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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 1
This webpage reproduces part of
A Late Stuart Pretender

by George Sherburn

published by
The University of Chicago Press

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 3

p15 Chapter Two

Early Years

One may perhaps imagine that on her deathbed, Charlotte Stuart confessed the secret of her three children and urged the Cardinal (in person or through an agent) to be charitably considerate of her progeny. She could hardly publish her shame and that of her family by mentioning the children in her will. She was evidently deluded in thinking she could depend on the Cardinal's generosity. Any late revelation of illegitimate offspring would doubtless anger him, but he was far from being the poisonous, melodramatic villain that Roehenstart alleges him to be. On the other hand, it is improbable that he was the simple-minded innocent that he has at times been painted. His behavior as to Charlotte's will was not acceptable to the Countess of Albestroff. The will named the Cardinal chief heir, and left a legacy of 50,000 francs and an annual pension of 15,000 to her mother the Countess. The 50,000 francs were "in favour of any of her necessitous relatives" — and that was the only reference in the will to Charlotte's children. Charlotte and her father, however, had little property of their own, and not enough to make her bequests practicable.

Clementine's pension was paid through Paris, and because of unsettled conditions she lost greatly through the rates of exchange. After 1797 the Cardinal was in flight from Rome while it was occupied by the French, and he was in no position to pay anything to the Countess. Her last years were supported chiefly by funds sent to her by Thomas Coutts. After about 1791 she lived apart from her grandchildren apparently, but before that time she had filled their minds with strong prejudice against their uncle the Cardinal-Duke. Prince Ferdinand in 1795 spent some time in Rome, and Roehenstart in a semiofficial story tells, with fantastic adumbrations, of his father's attempt to obtain justice from the Cardinal. One can only wonder how overt any such attempt would be.

p16 We know little or nothing of the childhood of the three children. The two girls have not been traced at all, and the papers of Roehenstart give only tantalizing bits of information. Persons of irregular birth are frequently uncertain of just when and where they were born. The fact that Roehenstart tells quite needlessly varying stories about his birth may indicate his awareness of his illegitimacy. In his "official" Memorial of 1816 he says he was born in Italy on June 11, 1784. His mother at that time was still in Paris, but the date, though not the place, is perhaps possible. In 1825, when elevated to the rank of Commander in the Ordre de l'Ancienne Nobless et 4 Empereurs d'Allemagne, Roehenstart sent the following data for his diploma:

Charles Edward Stuart, Baron de Korff, Comte de Rohenstart,º Colonel de Cavalerie, Chevalier de plusieurs Ordres, &c, &c. né à Rome le 4 Mai 1786, au Palais Colonna, Paroisse des Stes.º Apotres. Professant la Religion Protestant.º

This birth date is negated by entries in the enormous diary kept by the Cardinal-Duke, which represents the Duchess as in the best of health at that time. Another year was suggested by the detail in Roehenstart's British passport (issued April 22, 1835), where he gave his age as 48 ans. And his tombstone in Dunkeld dates his death as October 28, 1854, and adds "Aged 73 years." He was, then, born sometime between 1781 and 1787. Since he was evidently born before his mother went to Italy, 1784 is a plausible date.

Lacking specific information concerning the childhood of Roehenstart and his sisters, writers have evolved traditional romantic episodes that seem quite unhistorical. Two such may be found in the Oban Times for April 15 and August 5, 1939. They chiefly concern the connection of a Stuart lady with a heather grave on Campbell Island or on some other island in New Zealand. One passage from the issue of August 5 deserves quotation:

Baron Roehenstart's sister, Maria Stuart Roehenstart1 was born in 1778. Both children were secretly adopted by a family in Warsaw named Ferguson-Tepper. Marie Stuart Roehenstart married Jakub Sobieski and was early left a widow with one daughter, Carolina Sobieski. This lady, Marie Stuart Roehenstart, is buried in the heather grave on Campbell Island.

The heather grave story, told variously by several authors, was given a lurid version in the Oban Times for April 15, 1939. No documentation p17of the story, which on the face of it is absurdly romantic, is offered, and there is no reason to believe that any of the several heather graves that make claims had any connection with a sister of Roehenstart. The story of the adoption in Warsaw is explicit, but again it seems impossible to make any authentic connection between the banking family of Ferguson-Tepper and Roehenstart. The family was Protestant, and Roehenstart was educated by Protestants, so he tells us. Their finances sadly declined, and if they adopted Roehenstart, they could hardly aid him in his later needs.

The evidence found in Roehenstart's papers indicates that throughout his life he had a "homelike" affection for the Rhine Valley, and especially for Munich and Baden. Somewhere early in his career he came to associate himself with the common family name of Korff. His full name with titles, it will be recalled, was Charles Edward Augustus Maximilien Stuart, Baron Korff, Count Roehenstart. Before 1816 he frequently uses as signature A. M. Korff, when not displaying his Stuart connection. It is certain that early in the nineteenth century a Count Korff von Schmissing lived in Munich, and while we have no proof, it is a plausible conjecture that Roehenstart was brought up in Munich by some member of the Korff family.

Among Roehenstart's papers all we have for the period 1793‑1800 is four letters or four drafts of letters, perhaps never sent. One is in an untaught, childish hand; the others are in the excessively small but beautiful hand that Roehenstart had already acquired. Throughout his career he used both these hands, and in fact might qualify as a calligrapher. The first letter (in English) was designed for his uncle the Cardinal-Duke:

Munick Janvier 1st 1799 [or 1792/93]

My Lord: — I avail myself of this year to present to Your Royal Highness the wishes which I form for You. Maman told me to love You and I do it very much.

I shall be much happy if I can obtain Your Protection, for I am a good boy.

Your respectful nephew


P. S. Je prie toujours le Bon Dieu pour Your Royal Highness. C.

The second letter (in French) is dated "Mck Janvier de 4 1799" and is written to his Bonne Maman (unidentified). It perhaps is written to inclose the letter written to the Cardinal, for it concludes with the remark "I send you the copy that I wrote to my great Uncle whom I p18do not love as much as I do you, since I think him very wicked. / Adieu, your obedient and good son / Charles." The other two letters, one dated June 22, 1800 and the other August 4, 1800, are not clearly addressed and are not easy to interpret. They contain nostalgic but vague mentions of childhood now past and are expressive of marked pains at being separated from persons much loved. In 1800 Roehenstart was sixteen years old or at most nineteen. The maturity of the handwriting in these last two letters is such as to raise doubts; but if composed later than 1800 they could not be used to prove anything. They do allow certain inferences. They are all written from Munich. They all imply a family unhappily separated and give an example of romantic self-pity common at the time and common in Roehenstart's later letters. There seems, however, to be a sincere sense of loneliness — of not being part of a happy family group.

The vanished years may have been lonely: they were not idle. The boy evidently fell into good hands, and got for himself a very respectable education, with a strong Protestant bias. It may be noted that once in his later years Roehenstart called himself a member of an English Protestant congregation in Munich (see chap. xii, p128). The education was both practical and literary. His handwriting, already mentioned, and his facility in languages both would aid him in making a career for himself in some office of a great family — such as, for example, chamberlain to the Duke of Württemberg — or even in a business house. He kept accounts at times in a beautiful hand, and in all his writing he expresses himself more clearly and competently than do many of his correspondents, some of whom were persons of distinction.

His tastes, however, were genteel rather than commercial. He knew his Latin and Greek classics as a good schoolboy should, and he even acquired some knowledge of modern Greek. He had a good command of French, German, Italian, and English, and he probably had at least a smattering of Russian. He had a little Spanish, and even earlier than his rivals the Sobieski Stuarts, he undertook to master a few phrases of Gaelic. At times he wrote brief pieces for periodicals, and he collaborated in the writing of at least one book; but blood royal was not at home in Grub Street. After he failed in 1816 to get either employment or (preferably) a pension from the British government, he felt that he must then choose a profession from which to earn a living. In a letter of November 8, 1816, he stated his various capabilities to a friend:

p19 With resignation I submit to my hard fate, and am determined, from this day, to lead a new life: "Vix teneo lachrymas, cum subit quantam jacturam vitae fecerim"a and I will try whether it is not too late, by hard study and unabating exertions, to become, from an ignorant insignificant man, an useful member of society. — Three professions are before me: Commence, the Bar, and Physic. The first I tried lately in America, acquired some knowledge of it, and really think I might do pretty well; but without a sum of money to begin with, it is quite impossible to think of it. — The Bar, my provoking broken English is an insurmountable obstacle to it. — Then remains the last, and most sutableº of all. — Already am I not a pretty good Chymist, and also not without some good notions of Anatomy and of the whole Materia Medica? — to this I must therefore give the preference. — Tell me candidly am I too presumptuous in hoping that I may soon be "dignus d'entrare in vostro docto corpore?"b — Next Tuesday I will set out for Edinburgh to study there Medecine.c

These were perhaps dreams. There is, however, evidence that he did go briefly to Edinburgh to study medicine. Among the Hardwicke manuscripts in the British Museum (Add. 35622), Henrietta Tayler found an account of Roehenstart sent to Lord Hardwicke by Keith Milnes, who reported to his lordship details furnished by an unnamed young man from Stirling who lodged in the same house with Roehenstart. The young man read Roehenstart's Memorial, 1816, and furnished a sort of summary of that document to Milnes. He thought highly of Roehenstart, who offered to teach him French, and he admired both Roehenstart's learning and his wide knowledge of the world. The young man knew Mrs. Hamilton of Kames Castle, and, since she appears dimly in Roehenstart's story, the young man's account of her attitude (as well as his own) towards Roehenstart deserves quotation:

Mrs. Hamilton had him down to the Abbey and says he speaks French, Italian, and German extremely well. She has never conversed with him as to his family circumstances, but she cannot bring herself to believe he is the legitimate grandson of the Prince. If he may be believed, however, he is not only legitimate heir to the Prince, but the documents laid before the Prince Regent will prove it. Whatever he may be, he is certainly a most accomplished young man. There is not a language in Europe that he does not speak fluently and know grammatically. He is skilled in Mathematics, Logic, Chemistry, and almost every science. For reasons relating to him and myself I do not wish that any one should know that such a person is staying with me. You will therefore, I hope, refrain from speaking of it.2

p20 Such Roehenstart seemed to casual friends in 1816‑17.

When this interest in chemistry and medicine developed is uncertain. In the Napoleonic period military life might seem more promising than science to a young man with a career to shape. The army evidently had been Roehenstart's first choice, but his military career is traced only in chance remarks that he drops. In 1815 he with a friend journeyed on foot from Milan to Geneva, and a very detailed account of the trip remains among his papers. Upon reaching St. Maurice he remarks, somewhat casually:

Here the two routes to Geneva separate: the one by Lausanne, at the right of the lake, and the other, the shortest, goes through Savoy. But as the Austrian army had taken Savoy and since one had fought there, we took the longer route.

The remark can be variously interpreted. The Russo-Austrian armies had taken Savoy in 1799, and in 1813 the Austrians had taken the region again. In 1815 evidently Roehenstart preferred to avoid a region where "one" (he?) had fought, and certainly he was avoiding an army which he had quit less than ten years back.

Again, in his later travel journals, written hastily in English, we come across his account of an early heroic episode, of which he seems to have been an eyewitness. In June, 1833, as his ship sailed out of the Dardanelles past "the two shores where Abydos and Sestos are supposed to have stood," he mused in some emotion over the fact that Xerxes and his vast armies in 460 B.C. (his date) had stood on those plains; and with a sudden shift he inserts the following:

Here in this very spot also in our own time did Mark Oates, the brother in arms & companion of my youth at the age of 15, with some chosen marines dash forward into the Turkish line and from their showy ranks dragged the green standard of their turbaned chief; from a remnant torn in the struggle Sir Sidney Smith had a small standard made which he forwarded to England, and presented to the mother of my gallant friend: how rich a treasure to so young a mother — a rich reward to so young a son.

Roehenstart would be about fifteen in 1799 when Sir Sidney Smith fought off the Turks in May of that year. It is possible that Roehenstart was present in the action. The fact would help to explain his recurrent brief mentions of an interest in the Turks, which lasts on till the Crimean War. However early his military career began, we have his explicit account of its termination. In his letter (March 20, 1839) to Mrs. Hamilton of Kames Castle, Holyrood Palace, he wrote:

p21 At 16 I was an officer of artillery, and at 19 I had on the field won my golden spurs and got promotion. — Immediately after the battle of Austerlitz I wrote a work on Strategy, which at the moment excited great sensation: I pointed out means of advantageously opposing the great warrior, and animated by youthful ardour & high feelings I felt that I wanted but opportunity myself to crush the Tyrant to the earth, nor did I find aught extraordinary in such confidence, for was I not the son of Heroes, the scion of a noble stock? — My extreme youth however raised against me a host of envious opponents, and I left the army in disgust.

This treatise on how to defeat Napoleon, if printed, has not been identified.

Our information about Roehenstart's early years is meager, confused, and in spots almost contradictory. He was born in part, probably in June, 1784. In 1790 or shortly thereafter he was removed from Paris, and before the end of a decade we seem to find him in Munich, to which place, if he was there in 1800, he may have returned from the Dardanelles. Presently, if not at once, he is fighting against Napoleon (whose courtier his father was), and after Austerlitz he bids farewell to military life. Just which army he left is uncertain. In view of his appearance in the entourage of the Duke of Württemberg not long after Austerlitz, one is inclined to think it was with Russian allies that he saw service. The Russians might fight as allies with the English in the Dardanelles and with the Austrians in Savoy and elsewhere. The gaps in our knowledge and the doubtful nature of some of it are indeed perplexing.

The Author's Notes:

1 The writer errs in fixing upon Roehenstart as a family name. The family name used by any sister would be either Stuart or Korff.

2 Scottish History Miscellany (1948‑49), p129.

Thayer's Notes:

a In the Select Colloquies of Erasmus with an English translation, as literal as possible. Designed for the Use of Beginners in the Latin Tongue — a schoolbook which underwent well over a dozen editions in the eighteenth century — the translation is given as: "I scarce refrain from Tears, when I think how great a Waste of Life I have made."

b A bizarrely impish tag, considering: the line, in macaronic Latin, is adapted from the burlesque finale of Molière's Malade Imaginaire; "worthy of entering your learned corporation".

c Sic, the French spelling (although without its accent); but on p67, where the letter is printed in its entirety, Medicine.

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