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Chapter 4
This webpage reproduces part of
Roehenstart
A Late Stuart Pretender

by George Sherburn


published by
The University of Chicago Press
1960

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 6

 p39  Chapter Five

The Tin Box

Early in 1814 Roehenstart landed again in England. While he was in the States, his father, Prince Ferdinand de Rohan-Guémené had died on October 30, 1813, and that fact seems to have left his son more free to make frank inquiries about his Stuart family rights in his mother's estate — his "reclamations" as he liked to call them. It is clear that from childhood Roehenstart had been strictly forbidden to mention or to approach his maternal relatives. Now things had changed, and after having, as he thought, arranged the payment of his debts in America he turned his attention to an investigation of his family rights. He had no intention of revealing his true paternity or of pretending to any rights of succession — other than financial. Just as his mother, when in 1784 she joined her father in Florence, was certain that somewhere in the palace there was concealed great wealth in coin or jewels, so now her son was certain that with the death of Cardinal York (1807) somewhere should be lodged a great fortune that really belonged to him, but which had been seized by "the priests of Rome." Bishop Cesarini was in fact the heir of the Cardinal.

Roehenstart's finances are obscure. From somewhere he had a small income and usually, if he wished, he could pay debts (which are never large): like many gentlemen of his day he was frequently short of cash. He could not finance an expensive campaign against the "priests of Rome," but over a period of time he could persistently make inquiries and perhaps secure recognition of his maternal origin. He had certain leads. One was the hope that the Countess Norton, who had been lady in waiting to his mother at the time of Charlotte's death, might have information. Another was the hope that his grandmother, Clementine Walkinshaw, who had outlived her daughter by thirteen years, might have left documents of importance to his claims. There was also the  p40 widow of Prince Charles Edward, whom Roehenstart in fits of possibly acquisitive affection would later, on occasion, call his stepgrandmother. She was living in affluence in Florence. Rome itself might naturally have secrets to disclose.

After staying for a few weeks in London, Roehenstart turned up in Bordeaux, where possibly his deceased father, once archbishop of Bordeaux, might still have property. In August his letters were to be addressed "in care of Mr. Rougemont de Löwenberg," in Paris. Roehenstart had got track of one P. Couppey, who had served the Countess of Albestroff during her last eighteen years, and from Couppey, Roehenstart got a detailed account of her extreme poverty during those years. Couppey had barely met the Duchess of Albany, since he entered the service of her mother on September 15, 1784, two days before the duchess left for Italy. He seems to have known nothing about the three "tender plants" left behind. Clementine, lacking other friends, had in her will rewarded the faithful Couppey by making him her heir. There was in fact nothing to inherit except that her pension from Cardinal York had been renewed six months before her death, and it was wildly possible that its arrears might be paid. They were not. From his grandmother, then, Roehenstart had nothing to hope for except perhaps documents, and the most interesting passage in Couppey's long and moderately illiterate letter was the following (translated from the French):

If in all her distress the Countess of Albestroff had not at times received some help from Mr. Thomas Coutts, Esquire, banker in London, who having learned of her misery had pity on it. He was indignant at the conduct of the Cardinal. Madame knew him [Coutts] very well in Paris with his wife and three daughters. When the tribunal of the District of Fribourg lifted the seals from the effects of Madame d'Albestroff, there was found a tin box [boitte de fer blanc] which contained a genealogy on parchment and some other papers, which a clause in her will charged her executor, Mr. Weck, former member of the Conseil-souverain of Fribourg, in Switzerland, to have them sent to Mr. Coutts in London, who was to send them to her relatives in Scotland. If any relatives existed, she did not know of them. She had no correspondence in that country.

In a postscript Couppey adds, "I don't know if Mr. Weck has sent on these papers to Mr. Coutts in view of the trouble that there was in corresponding with anyone in England." As a matter of fact, Mr. Weck had sent off six parcels of Clementine's papers in 1804, as he indicates in a drafted letter in French, which he turned over to Roehenstart  p41 in 1815. It is unaddressed but was clearly sent to some intermediate (probably a Mr. Haller, once mentioned) who could forward the parcels to Coutts. Weck had earlier tried to send on the letters, but they were returned, and he kept them, because, as he says:

At their return to me I opened one, and seeing that different persons could be compromised if they became public, I thought it proper to retain them until a time that cannot be far off. But the relatives of the Countess of Albestroff being very desirous of having them, to whom they are destined by the will of the deceased, and I relying greatly on the intelligence and discretion of those relatives, I now decide to send them on in the manner indicated to me. I beg you then, Monsieur, to send them to Mr. T. Coutts. . . .

This letter suggests the way by which the letters from Charlotte Stuart to her mother reached the Coutts family, from whom they ultimately came to the Bodleian Library. The person most likely to be compromised by the letters was Prince Ferdinand, Aumonier to the empresses of Napoleon. Doubtless the papers also included unkind remarks about the Cardinal-Duke of York.

Couppey in his letter gives an account of the financial resources of the Countess of Albestroff, and says "I never heard of any diamonds sent to Madame." But Roehenstart was not satisfied with this ignorance of diamonds, and among his memoranda he writes down: "It is necessary to speak with this gentleman [Weck] to know what's become of a tin box containing diamonds, jewels, and papers relating to the Dutchessº of Albany."

Since Roehenstart was much impressed by the story of the tin box, one might expect he would go at once to Fribourg, but instead he went to Florence to see the Countess of Albany. In October he sent her letters that she was pleased to receive, and she answered with a cordial invitation to come and see her. From this time on the lady and Roehenstart were ostensibly on friendly terms. Doubtless it was a matter of keeping an eye on each other, but it was more than that. In his travel notes on Florence, written in French, probably in 1815, Roehenstart devotes three pages to the society of that city in 1815‑16, in an account which begins:

The first house in Florence for good society is without contradiction that of Madam the Countess of Albany: no foreigner of distinction fails to make an appearance there. Whatsoever may be her wrongs towards me and the bitter reproaches I may have the right to make her, I have to agree that she is a woman of great intelligence; but she is malicious and vindictive to a superlative  p42 degree. Her house is open every evening until 10 o'clock; she has a musical party on Saturdays, and a small dance for children on Sundays.

It was chez la Comtesse that the English colony congregated, and there Roehenstart met Caroline, Princess of Wales (whom he found ungainly), Lady Elizabeth Forbes (who was "beautiful"), and others who with the approach of winter migrated to Rome. Later, at Milan, Roehenstart (in French) tells us,

I went to pay a visit to the Princess of Wales, with whom I had had the honour to dance at the Countess of Albany's. Her manners are eccentric, her dancing is ridiculous and unseemly; but she is a woman of intelligence, who had not yet attained the celebrity that Bergami later gave her. — She lived in the Palazzo Borromeo, and was going to leave for the Villa Pini on Lake Como.

The society that one met at the house of the Countess of Albany was, then, distinguished. The attitudes of the Countess and Roehenstart toward each other are somewhat baffling. His later habit of calling her "stepgrandmother," possibly was a way of advertising his royal connection. On the part of the Countess we may imagine the attitude of an inveterate coquette. Witness the conclusion of the useful note (in Italian) that she sent him before he left for Rome in 1814:

I don't know the address of the Countess Norton. I know only that she married the gentleman whose name is written here above. I wish bon jour to Monsieur Roehenstart, and much good fortune in his amours.

The name written above the note was "Il Signor degli Abbati a Rieti," and with this lead Roehenstart was presently corresponding with the former lady in waiting of his mother.

He doubtless never told the Countess Norton of the fantastic document that he had fabricated in April before he left London. It exists on a leaf of octavo size and is headed "Extract of the Reckoning of different Sums advanced by my Mother to her Ladyship Mary Countess of Norton." The Extract lists thirteen payments dating from January 3, 1780, to November 1, 1786. The total came to £2,350 — a very pretty sum to recover. But Roehenstart clearly did not know that he had dated his fictitious payments impossibly, since Countess Norton came to Rome and to attendance on the Duchess of Albany only in 1788. In a letter to the Countess of Albestroff, Charlotte says that she first saw Lady Norton March 15, 1788. The two latest alleged payments set down by Roehenstart were as follows:

 p43  1786 May the 1st, by my mother herself 150
November the 1st, same year, by Mr. John Aly 150

Roehenstart's list is of value only as showing his imaginative powers and as showing that he had by April, 1814, done some research as to the bankers who might make payments to such a lady in waiting. Plausibly, Gouppy of Paris and Coutts of London are both named. The list of payments was never of any use.

Having secured the address of the aged Countess Abbati, Roehenstart wrote her the following letter:

Florence   November 7th 1814

Madam: — You will be much surprised at hearing from the son of your friend, the unfortunate Duchess of Albany — I had taken the engagement never to break the silence which I have so strictly observed, but having been told that the Cardinal Duke of York repeatedly asked for me before his death, this reason could alone induce me to try to recover a part of my mother's fortune, of which I have been so unjustly deprived.

Often the Countess of Albestroff spoke to me of you, Madam, and wishing much for the honor of your acquaintance, I was ready to come over to Italy five years ago, when an unfortunate circumstance compelled me to go to America, from whence I am returned since a few months.

At my passage to Paris I saw Miss Brémont who knew you at her uncle's (the Abbé de Brémont) when you came to France soon after my mother's death. That Lady requested me to remember her kindly to you: as she was acquainted with my Grand-mother, I thought [it] advantageous to join her testimony to the act of notoriety which I got from some persons still living who have knowledge of the circumstances concerning me. Although my claims are just, still the result of the step I am about to take is very uncertain: however, I flatter myself that the remembrance of my poor mother will act upon your mind much in favor of her unfortunate son who has constantly been the sport of Fortune.

Fate has indeed contrived to pour on my head such a torrent of combined evils that my fortitude has scarcely been proof against them.

I long for the honor of paying my respects to you, Madam, and I hope you will favor me with an answer before I may take the liberty of assuring you personally of the highest consideration with which I have the honor to be

Madam

Your most obedient humble servant

Korff de Roehenstart

Post-office
Florence

 p44  This letter, polite and correct but not altogether truthful — the Cardinal doubtless had not called for him; he had no act of notoriety, and the Countess of Albestroff very likely had never spoken to him of Countess Norton — this letter may well have "much surprised" its recipient. The signature is interesting. Up to about this time the signature is likely to be "A. M. Korff" or "Korff Roehenstart." Later he shifts usually towards "Charles Edward Stuart, Baron Korff, Count Roehenstart." One might have expected the "Stuart" to be used here. Surprised as she doubtless was, the Countess Norton, in spite of ill health, replied with only a decent delay; and the reply (in Italian) is in a square firm hand that carries conviction:

Excellency

Although I have been servant and intimate friend both of Her Highness the Signora Duchessa d'Albania and of the Signora Contessa her mother, I can only assure you with all truth of having been always completely ignorant as well of one aspect of the affair as of another, which you communicate in your most esteemed letter. I am consequently by my ignorance shut off from any way of pleasing or serving the worthy writer. My continual indispositions do not permit me to write with my own hand: therefore I beg to be excused. It is with esteem and homage that I do myself the honor of signing myself faithfully

Of Your Excellency

a humble and obedient Servant

Maria Norton Abbati

Ascoli   29 November 1814

This must have been a violent body blow; but Roehenstart persisted. Presently from Rome, in December, he wrote to her once or twice, and got at least one other reply, not preserved. He could not believe that the Countess Norton had never heard of his existence. He exaggerated her intimacy with his mother in the last months of Charlotte's life. On September 3, 1788, Charlotte had written to her mother (who had chosen Mme Norton as lady in waiting) commending the lady as serieuse and scrupuleuse and adding "As she keeps her eyes to the ground my Uncle finds her to his taste" — and so also did Charlotte. But at this rate the lady was likely neither to be told secrets nor to discover them. These things Roehenstart did not know, and he was obsessed with the idea that somewhere in Italy there was still another deposit of great importance in proving his right to his mother's estate. Most persistently he sought after any information the Countess Norton could furnish, and at last in May, 1816, he went to Ascoli determined to see  p45 the lady — only to find that she had died. He begged her daughter to allow him to scrutinize any papers the Countess might have left behind, but whether or not his request was granted, he evidently found nothing of use to him.

In December, 1814, after his early inquiries of "Queen" Louise and of the Countess Norton, Roehenstart, imitating English tourists, removed from Florence to Rome. He found all his key people either absent or dead, and so he cheerfully frequented English society in Rome, where he watched with critical eye the "school of waltzing" supervised by Lady Westmoreland. He gently deprecated the English passion for the waltz, and noted that in waltzing Mr. Fazackoleya sprained his foot. He had an audience with the Pope:

. . . who, on my doing the show of kneeling, gave me most gently "un bacio on the forehead. Che gentilezza! If he knew the reclamations that I shall perhaps one day be in position to make from him, if he knew all that I can publish concerning his good friend the Cardinal Duke of York, I think that instead of giving me a kiss, he would have sent me to the Castle of St. Angelo! . . . Yet one has to be quiet up to the moment when the protection of the Prince Regent permits me somewhat to open my mouth.

One doubts if Roehenstart at this time made any useful or permanent friends in Rome. It seems, however, to have been a pleasant winter with many new acquaintances. It is clear that to any sympathetic listener he did not hesitate to tell privately the story of his claims.

In 1815 he kept on with his inquiries in a somewhat desultory fashion. Then, as later, he could say with still a modicum of hope that he must be "content to go a‑drift and expect the ebb." The spring of the year was tumultuous, with Napoleon back from Elba and Murat putting Italy in a turmoil. That meant that foreign drafts were a bit difficult, and in April Roehenstart (possibly to test her friendliness) asked the Countess of Albany for a loan. Her reply, refusing, was polite but firm.

Lack of funds, however, did not keep Roehenstart from going, a fortnight after the lady's refusal, to Venice to witness the ceremony of swearing allegiance to the Emperor; for Lombardy and Venice were now to be Austrian. Roehenstart spent something like a gay month in Venice. There were gondola races, balls, plays; and no one went to bed before three or four in the morning. The city was brightly illuminated, and Roehenstart comments, "I saw Venice in all its beauty." His comments on this sojourn occupy fourteen large pages of  p46 notes, but they frequently concern historical anecdotes of cloak-and‑dagger amours.

By July he was in Milan and on his way to Switzerland, where he hoped to find papers of his grandmother, the Countess of Albestroff. This was a season when he felt like putting his travels on paper, and he has left an extensive account of his journey on foot over the Alps. The account shows his unusual descriptive talents and his keenness of observation. He shifts from one language to another, using English, French, or Italian as the mood strikes him. The journey, done in leisurely fashion, took him two or three weeks, from July 6 to some time towards the middle or end of the month — pages of his account seem to be lost after he leaves St. Maurice. He followed the route lately constructed by Napoleon's engineers, and comments on the sad deterioration that has been permitted in the roadway. He comments on the tunnels through rock, the bridges, the marble quarries — and naturally the lack of honesty on the part of innkeepers. He discusses the cause of the prevalence of goiters in many villages, and, more pleasantly, shows an appreciation of the panoramic views. He comments on the château of Chillon, "which was a state prison," and he is reverent and much aglow over the landscapes around Vevey (where he notes the burial of the regicide Edmund Ludlow) and he advises one to read the Nouvelle Héloise in the milieu of its supposed happening. A footnote, added later, indicates that in time he had outgrown Rousseau:

Reflection readily shows you his beauties in their proper light, in which they seem indeed different: their warmth comes only from the brain, and, expressed in artificial phrasing, lets one see that the heart of the author was icy; — and then so much hunting for effect, of affectation of sentiment, that it is impossible that Rousseau really felt what he wrote. Doubtless many letters are admirably expressed, but everything considered I shouldn't care to re‑read La Nouvelle Héloise.

His account of Geneva itself is lacking, but we learn from later letters that he did not like the town. In 1815 he made Berne his headquarters, and from Berne he planned trips to all parts of Switzerland. On July 25 he went to Fribourg, which he describes in some detail, much as an observant tourist might. He was especially interested in the château of Brunadern, which had recently been purchased by the Grand Duchess Constantin, sister of Antoinette, Duchess of Württemberg. He tried to pay his respects to the Grand Duchess, but she had gone to see her mother at Coburg. What one imagines was the real  p47 object of this visit to Fribourg is disposed of in one sentence: "I went to see M. the Counsellor Weck with regard to the Countess of Albestroff my grandmother, and I was altogether satisfied with his courtesy."

Returning to Berne after the day's visit to Fribourg, he begins to record his visits with the Marchioness of Bute, widow of the first Marquess, and daughter of Thomas Coutts. Roehenstart's first entry in his diary concerning this lady is as follows:

4 August. Visited Lady Bute, who invited me to dine with her tomorrow; Ladies Bute, Clifford, and Burdett have been almost brought up by the Countess of Albestroff, and nothing can render the painful sensation I experienced when her ladyship dwelt upon my grandmother's kindness to them.

This privately made entry exaggerates the connection of Lady Albestroff with the Coutts daughters: they saw her in Paris for considerably less than a year, but possibly Lady Bute led Roehenstart to think they had known his grandmother for a longer time. The exaggeration, however, is typical of Roehenstart.

He had several conversations with Lady Bute, but she was dissatisfied with the staff of the Falcon, where she lodged, and quitted Berne for Thoune on August 8. Other English friends remained in Berne, notably William Wall, who probably was Roehenstart's companion in crossing the Alps. Wall visited Mme de Staël, and Roehenstart later also paid the celebrated lady a visit.1 On August 10 he went again to Fribourg, and records the visit in his diary as follows:

I had written to Mr. Weck who very politely paid me a visit: I returned it the following day in the morning and I spoke to that Gentleman about the Countess of Albestroff's papers which were left in his hands: I had every reason to be satisfied with Mr. Weck's civility.

Here there is no exaggeration, for on August 11, safeguarded by written agreements, Mr. Weck turned over to Roehenstart the papers remaining in Weck's hands from the Countess of Albestroff, to the number of thirty‑one listed documents. None of these really satisfied the hopes of Roehenstart as evidence. Several of them are not preserved in his papers: they may have been turned over to Thomas Coutts as evidence of Roehenstart's open-handedness, though why the Countess's copy of a letter from Pope Pius VI (October 11, 1784) addressed to the Duchess of Albany should have left Roehenstart's hands one cannot  p48 surmise. The acquisition of these papers together with the newly formed acquaintance with Lady Bute completed Roehenstart's mission to Switzerland. He enjoyed the summer there and had talks with interesting people — among them Mme de Staël and the "famous Maret, Duke of Bassano" — and visited institutions that to him were very interesting, especially perhaps the "agricultural establishment" at Hofwyl. His records for the summer indicate his wide interests and his gifts of observation.

In view of the fact that Counsellor Weck had sent to Coutts, ten years before, the much-sought-after tin box, probably the greatest satisfaction to Roehenstart came from his acquaintance with Lady Bute, who before quitting Berne had given Roehenstart cordial letters of introduction to her father the banker and to her sister Susan, Countess of Guildford. In both letters she speaks of Roehenstart as the "son of the Duchess of Albany." His charm had worked readily with the lady but perhaps not completely. Lady Bute returned to England soon after meeting Roehenstart, and from Bath on September 19, 1815, she wrote to her father, Thomas Coutts, as follows: "I am most happy you approve of my having refused to lend money to Le Baron Roehenstart: he is a gentlemanlike man, very like Madame D'Alberstroff.º It seems his mother, the Duchess D'Albany, married Mons. Roehenstart." The remark indicates a disposition to accept Roehenstart's story about his birth, but indicates also no disposition to give him financial aid.2 E. H. Coleridge, who prints this last letter, also prints an undated document in Roehenstart's hand that lists Coutts's payments to the Countess of Albestroff from 1795 to 1802, and expresses the hope of making "one day to come" complete repayment. It would be interesting to know more than we do about Coutts's knowledge of Roehenstart's parentage. When (1788‑89) on the Continent did he converse with the Countess of Albestroff concerning the grandchildren, who presumably were still housed near by in the Rue St. Jacques?

It is evident that by the time he met Lady Bute at Berne Roehenstart had invented for his further use a father other than Prince Ferdinand — his Swedish parent, Count Roehenstart, who will appear fully invented in Roehenstart's Memorial of 1816. One memorandum, if taken at face value, indicates that perhaps one form of this Memorial was first prepared for the eyes of Lady Bute. It reads (in French):

 p49  I had never busied myself in putting in order the sad events contained in this memoir; and a strong stimulus, like the request that Lady Bute has kindly made me, was necessary in order to determine me to undertake so grievous a labor. — It is just as I have been able to write it in the space of some hours only. — I have reread it twice, but with that agitation of mind that makes one read without comprehending a single word: also I have forgotten to put in it a great many essential details. I have, however, been yet more moved to send it just as it is, relying on the indulgence of Madame la Marquise for the great number of unintelligible passages and believing that in this state it will suffice to give an idea of the nature of my claims.

Any memorial sent to Lady Bute has not been preserved. Such a history would be hastily written, but Roehenstart's habit of keeping drafts of such matters would be strangely violated if he sent her such a document without keeping a copy. It is of course possible that he sent her such a document which she, traveling about, did not preserve. It is hardly probable that in the summer of 1815 he had written the Memorial that was to be presented in October, 1816, to H. R. H. the Prince Regent.

For the late summer of 1815 we have no information as to Roehenstart's activities. From Switzerland he seems to have passed to the region of Baden and Stuttgart. In November at Strasbourg he received and preserved a letter from the Prince von Hohenlohe, whom he had known in Russia. One passage in the letter suggests that so far from pursuing his quest concerning Stuart property Roehenstart had asked to return to his former post with the Duke of Württemberg:

at Stuttgart. . . . I suppose you must await with much impatience the letter that will determine the direction that you are to take in order to be able to fix on a sojourn for the rest of the winter; for this wandering life cannot be agreeable. For me at least it would not be to my taste. But whatever place you choose, either in the north or in the south of Europe, I beg you not to forget that I take a considerable interest in anything that concerns you, and that you will give me great pleasure in communicating to me the success of your affairs.

He chose to go south, and spent most of the following winter in Florence. He made a hurried and obscure trip to London that concerned an "urgent matter" undisclosed. It may be that he considered approaching the Prince Regent through the royal cousin, the Duke of Gloucester. From a secretary a note came to Roehenstart under date of February 4 offering an audience with the Duke of Gloucester "any morning that it may be convenient to him [Roehenstart] to call at Gloucester House." Elsewhere Roehenstart remarked that he had  p50 been recommended by the Duke of Württemberg in 1811 to the second Duke of Gloucester, grandson of George II. As late as 1820 Roehenstart seems to have received a letter (not preserved) from His Royal Highness, but Gloucester never afforded the protection necessary to secure recognition for Roehenstart.


The Author's Notes:

1 See below, p99.

2 Ernest Hartley Coleridge, The Life of Thomas Coutts Banker (1920), II, 333. See also II, 142‑43.


Thayer's Note:

a Sic; Fazackerley is surely meant, whether the mistake is by Roehenstart or in Prof. Sherburn's transcription.


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