburghe, was undertaking the Grand Tour. Travelling through Europe, in 1761 he met Christiane, and fell in love.  Christiane returned his affection and the romance between them progressed far enough for an engagement to be proposed.

John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Thomas Patch, 1761.
John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Thomas Patch, 1761. National Portrait Gallery

But, a spanner was about to be thrown into the works. In England, George III had ascended the throne and started to search for a wife amongst the European royalty and nobility. His choice eventually settled on the 17-year-old Princess Charlotte and a proposal of marriage was made, and accepted in the summer of 1761, at exactly the same time that the Duke of Roxburghe was negotiating for the hand of Christiane.

Queen Charlotte, when Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz c.1760. Royal Collection Trust. This portrait may be the one sent from Mecklenburg to George III before Charlotte's arrival in England for her marriage.
Queen Charlotte, when Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz c.1760. This portrait may be the one sent from Mecklenburg to George III before Charlotte’s arrival in England for her marriage.

The younger sister’s marriage proved to be a detrimental and insurmountable barrier to the elder’s; German etiquette precluded Christiane, almost a decade Charlotte’s senior, becoming the new British queen’s subject… and George III quite possibly disliked the idea of one of his subjects, albeit one who was high in his favour, becoming his brother-in-law. Reluctantly, Christiane and the duke took the decision to part.

Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Royal Collection Trust

While George III and Queen Charlotte had a long and very happy marriage (they fell deeply in love with one another), neither Christiane nor the duke ever married. It is believed that, having suffered the loss of each other, they never found anyone else who matched up to their ideal. Sir Walter Scott knew the duke personally, and said of him that:

Youthful misfortunes, of a kind against which neither rank nor wealth possess a talisman, had case an early shade of gloom over his prospects, and given to one so splendidly endowed with the means of enjoying society that degree of reserved melancholy which prefers retirement to the splendid scenes of gaiety.

John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Pompeo Batoni, 1761.
John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Pompeo Batoni, 1761. Scottish National Gallery

A personal friend of George III, Roxburghe was rewarded with positions at court. Christiane lived for a time in Neustrelitz with her brother, Adolphus. As he too was unmarried, Christiane acted as his representative when necessary and later she was made a canoness in Herford Abbey (an ancient religious establishment for women in the Duchy of Saxony), although she continued to live with her brother rather than enter the abbey’s precincts. On the 13th January 1766, Empress Catherine II (the Great) of Russia bestowed the Order of St Catherine on Christiane.

Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wearing the badge, star and ribbon of the Order of St Catherine of Russia, c.1766. Previously attributed to Daniel Woge.
Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wearing the badge, star and ribbon of the Order of St Catherine of Russia, c.1766. Previously attributed to Daniel Woge. Royal Collection Trust

Christiane died on the 31st August 1794. Her younger sister, Queen Charlotte, was in Weymouth with the royal family when she heard the news; the court was ordered to go into mourning.

The ladies to wear black silk, plain muslin or long lawn, crape or love hoods, black silk shoes, black glazed gloves, and black paper fans.

Undress, black or dark-grey unwatered tabbies.

The gentlemen to wear black cloth, without buttons on the sleeves or pockets, plain muslin or long lawn cravats and weepers [strips of cloth sown onto coat cuffs], black swords and buckles.

Undress, dark-grey frocks.

Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; German school c.1775.
Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; German school c.1775. Royal Collection Trust

The Duke of Roxburghe, who became a noted bibliophile, died in 1804.

 

Sources:

Hillyard, B. (2004-09-23). Ker, John, third duke of Roxburghe (1740–1804), book collector. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Stamford Mercury, 19th September 1794

Бантыш-Каменский Н.Н. Списки кавалерам российских императорских орденов Св. Андрея Первозванного, Св. Екатерины, Св. Александра Невского и Св. Анны с учреждения до установления в 1797 году орденского капитула. Издание подготовил П.А. Дружинин. Москва, «Трутень»®, «Древлехранилище», 2005. – 228с. 500 экз. Тв. переплет. (Типогр. «Гриф и Ко», г. Тула). ISBN 5-94926-007-4.