Princess Dorothea von Lieven (1785 – 1857) was the lover of Klemens von Metternich. She 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. Her destiny was however to become the lover of one of greatest men in European history.
Her long elegant neck earned her the nickname, “the swan” by those who loved. She was called“the giraffe” by those who did not. Reputation did not bother her. Dorothea was not after friendship she was after power and she used all her intelligence, charisma, and social skills to get it. Her aim was to influence others to support the Tsar and the Holy Alliance. She was passionate about defeating 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.
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 in 1814. The waltz was a dance considered riotous and indecent. It was first danced when Tsar Alexander came to town in 1814. This was when Dorothea 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.
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.
Prince of Metternich-Winneburg-Beilstein; (1773 – 1859)
In Metternich, Dorothea had found her equal. The Prince was 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.”
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. She knew he had a string of women following him and in his bed. She continued the relationship for eight years. Finally, she heard that 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. 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. she describes him as “slow and tedious” and his wife as “stout and well-mannered.”
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’. This was something the proud and regal woman was never going to do. Like her former lover, she was ancient 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. 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. He was the last guardian of the ancient regime, which had long since passed into history.
Princess Dorothea von Lieven (1785 – 1857)
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
Princess Sophia, aged 5 in 1782 by Thomas Gainsborough. The Royal Collection.
This is the sad story of Princess Sophia. An unworldly and shy woman who was seduced by a man 33 years her senior, gave birth to his illegitimate child and was blackmailed by her son to pay his father’s debts.
According to biographer Christopher Hibbert, in her young adulthood Princess Sophia, the 5th daughter of King George III, was a “delightful though moody girl, pretty, delicate and passionate.” She was devoted to her father, though she occasionally found him exasperating. She wrote that “the dear King is all kindness to me, and I cannot say how grateful I feel for it.”
The King had told his daughters he would take them to Hanover and find them suitable husbands despite misgivings concerning marriage; he was well aware of his sisters’ experience. His eldest sister, Augusta had never fully adapted to life in Brunswick after her marriage to Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. She did not like the German court and they did not like her. Her situation was made worse by the fact that her eldest sons were born with disabilities.
George’s sister Caroline had suffered a far worse fate; at the age of 15, she was married to her cousin, Christian VII of Denmark in 1766. A year later her husband abandoned her for his mistress Støvlet-Cathrine publicly declaring that he could not love Caroline because it was “unfashionable to love one’s wife”. Caroline was left neglected and unhappy as her young husband sank into a mental stupor of paranoia, self-mutilation, and hallucinations.
A Royal Affair is a 2012 historical drama film directed by Nikolaj Arcel, starring Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, and Mikkel Følsgaard.
She took comfort with her husband’s doctor, Johann Friedrich Struensee, and Enlightenment man who ran Denmark with the half-crazed King introducing widespread reforms. The affair between Caroline and Struensee resulted in Caroline giving birth to his child, her divorce, and Struensee’s execution in 1772. Caroline, retaining her title but not her children, eventually left Denmark and passed her remaining days in exile at Celle Castle in Hanover. She died there of scarlet fever on 10 May 1775, at the age of 23.
George was unable to keep his promise due to his own ill health but when Sophia was born the King went to Parliament to negotiate allowances for his daughter and his younger sons. Like her siblings, Sophia was to receive an allowance of £6,000 a year either upon her marriages or the king’s death. This would have made her an attractive marriage prospect but Sophia ruined what prospects she had when she met and fell in love with one of her father’s equerries, Colonel, Thomas Garth, a man thirty-three years her senior.
Garth had a large purple birthmark on his face, causing Sophia’s sister Mary to refer to him as “the purple light of love.” Courtier and diarist Charles Greville, on the other hand, described him as a “hideous old devil,” and one of her ladies-in-waiting wrote, “the princess was so violently in love with him that everyone saw it. She could not contain herself in his presence.”
Princess Sophia, 1792 by Sir William Beechey. The Royal Collection.
Sophia’s downfall came when she found herself pregnant with Garth’s child. Although there has been much debate amongst historians as to whether the child was Garth’s or her uncle’s, the Duke of Cumberland’s, Thomas Garth adopted the child, educated him and brought him into his regiment calling him his nephew.
Sophia never married and remained at court until her mother Queen Charlotte died. After the queen’s death, Sophia lived in Kensington Palace next to her niece Princess Victoria of Kent, the future Queen Victoria. Like her sister-in-law the Duchess of Kent, Sophia fell under the spell of Victoria’s comptroller Sir John Conroy and let him manage her money. The lonely and unworldly Sophia fell under Conroy’s spell and he used her affection to rob her.
Her son, Tommy Garth of the 15th Hussars (1800-1873), learned of his true heritage when his father thought he was on his deathbed in 1828. With the family deep in debt, he tried to blackmail the royal family with evidence of his mother’s true identity. As historian Flora Fraser writes, all parties played unfairly. The royal family offered young Garth £3,000 for his box of evidence; they took the box but did not pay him so he went to the papers. The press dug up the gossip concerning the possibility of the Duke of Cumberland being his true father making the latter part of Sophia’s life very difficult.
Princess Sophia, 1825 by Thomas Lawrence in The Royal Collection.
Charles Greville summed Sophia up with he wrote in his diary in May 1848, shortly after she died: “Princess Sophia died a few days ago, while the Queen [Victoria] was holding the Drawing-room for her Birthday. She [Sophia] was blind, helpless, and suffered martyrdom; a very clever, well-informed woman, but who never lived in the world.”
Fraser, Flora (2004). Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III. London: John Murray. ISBN 0-7195-6109-4.
Hibbert, Christopher (2000). George III: A Personal History. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-02724-5.
Hibbert, Christopher (2001). Queen Victoria: A Personal History. De Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-81085-9.
The actress Frances Barton or Frances “Fanny” Barton was the daughter of a private soldier who started her working life as a flower girl and a street singer. As an actress, she performed in taverns and resorted to selling herself as many hard-up women did in those days before she made it onto the stage.
Her first step to success came when she got a job as a servant to a French milliner. Fanny learned about costume and acquired some French which afterward stood her in good stead as she mingled in London’s high society as a famous actress.
Actress Fanny first appeared on the stage was at Haymarket in 1755 as Miranda in Mrs. Centlivre’s play, Busybody. Following that she became a member of the Drury Lane Company, where she was overshadowed by its more established actresses Hannah Pritchard and Kitty Clive. However, Fanny was an she was an ambitious actress and travelled to Ireland where she had her first major success Lady Townley in The Provok’d Husband by Vanbrugh and Cibber. Fanny worked at her trade, she became a consumate actress and five years after she began her career she received an invitation from David Garrick to return to Drury Lane.
Fanny married her music teacher, James Abington, a royal trumpeter, in 1759. It was not happy and the pair separated but she retained his name calling herself Mrs. Abington. She remained at Drury Lane for eighteen yearsFanny played Mrs. Teasel in Sheridan’s School for Scandal making the role her own. She also played Shakespearean heroines – Beatrice, Portia, Desdemona and Ophelia and the comic characters Miss Hoyden, Biddy Tipkin, Lucy Lockit, and Miss Prue. Mrs. Abington’s Kitty in “High Life Below Stairs” put her in the foremost rank of comic actresses, making the mop cap she wore in the role the reigning fashion“.
This cap was soon referred to as the “Abington Cap” and frequently seen on stage as well as in hat shops across Ireland and England. Adoring fans donned copies of this cap and it became an essential part of the well-appointed woman’s wardrobe. The actress soon became known for her avant-garde fashion and she even came up with a way of making the female figure appear taller. She began to wear a tall-hat called a ziggurat adorned with long flowing feathers and began to follow the French custom of putting red powder on her hair.
An example of Fanny’s influence on fashion – the high ziggurat style hat.
Sir Joshua Reynolds painted her as Miss Prue a character from Congreve’s Love for Love. The portrait is the best-known of his half-dozen or more portraits of her. In 1782 she left Drury Lane for Covent Garden. After an absence from the stage from 1790 until 1797, she reappeared, quitting it finally in 1799. Her ambition, personal wit, and cleverness won her a distinguished position in society, in spite of her humble origin.
Illustrations: Fanny Abington, Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Marie-Dauncey,1789, James-Northcote, Fanny as Miss Prue, Joshua Reynolds.
Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is Available on Amazon
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Giulio Strozzi was the poet and librettist who recognised Barbara as his adopted daughter on 6 August 1619.
She was baptised in the church of Santa Sofia in the Cannaregio district (sestiere) of Venice and officially welcomed into to Strozzi family. Barbara had probably always been part of the Strozzi family as she was his illegitimate daughter by Isabella Garzoni, a long-time servant.
Barbara was lucky. Unlike most women, she was encouraged to develop her musical talents.
Her father introduced her to Venice’s intellectual elite and showcased her talents to advance her career.
Giulio was a member of the Venetian circle of intellectuals known as the Accademia degli Incogniti (“Academy of the Unknowns”), which met to discuss and debate questions of literature, ethics, aesthetics, religion, and the arts. In 1637 Giulio formed a musical subset of the Incogniti, known as the Accademia degli Unisoni (“Academy of the Like-Minded,”) for Barbara where she performed as a singer and suggested topics for discussion.
The Incogniti were early proponents of Venetian opera and Barbara was their leading light, singing for them and writing music for herself and others to perform. Click on the link to hear her haunting cantata – My Mourning sung by Pamela Lucciarini.
Barbara thrived in the society her father created for her. But her role as hostess of the Unisoni and her very public involvement in music were satirized in an anonymous manuscript that may have been penned by a member of the Incogniti; the author equated her status as a musician with the licentious behaviour of a courtesan.
A portrait of her by Bernardo Strozzi (not of the same family) has been interpreted as one implying she was indeed a woman of less than prefect morals and the fact that she never married but had four children rather suggests she was not considered good marriage material by the men she consorted with. Her two daughters became nuns and one of her sons became a monk.
Giulio Strozzi’s proto-feminist sensibilities garnered Barbara an opportunity that would be closed to most women composers for centuries. Barbara published eight collections of her vocal works between 1644 and 1664, seven of which survive.
Barbara Strozzi was a woman ahead of her time — far ahead of her time, as it would still be several centuries before most women could have serious careers as composers. Strozzi published many volumes of music, which in itself indicates that her music was well received. Her compositional output following her first volume of madrigals consisted mostly of arias, cantatas, and ariettas. The arias are generally short strophic pieces (every stanza is sung to the same music), while the cantatas are mostly longer sectional works in which the music changes to suit the meaning of the text. For example, impassioned or pathos-ridden poetry might be set as recitative, whereas music with dance rhythms might be used for poetry with a lighter character. Most of the poetry centres on the theme of love, in a manner consistent with the Marinist aesthetic of the mid-17th century, which valued wit, linguistic virtuosity, and erotic imagery. Her one collection of sacred motets, the Sacri musicali affetti (1655), was linked to the notion of Christian caritas, which represents the church as a benevolent mother; the volume was also connected to the devotional practices of its dedicatee, Anna de’ Medici, archduchess of Innsbruck.
Although she never married, Strozzi had four children; her two daughters joined a convent, and one of her sons became a monk. Barbara died in 1677 leaving behind a body of work praised for its wit, linguistic virtuosity, and erotic imagery.
Sources : Rebecca Cypess Encyclopedia Britannica
DIED November 11, 1677 (aged 58)
Francesca Caccini was born 18 September 1587 and was an Italian composer, singer, lutenist, poet, and music teacher of the early Baroque era. She was also known by the nickname “La Cecchina”, given to her by the Florentines and probably a diminutive of “Francesca”. She was the daughter of Giulio Caccini. Her only surviving stage work, La liberazione di Ruggiero, is widely considered the oldest opera by a woman composer.
Born 6 October 1591 – ca. 1638, Italy, Settima was a well-known Italian singer and composer during the 1600s being one of the first women to have a successful career in music. Caccini was highly regarded for her artistic and technical work with music. She came from a family of well-known composers and singers, with her father being Giulio Caccini and her sister Francesca Caccini. Steam Caccini was less well-known as a composer because she never published her own collection of works. Instead, nine works are attributed to her in two manuscripts of secular songs. Settimia was known much more for her talent as a singer, and she performed for nobility with the Caccini family consort and as a soloist. Coming from a musical family, she was able to lead herself to her own fame and success.
Giovanna Bassi – Ballet Dancer, Mother and Spy
Flowers, Theatre and Fashion – Fanny Abington
Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 and on Kindle Also available on:
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Maria Hadfield Cosway, Repelling the Spirit of Melancholy
Maria Cosway was born Luisa Caterina Cecilia Hadfield was born on 11 June 1760 in Florence, Italy to Charles Hadfield, who was a native of Shrewsbury, England, and an Italian mother.
Her father was a successful innkeeper at Livorno, where he had become very wealthy. The Hadfields operated three inns in Tuscany, all frequented by British aristocrats taking the Grand Tour.
One of eight children Maria was born into a comfortable and happy family. Her life should have been a tranquil one. Unbeknown to the family tragedy would overtake them when four of the Hadfield children were killed by their mentally ill nursemaid who claimed she was sending the children to heaven. Luckily she was caught and imprisoned before she could kill Maria.
While still in Florence, Maria Hadfield studied art and painting under Violante Cerroti and Johann Zoffany.
The Florentine Violante Beatrice Siries (1709–1783) was an Italian painter of repute. She studied under Hyacinthe Rigaud and François Boucher in Paris from 1726. When she returned to Florence she married Giuseppe Cerroti. She was talented in several genres, but established herself as a famous portraitist She gained the patronage of the Medici family in 1731 and travelled to Rome and Vienna to paint various members of the family .Her most ambitious work was a fourteen figure family group of the emperor Charles VI, the father of the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa in 1735. Three of her self-portraits are preserved in the Uffizi Gallery.
Johann Zoffany (1733 -1810) was a German neoclassical painter, active mainly in England, Italy and India. His works appear in many prominent British collections such as the National Gallery, London, the Tate Gallery and in the Royal Collection, as well as institutions in Europe, India, the United States and Australia. While Zoffany was painting The Tribuna of the Uffizi in 1773 Hadfield copied Old Masters at the Uffizi Gallery. She continued copying for another five years and experimenting until 1778 when she was elected to the Academia del Disegno in Florence in 1778. She also went to Rome, where she studied art under Pompeo Batoni, Anton Raphael Mengs, Henry Fuseli, and Joseph Wright of Derby.
Self Portrait With Arms Folded
On 18 January 1781, Maria Hadfield married a fellow artist, the celebrated miniature portrait painter Richard Cosway, in what is thought to have been a marriage of convenience.
Richard was born in Tiverton, Devon, the son of a schoolmaster. He was initially educated at Blundell’s School but at the age of twelve he was allowed to travel to London to take lessons in painting. He won a prize from the Society of Artists in 1754 and by 1760 had established his own business. He exhibited his first works at the age of 20 in 1762 and was soon in demand.
Maria’s husband was one of the first group of associate members of the Royal Academy, elected in August 1770, and was elected a full member the following March, on the casting vote of the academy’s president, Sir Joshua Reynolds. He was 20 years Maria’s senior, known as a libertine, and was repeatedly unfaithful to her.
Richard Cosway was “commonly described as resembling a monkey.” Her Italian manners were so foreign that her husband kept Maria secluded until she fully mastered the English language. Cosway also forbade his wife from painting, possibly out of fear of the gossip which surrounded women painters.
Her Self-Portrait with Arms Folded is seen as a response his command. The reprobate Cosway, realised his wife was his best financial asset and changed his mind.
More than 30 of her works were displayed at the Royal Academy of Art from 1781 until 1801. She soon enhanced her reputation as an artist, especially when her portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire in the character of Cynthia was exhibited.
Rather than being a social embarrassment she could claim the Hon. Mrs. Darner, the Countess of Aylesbury; Lady Cecilia Johnston; and the Marchioness of Townshend among her acquaintances.
In 1784, the Cosways moved into Schomberg House, Pall Mall, and developed a fashionable salon for London society. Richard was Principal Painter of the Prince of Wales, and Maria served as hostess to artists, members of royalty including the Prince, and politicians including Horace Walpole, Gouverneur Morris and James Boswell all attended the couples soirees. Maria who could speak several languages and had an international circle of friends.
The man who would be the American President Thomas Jefferson met the Cosways in August 1786 at the Halle aux Bleds in Paris, through the American artist John Trumbull. According to Trumbull, the President’s entourage “was occupied with the same industry in examining whatever relates to the arts …. Mr. Jefferson joined our party almost daily.” Their excursions included sites such as Versailles, the Louvre, Louis XIV’s retreat Marly, the Palais Royal, St. Germain, and the Column at the Désert de Retz.
Jefferson was enchanted by Maria, and her departure from Paris in October 1786 compelled him to write the only existing love letter in the vast collection of his correspondence.
In ‘The dialogue between my Head and my Heart,” dated October 12th and 13th, 1786. Jefferson poured out the contents of both. The bulk of the letter is a dialogue between Jefferson’s calculating reason (for which he is well known) and his spontaneous emotions (for which he is lesser known). Jefferson describes his emotional state after she has left saying he is “the most wretched of all earthly beings” and his reason responds by admonishing him for his attachment. His heart defends itself saying that no one will care for him who cares for nobody.
Their marriage was never a happy one. Richard and Maria had one child together, Louisa Paolina Angelica. The couple eventually separated. Maria took herself back to the continent. On one occasion accompanied by Luigi Marchesi, a famous Italian castrato. Marchesi was reputed to have been the handsomest castrato of all time and was said to have been adored by the whole female population of Rome. Maria, was a beautiful woman who attracted the most gifted and handsome of men.
Whether she ever had a relationship with Jefferson remains a mystery. Though her husband’s extramarital affairs were no secret, Cosway was a married woman and a devout Catholic when she met him so it is unlikely she entered into sexual relationship with him. The pair did however engage in correspondence.
After returning to America in 1789, Jefferson’s letters to her grew less frequent; partly due to the fact that he was increasingly preoccupied by his position as President George Washington’s secretary of state. She, however, continued to write to him. In her letters she vented her frustration at his growing aloofness. She clearly wanted a some passion to pass between them even if it was only in writing. In his last letters, he spoke more of his scientific studies than of his love and desire for her. Finally he admitted that his love for her had been relegated to fond memories of when their relationship had been “pure.” Whatever that meant.
Their relationship was fictionalised in ‘Jefferson in Paris‘ a 1995 Franco-American historical drama film, directed by James Ivory, which had previously entitled Head and Heart. The screenplay, by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is a semi-fictional account of Thomas Jefferson’s tenure as the Ambassador of the United States to France before his Presidency and of his alleged relationships with British artist Maria Cosway and his slave, Sally Hemings.
Maria Cosway eventually moved to Lodi, in Italy, where she established a convent school for girls. Cosway and Jefferson wrote to one another occasionally, with letters coming first from Cosway.
At her home in Lodi, Cosway kept the portrait of Jefferson by John Trumbull that is now at the White House. It was presented to the United States by the Italian government on the occasion of the 1976 Bicentennial of the American Revolution.
Today, Cosway’s paintings and engravings are held by the British Museum, the New York Public Library and the British Library. Her work was included in recent exhibits at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 1995–96 and the Tate Britain in 2006.
Julia Herdman writes history ad historical fiction. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 and Kindle Also available on:
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The History of the Love Letter
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