Part 2 out of 5
first smiled scornfully, had now roused the tigress in her. She would
show the world that she was no woman to be trifled with, and the first
victim of her vengeance should be that brazen Princess who dared to
masquerade as "Elizabeth II."
She sent imperative orders to her trusted and beloved Orloff, fresh from
his crushing defeat of the Turkish fleet, to seize her at any cost, even
if he had to raze Ragusa to the ground; and these orders she knew would
be executed to the letter. For was not Orloff the man whose strong hands
had strangled her husband and placed the crown on her head; also her
most devoted slave? He was, it is true, the biggest scoundrel (as he was
also one of the handsomest men) in Europe, a man ready to stoop to any
infamy, and thus the best possible tool for such an infamous purpose;
but he was also her greatest admirer, eager to step into the place of
"chief favourite" from which his brother Gregory had just been
When, however, Orloff went to Ragusa, with his soldiers at his back, he
found that the Princess had already flown, leaving no trace behind her.
He ransacked Sicily in vain, and it was only when Sir William
Hamilton's letter to his Leghorn banker came to his hands that he
discovered that she was in Rome, a much safer asylum than Ragusa. It was
hopeless now to capture her by force; he must try diplomacy, and, by the
hands of an aide-de-camp, he sent her a letter in which he informed her
that he had received her ukase and was anxious to pay due homage to the
future Empress of Russia.
Such was the "Judas" message Kristenef, Orloff's emissary, carried to
the Princess, whom he found in a pitiful condition, wasted to a shadow
by disease and starvation--"in a room cold and bare, whose only
furniture was a leather sofa, on which she lay in a high fever, coughing
convulsively." To such pathetic straits was "Elizabeth II." reduced when
Kristenef came with his fawning airs and lying tongue to tell her that
Alexis Orloff, the greatest man in Russia, had instructed him to offer
her the throne of the Tsars, and, as an earnest of his loyalty, to beg
her acceptance of a loan of eleven thousand ducats.
In vain did Domanski, who was still by her side, warn her against the
smooth-tongued envoy. She was flattered by such unexpected homage, her
eyes were dazzled by the near prospect of the coveted crown which was to
be hers, at last, just when hope seemed dead. She would accept Orloff's
invitation to go to Pisa to meet him. "As for you," she said, "if you
are afraid, you can stay behind. I am going where Destiny calls me."
This revolution in her fortunes acted like magic. New life coursed
through her veins, colour returned to her cheeks, and brightness to her
eyes, as one February day in 1775 she left Rome, with the devoted
Domanski for companion and a brilliant escort, for Pisa, where Orloff
greeted her as an Empress. He gave regal fetes in her honour and filled
her ears with honeyed and flattering words.
Affecting to be dazzled by her beauty, he even dared to make passionate
love to her, which no man of his day could do more effectively than this
handsomest of the Orloffs; and so infatuated was the poor Princess by
the adoration of her handsome lover and the assurance of the throne he
was to give her, that she at last consented to share that throne with
him, and by his side went through a marriage ceremony, at which two of
his officers masqueraded as officiating priests.
Nothing remained now between her and the goal of her desires, except to
make the journey to Russia as speedily as possible, and a few hours
after the wedding banquet we see her in the Admiral's launch, with
Orloff and Domanski and a brilliant suite of officers, leaving Leghorn
for the Russian flagship, where she was received with the blare of bands
and the booming of artillery. The crowning moment arrived when, as she
was being hoisted to the deck in a gorgeous chair suspended from the
yard-arm, her future sailors greeted her with thunders of shouts, "Long
live the Empress!"
The moment she set foot on deck she was seized, handcuffs were snapped
on her wrists, and she was carried a helpless captive to a cabin. At the
same moment Domanski was overpowered before he had time to use his
sword, and made a prisoner.
The Princess's cries for Orloff, her husband and saviour, are met with
derision. Orloff she is told is himself a prisoner. He has, in fact,
vanished, his dastardly mission executed; and she never saw him again.
Two months later the victim of a man's treachery and a woman's vengeance
is looking with tear-dimmed eyes on "her capital" through a barred
window of a cell in the fortress of Saints Peter and Paul.
Over the tragic closing of her days we may not dwell long. The scene is
too pitiful, too harrowing. In vain she implores an interview with
Catherine, who blazes into anger at the request. "The impudence of the
wretch," she exclaims, "is beyond all bounds! She must be mad. Tell her
if she wishes any improvement in her lot to cease the comedy she is
playing." Prince Galitzin, Grand Chancellor, exerts all his skill in
vain to force a confession of imposture from her. To his wiles and
threats alike she opposes a dignified and calm front. She persists in
the story of her birth; refuses to admit that she is an impostor.
Even when she is flung into a loathsome cell, with bread and water for
diet, she does not waver a jot in her demeanour of dignity or in her
Royal claims. Only when she is charged with being the daughter of a
Prague innkeeper does she allow indignation to master her, as she
retorts, "I have never been in Prague in my life, and if I knew who had
thus slandered me I would scratch his eyes out." Domanski, too, proves
equally intractable; even the promise of marriage to her will not wring
from him a word that might discredit his beloved Princess.
But although the Princess keeps such a brave heart under conditions that
might well have broken it, her spirit is powerless against the insidious
disease that is working such havoc with her body. In her damp, noisome
cell consumption makes rapid headway. Her strength ebbs daily; the end
is coming swiftly near. She makes a last dying appeal to Catherine to
see her if but for a few moments, but the appeal falls on deaf ears.
When she sends for a priest to minister to her last hours, and, by
Catherine's orders, he makes a final attempt to wrest her secret from
her, she moans with her failing breath, "Say the prayers for the dead.
That is all there is for you to do here."
Four days later death came to her release. Catherine's throne was safe
from this danger at least, and she was left to dalliance with her legion
of lovers, while the woman on whom she had wreaked such terrible
vengeance lay deeply buried in the courtyard of her prison, the very
soldiers who dug her grave being sworn to secrecy. Thus in mystery her
life opened, and in secrecy it closed.
THE KING AND THE "LITTLE DOVE"
A savage murmur ran through the market-place of Bergen, one summer
morning in the year 1507, as Chancellor Valkendorf made his pompous way
along the avenues of stalls laden with their country produce, his
passage followed by scowling eyes and low-spoken maledictions.
There could not have been a more unwelcome visitor than this cold-eyed,
supercilious Chancellor, unless it were his master, Christian, the
Danish Prince who had come to rule Norway with the iron hand, and to
stamp out the fires of rebellion against the alien rule that were always
smouldering, when not leaping into flame. Bergen itself had been the
scene of the latest revolt against oppressive and unjust taxes, and the
insolent Valkendorf, who was now taking his morning stroll in the
market-place, was fresh from suppressing it with a rough hand which had
left many a smart and longing for vengeance behind it.
But the Chancellor could afford to smile at such evidences of
unpopularity. He knew that he was the most hated man in Norway--after
his master--but he had executed his mission well and was ready to do it
again. And thus it was with an air, half-amused, half-contemptuous, that
he made his progress this July morning among the booths and stalls of
the market, with eyes scornfully blind to frowns, but very wide open for
any pretty face he might chance to see.
He had not strolled far before his eyes were arrested by as strangely
contrasted a picture as any he had ever seen. Behind one of the stalls,
heaped high with luscious, many-coloured fruits and mountains of
vegetables, were two women, each so remarkable in her different way
that, almost involuntarily, he stood rooted to the spot, gazing
open-eyed at them. The elder of the two was of gigantic stature,
towering head and shoulders over her companion, with harsh, masculine
face, massive jaw, coarse protruding lips, and black eyes which were
fixed on him in a magnetic stare, defiant and scornful--for none knew
better than she who the stranger was, and few hated him more.
But it was not to this grim, hard-visaged Amazon that Valkendorf's eyes
were drawn, compelling as were her stature and her basilisk stare. They
quickly turned from her, with a motion of contempt, to feast on the
vision by her side--that of a girl on the threshold of young womanhood
and of a beauty that dazzled the eyes of the old voluptuary. How had she
come there and in such company, this ravishing girl on whom Nature had
lavished the last touch of virginal loveliness, this maiden with her
figure of such supple grace, the proud little oval face with its
complexion of cream and roses, the dainty head from which twin plaits
of golden hair fell almost to her knees, and the eyes blue as violets,
now veiled demurely, now opening wide to reveal their glories, enhanced
by a look of appeal, almost of fear.
The Chancellor, who was the last man to pass by a flower so seductively
beautiful, approached the stall, undaunted by the forbidding eyes of the
giantess, Frau Sigbrit, by name, and, after making a small purchase,
sought to draw her into amiable conversation. "No," she said in answer
to his inquiries, "we are not Norwegian. We come from Holland, my
daughter and I, and we are trying to earn a little money before
returning there. But why do you ask?" she demanded almost fiercely,
putting a protecting arm around the girl, as if she would shield her
from an enemy. "You are in such a different world from ours!"
Little by little, however, the grim face began to relax under the adroit
flatteries and courtly deference of the Chancellor--for none knew better
than he the arts of charming, when he pleased; and it was not long
before the Amazon, completely thawed, was confiding to him the most
intimate details of her history and her hopes.
"Yes, my daughter is beautiful," she said, with a look of pride at the
girl which transfigured her face. "Many a great man has told me
so--dukes, princes, and lords. She is as fair a flower as ever grew in
Holland; and she is as sweet as she is fair. She is Dyveke, my "little
dove," the pride of my heart, my soul, my life. She is to be a Queen one
day. It has been revealed to me in my dreams. But when the day dawns it
will be the saddest in my life." And with further amiable words and a
final courtly salute, Valkendorf continued his stroll, secretly
promising himself a further acquaintance with the dragon and her "little
This was the first of many morning strolls in the Bergen market, in
which the Chancellor spent delightful moments at Frau Sigbrit's stall,
each leaving him more and more a slave to her daughter's charms; for he
quickly found that to her physical perfections were allied a low, sweet
voice, every note of which was musical as that of a nightingale, a quiet
dignity and refinement as far removed from her station as her simple
print frock with the bunch of roses nestling in the white purity of her
bosom, and a sprightliness of wit which even her modesty could not
Thus it was that, when Valkendorf at last returned to Upsala and the
Court of his master, Christian, his tongue was full of the praises of
the "market-beauty" of Bergen, whose charms he pictured so glowingly
that the Prince's heart became as inflamed by a sympathetic passion as
his mind by curiosity to see such a siren. "I shall not rest," he said
to his Chancellor, "until I have seen your 'little dove' with my own
eyes; and who knows," he added with a laugh, "perhaps I shall steal her
It was in vain that Valkendorf, now alarmed by his indiscretion, began
to pour cold water on the flames he had lit. Christian had quite lost
his susceptible heart to the rustic and unknown beauty, and vowed that
he could not rest until he had seen her with his own eyes. And within a
month he was riding into Bergen, with Valkendorf by his side, at the
head of a brilliant retinue.
As the Prince made his way through the crowded avenues of the Bergen
streets to an accompaniment of scowls punctuated by feeble, forced
cheers, he cut a goodly enough figure to win many an admiring, if
reluctant, glance from bright eyes. With his broad shoulders, his erect,
well-knit figure clothed in purple velvet, his stern, swarthy face
crowned by a white-plumed hat, Christian looked every inch a Prince.
To-day, too, he was in his most amiable mood, with a smile ready to leap
to his lips, and many a gracious wave of the hand and sweep of plumed
hat to acknowledge the grudged salutes of his subjects. He could be
charming enough when he pleased, and this was a day of high good-humour;
for his mind was full of the pleasure that awaited him. Even Frau
Sigbrit's scowl was chased away when his eyes were drawn to her towering
figure, and with a swift smile he singled her out for the honour of a
When the Prince at last arrived in the market-square, he was greeted by
a procession of the prettiest maidens in Bergen who, in white frocks and
with flower-wreathed hair, advanced to pay him the homage of demure
eyes. But among them all, the loveliest girls of the city, Christian saw
but one--a girl younger than almost any other, but so radiantly lovely
that his eyes fixed themselves on her as if entranced, until her cheeks
flamed a vivid crimson under the ardour of his gaze. "No need to point
her out," he whispered delightedly to Valkendorf, "I see your 'little
dove,' and she is all you have told me and more."
Before many hours had passed, a Court official appeared at Frau
Sigbrit's cottage door with a command from the Prince to her and her
daughter to attend a State ball the following evening. If the poor
market-woman had had a crown laid at her feet, her surprise and
consternation could scarcely have been greater. But she would make a
bigger sacrifice of inclination than this for the "little dove" who
filled her heart, and who, she remembered, was destined to be a Queen;
and decking her in all the finery her modest purse could command and
with a taste of which few would have suspected she was capable, the
market stall-keeper stalked majestically through the avenue of gorgeous
flunkeys, her little Princess with downcast eyes following demurely in
All the fairest women of Bergen were gathered at this ball, the host of
which was their coming King, but it was to the fruit-seller's daughter
that all eyes were turned, in homage to such a rare combination of
beauty, grace, and modesty. Many a fair lip, it is true, curled in
mockery, recognising in the belle of the ball the low-born girl of the
market-place; but it was the mockery of jealousy, the scornful tribute
to a loveliness greater than their own.
As for Prince Christian, he had no eyes for any but the "little dove"
who outshone all her rivals as the sun pales the stars. It was the maid
of the market whom he led out for the first dance, and throughout the
long night he rarely left her side, whirling round the room with her,
his arm close-clasped round her slender waist, not seeing or indifferent
to the glances of envy and hate that followed them; or, during the
intervals, drinking in her beauty as he poured sweet flatteries into her
ears. As for Dyveke, she was radiantly happy at finding herself thus
transported into the favour of a Prince and the Queendom of fair women,
for whose envy she cared as little as for the danger in which she stood.
If anything had remained to complete Christian's infatuation, this
intoxicating night of the ball supplied it. The "little dove" had found
a secure nesting-place in his heart. She must be his at any cost. She
and her mother alone, of all the guests, were invited to spend the rest
of the night at the castle as the Prince's guests; and when he parted
from her the following day, it was with vows on his part of undying love
and fidelity, and a promise on hers to come to him at Upsala as soon as
a suitable home could be found for her.
Thus easily was the dove caught in the toils of one of the most amorous
Princes of Europe; but it must be said for her that her heart went with
the surrender of her freedom, for the Prince, with his ardent passion,
his strength and his magnetism, had swept her as quickly off her feet as
she had made a quick conquest of him.
Thus, before many weeks had passed, we find Dyveke installed with her
mother in a sumptuous home in the outskirts of Upsala, queening it in
the Prince's Court, and every day forging new fetters to bind him to
her. And while Dyveke thus ruled over Christian's heart, her
strong-minded mother soon established a similar empire over his mind.
With the clever, masterful brain of a man, the Amazon of the
market-place developed such a capacity for intrigue, such a grasp of
statesmanship and such arts of diplomacy that Christian, strong man as
he thought himself, soon became little more than a puppet in her hands,
taking her counsel and deferring to her judgment in preference to those
of his ministers. The fruit-seller thus found herself virtual Prime
Minister, while her daughter reigned, an uncrowned Queen.
When the Prince was summoned to Copenhagen by his father's failing
health, Frau Sigbrit and her daughter accompanied him, one in her way as
indispensable as the other; and when King James died and Christian
reigned in his stead, the women of the Bergen market were installed in a
splendid suite of apartments in his palace. So hopeless was his
subjection to both that his subjects, with an indifferent shrug of the
shoulders, accepted them as inevitable.
For a time, it is true, their supremacy was in danger. Now that
Christian was King, it became important to provide him with a Queen, and
a suitable consort was found for him in the Austrian Princess, Isabella,
sister of the Emperor Charles V., a well-gilded bride, distinguished
alike for her beauty and her piety. Isabella, however, was one of the
last women to tolerate any rivalry in her husband's affection, and
before the marriage-contract was sealed, she had received a solemn
pledge from Christian's envoys that his relations with the pretty
flower-girl should cease.
But even Christian's word of honour was seldom allowed to bar the way to
his pleasure, and within a few weeks of Isabella's bridal entry into
Copenhagen, Dyveke and her mother resumed their places at his Court, to
his Queen's unconcealed disgust and displeasure. More than this, he
established them in a fine house near his palace gates; and when he was
not dallying there with Dyveke, he was to be found by her side at the
Castle of Hvideur, of which he had made her chatelaine.
The remonstrances of Valkendorf and his other ministers were made to
deaf ears; his wife's reproaches and tears were as futile as the
strongly worded protestations of his Royal relatives. Pleadings,
arguments, and threats were alike powerless to break the spell Dyveke
and her mother had cast over him. But Dyveke's day of empire was now
drawing to a tragic close. One day, after eating some cherries from the
palace gardens, she was seized with a violent pain. All the skill of the
Court doctors could do as little to assuage her agony as to save her
life; and within a few hours she died, clasped to the breast of her
Such was Christian's distress that for a time his reason trembled in the
balance. He vowed that he would not be separated from her even by death;
he threatened to put an end to his own life since it had been reft of
all that made it worth living. And when cooler moments came, he swore a
terrible vengeance against those who had robbed him of his beloved. She
had been poisoned beyond a doubt; but who had done the dastardly deed?
The finger of suspicion pointed to the steward of his household, Torbern
Oxe, who, it was said, had been among the most ardent of Dyveke's
admirers, and had had the audacity to aspire to her hand. It was even
rumoured that he had had more intimate relations with her. Such were the
stories and suspicions that passed from mouth to mouth in Christian's
clouded Court before Dyveke's beautiful body was cold; and such were the
tales which Hans Faaborg, the King's Treasurer, poured into his master's
Hans Faaborg little dreamt that when he was thus trying to bring about
the downfall of his rival he was sealing his own fate. Christian lent an
eager ear to the stories of his steward's iniquities; but, when he found
there was no shred of proof to support them, his anger and
disappointment vented themselves on the informer. He had long suspected
Faaborg of irregularities in his purse-holding, and in these suspicions
found a weapon to use against him. Faaborg was arrested; an examination
of his ledgers showed that for years he had been waxing rich at his
master's expense, and he had to pay with his life the penalty of his
fraud and his unproved testimony.
But Faaborg, though thus removed from his path, was by no means done
with. Rumours began to be circulated that a strange light appeared every
night above the dead man's head as he swung on the gallows. The city was
full of superstitious awe and of whisperings that Heaven was thus
bearing witness to the Treasurer's innocence. And even the King
himself, when he too saw the unearthly light forming a halo round his
victim's head, was filled with remorse and fear to such an extent that
he had Faaborg's body cut down and honoured with a State funeral.
He was still, however, as far as ever from solving the mystery of
Dyveke's death; and the longer his desire for vengeance was baffled, the
more clamorous it became. Although nothing could be proved against
Torbern Oxe, Christian was by no means satisfied of his innocence, and
he decided to discover by guile the secret which all other means had
failed to reveal. He would, if possible, make his steward his own
betrayer. One day, at a Court banquet, he turned in jocular mood to the
minister and said, "Tell me now, my dear Torbern, was there really any
truth in what Faaborg told me of your relations with my beautiful Lady!
Don't hesitate to tell the truth, which only you know, for I assure you
no harm shall come to you from it."
Thus thrown off his guard and reassured, the steward, who, like his
master, had probably drunk not wisely, confessed that he had loved
Dyveke, and had asked her to be his wife. "But, sire," he added, "that
was the extent of my offence. I was never intimate with her." During the
remainder of the banquet Christian was most affable to the indiscreet
steward, not only showing no trace of resentment, but treating him with
The following day, however, Torbern was flung into prison, and charged,
not only with his confession, but with the murder of the woman he had
so vainly loved; and, in spite of the storm of indignation that swept
over Denmark, the pleadings of the Papal Legate, Arcimbaldo, and the
tears of the Queen, was sentenced to death for a crime of which there
was no scrap of evidence to point to his guilt.
This gross act of injustice proved to be the beginning of Christian's
downfall. His cruelties and oppressions had long made him odious to his
subjects, and the climax came when a popular uprising hurled him from
his throne and drove him an exile to Holland. An attempt to recover his
crown ended in speedy disaster, and his last years were spent, in
company with his favourite dwarf, in a cell of the Holstein Castle of
As for Sigbrit, the woman who had played such a conspicuous and baleful
part in Christian's life, she deserted her benefactor at the first sign
of his coming ruin and ended her days in her native Holland, bemoaning
to the last the loss of her "little dove," whom she had seen raised
almost to a throne and had lost so tragically.
THE ROMANCE OF THE BEAUTIFUL SWEDE
Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, owes his
place in the world's memory to his brawny muscles and to his conquest of
women. Like the third Alexander of Russia of later years, he could, with
his powerful arms, convert a thick iron bar into a necklace, crush a
pewter tankard by the pressure of a mighty hand, toss a heavy anvil into
the air and catch it as another man would catch a ball, or with a wrench
straighten out the stoutest horse-shoe ever forged.
And his strength of muscle was matched by his skill in the lists of
love. No Louis of France could boast such an array of conquests as this
Saxon Hercules, who changed his mistresses as easily as he changed his
coats; the fairest women in Europe, from Turkey to Poland, succeeded
each other in bewildering succession as the slaves of his pleasure, and
before he died he counted his children to as many as the year has days.
Of all these fair and frail women who thus ministered to the pleasure of
the "Saxon Samson," none was so beautiful, so gifted, so altogether
alluring as Marie Aurora, Countess of Koenigsmarck, the younger of the
two daughters of Conrad of Koenigsmarck. Born in the year 1668, Aurora
was one of three children of the Swedish Count Conrad and his wife, the
daughter of the great Field-Marshal Wrangel. Her elder sister, little
less fair than herself, found a husband, when little more than a child,
in Count Axel Loewenhaupt; her brother Philip, the handsomest man of his
day in Europe, was destined to end his days tragically as the price of
his infatuation for a Queen.
Betrayed by a jealous woman, the Countess Platen, whose overtures he
spurned, this too gallant lover of Sophia Dorothea of Celle, wife of the
first of our Georges, was foully done to death in a corridor of the
Leine Schloss by La Paten's hired assassins, while she looked smilingly
on at his futile struggle for life, and gloated over his dying agonies.
On the death of her father, when she was but a child of three, Aurora
was taken by her mother from her native Sweden to Hamburg, where she
grew to beautiful young womanhood; and when, in turn, her mother died,
she found a home with her married sister, the Countess Loewenhaupt. And
it is at this period of her life that her romantic story opens.
If we are to believe her contemporaries, the world has seldom seen so
much beauty and so many graces enshrined in the form of woman as in this
daughter of Sweden. Her description reads like a catalogue of all human
perfections. Of medium height and a figure as faultless in its exquisite
modelling as in its grace and suppleness; her hair, black as a raven's
plumage, and falling, like a veil of night, below her knees, emphasised
the white purity of face and throat, arms, and hands. Her teeth, twin
rows of pearls, glistened between smiling crimson lips, curved like
Cupid's bow. Her face of perfect oval, with its delicately moulded
features, was illuminated by a pair of large black eyes, now melting,
now flaming, as mood succeeded mood.
To these graces of body were allied equal graces of mind and character.
Her conversation sparkled with wit and wisdom; she could hold fluent
discourse in half a dozen tongues; she played and sang divinely, wrote
elegant verses, and painted dainty pictures. Her manner was caressing
and courteous; she was generous to a fault, with a heart as tender as it
was large. And the supreme touch was added by an entire unconsciousness
of her charms, and an unaffected modesty which captivated all hearts.
Such was Aurora of Koenigsmarck who, in company with her sister, set
forth one day to claim the fortune which her ill-fated brother, Philip,
was said to have left in the custody of his Hanoverian bankers--a
journey which was to make such a dramatic revolution in her own life.
Arrived at Hanover the sisters found themselves faced by no easy task.
The bankers declared that they had nothing of the late Count's effects
beyond a few diamonds, which they declined to part with, unless evidence
were forthcoming that the Count had died and had left no will behind
him--evidence which, owing to the secrecy surrounding his murder, it was
impossible to furnish. And when a discharged clerk revealed the fact
that the dishonest bankers had actually all the Count's estate, valued
at four hundred thousand crowns, in their possession, the sisters were
unable to make them disgorge a solitary mark.
In their extremity, they decided to appeal to the Elector of Saxony, who
had known Count Philip well and who would, they hoped, be the champion
of their rights; and, with this object, they journeyed to Dresden, only
to find themselves again baffled. Augustus was away on a hunting
excursion, and would not return for a whole month. His wife and mother,
however, gave them a gracious reception, as charmed by their beauty and
sweetness as sympathetic in their trouble.
When at last Augustus made his tardy appearance at his capital, the fair
petitioners were presented to him by the Dowager Electress with words of
strong recommendation to his favour. "These ladies, my son," she said,
"have come to beg for your protection and help, to which they are
entitled both by birth and their merits. I beg that you will spare no
effort to ensure that justice is done to them."
His mother's pleading, however, was not necessary to ensure a favourable
hearing from the Elector, whose eyes were eloquent of the admiration he
felt for the two fairest women who had ever visited his land. Aurora's
beauty, enhanced by her attitude of appeal, the mute craving for
protection, was irresistible. From the moment she entered his presence
he was her slave, as anxious to do her will as any lovesick boy.
And it was to her that, with his courtliest bow, he answered, "Be
assured, dear lady, that I shall know no rest until your wrongs are
repaired. If I fail, I myself will make reparation in full. Meanwhile,
may I beg you and your sister to be my guests, that I may prove how deep
is my sympathy, and how profound the respect I feel for you."
Thus it was that by the magic of beauty Aurora and her Countess sister
found themselves installed at the Dresden Court, feted like Queens,
receiving the caresses of the Court ladies, and the homage of every man,
from Augustus himself to the youngest page, of whom a smile from their
pretty lips made a veritable slave. As for the Elector, sated as he was
with the easy smiles and favours of fair women, he gave to the Swedish
beauty, from the first, a homage he had never paid to any of her
predecessors in his affection.
But Aurora was no woman to be easily won by any man. She listened
smilingly to the Elector's honeyed words, and received his attentions
with the gracious complaisance of a Queen. When, however, he ventured to
tell her that "her charms inspired him with a passion such as he had
never felt for any woman," she answered coldly, "I came here prepared
for your generosity, but I did not expect that your kindness would
assume a form to cause me shame. I beg you not to say anything that can
lessen the gratitude I owe you, and the respect I feel for you."
Here indeed was a rebuff such as Augustus was little prepared for, or
accustomed to. The beauty, of whom he had hoped to make an easy
conquest, was an iceberg whom all his ardour could not thaw. He was in
despair. "I am sure she hates and despises me, while I love her dearer
than life itself," he confessed to his favourite Beuchling, who vainly
tried to console and cheer him. He confided his passion and his pain to
Aurora's sister, whose hopeful words were alike powerless to dispel his
When Aurora held aloof from him, he sent letter after letter of
passionate pleading to her by the hand of the trusty Beuchling. "If you
knew the tortures I am suffering," he wrote, "your kindness of heart
could not resist pitying me. I was mad to declare my passion so brutally
to you. Let me expiate my fault, prostrate at your feet; and, if you
wish for my death, let me at least receive my sentence from your own
To such a desperate state was Augustus brought within a few days of
setting eyes on his new divinity! As for Aurora of the tender heart, her
lover's distress thawed her more than a year of passionate protestations
could have done. She replied, assuring him of her gratitude, her esteem
and respect, and begging him to dismiss such unworthy thoughts of her.
But she had no word of encouragement to send him in the note which her
lover kissed so rapturously before placing it next his heart.
So alarmed, indeed, was Aurora, that she announced her intention of
leaving forthwith a Court in which she was exposed to so much danger--a
project to which her sister gave a reluctant approval. But the Countess
Loewenhaupt was little disposed to leave a Court where she at least was
having such a good time; for she, too, had her lovers, and among them
the Prince of Fuerstenberg, the handsomest man in Saxony, whose devotion
was more than agreeable to her. She preferred to play the part of
Cupid's agent--to exercise her diplomacy in bringing together those two
foolish persons, her sister and the Elector.
And so skilfully did she play her part, appealing to Aurora's pity, and
assuring Augustus of her sister's love in spite of her seeming coldness,
that before many weeks had passed Aurora had yielded and was listening
with no unwilling ear to the vows of her exalted lover, now transported
to the seventh heaven of happiness. One condition she made, when their
mutual troth was plighted, that it should, for a time at least, remain a
secret from the Court, and to this the Elector gratefully assented.
Such was the strange wooing of Augustus and the Countess Aurora, in
which passion had its response in a pity which, in this case at least,
was the parent of love.
It was with no very light heart that Aurora set forth to Mauritzburg, a
few days later, to keep "honeymoon tryst" with Augustus, who had
preceded her, to make, as she understood, the necessary preparations for
her reception. With her sister and a mounted escort of the most
beautiful ladies of the Court, she had ridden as far as the entrance to
the Mauritzburg forest, when her carriage suddenly came to a halt in
front of a magnificent palace. From the open door emerged Diana with her
attendant nymphs to greet her with words of welcome, and to beg her to
tarry a while to accept the hospitality of the forest gods.
In response to this flattering invitation Aurora left her carriage and
was escorted in stately procession to a saloon, richly painted with
sylvan scenes, in which a sumptuous banquet was spread. No sooner were
she and her ladies seated at the table than, to the strains of beautiful
music, the god Pan (none other than the Elector himself), with his
retinue of fawns and other richly and quaintly garbed forest gods, made
his entry, and took his seat at the right hand of his goddess. Then, to
the deft ministry of Diana and her satellites, and to the soft
accompaniment of pipes and hautboys, the feasting began, while Pan
whispered love to the lady for whom he had prepared such a charming
The banquet had scarcely come to an end when the jubilant sound of horns
was heard from the forest. A stag dashed by a window in full flight, and
Aurora and her ladies, rushing excitedly to the door, saw horses
awaiting them for the hunt.
In a moment they are mounted, and, gaily laughing, with Pan leading the
way, they are galloping through the forest glades in the wake of the
flying stag and the music of the hounds, until the stag, hotly pursued,
dashes into a lake, in the centre of which is a beautiful wooded island.
Dismounting, the ladies enter the gondolas which are so opportunely
awaiting them, and are rowed across the strip of water just in time to
witness the death of the gallant animal they have been chasing.
The hunt over, Aurora and her ladies are conducted to the leafy heart of
the island, where, as by the touch of a magician's wand, a gorgeous
Eastern tent has sprung up, and here another sumptuous entertainment is
prepared for them. Seated on soft-cushioned divans, in the many-hued
environment of Oriental luxury, rare fruits and delicacies are brought
to them in silver baskets by turbaned Turks. The island Sultan now
appears, ablaze with gems, with his officers little less gorgeous than
himself, and with deep obeisances craves permission to seat himself by
Aurora's side, a favour which she was not likely to refuse to a Sultan
in whom she recognised her lover, the Elector. Troupes of dancing-girls
follow, and the moments fly swiftly to the twinkling of dainty feet, the
gliding and posturing of supple bodies, and the strains of sensuous
Another hour spent in the gondolas, dreamily gliding under the light of
the moon, and horses are again mounted; and Aurora, with Augustus riding
proudly by her side, heads the splendid procession which, with laughter,
and in the gayest of spirits, rides forth to the Mauritzburg Castle at
the close of a day so full of delights.
"Here," was the Elector's greeting, as he conducted his bride to her
room with its furnishing of silver and rich damask, and its pictured
Cupid showering roses on the silk-curtained bed, "you are the Queen, and
I am your slave."
Such was the beginning of Aurora's reign over the heart of the Elector
of Saxony--a reign of unclouded splendour and happiness for the woman in
whom pity for her lover was soon replaced by a passion as ardent as his
own. Fetes and banquets and balls succeeded each other in swift
sequence, at all of which Aurora was Queen, the focus of all eyes, and
receiving universal homage, won no more by her beauty and her position
as the Elector's favourite than by her sweetness and graciousness to the
humblest. No mistress of a King was ever more beloved than this daughter
of Sweden. Even the Elector's mother, a pattern of the most rigid
propriety, had ever a kind word and a caress for her; his neglected wife
made a friend and confidante of the woman of whom she said, "Since I
must have a rival, I am glad she should be one so sweet and lovable."
We must hasten over the years that followed--years during which Augustus
had no eyes for any other woman than his "uncrowned Queen," and during
which she bore him a son who, as Maurice of Saxony, was to win many
laurels in the years to come. It must suffice to say that never was
Royal liaison conducted with so much propriety, or was marked by so much
mutual devotion and loyalty.
But it was not in the nature of Augustus the Strong to remain always
true to any woman, however charming; and although Aurora's reign lasted
longer than that of any half-dozen of her rivals, it, too, had its
ending. Within a month of the birth of her son, Augustus, now King of
Poland, was caught in the toils of another enslaver, the beautiful
Countess Esterle. Aurora realised that her sun had set, and
relinquishing her sceptre without a murmur, she retired to the convent
of Quedlinburg, of which Augustus had appointed her Abbess.
Thus in an atmosphere of peace and piety, beloved of all for her
sweetness and charity, Aurora of Koenigsmarck spent her last years until
the end came one day in the year 1728; and in the crypt of the convent
she loved so well she sleeps her last sleep.
THE SISTER OF AN EMPEROR
When Napoleon Bonaparte, the shabby, sallow-faced, out-of-work captain
of artillery, was kicking his heels in morose idleness at Marseilles,
and whiling away the dull hours in making love to Desiree Clary, the
pretty daughter of the silk-merchant in the Rue des Phoceens, his
sisters were living with their mother, the Signora Letizia, in a sordid
fourth-floor apartment in a slum near the Cannebiere, and running wild
in the Marseilles streets.
Strange tales are told of those early years of the sisters of an
Emperor-to-be--Elisa Bonaparte, future Grand Duchess of Tuscany;
Pauline, embryo Princess Borghese; and Caroline, who was to wear a crown
as Queen of Naples--high-spirited, beautiful girls, brimful of frolic
and fun, laughing at their poverty, decking themselves out in cheap,
home-made finery, and flirting outrageously with every good-looking
young man who was willing to pay homage to their _beaux yeux_. If
Marseilles deigned to notice these pretty young madcaps, it was only
with the cold eyes of disapproval; for such "shameless goings-on" were
little less than a scandal.
The pity of it was that there was no one to check their escapades.
Their mother, the imposing Madame Mere of later years, seemed
indifferent what her daughters did, so long as they left her in peace;
their brothers, Kings-to-be, were too much occupied with their own
love-making or their pranks to spare them a thought. And thus the trio
of tomboys were left, with a loose rein, to indulge every impulse that
entered their foolish heads. And a right merry time they had, with their
dancing, their private theatricals, the fun behind the scenes, and their
promiscuous love affairs, each serious and thrilling until it gave place
to a successor.
Of the three Bonaparte "graces" the most lovely by far (though each was
passing fair) was Pauline, who, though still little more than a child,
gave promise of that rare perfection of face and figure which was to
make her the most beautiful woman in all France. "It is impossible, with
either pen or brush," wrote one who knew her, "to do any justice to her
charms--the brilliance of her eyes, which dazzled and thrilled all on
whom they fell; the glory of her black hair, rippling in a cascade to
her knees; the classic purity of her Grecian profile, the wild-rose
delicacy of her complexion, the proud, dainty poise of her head, and the
exquisite modelling of the figure which inspired Canova's 'Venus
Such was Pauline Bonaparte, whose charms, although then immature, played
such havoc with the young men of Marseilles, and who thus early began
that career of conquest which was to afford so much gossip for the
tongue of scandal. That the winsome little minx had her legion of
lovers from the day she set foot in Marseilles, at the age of thirteen,
we know; but it was not until Freron came on the scene that her volatile
little heart was touched--Freron, the handsome coxcomb and
arch-revolutionary, who was sent to Marseilles as a Commissioner of the
To Pauline, the gay, gallant Parisian, penniless adventurer though he
was, was a veritable hero of romance; and at sight of him she completely
lost her heart. It was a _grande passion_, which he was by no means slow
to return. Those were delicious hours which Pauline spent in the company
of her beloved "Stanislas," hours of ecstasy; and when he left
Marseilles she pursued him with the most passionate protestations.
"Yes," she wrote, "I swear, dear Stanislas, never to love any other than
thee; my heart knows no divided allegiance. It is thine alone. Who could
oppose the union of two souls who seek to find no other happiness than
in a mutual love?" And again, "Thou knowest how I worship thee. It is
not possible for Paulette to live apart from her adored Stanislas. I
love thee for ever, most passionately, my beautiful god, my adorable
one--I love thee, love thee, love thee!"
In such hot words this child of fifteen poured out her soul to the Paris
dandy. "Neither mamma," she vowed, "nor anyone in the world shall come
between us." But Pauline had not counted on her brother Napoleon, whose
foot was now placed on the ladder of ambition, at the top of which was
an Imperial crown, and who had other designs for his sister than to
marry her to a penniless nobody. In vain did Pauline rage and weep, and
declare that "she would die--_voila tout!_" Napoleon was inexorable; and
the flower of her first romance was trodden ruthlessly under his feet.
When Junot, his own aide-de-camp, next came awooing Pauline, he was
equally obdurate. "No," he said to the young soldier; "you have nothing,
she has nothing. And what is twice nothing?" And thus lover number two
was sent away disconsolate.
Napoleon's sun was now in the ascendant, and his family were basking in
its rays. From the Marseilles slums they were transported first to a
sumptuous villa at Antibes; then to the Castle of Montebello, at Naples.
The days of poverty were gone like an evil dream; the sisters of the
famous General and coming Emperor were now young ladies of fashion,
courted and fawned on. Their lovers were not Marseilles tradesmen or
obscure soldiers and journalists (like Junot and Freron), but brilliant
Generals and men of the great world; and among them Napoleon now sought
a husband for his prettiest and most irresponsible sister.
This, however, proved no easy task. When he offered her to his favourite
General, Marmont, he was met with a polite refusal. "She is indeed
charming and lovely," said Marmont; "but I fear I could not make her
happy." Then, waxing bolder, he continued: "I have dreams of domestic
happiness, of fidelity, virtue; and these dreams I can scarcely hope to
realise in your sister." Albert Permon, Napoleon's old schoolfellow,
next declined the honour of Pauline's hand, although it held the bait of
a high office and splendid fortune.
The explanation of these refusals is not far to seek if we believe
Arnault's description of Pauline--"An extraordinary combination of the
most faultless physical beauty and the oddest moral laxity. She had no
more manners than a schoolgirl--she talked incoherently, giggled at
everything and nothing, mimicked the most serious personages, put out
her tongue at her sister-in-law.... She was a good child naturally
rather than voluntarily, for she had no principles."
But Pauline was not to wait long, after all, for a husband. Among the
many men who fluttered round her, willing to woo if not to wed the
empty-headed beauty, was General Leclerc, young and rich, but weak in
body and mind, "a quiet, insignificant-looking man," who at least loved
her passionately, and would make a pliant husband to the capricious
little autocrat. And we may be sure Napoleon heaved a sigh of relief
when his madcap sister was safely tied to her weak-kneed General.
Pauline was at last free to conduct her flirtations secure from the
frowns of the brother she both feared and adored, and she seems to have
made excellent use of her opportunities; and, what was even more to her,
to encourage to the full her passion for finery. Dress and love filled
her whole life; and while her idolatrous husband lavishly supplied the
former, he turned a conveniently blind eye to the latter.
Remarkable stories are told of Pauline's extravagant and daring
costumes at this time. Thus, at a great ball in Madame Permon's Paris
mansion, she appeared in a dress of classic scantiness of Indian muslin,
ornamented with gold palm leaves. Beneath her breasts was a cincture of
gold, with a gorgeous jewelled clasp; and her head was wreathed with
bands spotted like a leopard's skin, and adorned with bunches of gold
When this bewitching Bacchante made her appearance in the ballroom the
sensation she created was so great that the dancing stopped instantly;
women and men alike climbed on chairs to catch a glimpse of the rare and
radiant vision, and murmurs of admiration and envy ran round the
_salon_. Her triumph was complete. In the hush that followed, a voice
was heard: "_Quel dommage!_ How lovely she would be, if it weren't for
her ears. If I had such ears, I would cut them off, or hide them."
Pauline heard the cruel words. The flush of mortification and anger
flamed in her cheeks; she burst into tears and walked out of the room.
Madame de Coutades, her most jealous rival, had found a rich revenge.
General Leclerc did not live long to play the slave to his little
autocrat; and when he died at San Domingo, the beautiful widow returned
to France, accompanied by his embalmed body, with her glorious hair,
which she had cut off for the purpose, wreathing his head! She had not,
however, worn her weeds many months before she was once more surrounded
by her court of lovers--actors, soldiers, singers, on each of whom in
turn she lavished her smiles; and such time as she could spare from
their flatteries and ogling she spent at the card-table, with
fortune-tellers, or, chief joy of all, in decking her beauty with
wondrous dresses and jewels.
But the charming widow, sister of the great Napoleon, was not long to be
left unclaimed; and this time the choice fell on Prince Camillo
Borghese, a handsome, black-haired Italian, who allied to a head as vain
and empty as her own the physical graces and gifts of an Admirable
Crichton, and who, moreover, was lord of all the famed Borghese riches.
Pauline had now reached dizzy heights, undreamed of in the days, only
ten short years earlier, when she was coquetting in home-made finery
with the young tradesmen of Marseilles. She was a Princess, bearing the
greatest name in all Italy; and to this dignity her gratified brother
added that of Princess of Gustalla. All the world-famous Borghese jewels
were hers to deck her beauty with--a small Golconda of priceless gems;
there was gold galore to satisfy her most extravagant whims; and she was
still young--only twenty-five--and in the very zenith of her loveliness.
Picture, then, the pride with which, one early day of her new bridehood,
she drove to the Palace of St Cloud in the gorgeous Borghese State
carriage, behind six horses, and with an escort of torch-bearers, to pay
a formal call on her sister-in-law, Josephine, Empress-to-be. She had
decked herself in a wonderful creation of green velvet; she was ablaze
from head to foot with the Borghese diamonds. Such a dazzling vision
could not fail to fill Josephine with envy--Josephine, who had hitherto
treated her with such haughty patronage.
As she sailed into the _salon_ in all her Queen of Sheba splendour, it
was to be greeted by her sister-in-law in a modest dress of muslin,
without a solitary gem to relieve its simplicity; and--horror!--to find
that the room had been re-decorated in blue by the artful Josephine--a
colour absolutely fatal to her green magnificence! It was thus a very
disgusted Princess who made her early exit from the palace between a
double line of bowing flunkeys, masking her anger behind an affectation
of ultra-Royal dignity.
Still, Pauline was now a _grande dame_ indeed, who could really afford
to patronise even Napoleon's wife. Her Court was more splendid than that
of Josephine. She had lovers by the score--from Blanguini, who composed
his most exquisite songs to sing for her ears alone, to Forbin, her
artist Chamberlain, whose brushes she inspired in a hundred paintings of
her lovely self in as many unconventional guises. Her caskets of jewels
were matched by the most wonderful collection of dresses in France, the
richest and daintiest confections, from pearl embroidered ball-gowns
which cost twenty thousand francs to the mauve and silver in which she
went a-hunting in the forest of Fontainebleau. At Petit Trianon and in
the Faubourg St Honore, she had palaces that were dreams of beauty and
luxury. The only thorn in her bed of roses was, in fact, her husband,
the Prince, the very sight of whom was sufficient to spoil a day for
When, at Napoleon's bidding, she accompanied Borghese to his
Governorship beyond the Alps, she took in her train seven wagon-loads of
finery. At Turin she held the Court of a Queen, to which the Prince was
only admitted on sufferance. Royal visits, dinners, dances, receptions
followed one another in dazzling succession; behind her chair, at dinner
or reception, always stood two gigantic negroes, crowned with ostrich
plumes. She was now "sister of the Emperor," and all the world should
If only she could escape from her detested husband she would be the
happiest woman on earth. But Napoleon on this point was adamant. In her
rage and rebellion she tore her hair, rolled on the floor, took drugs to
make her ill; and at last so succeeded in alarming her Imperial brother
that he summoned her back to France, where her army of lovers gave her a
warm welcome, and where she could indulge in any vanity and folly
Matters were now hastening to a tragic climax for Napoleon and the
family he had raised from slumdom in Marseilles to crowns and coronets.
Josephine had been divorced, to Pauline's undisguised joy; and her place
had been taken by Marie Louise, the proud Austrian, whom she liked at
least as little. When Napoleon fell from his throne, she alone of all
his sisters helped to cheer his exile in Elba; for the brother she loved
and feared was the only man to whom Pauline's fickle heart was ever
true. She even stripped herself of all her jewels to make the way smooth
back to his crown. And when at last news came to her at Rome of his
death at St Helena it was she who shed the bitterest tears and refused
to be comforted. That an empire was lost, was nothing compared with the
loss of the brother who had always been so lenient to her failings, so
responsive to her love.
Two years later her own end came at Florence. When she felt the cold
hand of death on her, she called feebly for a mirror, that she might
look for the last time on her beauty. "Thank God," she whispered, as she
gazed, "I am still lovely! I am ready to die." A few moments later, with
the mirror still clutched in her hand, and her eyes still feasting on
the charms which time and death itself were powerless to dim, died
Pauline Bonaparte, sister of an Emperor and herself an Empress by the
right of her incomparable beauty.
A SIREN OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
When Wilhelmine Encke first opened her eyes on the world one day in the
year 1754, he would have been a bold prophet who would have predicted
that she would one day be the uncrowned Queen of the Court of Russia,
_plus Reine que la Reine_, and that her children would have in their
veins the proudest blood in Europe. Such a prophecy might well have been
laughed to scorn, for little Wilhelmine had as obscure a cradle as
almost any infant in all Prussia. Her father was an army bugler, who
wore private's uniform in Frederick the Great's army; and her early
years were to be spent playing with other soldiers' children in the
sordid environment of Berlin barracks.
When her father turned his back on the army, while Wilhelmine was still
nursing her dolls, it was to play the humble role of landlord of a small
tavern, from which he was lured by the bait of a place as French-horn
player in Frederick's private band; and the goal of his modest ambition
was reached when he was appointed trumpeter to the King.
This was Herr Encke's position when the curtain rises on our story at
Potsdam, and shows us Wilhelmine, an unattractive maid of ten, the
Cinderella of her family, for whom there seemed no better prospect than
a soldier-husband, if indeed she were lucky enough to capture him. She
was, in fact, the "ugly duckling" of a good-looking family, removed by a
whole world from her beautiful eldest sister Charlotte, who counted
among her many admirers no less exalted a wooer than Prince Frederick
William, the King's nephew and heir to his throne.
There was, indeed, no more beautiful or haughty damsel in all Potsdam
than this trumpeter's daughter who had caught the amorous fancy of the
Prince, then, as to his last day, the slave of every pretty face that
crossed his path. But Charlotte Encke was much too imperious a young
lady to hold her Royal lover long in fetters. He quickly wearied of her
caprices, her petulances, and her exhibitions of temper; and the climax
came one day when in a fit of anger she struck her little sister, in his
presence, and he took up the cudgels for Wilhelmine.
This was the last straw for the disillusioned and disgusted Prince, who
sent Charlotte off to Paris, where as the Countess Matushke she played
the fine lady at her lover's cost, while the Prince took her Cinderella
sister under his protection. He took her education into his own hands,
provided her with masters to teach her a wide range of accomplishments,
from languages to dancing and deportment, while he himself gave her
lessons in history and geography. Nor did he lack the reward of his
benevolent offices; for Wilhelmine, under his ministrations, not only
developed rare gifts and graces of mind, like many another Cinderella
before her; she blossomed into a rose of girlhood, more beautiful even
than her imperious sister, and with a sweetness of character and a
winsomeness which Charlotte could never have attained.
On her part, gratitude to her benefactor rapidly grew into love for the
handsome and courtly Prince; on his, sympathy for the ill-used
Cinderella, into a passion for the lovely maiden hovering on the verge
of a still more beautiful womanhood. It was a mutual passion, strong and
deep, which now linked the widely contrasted lives of the King-to-be and
the trumpeter's daughter--a passion which, with each, was to last as
long as life itself.
Wilhelmine was now formally installed in the place of the deposed
Charlotte as favourite of the heir to the throne; and idyllic years
followed, during which she gave pledges of her love to the man who was
her husband in all but name. That her purse was often empty was a matter
to smile at; that she had to act as "breadwinner" to her family, and was
at times reduced to such straits that she was obliged to pawn some of
her small stock of jewellery in order to provide her lover with a
supper, was a bagatelle. She was the happiest young woman in Prussia.
Even what seemed to be a crowning disaster, fortune turned into a boon
for her. When news of this unlicensed love-making came to the King's
ears, he was furious. It was intolerable that the destined ruler of a
great and powerful nation should be governed and duped by a woman of the
people. He gave his nephew a sound rating--alike for his extravagance
and his amour; and packed off Wilhelmine to join her sister in Paris.
But, for once, Frederick found that he had made a mistake. The Prince,
robbed of the woman he loved, took the bit in his teeth, and plunged so
deeply into extravagant dallying with ballet-dancers and stars of the
opera that the King was glad to choose the lesser evil, and to summon
Wilhelmine back to her Prince's arms. One stipulation only he made, that
she should make her home away from the capital and the dangerous
allurements which his nephew found there.
Now at last we find Cinderella happily installed, with the King's august
approval, in a beautiful home which has since blossomed into the
splendours of Charlottenburg. Here she gave birth to a son, whom
Frederick dubbed Count de la Marke in his nurse's arms, but who was
fated never to leave his cradle. This child of love, the idol of his
parents, sleeps in a splendid mausoleum in the great Protestant Church
As a sop to Prussian morality and to make the old King quite easy, a
complaisant husband was now found for the Prince's favourite in his
chamberlain, Herr Rietz, son of a palace gardener; and Frederick William
himself looked on while the woman he loved, the mother of his children,
was converted by a few priestly words into a "respectable married
woman"--only to leave the altar on his own arm, his wife in the eyes of
The time was now drawing near when Wilhelmine was to reach the zenith of
her adventurous life. One August day in 1786 Frederick the Great drew
his last breath in the Potsdam Palace, and his nephew awoke to be
greeted by his chamberlain as "Your Majesty." The trumpeter's daughter
was at last a Queen, in fact, if not in name, more secure in her
husband's love than ever, and with long years of splendour and happiness
before her. That his fancy, ever wayward, flitted to other women as fair
as herself, did not trouble her a whit. Like Madame de Pompadour, she
was prepared even to encourage such rivalry, so long as the first place
(and this she knew) in her husband's heart was unassailably her own.
Picture our Cinderella now in all her new splendours, moving as a Queen
among her courtiers, receiving the homage of princes and ambassadors as
her right, making her voice heard in the Council Chamber, and holding
her _salon_, to which all the great ones of the earth flocked to pay
tribute to her beauty and her gifts of mind. It was a strange
transformation from the barracks-kitchen to the Queendom of one of the
greatest Courts of Europe; but no Queen cradled in a palace ever wore
her honours with greater dignity, grace, and simplicity than this
daughter of an army bandsman.
The days of the empty purse were, of course, at an end. She had now her
ten thousand francs a month for "pin-money," her luxuriously appointed
palace at Charlottenburg, and her Berlin mansion, "Unter den Linden,"
with its private theatre, in which she and her Royal lover, surrounded
by their brilliant Court, applauded the greatest actors from Paris and
Vienna. It is said that many of these stage-plays were of questionable
decency, with more than a suggestion of the garden of Eden in them; but
this is an aspersion which Madame de Rietz indignantly repudiates in her
While Wilhelmine was thus happy in her Court magnificence, varied by
days of "delightful repose," at Charlottenburg, France was in the throes
of her Revolution, drenched with the blood of her greatest men and
fairest women; her King had lost his crown and his head with it; and
Europe was in arms against her. When Frederick William joined his army
camped on the Rhine bank, Wilhelmine was by his side to counsel him as
he wavered between war and peace. The fate of the coalition against
France was practically in the hands of the trumpeter's daughter, whose
voice was all for peace. "What matters it," she said, "how France is
governed? Let her manage her own affairs, and let Europe be saved from
the horrors of bloodshed."
In vain did the envoys of Spain and Italy, Austria and England, practise
all their diplomacy to place her influence in the scale of war. When
Lord Henry Spencer offered her a hundred thousand guineas if she would
dissuade her husband from concluding a treaty with France, she turned a
deaf ear to all his pleading and arguments. Such influence as she
possessed should be exercised in the interests of peace, and thus it was
that the vacillating King deserted his allies, and signed the Treaty of
Bale, in 1795.
Such was the triumphant issue of Madame Rietz's intervention in the
affairs of Europe; such the proof she gave to the world of her conquest
of a King. It was thus with a light heart that she turned her back on
the Rhine camp; and with her husband's children and a splendid retinue
set out on her journey to Italy, to see which was the greatest ambition
of her life. At the Austrian Court she was coldly received, it is true,
thanks to her part in the Treaty of Bale; but in Italy she was greeted
as a Queen. At Naples Queen Caroline received her as a sister; the
trumpeter's daughter was the brilliant centre of fetes and banquets and
receptions such as might have gratified the vanity of an Empress: while
at Florence she spent days of ideal happiness under the blue sky of
Italy and among her beauties of Nature and Art.
It was at Venice that she wrote to her King lover, "Your Majesty knows
well that, for myself, I place no value on the foolish vanities of Court
etiquette; but I am placed in an awkward position by my daughter being
raised to the rank of Countess, while I am still in the lowly position
of a bourgeoise." She had, in fact, always declined the honour of a
title, which Frederick William had so often begged her to accept; and it
was only for her daughter's sake, when the question of an alliance
between the young Countess de la Marke and Lord Bristol's heir arose,
that she at last stooped to ask for what she had so long refused.
A few weeks later her brother, the King's equerry, placed in her hands
the patent which made her Countess Lichtenau, with the right to bear on
her shield of arms the Prussian eagle and the Royal crown.
Wherever the Countess (as we must now call her) went on her Italian
tour she drew men to her feet by the magnetism of her beauty, who would
have paid no homage to her as _chere amie_ of a King; for she was now in
the early thirties, in the full bloom of the loveliness that had its
obscure budding in the Potsdam barrack-rooms. Young and old were equally
powerless to resist her fascinations. She had, indeed, no more ardent
slave and admirer than my Lord Bristol, the octogenarian Bishop of
Londonderry, whose passion for the Countess, young enough to be his
granddaughter, was that of a lovesick youth.
From "dear Countess and adorable friend," he quickly leaps in his
letters to "my dear Wilhelmine." He looks forward with the impatience of
a boy to seeing her at "that terrestrial paradise which is called
Naples, where we shall enjoy perpetual spring and spend delightful days
in listening to the divine _Paesiello_. Do you know," he adds, "I passed
two hours of real delight this morning in simply contemplating your
elegant bedroom where only the elegant sleeper was missing."
"It is in _Crocelle_," he writes a little later, "that you will make
people happy by your presence, and where you will recuperate your
health, regain your gaiety, and forget an Irishman; and a holy Bishop,
more worthy of your affection, on account of the deep attachment he has
for you, will take his place."
In June, 1796, this senile lover writes, "In an hour I depart for
Germany; and, as the wind is north, with every step I take I shall say:
'This breeze comes perhaps from her; it has touched her rosy lips and
mingled its scent with the perfume of her breath which I shall inhale,
the perfume of the breath of my dear Wilhelmine.'"
But these days of dallying with her legion of lovers, of regal fetes and
pleasure-chasing, were brought to an abrupt conclusion when news came to
her at Venice that her "husband," the King, was dying, with the Royal
family by his bedside awaiting the end. Such news, with all its import
of sorrow and tragedy, set the Countess racing across the Continent,
fast as horses could carry her, to the side of her beloved King, whom
she found, if not _in extremis_, "very dangerously ill and pitifully
changed" from the robust man she had left. Her return, however, did more
for him than all the skill of his doctors. It gave him a new lease of
life, in which her presence brought happiness into days which, none knew
better than himself, were numbered.
For more than a year the Countess was his tender nurse and constant
companion, ministering to his comfort and arranging plays and tableaux
for his entertainment. She watched over him as jealously as any mother
over her dying child; but all her devotion could not stay the steps of
death, which every day brought nearer. As the inevitable end approached,
her friends warned her to leave Charlottenburg while the opportunity was
still hers--to escape with her jewels and her money (a fortune of
L150,000)--but to all such urging she was deaf. She would stay by her
lover's side to the last, though she well knew the danger of delay.
One November day in 1797 Frederick William made his last public
appearance at a banquet, with the Countess at his right hand; and seldom
has festival had such a setting in tragedy. "None of the guests," we are
told, "uttered a word or ate a mouthful of anything; the plates were
cleared at the hasty ringing of a bell. A convulsive movement made by
the sick man showed that he was suffering agonies. Before half-past nine
every guest had left, greatly troubled. The majority of those who had
been present never saw the unfortunate monarch again. They all shared
the same presentiment of disaster, and wept."
From that night the King was dead, even to his own Court. The gates of
his palace were closed against the world, and none were allowed to
approach the chamber in which his life was ebbing away, save the
Countess, his nurse, and his doctors. Even his children were refused
admittance to his presence. As the Marquis de Saint Mexent said, "The
King of Prussia ends his days as though he were a rich benefactor. All
the relations are excluded by the housekeeper."
A few days before the end came the Countess was seen to leave the
palace, carrying a large red portfolio--a suspicious circumstance which
the Crown Prince's spies promptly reported to their master. There could
be only one inference--she had been caught in the act of stealing State
papers, a crime for which she would have to pay a heavy price as soon
as her protector was no more! As a matter of fact the portfolio
contained nothing more secret or valuable than the letters she had
written to the King during the twenty-seven years of their romance,
letters which, after reading, she consigned to the flames in her boudoir
within an hour of the suspected theft of State documents.
A few days later, on the night of the 16th of November (1797), the King
entered on his "death agony," one fit of suffocation succeeding another,
until the Countess, unable to bear any longer the sight of such
suffering, was carried away in violent convulsions. She saw him no more;
for by seven o'clock in the morning Frederick William had found release
from his agony in death, and his son had begun to reign in his stead.
At last the long-delayed hour of revenge had come to Frederick William
III., who had always regarded his father's favourite as an enemy; and
his vengeance was swift to strike. Before the late King's body was cold,
his successor's emissaries appeared at the palace door, Unter den
Linden, with orders to search her papers and to demand the keys of every
desk and cupboard. Even then she scorned to fly before the storm which
she knew was breaking. For three days and nights her carriage stood at
her gates ready to take her away to safety; but she refused to move a
Then one morning, before she had left her bed, a major of the guards,
with a posse of soldiers, appeared at her bedroom door armed with a
warrant for her arrest; and for many weeks she was a closely guarded
prisoner in her own house, subject to daily insults and indignities from
men who, a few weeks earlier, had saluted her as a Queen.
At the trial which followed some very grave indictments were preferred
against her. She was charged with having betrayed State secrets; with
having robbed the Royal Exchequer; stolen the King's portfolio; and
removed the priceless solitaire diamond from his crown, and the very
rings from his fingers as he lay dying. To these and other equally grave
charges the Countess gave a dignified denial, which the evidence she was
able to produce supported. The diamond and the rings were, in fact,
discovered in places indicated by her where they had been put, by the
King's orders, for safe custody.
The trial had a happier ending than, from the malignity of her enemies,
especially of the King, might have been expected. After three months of
durance she was removed to a Silesian fortress. Her houses and lands
were taken from her; but her furniture and jewels were left untouched,
and with them she was allowed to enjoy a pension of four thousand
thalers a year. Such was the judgment of a Court which proved more
merciful than she had perhaps a right to expect. And two months later,
the influence and pleading of her friends set her free from her
fortress-prison to spend her life where and as she would.
The sun of her splendour had indeed set, but many years of peaceful and
not unhappy life remained for our ex-Queen, who was still in the prime
of her womanhood and beauty and with the magnetism that, to her last
day, brought men to her feet. At fifty she was able to inspire such
passion in the breast of a young artist, Francis Holbein, that he asked
and won her hand in marriage. But this romance was short-lived, for
within a year he left her, to spend the remainder of her days in Paris,
Vienna, and her native Prussia. Here her adventurous career closed in
such obscurity, at the age of sixty-eight, that even those who
ministered to her last moments were unaware that the dying woman was the
Countess who had played so dazzling a part a generation earlier, as
favourite of the King of Prussia and Queen of her loveliest women.
THE CORSICAN AND THE CREOLE
Of the many women who succeeded one another with such bewildering
rapidity in the favour of the first Napoleon, from Desiree Clary,
daughter of the Marseilles silk-merchant, the "little wife" of his days
of obscurity, to Madame Walewska, the beautiful Pole, who so fruitlessly
bartered her charms for her country's salvation, only one really
captured his fickle heart--Josephine de Beauharnais, the woman whom he
raised to the splendour of an Imperial crown, only to fling her aside
when she no longer served the purposes of his ambition.
It was one October day in the year 1795 that Josephine, Vicomtesse de
Beauharnais, first cast the spell of her beauty on the "ugly little
Corsican," who had then got his foot well planted on the ladder, at the
summit of which was his crown of empire. At twenty-six, the man who, but
a little earlier, was an out-of-work captain, eating his heart out in a
Marseilles slum, was General-in-Chief of the armies of France, with the
disarmed rebels of Paris grovelling at his feet.
One day a handsome boy came to him, craving permission to retain the
sword his father had won, a favour which the General, pleased by the
boy's frankness and manliness, granted. The next day the young rebel's
mother presented herself to thank him with gracious words for his
kindness to her son--a creature of another world than his, with a
beauty, grace and refinement which were a new revelation to his
The fair vision haunted him; the music of her voice lingered in his
ears. He must see her again. And, before another day had passed, we find
the pale-faced, grim Corsican, with the burning eyes, sitting awkwardly
on a horse-hair chair of Madame's dining-room in her small house in the
Rue Chantereine, nervously awaiting the entry of the Vicomtesse who had
already played such havoc with his peace of mind. And when at last she
made her appearance, few would have recognised in the man, who made his
shy, awkward bow, the famous General with whose name the whole of France
It was little wonder, perhaps, that the little Corsican's heart went
pit-a-pat, or that his knees trembled under him, for the lady whose
smile and the touch of whose hand sent a thrill through him, was indeed,
to quote his own words, "beautiful as a dream." From the chestnut hair
which rippled over her small, proudly poised head to the arch of her
tiny, dainty feet, "made for homage and for kisses," she was, "all
glorious without." There was witchery in every part of her--in the rich
colour that mantled in her cheeks; the sweet brown eyes that looked out
between long-fringed eyelids; the small, delicate nose; "the nostrils
quivering at the least emotion"; the exquisite lines of the tall, supple
figure, instinct with grace in every moment; and, above all, in the
seductive music of a voice, every note of which was a caress.
Sixteen years earlier, Josephine had come from Martinique to Paris as
bride of the Vicomte de Beauharnais, with whom she had led a more or
less unhappy life, until the guillotine of the Revolution left her a
widow, with two children and an empty purse. But even this crowning
calamity was powerless to crush the sunny-hearted Creole, who merely
laughed at the load of debts which piled themselves up around her. A
little of the wreckage of her husband's fortune had been rescued for her
by influential friends; but this had disappeared long before Napoleon
crossed her path. And at last the light-hearted widow realised that if
she had a card left to play, she must play it quickly.
Here then was her opportunity. The little General was obviously a slave
at her feet; he was already a great man, destined to be still greater;
and if he was bourgeois to his coarse finger-tips, he could at least
serve as a stepping-stone to raise her from poverty and obscurity.
As for Napoleon, he was a vanquished man--and he knew it--before ever he
set foot in Madame's modest dining-room. When he left, he "trod on air,"
for the Vicomtesse had been more than gracious to him. The next day he
was drawn as by a magnet to the Rue Chantereine, and the next and the
next, each interview with his divinity forging fresh links for the
chain that bound him; and at each visit he met under Madame's roof some
of the great ones of that other world in which Josephine moved, the old
_noblesse_ of France--who paid her the homage due to a Queen.
Thus vanity and ambition fed the flames of the passion which was
consuming him; and within a fortnight he had laid his heart and his
fortune, which at the time consisted of "his personal wardrobe and his
military accoutrements" at the feet of the Creole widow; and one March
day in 1796 Napoleon Bonaparte, General, and Josephine de Beauharnais,
were made one by a registrar who obligingly described the bride as
twenty-nine (thus robbing her of three years), and added two to the
bridegroom's twenty-six years.
After two days of rapturous honeymooning Napoleon was on his way to join
his army in Italy, as reluctant a bridegroom as ever left Cupid at the
bidding of Mars. At every change of horses during the long journey he
dispatched letters to the wife he had left behind--letters full of
passion and yearning. In one of them he wrote, "When I am tempted to
curse my fate, I place my hand on my heart and find your portrait there.
As I gaze at it I am filled with a joy unutterable. Life seems to hold
no pain, save that of severance from my beloved."
At Nice, amid all the labours and anxieties of organising his rabble
army for a campaign, his thoughts are always taking wings to her; her
portrait is ever in his hand. He says his prayers before it; and, when
once he accidentally broke the glass, he was in an agony of despair and
superstitious foreboding. His one cry was, "Come to me! Come to my heart
and to my arms. Oh, that you had wings!"
Even when flushed with the surrender of Piedmont after a fortnight's
brilliant fighting, in which he had won half a dozen battles and reaped
twenty-one standards, he would have bartered all his laurels for a sight
of the woman he loved so passionately. But while he was thus yearning
for her in distant Italy, Madame was much too happy in her beloved Paris
to lend an ear to his pleadings. As wife of the great Napoleon she was a
veritable Queen, fawned on and flattered by all the great ones in the
capital. Hers was the place of honour at every fete and banquet; the
banners her husband had captured were presented to her amid a tumult of
acclamation; when she entered a theatre the entire house rose to greet
her with cheers. She was thus in no mood to leave her Queendom for the
arms of her husband, whose unattractive person and clumsy ardour only
When his letters calling her to him became more and more imperative, she
could no longer ignore them. But she could, at least, invent an
excellent excuse for her tarrying. She wrote to tell him that she was
expecting to become a mother. This at least would put a stop to his
importunity. And it did. Napoleon was full of delight--and self-reproach
at the joyful news. "Forgive me, my beloved," he wrote. "How can I ever
atone? You were ill and I accused you of lingering in Paris. My love
robs me of my reason, and I shall never regain it.... A child, sweet as
its mother, is soon to lie in your arms. Oh! that I could be with you,
even if only for one day!"
To his brother Joseph he writes in a similar strain: "The thought of her
illness drives me mad. I long to see her, to hold her in my arms. I love
her so madly, I cannot live without her. If she were to die, I should
have absolutely nothing left to live for."
When, however, he learns that Madame's illness is not sufficient to
interfere with her Paris gaieties, a different mood seizes him. Jealousy
and anger take the place of anxious sympathy. He insists that she shall
join him--threatens to resign his command if she refuses. Josephine no
longer dares to keep up her deception. She must obey. And thus, in a
flood of angry tears, we see her starting on her long journey to Italy,
in company with her dog, her maid, and a brilliant escort of officers.
Arrived at Milan, she was welcomed by Napoleon with open arms; but
"after two days of rapture and caresses," he was face to face with the
great crisis of Castiglione. His army was in imminent danger of
annihilation; his own fate and fortune trembled in the balance. Nothing
short of a miracle could save him; and on the third day of his new
honeymoon he was back again in the field at grips with fate.
But even at this supreme crisis he found time to write daily letters to
the dear one who was awaiting the issue in Milan, begging her to share
his life. "Your tears," he writes, "drive me to distraction; they set my
blood on fire. Come to me here, that at least we may be able to say
before we die we had so many days of happiness." Thus he pleads in
letter after letter until Josephine, for very shame, is forced to yield,
and to return to her husband, who, as Masson tells us, "was all day at
her feet as before some divinity."
Such days of bliss were, however, few and far between for the man who
was now in the throes of a Titanic struggle, on the issue of which his
fortunes and those of France hung. But when duty took him into danger
where his lady could not follow, she found ample solace. Monsieur
Charles, Leclerc's adjutant, was all the cavalier she needed--an Adonis
for beauty, a Hercules for strength, the handsomest soldier in
Napoleon's army, a past-master in all the arts of love-making. There was
no dull moment for Josephine with such a squire at her elbow to pour
flatteries into her ears and to entertain her with his clever tongue.
But Monsieur Charles had short shrift when Napoleon's jealousy was
aroused. He was quickly sent packing to Paris; and Josephine was left to
write to her aunt, "I am bored to extinction." She was weary of her
husband's love-rhapsodies, disgusted with the crudities of his passion.
She had, however, a solace in the homage paid to her everywhere. At
Genoa she was received as a Queen; at Florence the Grand Duke called her
"cousin"; the entire army, from General to private, was under the spell
of her beauty and the graciousness that captivated all hearts. She was,
too, reaping a rich harvest of costly presents and bribes, from all who
sought to win Napoleon's favour through her.
The Italian campaign at last over, Madame found herself back again in
her dear Paris, raised to a higher pinnacle of Queendom than ever,
basking in the splendours of the husband whose glories she so gladly
shared, though she held his love in such light esteem. But for him, at
least, there was no time for dallying. Within a few months he was waving
farewell to her again, from the bridge of the _Ocean_ which was carrying
him off to the conquest of Egypt, buoyed by her promise that she would
join him when his work was done. And long before he had reached Malta
she was back again in the vortex of Paris gaiety, setting the tongue of
scandal wagging by her open flirtation with one lover after another.
It was not long before the news of Madame's "goings-on" reached as far
as Alexandria. The dormant jealousy in Napoleon, lulled to rest since
Monsieur Charles had vanished from the scene, was fanned into flame. He
was furious; disillusion seized him, and thoughts of divorce began to
enter his brain. Two could play at this game of falseness; and there
were many beautiful women in Egypt only too eager to console the great
When news came to Josephine that her husband had landed at Frejus, and
would shortly be with her, she was in a state bordering on panic. She
shrank from facing his anger; from the revelation of debts and unwifely
conduct which was inevitable. Her all was at stake and the game was more
than half lost. In her desperation she took her courage in both hands
and set forth, as fast as horses could take her, to meet Napoleon, that
she might at least have the first word with him; but as ill-luck would
have it, he travelled by a different route and she missed him.
On her return to Paris she found the door of Napoleon's room barred
against her. "After repeated knocking in vain," says M. Masson, "she
sank on her knees sobbing aloud. Still the door remained closed. For a
whole day the scene was prolonged, without any sign from within. Worn
out at last, Josephine was about to retire in despair, when her maid
fetched her children. Eugene and Hortense, kneeling beside their mother,
mingled their supplications with hers. At last the door was opened;
speechless, tears streaming down his cheeks, his face convulsed with the
struggle that had rent his heart, Bonaparte appeared, holding out his
arms to his wife."
Such was the meeting of the unfaithful Josephine and the husband who had
vowed that he would no longer call her wife. The reconciliation was
complete; for Napoleon was no man of half-measures. He frankly forgave
the weeping woman all her sins against him; and with generous hand
removed the mountain of debt her extravagance had heaped up--debts
amounting to more than two million francs, one million two hundred
thousand of which she owed to tradespeople alone.
But Napoleon's passion for his wife, of whose beauty few traces now
remained, was dead. His loyalty only remained; and this, in turn, was to
be swept away by the tide of his ambition. A few years later Josephine
was crowned Empress by her husband, and consecrated by the Pope, after
a priest had given the sanction of the Church to her incomplete
She had now reached the dazzling zenith of her career. At the Tuileries,
at St Cloud, and at Malmaison, she held her splendid Courts as Empress.
She had the most magnificent crown jewels in the world; and at Malmaison
she spent her happiest hours in spreading her gems out on the table
before her, and feasting her eyes on their many-hued fires. Her
wardrobes were full of the daintiest and costliest gowns of which, we
are told, more than two hundred were summer-dresses of percale and of
muslin, costing from one thousand to two thousand francs each.
Less than six years of such splendour and luxury, and the inevitable end
of it all came. Napoleon's eyes were dazzled by the offer of an alliance
with the eldest daughter of the Austrian Emperor. His whole ambition now
was focused on providing a successor to his crown (Josephine had failed
him in this important matter); and in Marie Louise of Austria he not
only saw the prospective mother of his heir, but an alliance with one of
the great reigning houses of Europe, which would lend a much-needed
glamour to his bourgeois crown.
His mind was at last inevitably made up. Josephine must be divorced. Her
pleadings and tears and faintings were powerless to melt him. And one
December day, in the year 1809, Napoleon was free to wed his Austrian
Princess; and Josephine was left to console herself as best she might,
with the knowledge that at least she had rescued from her downfall a
life-income of three million francs a year, on which she could still
play the role of Empress at the Elysee, Malmaison, and Navarre, the
sumptuous homes with which Napoleon's generosity had dowered the wife
THE ENSLAVER OF A KING
More than fifty years have gone since the penitent soul of Lola Montez
took flight to its Creator; but there must be some still living whose
pulses quicken at the very mention of a name which recalls so much
mystery and romance and bewildering fascination of the days when, for
them, as for her, "all the world was young."
Who was she, this woman whose beauty dazzled the eyes and whose witchery
turned the heads of men in the forties and fifties of last century? A
dozen countries, from Spain to India, were credited with her birth. Some
said she was the daughter of a noble house, kidnapped by gipsies in her
infancy; others were equally confident that she had for father the
coroneted rake, Lord Byron, and for mother a charwoman.
Her early years were wrapped in a mystery which she mischievously helped
to intensify by declaring that her father was a famous Spanish toreador.
Her origin, however, was prosaic enough. She was the daughter of an
obscure army captain, Gilbert, who hailed from Limerick; her mother was
an Oliver, from whom she received her strain of Spanish blood; and the
names given to her at a Limerick font, one day in 1818, two months after
her parents had made their runaway match, were Marie Dolores Eliza
When Captain Gilbert returned, after his furlough-romance, to India, he
took his wife and child with him. Seven years later cholera removed him;
his widow found speedy solace in the arms of a second husband, one
Captain Craigie; and Dolores was packed off to Scotland to the care of
her stepfather's people until her schooldays were ended.
In the next few years she alternated between the Scottish household,
with its chilly atmosphere of Calvinism, and schools in Paris and
London, until, her education completed, she escaped the husband, a
mummified Indian judge, whom her mother had chosen for her, by eloping
with a young army officer, a Captain James, and with him made the return
voyage to India.
A few months later her romance came to a tragic end, when her Lothario
husband fell under the spell of a brother-officer's wife and ran away
with her to the seclusion of the Neilgherry Hills, leaving his wife
stranded and desolate. And thus it was that Dolores Gilbert wiped the
dust of India finally off her feet, and with a cheque for a thousand
pounds, which her good-hearted stepfather slipped into her hand, started
once more for England, to commence that career of adventure which has
scarcely a parallel even in fiction. She had had more than enough of
wedded life, of Scottish Calvinism, and of a mother's selfish
indifference. She would be henceforth the mistress of her own fate. She
had beauty such as few women could boast--she had talents and a stout
heart; and these should be her fortune.
Her first ambition was to be a great actress; and when she found that
acting was not her forte she determined to dance her way to fame and
fortune, and after a year's training in London and Spain she was ready
to conquer the world with her twinkling feet and supple body.
Of her first appearance as a danseuse, before a private gathering of
Pressmen, we have the following account by one who was there: "Her
figure was even more attractive than her face, lovely as the latter was.
Lithe and graceful as a young fawn, every movement that she made seemed
instinct with melody. Her dark eyes were blazing and flashing with
excitement. In her pose grace seemed involuntarily to preside over her
limbs and dispose their attitude. Her foot and ankle were almost
Such was the enthusiastic description of Lola Montez (as she now chose
to call herself) on the eve of her bid for fame as a dancer who should
perhaps rival the glories of a Taglioni. A few days later the world of
rank and fashion flocked to see the debut of the danseuse whose fame had
been trumpeted abroad; and as Lola pirouetted on to the stage--the focus
of a thousand pairs of eyes--she felt that the crowning moment of her
life had come.
Almost before her twinkling feet had carried her to the centre of the
stage an ominous sound broke the silence of expectation. A hiss came
from one of the boxes; it was repeated from another, and another. The
sibilant sound spread round the house; it swelled into a sinister storm
of hisses and boos. The light faded out of the dancer's eyes, the smile
from her lips; and as the tumult of disapprobation rose to a deafening
climax the curtain was rung down, and Lola rushed weeping from the
stage. Her career as a dancer, in England, had ended at its birth.
But Lola Montez was not the woman to sit down calmly under defeat. A few
weeks later we find her tripping it on the stage at Dresden, and at
Berlin, where the King of Prussia himself was among her applauders. But
such success as the Continent brought her was too small to keep her now
deplenished purse supplied. She fell on evil days, and for two years led
a precarious life--now, we are told, singing in Brussels streets to keep
starvation from her side, now playing the political spy in Russia, and
again, by a capricious turn of fortune's wheel, being feted and courted
in the exalted circles of Vienna and Paris.
From the French capital she made her way to Warsaw, where stirring
adventures awaited her, for before she had been there many days the
Polish Viceroy, General Paskevitch, cast his aged but lascivious eyes on
her young beauty and sent an equerry to desire her presence at the
palace. "He offered her" (so runs the story as told by her own lips)
"the gift of a splendid country estate, and would load her with diamonds
besides. The poor old man was a comic sight to look upon--unusually
short in stature; and every time he spoke he threw his head back and
opened his mouth so wide as to expose the artificial gold roof of his
palate. A death's head making love to a lady could not have been a more
horrible or disgusting sight. These generous gifts were most
respectfully and very decidedly declined."
But General Paskevitch was not disposed to be spurned with impunity. The
contemptuous beauty must be punished for her scorn of his wooing; and,
when she made her appearance on the stage the same night it was to a
greeting of hisses by the Viceroy's hirelings. The next night brought
the same experience; but when on the third night the storm arose, "Lola,
in a rage, rushed down to the footlights and declared that those hisses
had been set at her by the director, because she had refused certain
gifts from the old Prince, his master. Then came a tremendous shower of
applause from the audience, and the old Princess, who was present, both
nodded her head and clapped her hands to the enraged and fiery little
A tumultuous crowd of Poles escorted her to her lodgings that night. She
was the heroine of the hour, who had dared to give open defiance to the
hated Viceroy. The next morning Warsaw was "bubbling and raging with the
signs of an incipient revolution. When Lola Montez was apprised of the
fact that her arrest was ordered she barricaded her door; and when the
police arrived she sat behind it with a pistol in her hand, declaring
that she would certainly shoot the first man who should dare to break
in." Fortunately for Lola, her pistol was not used. The French Consul
came to her rescue, claiming her as a subject of France, and thus
protecting her from arrest. But the order that she should quit Warsaw
was peremptory, and Warsaw saw her no more.
Back again in Paris, Lola found that even her new halo of romance was
powerless to win favour for her dancing. Again she was to hear the storm
of hisses; and this time in her rage "she retaliated by making faces at
her audience," and flinging parts of her clothing in their faces. But if
Paris was not to be charmed by her dainty feet it was ready to yield an
unstinted homage to her rare beauty and charm. She found a flattering
welcome in the most exclusive of _salons_; the cleverest men in the
capital confessed the charm of her wit and surrounded her with their
M. Dujarrier, the most brilliant of them all, young, rich, and handsome,
fell head over ears in love with her and asked her to be his wife. But
the cup of happiness was scarcely at her lips before it was dashed away.
Dujarrier was challenged to a duel by Beauvallon, a political enemy; and
when Lola was on her way to stop the meeting she met a mournful
procession bringing back her dead lover's body, on which she flung
herself in an agony of grief and covered it with kisses. At the
subsequent trial of Beauvallon she electrified the Court by declaring
with streaming eyes, "If Beauvallon wanted satisfaction I would have
fought him myself, for I am a better shot than poor Dujarrier ever was."
And she was probably only speaking the truth, for her courage was as
great as the love she bore for the victim of the duel.
As a child Lola had shocked her puritanical Scottish hosts by declaring
that "she meant to marry a Prince," and unkindly as fate had treated
her, she had by no means relinquished this childish ambition. It may be
that it was in her mind when, a year and a half after the tragedy that
had so clouded her life in Paris, she drifted to Munich in search of
Now in the full bloom of her radiant loveliness--"the most beautiful
woman in Europe" many declared--mingling the vivacity of an Irish beauty
with the voluptuous charms of a Spaniard--she was splendidly equipped
for the conquest of any man, be he King or subject; and Ludwig I., King
of Bavaria, had as keen an eye for female beauty as for the objects of
art on which he squandered his millions.
It was this Ludwig who made Munich the fairest city in all Germany, and
who enriched his palace with the finest private collection of pictures
and statues that Europe can boast. But among all his treasures of art he
valued none more than his gallery of portraits of fair women, each of
whom had, at one time or another, visited his capital.
Such was Ludwig, Bavaria's King, to whom Lola Montez now brought a new
revelation of female loveliness, to which his gallery could furnish no
rival. At first sight of her, as she danced in the opera ballet, he was
undone. The next day and the next his eyes were feasting on her charms
and her supple grace; and within a week she was installed at the Court
and was being introduced by His Majesty as "my best friend."
And not only the King, but all Munich was at the feet of the lovely
"Spaniard"; her drives through the streets were Royal progresses; her
receptions in the palace which Ludwig presented to her were thronged by
all the greatest in Bavaria; on Prince and peasant alike she cast the
spell of her witchery. As for Ludwig, connoisseur of the beautiful, he
was her shadow and her slave, showering on her gifts an Empress might
well have envied. Fortune had relented at last and was now smiling her
sweetest on the adventuress; and if Lola had been content with such
triumphs as these the story of her later life might have been very
different. But she craved power to add to her trophies, and aspired to
take the sceptre from the weak hand of her Royal lover.
Never did woman make a more fatal mistake. On the one hand was arrayed
the might of Austria and of Rome, whose puppet Ludwig was; on the other
hand was a nation clamouring for reforms. Revolution was already in the
air, and it was reserved to this too daring woman to precipitate the
Her first ambition was to persuade Ludwig to dismiss his Ministry, to
shake himself free from foreign influence, and to inaugurate the era of
reform for which his subjects were clamouring. In vain did Austria try
to win her to its side by bribes of gold (no less than a million
florins) and the offer of a noble husband. To all its seductions Lola
turned as deaf an ear as to the offers of Poland's Viceroy. And so
strenuous was her championship of the people that the Cabinet was
compelled to resign in favour of the "Lola Ministry" of reformers.
So far she had succeeded, but the price was still to pay. The
reactionaries, supported by Austria and the Romish Church, were quick
to retaliate by waging remorseless war against the King's mistress; and,
among their most powerful weapons, used the students' clubs of Munich,
who, from being Lola's most enthusiastic admirers, became her bitterest
To counteract this move Lola enrolled a students' corps of her own--a
small army of young stalwarts, whose cry was "Lola and Liberty," and who
were sworn to fight her battles, if need be, to the death. Thus was the
fire of revolution kindled by a woman's vanity and lust of power.
Students' fights became everyday incidents in the streets of Munich, and
on one occasion when Lola, pistol in hand, intervened to prevent
bloodshed, she was rescued with difficulty by Ludwig himself and a
detachment of soldiers.
The climax came when she induced the King to close the University for a
year--an autocratic step which aroused the anger not only of every
student but of the whole country. The streets were paraded by mobs
crying, "Down with the concubine!" and "Long live the Republic!"
Barricades were erected and an influential deputation waited on the King
to demand the expulsion of the worker of so much mischief.
In vain did Ludwig declare that he would part with his crown rather than
with the Countess of Landsfeld--for this was one of the titles he had
conferred on his favourite. The forces arrayed against him were too
strong, and the order of expulsion was at last conceded. It was only,
however, when her palace was in flames and surrounded by a howling mob
that the dauntless woman deigned to seek refuge in flight, and,
disguised as a boy, suffered herself to be escorted to the frontier. Two
weeks later Ludwig lost his crown.
The remainder of this strange story may be told in a few words. Thrown
once more on the world, with a few hastily rescued jewels for all her
fortune, Lola Montez resumed her stage life, appearing in London in a
drama entitled "Lola Montez: or a Countess for an Hour." Here she made a
conquest of a young Life Guardsman, called Heald, who had recently
succeeded to an estate worth L5000 a year; and with him she spent a few
years, made wretched by continual quarrels, in one of which she stabbed
him. When he was "found drowned" at Lisbon she drifted to Paris, and
later to the United States, which she toured with a drama entitled "Lola
Montez in Bavaria." There she made her third appearance at the altar,
with a bridegroom named Hull, whom she divorced as soon as the honeymoon
Thus she carried her restless spirit through a few more years of
wandering and growing poverty, until a chance visit to Spurgeon's
Tabernacle revolutionised her life. She decided to abandon the stage and
to devote the remainder of her days to penitence and good works. But the
end was already near. In New York, where she had gone to lecture, she
was struck down by paralysis, and a few weeks before she had seen her
forty-second birthday she died in a charitable institution, joining
fervently in the prayers of the clergyman who was summoned to her
"When she was near the end, and could not speak," the clergyman says,
"I asked her to let me know by a sign whether she was at peace. She
fixed her eyes on mine and nodded affirmatively. I do not think I ever
saw deeper penitence and humility than in this poor woman."
AN EMPRESS AND HER FAVOURITES
When Sophie Augusta Frederica of Anhalt-Zerbst was romping on the
ramparts or in the streets of Stettin with burghers' children for
playmates, he would have been a bold prophet who would have predicted
that one day she would be the most splendid figure among Europe's
sovereigns, "the only great man in Europe," according to Voltaire, "an
angel before whom all men should be silent"; and that, while dazzling
Europe by her statesmanship and learning, she would afford more material
for scandal than any woman, except perhaps Christina of Sweden, who ever
wore a crown.
There is much, it is true, to be said in extenuation of the weakness
that has left such a stain on the memory of Catherine II. of Russia.
Equipped far beyond most women with the beauty and charms that fascinate
men, and craving more than most of her sex the love of man, she was
mated when little more than a child to the most degenerate Prince in all
The Grand Duke Peter, heir to the Russian throne, who at sixteen took to
wife the girl-Princess of Anhalt-Zerbst, was already an expert in
almost every vice. Imbecile in mind, he found his chief pleasure in the
company of the most degraded. He rarely went to bed sober--in fact, his
bride's first sight of him was when he was drunk, at the age of ten. He
was, too, "a liar and a coward, vicious and violent; pale, sickly, and
uncomely--a crooked soul in a prematurely ravaged body."
Such was the Grand Duke Peter, to whom the high-spirited, beautiful
Princess Sophie (thenceforth to be known as "Catherine") was tied for
life one day in the year 1744--a youth the very sight of whom repelled
her, while his vices filled her with loathing. Add to this revolting
union the fact that she found herself under the despotic rule of the
Empress Elizabeth, who made no concealment of her hatred and jealousy of
the fair young Princess, surrounded her with spies, and treated her as a
rebellious child, to be checked and bullied at every turn--and it is not
difficult to understand the spirit of recklessness and defiance that was
soon roused in Catherine's breast.
There was at the Russian Court no lack of temptation to indulge this
spirit of revolt to the full. The young German beauty, mated to worse
than a clown, soon had her Court of admirers to pour flatteries into her
dainty ears, and she would perhaps have been less than a woman if she
had not eagerly drunk them in. She had no need of anyone to tell her
that she was fair. "I know I am beautiful as the day," she once
exclaimed, as she looked at her mirrored reflection in her first ball
finery at St Petersburg, with a red rose in her glorious hair; and the
mirror told no flattering tale.
See the picture Poniatowski, one of her earliest and most ardent slaves,
paints of the young Grand Duchess. "With her black hair she had a
dazzling whiteness of skin, a vivid colour, large blue eyes prominent
and eloquent, black and long eyebrows, a Greek nose, a mouth that looked
made for kissing, a slight, rather tall figure, a carriage that was
lively, yet full of nobility, a pleasing voice, and a laugh as merry as
the humour through which she could pass with ease from the most playful
and childish amusements to the most fatiguing mathematical
With the brain, even in those early years, of a clever man, she was
essentially a woman, with all a woman's passion for the admiration and
love of men; and one cannot wonder, however much one may deplore, that
while her imbecile husband was guzzling with common soldiers, or playing
with his toys and tin cannon in bed, vacuous smiles on his face, his
beautiful bride should find her own pleasures in the homage of a
Soltykoff, a Poniatowski, an Orloff, or any other of the legion of
lovers who in quick succession took her fancy.
The first among her admirers to capture her fancy was Sergius Soltykoff,
her chamberlain, high-born, "beautiful as the day," polished courtier,
supple-tongued wooer, to whom the Grand Duchess gave the heart her
husband spurned. But Soltykoff's reign was short; the fickle Princess,
ever seeking fresh conquests, wearied of him as of all her lovers in
turn, and his place was taken within a year by Stanislas Poniatowski, a
fascinating young Pole, who returned to St Petersburg with a reputation
of gallantry won in almost every Court of Europe.
Poniatowski had not perhaps the physical perfections of his dethroned
predecessor, but he had the well-stored brain that made an even more
potent appeal to Catherine. He could talk "like an angel" on every
subject that appealed to her, from art to philosophy; and he had,
moreover, a magnetic charm of manner which few women could resist.
Such a lover was, indeed, after her heart, for he brought romance and
adventure to his wooing; and whether he found his way to her boudoir
disguised as a ladies' tailor or as one of the Grand Duke's musicians,
or made open love to her under the very nose of her courtiers, he played
his role of lover to admiration. Once Peter, in jealous mood, threatened
to run his rival through with his sword, and, in his rage, "went into
his wife's bedroom and pulled her out of bed without leaving her time to
dress." An hour later his anger had changed to an amused complaisance,
and he was supping with the culprits, and with boisterous laughter was
drinking their healths.
When at last a political storm drove Poniatowski from Russia, Catherine,
who never forgot a banished lover, secured for him the crown of Poland.
Thus the favourites come and go, each supreme for a time, each
inevitably packed off to give place to a successor. With Poniatowski
away in Poland, Catherine cast her eyes round her Court to find a third
favourite, and her choice was soon made, for of all her army of admirers
there was one who fully satisfied her ideal of handsome manhood.
Of the five Orloff brothers, each a Goliath in stature and a Hercules in
strength, the handsomest was Gregory, "the giant with the face of an
angel." Towering head and shoulders over most of his fellow-courtiers,
with knotted muscles which could fell an ox or crush a horse-shoe with
the closing of a hand, Gregory Orloff was reputed the bravest man in
Russia, as he was the idol of his soldiers. He was also a notorious
gambler and drinker and the hero of countless love adventures.
No greater contrast could be possible than between this dare-devil son
of Anak and the cultured, almost feminine Poniatowski; but Catherine
loved, above all things, variety, and here it was in startling
abundance. Nor was her new lover any the less desirable because he was
some years younger than herself, or that his grandfather had been a
common soldier in the army of Peter the Great.
And Gregory Orloff proved himself as bold in wooing as he was brave in
war. For him there was no stealing up back stairs, no masquerading in
disguises. He was the elect favourite of the future Empress of Russia,
and all the world should know it. He was inseparable from his mistress,
and paid his court to her under the eyes of her husband; while
Catherine, thus emboldened, made as little concealment of her
But troublous days were coming to break the idyll of their love. The
Empress Elizabeth, as was inevitable, at last drank herself to death,
and her nephew Peter, now a besotted imbecile of thirty-four, put on the
Imperial robes, and was free to indulge his madness without restraint.
The first use he made of his freedom was to subject his wife to every
insult and humiliation his debased brain could suggest. He flaunted his
amours and vices before her, taunted her in public with her own
indiscretions, and shouted in his cups that he would divorce her.
Not content with these outrages on his Empress, he lost no opportunity
of disgusting his subjects and driving his soldiers to the verge of
mutiny. Such an intolerable state of things could only have one issue.
The Emperor was undoubtedly mad; the Emperor must go.
Over the _coup d'etat_ which followed we must pass hurriedly--the
conspiracy of Catherine and the Orloffs, the eager response of the army
which flocked to the Empress, "kissing me, embracing my hands, my feet,
my dress, and calling me their saviour"; the marching of the insurgent
troops to Oranienbaum, with Catherine, astride on horseback, at their
head; and Peter's craven submission, when he crawled on his knees to his
wife, with whimpering and tears, begging her to allow him to keep "his
mistress, his dog, his negro, and his violin."
The Emperor was safe behind barred doors at Mopsa; Catherine was now
Empress in fact as well as name. Three weeks later Peter was dead; was
he done to death by Catherine's orders? To this day none can say with
certainty. The story of this tragedy as told by Castera makes gruesome
One day Alexis Orloff and Teplof appeared at Mopsa to announce to the
deposed sovereign his approaching deliverance and to ask a dinner of
him. Glasses and brandy were ordered, and while Teplof was amusing the
Tsar, Orloff filled the glasses, adding poison to one of them.
"The Tsar, suspecting no harm, took the poison and swallowed it. He was
soon seized with agonising pains. He screamed aloud for milk, but the
two monsters again presented poison to him and forced him to take it.
When the Tsar's valet bravely interposed he was hurled from the room. In
the midst of the tumult there entered Prince Baratinski, who commanded
the Guard. Orloff, who had already thrown down the Tsar, pressed upon
his chest with his own knees, holding him fast at the same time by the
throat. Baratinski and Teplof then passed a table-napkin with a sliding
knot round his neck, and the murderers accomplished the work of death by
Such is the story as it has come down to us, and as it was believed in
Russia at the time. That Gregory Orloff was innocent of a crime in which
his own brother played a leading part is as little to be credited as
that Catherine herself was in ignorance of the design on her husband's
life. But, however this may be, we are told that when the news of her
husband's death was brought to the Empress at a banquet, she was to all
appearance overcome with horror and grief. She left the table with
streaming eyes and spent the next few days in unapproachable solitude
in her rooms.
Thus at last Catherine was free both from the tyranny of Elizabeth and
from the brutality of her bestial husband. She was sole sovereign of all
the Russias, at liberty to indulge any caprice that entered her
versatile brain. That her subjects, almost to a man, regarded her with
horror as her husband's murderer, that this detestation was shared by
the army that had put her on the throne, and by the nobles who had been
her slaves, troubled her little. She was mistress of her fate, and
strong enough (as indeed she proved) to hold, with a firm grasp, the
sceptre she had won.
High as Gregory Orloff had stood in her favour before she came to her
crown, his position was now more splendid and secure. She showered her
favours on him with prodigal hand. Lands and jewels and gold were
squandered on her "First Favourite"--the official designation she
invented for him; and he wore on his broad chest her miniature in a
blazing oval of diamonds, the crowning mark of her approval. And to his
brothers she was almost equally generous, for in a few years of her
ascendancy the Orloffs were enriched by vast estates on which forty-five