It is with this post that we introduce a new section to The Nineteenth Century Handbook. While how-to, lifestyle and etiquette guides will help you to mix and mingle with Regency and Victorian society, you’ll also need to know their ‘movers and shakers’. The new ‘Calling Cards’ section should help you to appear well-informed (or be well-informed, depending on how you look at it) and allow you to casually name drop the ‘right’ people into your conversation, or recognise them if you do achieve that level of social success.
With this in mind, one of the key players in Regency society, and indeed Regency politics and diplomacy, is Princess Lieven.
Born Dorothea von Benckendorff in December 1785, the future Princess Lieven was associated with the highest echelons of the Russian Court from her early life. Her mother, Baroness Anna Juliane Charlotte Schilling von Canstatt, held a high position in the Court as a senior lady-in-waiting to, and best friend of, Empress Maria Fyodorovna. After Princess Lieven had finished her education, she also joined the Court as a maid-of-honour.
In February 1800, she married General Count Christopher Lieven, later to become Prince Lieven. It was later generally agreed that Princess Lieven was the personality behind their marriage and success. This became painfully clear upon Count Lieven’s appointment as ambassador to Great Britain in 1812, where London society nicknamed them ‘the two Russian ambassadors’.
Princess Lieven’s charm, wit, vivacity and sharp tongue drew London society to her. Her social success, in becoming a Lady Patroness of Almack’s and introducing the waltz, was coupled with her political and diplomatic associations. She was linked to some of the most power figures of the day, among them Lord Grey, Lord Palmerston, the Duke of Wellington and the Austrian Chancellor von Metternich. Suffice to say, her invitations were assiduously sought-after. She became a powerful figure in her own right.
Then, in 1834, her husband was recalled to Russia. While their marriage had, at first, been a positive one, it had become more fraught as time went by. Now missing her friends and vibrant social life in London, Princess Lieven was struck by a far harder blow. Shortly following their return to Russia, the couple’s two youngest sons died.
Princess Lieven has since then made her home in Paris, away from her husband. By all accounts, however, her political life continues as a popular salon hostess.