Thursday, November 28, 2019

Dorothea Christorovna Benckendorff Lieven, Princess Lieven

Currently here at EHFA we have reasons to look back at the blog's beginnings, so today's post is an Editor's Choice first published in November 2011, and written by one of our regular contributors,
Lauren Gilbert.

Dorothea Lieven by Isabey

Countess Lieven, later known as Princess Lieven, is a frequent character of Regency-era fiction. Long known as one of the patronesses of Almack's Assembly Rooms, she was the wife of General Count Christopher Lieven (later Prince Lieven) who was the Russian Ambassador to Great Britain. In Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy, Countess Lieven is mentioned as follows: "I was not aware that you are acquainted with the Countess Lieven," said Miss Wraxton. "Do you dislike her? Sophy asked, aware of the coldness in Miss Wraxton's voice. "Many people do, I know. Sir Horace calls her the great intrigante, but she is clever and can be very amusing." She was a noted hostess, whose salon was famous for society and politics.

Princess Lieven was born December 17, 1785 at Riga. Shortly after completing her education, she married Lieutenant-General Count Lieven in 2/1/1800 in St. Petersburg at age 14. They had 5 children, a daughter who died very young, and 4 sons. Even at that age, she demonstrated significant talent for being a hostess and for conversation. In 1809, then-Count Lieven became the Russian Envoy to the Prussian Court, which was her first public postion. In 1811, Count Lieven was appointed Ambassador to London, a post he held until 1834. As his wife, both of the Lievens used all of their abilities to restore friendly relations between Russia and Great Britain. Countess Lieven became a leader of fashion, and threw herself into society, becoming a prominent hostess whose invitations were highly prized. She was elected a patroness of Almack's sometime in 1814 or earlier, and is credited with introducing the German waltz there. During the Lievens' time in London, Countess Lieven cultivated friendships with those holding political office who could best further the interests of the Russian government. Countess Lieven was definitely a political animal, and contributed significantly to her husband's success as ambassador. In fact, there were very few political events she did not influence to some degree between 1812 and 1857.

Countess Lieven was fully conscious of her own importance and superiority, and had a high opinions of her charms. She did not hesitate to form friendships (sometimes more than friendships) with influential men in a position to influence political matters to suit her. She would drop friends and form new ones, as political matters shifted, which did create some hard feelings, but did not apparently affect her usefulness. She supposed had affairs with every major statesman involved in European politics, including Metternich, George IV and numerous prime ministers, her relationships changing as the Cabinet changed. Her relationship with Metternich is believed to have begun at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1819, when Metternich tried to bring Czar Alexander into accord with Austria, and continued until 1825, when (coincidentally?) the accession of Nicholas I caused Russian policy to change. Exerpts of her letters to Metternich are fascinating reading. In 1825, she was entrusted by Czar Alexander to make a secret overture to the British government. In a letter to Count Nesselrode, his foreign minister, he wrote "It is a pity Countess Lieven wears skirts. She would have made an excellent diplomat."

Count Lieven was granted the title prince in 1826. In 1834, he was recalled to Russia. Soon after the Lievens' return to Russia, their two youngest sons died. Princess Lieven subsequently left Russia and settled in Paris, where she continued to involve herself in politics, forming a close relationship with Francois Guizot. Her Paris salon was known as the listening post of Europe. She died at her home in Paris on january 27 1857, and was buried at the Lieven family estate next to her two young sons who died in St. Petersburg. Her letters are fascinating reading.


An avid reader, Lauren Gilbert was introduced to English authors early in life (from classic literature such as PERSUASION by Jane Austen and JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte, to period romances by Margaret Campbell Barnes, Victoria Holt/Jean Plaidy/Philippa Carr (all one person!) and Georgette Heyer, and to the mysteries of Dorothy Sayers, Patricia Wentworth and Agatha Christie). Lauren is fascinated by England and its history, and multiple visits to England have only heightened her interest. A member of JASNA since about 2001, she attended the Annual General Meetings in Los Angeles in 2004, and Vancouver, BC, CA in 2007, and the Annual General Meeting in Ft. Worth. Her first book, HEYERWOOD: A Novel was released in 5/2011.


  1. Fascinating read! I was always curious to know more about Princess Lieven, because I come from this part of the world myself. Thank you!

  2. Thanks to Lauren Gilbert, author of HEYERWOOD for this overview into the actual Regency romance era personality and Almacks Patroness, Countess Lieven.

  3. I am so glad you chose to share about the Countess. I have seen her name used by three different Regency authors who had both positive and negative feelings for her. Now I can see why that is.

    Thanks for posting!

  4. It is always fun to learn about individuals from history. I'm surprised we aren't reading about syphilis and such.


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