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
Using the Present Tense to Write About the Past
Writing about the past in the present tense is hot with publishers but does it work for readers?
In writing and rhetoric, the historical present or narrative present is the employment of the present tense when narrating past events.
Dickens – David Copperfield
Dickens used it to give immediacy: ‘If the funeral had been yesterday, I could not recollect it better. The very air of the best parlour, when I went in at the door, the bright condition of the fire, the shining of the wine in the decanters, the patterns of the glasses and plates, the faint sweet smell of cake, the odour of Miss Murdstone’s dress, and our black clothes. Mr. Chillip is in the room and comes to speak to me.
“And how is Master David?” he says, kindly.
I cannot tell him very well. I give him my hand, which he holds in his.
— Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, Chapter IX
More recently, analysts of its use in conversation have argued that it functions by foregrounding events that is, signaling that one event is particularly important than others. Historical novelist Sarah Dunant is one of the ace exponents of this style of writing. She uses the present tense to bring the past to life. The elegance of her prose can be seen in this quote from her latest book, In the Name of the Family, Virago, 2017.
“He leaves for work each day at dawn. In the beginning, she had hoped that her nest-ripe body might tempt him to linger awhile. Florence is rife with stories of married men who use early risings of excuses to visit their mistresses, and he had come with a reputation for enjoying life. That even if that were the case, there’s nothing she can do about it, not least because where ever he is going, this husband of hers has already gone from her long before he gets out of the door.
In fact, Niccolo Machiavelli doesn’t leave the warmth of his marriage bed for any other woman (he can do that easily enough on his way home), but because the days dispatches arrived at the Pallazzo della Signoria early and it is his greatest pleasure as well as his duty to be among the first to read them.
His journey takes him down the street on the south side of the city and across the river Arno via the Ponte Vecchio. A maverick winter snowfall has turned into grimy frost and the ground cracks like small animal bones under his feet. On the bridge, fresh carcasses are being unloaded into the butcher’s shops. Through the open shutters, he catches glimpses of the river, its surface a silvery apricot under the rising sun. A feral dog streaks across his path, going for a goblet of offal near the wheel of a cart. It earns him a kick in the ribs of his daring but his jaws remain firmly clenched over the prize. Scavenging opportunist Niccolo thinks, not without a certain admiration.”
Dunant describes her inspiration in an interview with Meredith K. Ray.
She said, “I became interested in a very simple idea, which was, “What would it have been like to be in the middle of the cauldron [Florence] of the shock of the new that they must have felt when it was happening around them?”
I just kept thinking “Dear God, everywhere you go in this city, it must have been vibrating!” I wondered whether or not it would be possible to write a book that would capture that sense of exploding modernity within the past.
Then of course what happened is when I went back to look at the history, I realized that there had been a quiet but persuasive revolution going on within the discipline. When I was doing history [at Cambridge] . . . people studying [gender and race] had yet to move into doing their post-graduate work and become professors and start producing the literature which was starting to fill in the missing spaces or at least make a gesture towards the colour.
I really often think of [history] as a pointillist painting, which is made up of a thousand dots. It’s just bits of paint, but as you walk away, each one of them gives you more of a sense of internal life and dynamic. I really began to feel that that was true about some of the history that I’d studied: blocks of primary colour, but there was stuff missing and it was very important stuff. It was like, “What was it like to be half the population?”
Dunnant’s story proceeds through a succession of tremendous set pieces, including a sea storm, a plague, the delivery of a child and various skirmishes as the pope and his children seek to tighten the “Borgia belt” around Italy. The focus is on the immediacy of the experience in a similar way to Hilary Mantel’s Tudor novels. Like Mantel Dunant’s project is a sympathetic presentation. The villains are human beings with families and needs – power being the first among many. Dunant has made the Borgia’s completely her own in this way. How the use of the present tense fits this aim is unclear as it used in all her writing.
Mantel’s prose is sparse and more visceral by comparison;”The blood from the gash on his head – which is his father’s first effort – is trickling across his face. Add to this, his left eye is blinded, but if he squints sideways with his right eye he can see that the stitching of his father’s boot is unravelling. The twine has sprung loose from the leather, and a hard knot in it has caught his eyebrow and opened another cut.“So now get up!” Walter is roaring down at him, working out where to kick him next. He lifts his head an inch or two, and moves forward, on his belly, trying to do it without exposing his hands, on which Walter enjoys stamping. “What are you an eel?” his parent asks. He trots backwards, and aims another kick.” Woolf Hall, Harper Collins, 2009.
Mantel said, “My concern as a writer is with memory, personal and collective: with the restless dead asserting their claim.” Perhaps that is why she uses the present tense in her work.
She goes on to say that when we memorialise the dead we are sometimes desperate for the truth or for a comforting illusion. As a nation, we need to reach into the past for foundation myths of our tribe. We find them in past glories and past grievance, but we seldom find them in cold facts. Nations she says are built on wishful versions of their origins: stories in which our ancestors were giants, of one kind or another.
According to Mantel, we live in a world of romance. Once the romance was about aristocratic connections and secret status, the fantasy of being part of an elite. Now the romance is about deprivation, dislocation, about the distance covered between there and here. The facts have less traction, less influence on what we are and what we do, than the self-built fictions.
Novelists she says are interested in driving new ideas but readers are touchingly loyal to the first history they learn. However, if you’re looking for safety and authority, history is the wrong place to look say Mantel. Any worthwhile history is in a constant state of self-questioning, just as any worthwhile fiction is. If the reader asks the writer, “Have you evidence to back your story?” the answer should be yes: but you hope the reader will be wise to the many kinds of evidence there are, and how they can be used.”
Does writing about the past in the present tense work? As much as I admire both writers I shall be sticking to the past tense in my writing with a bit of present tense thrown in for immediacy when required. As a reader, I find it much easier to read and hold onto the story when it’s written that way. Too much present tense, in my opinion, can end up like listening to the audio-description while you’re watching TV even if the prose is elegant.
Julia Herdman’s debut novel ‘Sinclair‘ is available on Amazon worldwide.
Maria Hadfield Cosway, Repelling the Spirit of Melancholy
Maria Luisa Caterina Cecilia Cosway was born on 11 June 1760 in Florence, Italy to Charles Hadfield, said to have been 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’s life should have been a tranquil one but four of the Hadfield children were killed by a mentally ill nursemaid. The nurse claimed that her young victims would be sent to Heaven after she killed them; luckily she was caught and imprisoned before she could kill all the children including Maria.
While still in Florence, Maria Hadfield studied art under Violante Cerroti and Johann Zoffany. From 1773 to 1778, she copied Old Masters at the Uffizi Gallery. For her work, she was elected to the Academia del Disegno in Florence in 1778. She also went to Rome, where she studied art under Pompeo Batoni and she studied with Anton Raphael Mengs, Henry Fuseli, and Joseph Wright of Derby.
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. He was 20 years her senior, known as a libertine, and was repeatedly unfaithful to her. Richard 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 to his limitation of her work, her folded arms acting as a sign of her inability to practice. But, in time he realised his wife’s talent and helped her to develop it. 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. Among her personal acquaintances were Lady Lyttelton; the Hon. Mrs. Darner, the Countess of Aylesbury; Lady Cecilia Johnston; and the Marchioness of Townshend.
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. She could speak several languages and had an international circle of friends.
Thomas Jefferson met the Cosways in August 1786 at the Halle aux Bleds in Paris, through a connection with the American artist John Trumbull. According to Trumbull, the 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, “The dialogue between my Head and my Heart,” dated October 12th and 13th, 1786. 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). The letter gives vent to the sadness in his heart after Cosway’s departure. Jefferson describes his emotional state saying he is “the most wretched of all earthly beings.” His reason responds admonishing him for his attachment. In response his heart defends itself as the guardian of morality and relational solace, in that “assuredly nobody will care for him who cares for nobody.”
Richard and Maria had one child together, Louisa Paolina Angelica, but the couple eventually separated. Maria often travelled on the continent, on one occasion accompanied by Luigi Marchesi, a famous Italian castrato. Marchesi might have been the handsomest castrato of all time and was said to have been adored by the whole female population of Rome. Whether she ever had a relationship with Jefferson is unknown. Though her husband’s extramarital affairs were no secret, Cosway was still a married woman and she was a devout Catholic and is unlikely to have entered into sexual relationship. The pair did however engage in correspondence. After returning to America in 1789, his 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 and vented her frustration at his growing aloofness. In his last letters, he spoke more of his scientific studies than of his love and desire for her, finally admitting that his love for her had been relegated to fond memories of when their relationship had been “pure.”
Their relationship was fictionalised in ‘Jefferson in Paris‘ a 1995 Franco-American historical drama film, directed by James Ivory, 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, Italy, and established a convent school for girls. Cosway and Jefferson wrote one another occasionally, with letters coming first from Cosway. At her home in Lodi, Cosway possessed a portrait of Jefferson by John Trumbull that is now at the White House, presented by the Italian government on the occasion of the 1976 Bicentennial. Her 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 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 Kindle £2.42 Also available on:
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Through most of history men were thought of as the stronger sex, more violent, more intelligent, more courageous, and the more determined sex. Women were perceived to be governed by their emotions and they were expected to be passive, chaste, modest, compassionate, and pious.
It is often argued that the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries witnessed a significant separation of the sexes in society. For example, women and men to develop separate social lives, women took tea at home, men frequented the coffee shops, women withdrew from the dining table after a meal to let the men smoke and talk politics whilst they concerned themselves with more domestic topics of conversation and drank tea. These social changes were in part due to increased wealth and to some extent the growing influence of evangelical Christianity which placed a high moral value on female domesticity, virtue, and religiosity.
When it came to crime women are always accused of fewer, and different, crimes to men. At the Old Bailey women accounted for only 21% of the defendants tried between 1674 and 1913, but this figure masks a significant chronological change. While women accounted for around 40% of the defendants from the 1690s to the 1740s (and, highly unusually, over half the defendants in the first decade of the eighteenth century), over the course of the period this proportion declined significantly, so that by the early nineteenth century only 22% of defendants were women and by the early twentieth century the proportion had declined to 9%. By this point serious crime had come to be perceived as essentially a masculine problem. Increasingly, female deviance was perceived as a consequence and aspect of sexual immorality rather than crime, and was addressed through other agencies of protection and control.
Women tended to be accused of certain kinds of theft – pick pocketing, shoplifting, theft from lodging houses, theft from masters, and receiving stolen goods. More serious crimes included coining, kidnapping, keeping a brothel, and offences surrounding childbirth such as infanticide, concealing a birth or unlawful abortion.Although prostitution itself was not tried at the Old Bailey, keeping a brothel was, and women account for about a third of those prosecuted.Of the 47 infanticide cases Naomi Clifford read researching her book, The Disappearance of Maria Glenn, 13 ended in acquittal of the manslaughter or murder charge but conviction of the less crime of concealing a birth, for which the defendants were given prison sentences ranging from 14 days to 2 years. In 32 cases the defendant was found not guilty and was free to go. Two cases resulted in conviction for murder. Neither were commuted and the defendants were hanged.
Appearing as a defendant at the Old Bailey must have been a significantly more intimidating experience for women than it was for men. All court personnel, from the judges and jury to lawyers and court officials were men except when a jury of all women was convened, known as a ‘jury of matrons’ to determine the validity of a convicted woman’s plea that she was pregnant. There is some evidence that juries treated evidence presented by female witnesses more sceptically than that delivered by men and female testimony was more likely to be omitted from court proceedings. At the same time, other evidence suggests that juries may have been more reluctant to convict women since, they were perceived as less of a threat to society and the legal principle of the feme covert, which made women responsible for crimes committed in the presence of their husbands (since they were presumed to be following their husbands’ commands) was not often applied.
The pattern of punishments for convicted women was significantly different from that of men, though when punishments for the same offence are compared the differences are not so great. Before 1691, women convicted of the theft of goods worth more than 10 shillings could not receive benefit of clergy unlike men, and were sentenced to death (in practice, they were often acquitted, convicted on a reduced charge, or pardoned).Women convicted of treason or petty treason were sentenced to death by being burned at the stake (until 1790); men convicted of the same offences were hanged, drawn and quartered, it seems the authorities did not want to expose women to this humiliating fate. Women sentenced to death who successfully pleaded that they were pregnant had their punishments respited, and often remitted entirely. From 1848, reprieves granted to pregnant women were always permanent.
Following the suspension of transportation to America in 1776, a statute authorised judges to sentence male offenders otherwise liable to transportation to hard labour improving the navigation of the Thames (they were incarcerated on the hulks), while women, and those men unfit for working on the river, were to be imprisoned and put to hard labour. Only men could be sentenced to military or naval duty and fewer women were selected for transportation when when transportation to Australia began in 1787. The public whipping of women was abolished in 1817 (having been in decline since the 1770s), while the public flogging of men continued into the 1830s (and was not abolished until 1862).
The perception of women and the type of crimes most frequently committed by them made them seem far less of a threat to society than the crimes of men but when a woman transgressed into the world of ‘male crime’ her punishment was likely to be more severe than that of a man in a similar situation because she had not only committed a crime she had transgressed the social order and stepped outside her perceived expected gender role.
A clandestine or illicit marriage is a great plot line for a story but they were a fact of life for women from all social classes in 18th Century Britain.
On May 11, 1786 the Coachmakers’ Hall, Debating Society debated the following proposition: “Are not the Restraints contained in the Marriage Act, and every other Restriction on the Matrimonial Contract, contrary to the natural Rights of Mankind, and injurious to Conjugal Felicity?”
The Marriage Act 1753, popularly known as Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act, was the first statutory legislation in England and Wales to require a formal ceremony of marriage. The Act came into force on 25 March 1754 and made compulsory the reading of banns, registration of a marriage and witnesses for the first time.
Before the Act, the legal requirements for a valid marriage in England and Wales had been governed by the canon law of the Church of England. This had stipulated that banns should be called or a marriage licence should be obtained before a marriage and that the marriage should be celebrated in the parish where at least one of the parties was resident. However, these requirements were not mandatory and the absence of banns or a licence – or even the fact that the marriage was not celebrated in a church – did not render the marriage void. The only indispensable requirement was that the marriage be celebrated by an Anglican clergyman. So this left a lot of scope for clandestine marriages and the marriage of those who were technically under the age of legal consent which was 21 at the time.
Maria Fitzherbert (26 July 1756 – 27 March 1837) was the secret wife of George, Prince of Wales, the future George IV. Maria came from a respectable Roman Catholic family and educated in France and she had been married twice before. She married Edward Weld, 16 years her senior, a rich Catholic landowner of Lulworth Castle in July 1775 but Weld died just three months later after a fall from his horse and having failed to sign his new will so his estate went to his younger brother Thomas. Maria, now a widow was left effectively destitute, had little or no financial support from the Weld family and was obliged to remarry as soon as she could. Her second marriage was three years later, to Thomas Fitzherbert of Swynnerton, Staffordshire. She was ten years younger than him. They had a son who died young and then she was widowed again in 1781 but this time she got an annuity of £1000 and a town house in Park Street, Mayfair.
In 1783 George, Prince of Wales became infatuated with her, wanting her to become his mistress but Maria’s devout Catholic beliefs would not allow it. So on 15 December 1785 they were married in a secret ceremony conducted by Robert Burt, an impoverished curate who set aside his scruples for the £500 fee.The marriage was not legal. It not only contravened the 1753 Marriage Act it was also in breach of the Act of Settlement of 1701, preventing a Roman Catholic from ascending the British throne and the Royal Marriage Act of 1772. George and Maria spent much of their time in Brighton where Mrs Fitzherbert was treated as queen. Whether she was ignorant or deluded concerning her position is unknown.
The couple separated when George’s affections turned to Frances, Countess of Jersey in 1794 and he position was finally put asunder when he married his cousin Caroline of Brunswick in 1795. The couple were briefly reunited in 1800. By 1807, the prince’s affections were wandering again, this time towards Lady Hertford. Unable to bear any further humiliation, on 18 December 1809, Maria sent George a farewell letter and after 1811, she did not return to the Brighton until after George’s death. However, she was more fortunate than many of George’s other mistresses; she received financial provision by way of a pension.
Following the death of George IV on 26 June 1830, it was discovered that he had kept all of Fitzherbert’s letters, and steps were taken to destroy them. Fitzherbert told George IV’s brother, King William IV, about their marriage and showed him the document in her possession. He asked Fitzherbert to accept a dukedom, but she refused, asking only permission to wear widow’s weeds, and to dress her servants in royal livery. Architect William Porden designed Steine House, on the west side of Old Steine in Brighton, for Fitzherbert. She lived there from 1804 until her death in 1837. She was buried at St John the Baptist’s Church in the Kemp Town area of Brighton.
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 Kindle £2.42 Also available on:
Amazon New Zealand
Amazon South Africa