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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 2
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 4

 p22  Chapter Three

Russia: 1807‑11

Roehenstart's break with the servitude et grandeur militaire in 1806 was definitive. We pick up his story in a letter from an amiable friend, De la Croix, who was employed in Paris in a government office — probably the chancellery of the Russian embassy — and who wrote to Roehenstart (November 28, 1807) sometime after Roehenstart's arrival in Russia in the train of the Duke of Württemberg. It is of some interest that he speaks of Roehenstart's being at Coburg. In part the letter (written in French) says:

I received your letter from Coburg, likewise the marginalia which you added to those of the Duke. . . . I am waiting for details of your journey, and especially of your residence in a capital which is to me the more dear since it is that of my native country and the home of my best friends. . . . I am convinced that you will not fail to have a career in a land in which justice rewards ability and in which you will also have the protection of Monsieur the Duke and his wife.

The mention of the Duchess may be noted; for Roehenstart's papers indicate that he enjoyed perhaps a special patronage from her. Possibly through her, rather than through his military service, he was introduced into the ducal household.

Thus not later than 1807 Roehenstart is established in Russia at the court of the Duke of Württemberg. The Duke, younger brother of the Napoleon-made King of Württemberg, was generalissimo of the Russian armies, and governor of White Russia; the dowager Czarina was his sister. White Russia, because of the varying intentions of Napoleon toward Poland, was an exposed frontier. The removal of the ducal court from St. Petersburg to Vitepsk in 1811 was not for some of the court a pleasant change.

 p23  The Duchess of Württemberg was the Princess Antoinette (1779‑1824), daughter of Francis, Duke of Coburg, and thus a member of a celebrated generation of that house. Her brother Ferdinand in 1837 became king-consort of Portugal. A younger sister became the mother of Queen Victoria, whose consort, Prince Albert, was son of the Duchess's eldest brother. Her youngest brother, Prince Leopold, married Charlotte, Princess of Wales, and years after her disappointing demise he achieved fame anew as King of the Belgians (1831). With Prince Leopold, as we learn later. Roehenstart had an early brief acquaintance. Among Roehenstart's papers in his best fine hand is found an eyewitness account (see Appendix III) of the Battle of Saalfeld (October 10, 1806), signed "Amelie." This was one of the Christian names of Duchess Antoinette, but she is not known to have been among those witnessing the battle. The account, possibly sent to Russia for her to read, was transcribed by Roehenstart. It is possible that he himself watched the battle from the windows of the château. An unnamed governor of Prince Leopold is mentioned as present in the castle during the battle. One may doubt if the account, a highly emotional story of the death of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, was actually the composition of Roehenstart himself. It is in any case quite possible that a connection with the Saxe-Coburg family led to his place in the household of the Duke of Württemberg. His place, that of a gentleman in waiting or of chamberlain, entailed various duties. He seems to have kept the family accounts, and when the Duke wished a considerable loan from the Rothschilds, Roehenstart drew up statements of requested terms. He was sufficiently approachable so that eventually humble petitioners might address themselves to "Monsieur Rénestart au Palais d'hyver" hoping for his kind intervention in their behalf. In these years, then, he might seems to be solidly at work on an advantageous career.

As part of his many duties, he paid the monthly pin money to the Duchess, and upon the removal to Vitepsk, he had her detailed directions as to where and how her apartments were to be arranged. He purchased music for Mlle de Buissy, who was possibly a governess, possibly a lady in waiting; he purchased the lamps for a new ducal salle à manger, and could even be asked to select ribbons for ladies. Later in his career, and possibly earlier, he frequently served as tutor or travel guide. When he leaves Vitepsk, his pupils are spoken of as regretting his absence. Evidently he was regarded as a person of intelligence and of taste.

 p24  He was skilled in what may be called, at a humble level, parlor games. This is more apparent in the papers preserved from his Italian sojourns, but even here a gay time at Krinki is nostalgically recalled by a correspondence folder in which he copied several semiliterary games. One is headed, "Bouts-riméesº donnés par Marianne," and is as follows:

Vous voir sans vous aimer seroit une Chimère
Plus qu'Iris vous etes jolie et Legère
Vos attraits touchants inspirent la Constance
Et l'amour près de vous marche avec la Décence

Obviously a game like this, essentially innocent, might become titillating. More sedate would be a game of question and answer (here translated from the French):


What sort of music do you prefer?


Adagio: it speaks to the soul.

Variations are symbols of inconstancy.

Harmony: the sweetest should seem the voice of her whom one loves.


Why do those who most merit praise dislike to have people pay them what is justly their due?


They do not dislike praise, but they fly from flattery.


Why are there more unhappy than happy people in this base little world?


Because there are more fools than wise men, and because the word happiness is rightly understood by only a very small number.

In general these "Souvenirs de Krinki," from which these games are quoted, are melancholy. If Krinki is the residence of General H., who according to one friend wished Roehenstart to become his son-in‑law, Marianne may, as we shall see presently, be the girl whom Roehenstart should have loved, but he was secretly devoted to her sister Evelina. Evelina is not mentioned among these "Souvenirs," unless by implication in the verses that concern the carving of love devices on trees. He enjoins one tree to "receive and preserve the oath of love which in spite of myself I was forced to make, and which she will never know." After the bouts-rimées of Marianne we find a formal farewell from Roehenstart, composed in English. It sounds fully as sincere as the passionate letters of farewell soon to be sent to him by her sister. Roehenstart wrote:

 p25  Honor, and happiness, and health, and comforts

of all kind may be with you, the most worthy of girls.

Preserve your life, and let nothing rob you of

those powers heaven has given you for your well being.

Once for all, adieu. . . .

Le coeur a dicté ces souhaits

et l'importune raison l'adieu.

The farewell seems respectful rather than ardent.

The most pretentious of the recorded fetes at the ducal court was the performance on August 28, 1809 (birthday of Duchess Antoinette) of L'auberge villageoise, composed by Duke himself for the occasion. It was a simply designed plot, concerning the marriage of the innkeeper's daughter. The action is enlivened by a succession of acts with singers, dancers, and even a tame bear. Roehenstart had a small role as a magician, and as such may have done some entertaining tricks, but that is not apparent from the manuscript of the affair, which he preserved. The sisters from Krinki were perhaps in the audience: the cast was drawn from the ducal "family."

Among Roehenstart's associates in St. Petersburg during the year 1809‑10 was a traveler of some literary reputation, Messence, Comte de la Garde. He wrote songs, one of which set to music by Lafont was much sung in Russia. Messence left St. Petersburg early in 1811, and in 1824 he brought out a volume called Voyage de Moscou à Vienne, in which Roehenstart had some part. The volume pretends to be a series of letters to Messence's friend, Jules Griffith, who seems to have accompanied Messence on his voyage. In 1824 both Messence and Griffith were in England. The volume, which caused a complete breach between Messence and Roehenstart, gives much autobiographical detail, and Messence especially prides himself on the distinguished friends made during his early years in Paris and later as an émigré in other places. Of his Russian experience he writes:

I was in Moscou a year, studying its true type of hospitable nation. . . . I was two years in Petersburg, working to give a useful direction to une association de bienfaisance; but the results of good work that one wishes to accomplish are not always happiness for one's self. Surrounded, however by friendly acquaintances like Ypsilanti, Lapoukin, Rozewsky, Narischkin, Roehenstart, I cherished illusions which warmed somewhat this frozen region.1

 p26  The phrase association de bienfaisance is not too explicit, but from Roehenstart's later abusive comment, one assumes that it was a commercial undertaking. The Voyage represents Roehenstart as meeting Messence in June, 1813, at Budapest, as Roehenstart was proceeding to Constantinople. Since in June, 1813, Roehenstart was in the United States, the autobiography is not altogether accurate. The meeting was accidental, and Messence was much surprised to find that Roehenstart had quit his distinguished post in Russia. The meeting must have taken place after Roehenstart's visit to America (1814), of which an account is given in the Voyage.

By 1811 the household of the Duke of Württemberg had removed from the gaiety of St. Petersburg to the relative exile of Vitepsk. Roehenstart had gone on ahead to arrange the new establishment, armed with several pages of directions as to the apartments of the Duchess, who did not relish the withdrawal to the provinces. One bit from her instructions to Roehenstart may be quoted as showing, possibly, some tensions between the ducal pair:

As for my own apartments I should wish them as isolated as possible, and if possible a large, healthy chambre à coucher, a cabinet de toilette, and another room for writing — with my ladies near by. Two large chambers are needed for my ladies and in addition one for my belongings. I wish furthermore that no exit — corridor or staircase — should be walled up or condemned, — a thing that always enters into the good arrangements of Monseigneur.

Does this last remark imply that the Duchess had a suspicious husband on her hands?

Roehenstart executed the royal lady's instructions with his usual high competence, and having done so he presently, and apparently very suddenly, left Vitepsk for St. Petersburg — probably at about the time the Duchess, whom he did not see, was moving to Vitepsk. To some of his friends as well as to the Duke it was known that he was leaving Russia for England. To most of these friends the reaction was an exceedingly astonished query, Why do you go?

Duchess Antoinette, whom apparently Roehenstart did not see after making the decision to leave, was both perplexed and annoyed. She assumed that he could not endure Vitepsk — and no more could she. The official story was that financial difficulties demanded his presence in England. That probably was in part the reason for going. We learn from a letter dated October 2, 1811, from St. Petersburg and sent probably to some port where Roehenstart awaited a ship, that the bankruptcy  p27 of one Sofniew, who was Roehenstart's broker or agent, was complete. In six months, so his agent H. Kramer writes, "The creditors are to get 5 kopecks per rouble. Thus I may get in your name five thousand roubles, which I may send you thereafter if I don't get an order to the contrary." In this bankruptcy Roehenstart probably lost a very large part of his mysteriously acquired fortune.

Kramer in the letter does on to repeat what he had already told Roehenstart:

You have acted wrongly in leaving here without conferring with H. R. H. [the Duchess]. She would have fixed everything for you: you know well what she would have done with pleasure; and if she knew the motive for which you have left her, she would not forgive you.

Kramer then briefly speaks of General H., who "desired nothing so sincerely as to see you his son-in‑law" and of M. [Marianne?] who is grieving over Roehenstart's departure. Kramer evidently knew something of the emotional situation as well as of the financial, but he does not make it altogether clear at this distance.

One failure was not enough. A second reverse was said to be due to a banker named Forbes, who, Roehenstart tells us, had absconded to America with his funds. John Forbes was (or had been) a partner in the firm of Turnbull, Forbes and Company, once at 42 Old Broad Street, London. The firm was the English agent of Prince Ferdinand, who some years earlier had written to Thomas Coutts about a Rohan estate in San Domingo that had been intrusted to this English firm. Not long thereafter the firm went bankrupt (1803), and possibly Forbes had departed for the States. If so, Roehenstart might well follow him — even if a decade had elapsed. It is noteworthy that Prince Ferdinand and Roehenstart used the same English bankers.

Financial matters doubtless influenced the decision to leave Russia, but an indiscreet and unfortunate love affair may have exercised added pressure. General H. (of Krinki?) seems to have had two daughters, Evelina and Marianne. Evelina and Roehenstart discover that they are in love with each other, tragically, since the Czarina has arranged a marriage for Evelina with a general, and since apparently Roehenstart was supposed to care for Marianne. All that remains now of this affair are four excessively emotional letters of eternal farewell from Evelina to Roehenstart. She had gone to school to Clarissa Harlowe and especially to Rousseau's Julie, and had mastered at least the dialectic of love. It is highly probable that the moralizing Evelina represents the  p28 "unfortunate attachment" that was said to have ruined Roehenstart's career. He was apparently thought most eligible: he was no mere court servant. His social position was such that if there was a dinner invitation for the Duke, there was another for the same dinner for Roehenstart. The papers preserved show that he was socially desirable in any gathering. But if the Czarina was marrying Evelina to General S. and if the argus eyes that surrounded Evelina formed the opinion that she and Roehenstart were being indiscreet — if nothing more — Roehenstart's position would be jeopardized. In any case to marry Marianne and try to build happiness when her secretly loved sister lived near by would be torture — or scandal. There seems to have been no scandal connected with the young chamberlain's departure.

The Duchess of Württemberg also seems to have been very friendly with Roehenstart. One need not assume that the attachment was other than decorous, but it existed. We have already seen Kramer's opinion of Her Royal Highness's regard for Roehenstart, and still another unidentified friend had written to Roehenstart from Libau on August 20, 1811. The writer is doubtful about Roehenstart's whereabouts, but believing that he planned to take a ship at Libau, awaits him there, more or less as an agent of the Duchess, who may even have been spending a part of the summer at the seaside nearby. The writer of the letter (signed only "C de D") has waited at Libau for a fortnight, and tells Roehenstart that the Duchess wishes very much to speak with him, to know to whom she should give him letters of recommendation.

She is much annoyed with you for leaving without letting her give you this last proof of her friendship and her kindness. . . . If you can possibly, good Roehenstart, sacrifice yet an hour for the affairs of Madame the Duchess: write, either to her or to me, what you think of Vitepsk. . . . Be frank, and fulfill the hopes so well founded of your zeal and attachment.

Evidently the Duchess — in a different tone from that of Evelina — wished to say a last farewell to Roehenstart. C. de D. adds a postscript to the letter already quoted: "I have just seen the Duchess. She again expects a letter from you. I beg you do not deceive her! She knew her affairs no longer in your hands. Have complete trust in her."

With very cordial letters of recommendation from the Duke and Duchess — which he preserved, and so perhaps never used — Roehenstart sailed from Kronstadt towards the end of September. His decision to depart was perhaps the most crucial in his life: he dimly realized the  p29 fact, and an undated memorandum, written perhaps before he set sail for America, attests his mood at the time:

Father of Heaven! What have I done to deserve this misery? What have I been, at one stroke, deprived of all that rendered existence estimable? Now I am bereft of all; I have neither father, mother, nor country, but am going to a land of strangers.

A more bitter reflection is included in a letter of late 1816 after he had asked the Duchess of Württemberg to send him some funds left in her care and she had sent no repaint:

How unkind to behave so; the very idea breaks my heart! O vile vile world! I have not even a security — I am trampled upon by one for whose interest I have sacrificed myself; sure I have done for her what very few, and perhaps no man, would ever have done; but I do not regret it.

Thus Russia became somewhat mysteriously a firmly closed door which later attempts could not open.

The Author's Note:

1 p191.

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Page updated: 10 Apr 17