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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 6
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 8

 p65  Chapter Seven


The Memorial produced no tangible results for Roehenstart, but it did stimulate reactions. Possibly it is mere coincidence that, after Roehenstart's appeal and his talk of documents to support it, the British government increased its interest in acquiring and transporting from Italy to England the so‑called Stuart papers — the family papers in Rome that had been in the hands of the Cardinal-Duke of York at the time of his death. The purchase was announced early in 1817. More certain reactions after the Memorial are expressions by Roehenstart himself either in letters or in conversation.

Writing to remote friends in Italy he does not admit defeat. A sentence from a letter to his Venetian friend the Countess Petrettini may illustrate this mood: "I have had at Carlton House a gracious audience in which I have presented my Memorial, which has made here, I shall not say a furor, but a fairly great sensation." The gracious audience was only with General Bloomfield, gentleman in waiting to the Regent, and the sensation was chiefly felt by Roehenstart himself. A week after writing to this countess he sent a long letter to his friend William [Wall?], who had been his companion in the journey to Switzerland in 1815. This letter, though long, seems worth giving in its entirety:

London   Friday 8th November 1816

My dear William,

I would have written to you before this, had I something new to communicate respecting a business in which I know you take a great interest. — Already you have heard my going to Carlton House, to see Gal Bloomfield, and present my Memorial. I said to that Gentleman I thought such an open candid application was more likely to ensure me success, than if I had looked for protectors amongst some persons of high rank whom I named to him. The fact  p66 I was deeply affected not to be enabled to follow‑up the plan I had fixed upon, and the unworthy Rector of Chermouthº having so shamefully deceived and cheated me out of my £225, I was all at once thrown off my guard, and not having any more money, I could not muster courage enough to wait upon the Duke of Gloucester, to whom I have been strongly recommended 5 years ago by his particular friend the Duke of Wurtemberg. One feels indeed very stupid sans argent, and I could neither afford making the expenses of dress & carriages to go and see Prince Leopold, who, I do not think, would have taken up my business, by reason of policy, but whose acquaintance with me, might have at least given some countenance to my personal character. — I could never succeed in getting an audience from the Prince Regent, and I was confident, as I am still now, that only two words I should have said to him, were sufficient to interest him strongly in my favour. — You know, dear friend, what I have refused! — I never did, nor shall I ever regret it; not by any means from consideration of personal safety, — no sure! many times have I not affronted dangers and death with pleasure? I never knew what fear is; — but I acted by this principle, that I found the step totally unjust. — Even at this moment, forlorn as I am, and poorer than a rat, I do pride [sic] in having done so, notwithstanding the bitter consequences of my refusal, and from my own approbation I derive a pleasure far superior to what rank or riches could have procured me. — In short after having been several times to C[arlton] H[ouse], my papers were sent by Mr Watson to Lord Sidmouth: — this distresses me much, as they were intended for the Prince alone, and the idea of any publicity of my sad story, makes me shudder! — His Lordship I must say, has been polite to me, & appointed two Sollicitors for the investigation of my business; but they sat down with the resolution, I may think it, of embroiling a case, which, I am aware, is already too obscure & extraordinary by itself. — Tired of their postponing, I requested to know all at once whether I could expect something should be done for me, observing at the same time that I put myself in their power, quite unprotected, and that I was most desirous to make as clear as daylight the points to which they might object. I went even so far as to say & write, that, if Lord Sidmouth should deal with me with kindness, I would engage to prove more than my statement: this I can easily do! — The answer I got at last from White-Hall was that I must wait for the decision of Government, which could not be given so soon on a case of such an important nature. — To this I represented that I was in the painful necessity of applying for support, proving that, from a large sum of money which is owed to me in Russia, 60,000 francs at Paris, and several other small sums, I could not get one single shilling. — The very day of my application, came a servant from the Treasury, who, with much noise and a loud knock at my door, delivered me a letter which contained an order for money to the amount of — I will not tell it you, for I feel too ashamed of it! — I confess that I opened the letter with the firm persuasion that it contained a good round sum, and never felt so much disappointed in my life. — Is this the so much talked of vaunted generosity? —  p67 Shame! what a shabby offer! I immediately refused it with a feeling of pride I could not repress, and went on with a train of remarks which I now think might have very well secured me a place, amongst or near wild beasts, in that ancient Palace which Julius Caesar is said to have originally built.a — My letter has been answered without a new offer, and it shows me that they are irritated at my refusal. — Such stands the business now, I must suffer, and prudence bids me to hold my tongue. —

If I could go decently to Russia, and not like a starved beggar, I am sure the Dutchess would interest the Emperor on my behalf; but old John Bull is not likely to be much influenced by these means. I might also either take back my situation, or at least get an advantageous one: — 'tis better not to think any more of Courts which I hate. — Since my arrival in London I wrote again to the Princess, begging she would send me a small part of my money: I have no answer: 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. —

The exigency of my cruel situation prevents absolutely my going after my money, to try to obtain some redress, and after to look for a protector to promote my claims. — I should be happy if I had seen the Prince Regent: his smiles would have raised my sinking hopes, and now H. R. H. appears to look upon me much like the D. — "with the ghastly smile of an horrible grin." — But no matter! I am become a philosopher, and despair won't do. I shall have a resource in Providence, and perhaps Dame Fortune may at last grant me her favours when I least expect them.

I know, dear William, you will laugh at my project, but I made up my mind, & will not hesitate submitting it to you, as to one good generous friend who has already so kindly proved me he felt some sympathy for my sorrows. — With resignation I submit to my hard fate, and am determined, from this day, to lead on a new life: "Vix teneo lachrymas, cum subit quantam jacturam vitae fecerim" 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: Commerce, 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?"bNext Tuesday I will set out for Edinburgh to study there Medicine. I do not think to leave London with more than £40, but I expect receiving shortly  p68 some money, and should this fail, I shall give lessons during the day, and study in the night. — Almost all the languages of Europe, the English excepted, I do speak and write them well, after all I will do what I can to earn my bread, since I am come to this extremity. I don't think that Government will make any step in my favour, and if I can have strength of mind to rely upon myself, & sufficient energy to exert my abilities, I may become independent. Such is my determined plan. You would confer a great obligation upon me, my good friend, if you could have the kindness to forward me, by return of the Mail, a letter of introduction to some Physician in Edinburgh, who would take me under his patronage, —

I awake now after a long dream, and I must absolutely forget all my pompous claims, which however may be one day supported: pray mind that I allude only to Frascati, and the Pension of Government! — I hope Heaven will grant me courage and perseverance to go through my new undertaking, and I shall find at least some consolation in the idea that extravagance has not leadº me to distress: — never have I been guilty of any dishonourable action, and except the foolish waste of my time, which I most bitterly regret, I have a tolerable good opinion of myself. — I am no builder of Castle [sic] in the air, and shall not leave the field without a fair trial; if I must give it up, then for last resource I'll fight my way back to — do not laugh at me William, to — la mia cara Principessa Indiana! — She is indeed the finest girl I ever saw in my life, as good as true & sincere in her attachment to me. — Pray recollect what I told you of her: is it not very singular? She assured me, when we parted, that she had not the least doubt, but she should see me again: she said she knew I loved her, and protested she would never marry any man but me. — Here listen to my Logic! — Her good old father being dead, she must be the Queen, and then your humble servant shall be of course His Majesty. — Enough with my nonsense! —

All what I look for at this moment of wretchedness is, not a Crown, but to get my bread in Scotland. — Water & a crust of bread in that country, so endeared to me by so many sad & tender recollections, the theme of my infancy, will be more pleasing than all the luxuries to which I have been used till these last years. — My mind is now almost easy, and after all I think that, things which cannot change for the worse, must infallibly one day or an other, change for the better. — So let that vile woman, who enjoys the undeserved generosity of Government, be happy, if she can be so, in speaking against me; — let all the infernal set of priests at Rome warmly join her. — I have stated nothing but the truth: Honour & Virtue I will never forfeit, — and I despise those wretches who wish to deprive me of them. My conscience is my only comfort, and as long as I'll have it for a friend, I will hope for a better time. — I am certain that if the Prince knew me, or at least if he had heard what I could say & prove to him, he would do me justice; but I assure you, had I not lost my Brig & all I possessed, I should have religiously kept my engagement, and never said a word about my claims. — But I must put a stop to my long  p69 letter, which, were I not certain of your friendship, I would say ought to have tired you.

Frattanto addio di tutto cuore, pregiatissimo mio amico,

I am forever,

Yours most faithfully

This seems to be an unusually honest and courageous letter. One must, of course, doubt if having asked for £25, Roehenstart refused with contempt the small offer actually made him. One notes with interest and bewilderment his mention of Princess Antoinette of Württemberg. But at several points Roehenstart seems to have his feet firmly planted in reality — though he readily darts off to the fantasy of an American Indian princess, who would readily make him a king. . . .

He did not sink inactive into despair. On "next Tuesday" he did actually go to Edinburgh and commence, briefly, the study of medicine. Interesting record of this visit — unmentioned in his personal papers — was found by the late Henrietta Tayler among the Hardwicke manuscripts in the British Museum. Letters from Keith Milnes to Philip, third Earl of Hardwicke, give impressions of Roehenstart reported to Milnes by a young student who lodged in the same house with Roehenstart. Without the alleged reserve Roehenstart spoke of his claims, and allowed his new‑found friend to read the Memorial. The young Scot (unnamed) was fascinated by Roehenstart's wide experience of life in many lands and by his charming personality. The details recalled from the Memorial are somewhat inaccurate, but the letters give an excellent account of Roehenstart's character and education. Our hero remained in Edinburgh possibly for two months. He then left — no reason given — planning to cross to Paris and then to proceed to St. Petersburg and beg for Russian intervention in support of his claims.

He did not eventually go to Russia, but he did at times, possibly as late as 1825, hope that friends in that country would exercise influence in his behalf. He also solicited the support of various German princes. A letter from the Chancellor of the Duke of Württemberg, Starynkewitch, agreed to further Roehenstart's claims in 1825, if Roehenstart would send "without the least delay . . . copies of papers which seem to you indispensable in proving the validity of these titles." The sad truth of course was that Roehenstart had no papers such as he more than once boasted of having.

The strangest reaction to the Memorial came in the summer of 1817. Roehenstart had apparently spent six months in Paris after  p70 quitting the study of medicine. He says he saw Lord Sidmouth when passing through London on his way to the Continent, and his lordship evidently thought it worth while to keep an eye on Roehenstart. The British government asked one of its secret agents in Paris, who was, as it turned out, also a secret agent of the French police, to furnish some report on the conduct and activities of Roehenstart. This agent, John Schrader, persuaded a young Prussian officer, whose arrest for theft Roehenstart had caused, to make vague charges to the effect that Roehenstart was commissioning an army for the invasion of England. No less than that! Evidently Schrader thought that with such charges he should rate a distinguished promotion at least.

Imagine Roehenstart's astonishment when on July 3, 1817, he received a summons from the Ministère de Police Générale to present himself the next day in order to clear up an affair not described in the summons. Informed of the charge against him, Roehenstart immediately appealed to the British ambassador, Sir Charles Stuart, to whom he had in April sent a copy of the Memorial. Roehenstart protests his innocence, and resents having charges, made against him by a felon, taken seriously. He protests his loyalty to the Prince Regent: "I solemnly declare that no man can be more firmly attached, or more sincerely devoted to England than I am; but when I see importance attached to accusations as ridiculous as they are false, I perceive the liability I am exposed to, to have my tranquillity again broken in upon." He wishes to do anything possible to facilitate the inquiry and free himself from absurd suspicion. Within a few days his friend Edward Storr Haswell came to his aid. Haswell went to the prison of La Force and in the presence of police officers secured from the Prussian, Augustus Assig, a confession that he had been induced to make false charges against his friend and benefactor, Roehenstart, by John Schrader. Assig declared also that John Schrader was employed by the British government and its Paris embassy to collect general information, and that Schrader under pledge of secrecy had told Assig that his principal object was to obtain information and proofs towards the furtherance of a divorce between His Royal Highness the Regent and Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales. The confession that Haswell secured was forwarded to the British embassy, since Roehenstart had learned that "the inquiries were prompted by the British Government."

That the investigation was initiated from London is made certain by the fact that before Haswell appeared on the scene — in fact only four days after Roehenstart first learned of the affair — the French  p71 police had sent to the French ambassador in London, the Marquis d'Osmond, a report exonerating Roehenstart. This report, discovered by the late Henrietta Tayler among the Georgian Papers (22,063‑5) in the Royal Archives at Windsor,1 described Schrader's conduct as exemplifying "ridiculous exaggeration and culpable bad faith." The report (in French) does not mention Assig, and bases its opinion on a personal account of Roehenstart's life:

The situation of Mr. Roehenstart has been much cramped by financial losses. His behavior, reserved and discreet, suits his condition: he sees few people, receives few letters. Both French and foreign agents, charged successively with reporting his moves and his contacts, have displayed, competitively, a zeal surpassing indiscretion when they exaggerate the pretensions of Mr. Roehenstart, who makes not the least pretension and has learned only with the greatest astonishment of the political importance ascribed to him. . . . Nothing in his appearance or in his conversation indicates a man busy with political projects, or one proud of his honorable birth. Humble and submissive, he seemed searching for consolation because of the wretchedness of his position. It is inferred from his explanations about his birth that the marriage of his father and mother took place secretly at Paris without the consent of the Stuart family, who would not have consented to it because of the inferior rank of Monsieur Roehenstart; but after the birth of young Roehenstart, his maternal grandfather recognized the marriage of his daughter and gave an authentic adhesion.

To the inquiries of French police, Roehenstart gave the following account of his life:c

I was born at Rome (whither Charles Edward Stuart, Pretender to the throne of England had retired) of the marriage of Charlotte, Duchess of Albany, his daughter, with Auguste Maximilien Roehenstart, the 14th July 1784. After the death of my mother in 1789, my father withdrew to Germany (Munich) where he passed some years and then came to live in London, to which place I accompanied him. He died in 1799. It may be remarked that my father, during much of the time he spent in England, lived in Edinburgh, where also lived the family of the Countess of Albestroff, my maternal grandmother, and it is thus that the place of my birth on my passport is indicated as that city. About two years after the death of my father, I left England to go to Russia, where the Duke and Duchess Alexander de Wurtemberg, uncle and aunt of the emperor, added me to their household as Chamberlain. In 1810 I was obliged to go to London because of interests damaged by the failure of the banker Forbes, to whom all my fortune was entrusted. This same circumstance led me to go to America in the hope of finding this banker, who in fact had  p72 fled there, and he gave me back a small part of my money. After some years of travel in the new world I came back to London, from where I went to Edinburgh. Desirous of seeing France again, I came here the 25th February last, as my passport shows.

Before leaving England my finances, made painful by the failure just mentioned, forced me to present to the English Government a memoire tending to establish and prove my rights to the succession of the Cardinal Duke of York, my maternal great-uncle. In case the British Government could not see its way to accept this claim, I contracted my pretensions to a pension or to an honorable place, of which I have great need in order to live, not even now being able to support myself except through advances that Mr. Coutts, banker in London, as well as two other friends kindly make me. I had on the subject of this memoire several interviews with Lord Sidmouth which did not destroy my hopes of it.

I must take this occasion to protest against any other project or pretension that could be attributed to me with the intention of doing me harm, and I declare that my views have never passed the bounds of reason and of the duties of an English citizen [citoyen Anglais] more jealous of the tranquillity of his country than of his own personal happiness, I have never taken any title, or formed any project or undertaken any relationship contrary to these sentiments. I must here make known my true intentions in order to destroy, if possible, the false impressions, that lying reports, with which I have been threatened, may have been able to make concerning me. In this matter I believe I have to fear the villainy of two individuals whose ingratitude and bad faith to me have been evident: the one named Schrader, who himself has told me he served concurrently the French and the English police, and the other, Assig, a Prussian against whom I had to bring charges when he was arrested by the Prefecture of Police for theft.

As to my projects elsewhere, I declare that having the hope that S. M. C. the Emperor of Russia might deign to recommend my claims to the British Government, I will submit to live in whatever place assigned me in order to enjoy in peace the means of livelihood that he will assure me and which I shall regard as a kindness. If this fails, I shall make use of the talents remaining to me by going to take again my employment with S. A. R. the Duke of Wurtemberg in Russia, or make use of my abilities in this country or in Italy. I will give to S. E. the Minister of Police all further information of which he may have need concerning me, and I will make any communications desired; and I have signed this declaration as being the statement of the truth.

(Signed) Edward Roehenstart

This episode is surprising in that, having paid apparently little attention to his naïve Memorial, the British government should go to the length of putting agents on Roehenstart's trail. We do not know why  p73 Roehenstart abbreviated his study of medicine in Edinburgh, and passing through London, went on to Paris. It is a warrantable assumption that he thought the life of a chamberlain might be preferable to that of a physician. We do not know if in passing through London he had "several interviews with Lord Sidmouth," but one doubts it. His hope of a place in Russia was perhaps frustrated by his proud unwillingness to return like a beggar with hat in hand, but he evidently had vain hopes of a return. How he and Haswell became involved with a type like Assig is problematical, but travelers make strange contacts, and Assig had had, according to Haswell, some "rank in society."

The episode closed, Roehenstart was on the wing for Germany, where he was possibly in company with a lady whom later he sometimes calls his aunt and sometimes "the Countess." She is unnamed (and at this time even unmentioned) but in 1833 she will somewhat emerge in the story. We learn of this 1817 journey in two letters from Roehenstart to a typical friend, named Daniel Ellis, who is making the grand tour, and is ready to leave Switzerland and move on to Italy — possibly with the hope of meeting Roehenstart there. Roehenstart had hoped to go to Russia, but he now informs Ellis: "I have received unsatisfactory news from Russia, and will postpone my going to Petersburg. I think seriously of setting out in the course of three weeks for Naples, where I will remain untill some happy change takes place in my affairs." Later in July, Roehenstart has changed plans: he must first go to Wiesbaden, but still hopes to see Ellis in Naples. It is possible that this is the first journey to be mentioned in which he escorts his unnamed aunt to Naples, a type of travel that later appears frequently.

Perhaps the two men met in Naples, but a letter of January 3, 1818, indicates that because Naples proved to be expensive, or for some other reason, Roehenstart spent a part of the winter in Genoa. His letters indicate a considerable resentment against the British government for putting spies on his conduct and for the government's harshness in dealing with humble rioters in the north of England. Charlotte, Princess of Wales, the only probable successor to her father, then King George IV, had died in November, and on that event Roehenstart comments to Ellis:

Most sincerely do I deplore the Princess's untimely death: it is certainly a great national calamity. I can say with truth that from some reasons I was acquainted with, I almost knew that this shocking event would take place. Soon after the unhappy marriage, I mentioned to some friends that I was  p74 confident that Princess Charlotte either could not realize the hope of the Nation in having an heir, or that her pregnancy should be attended with great danger for her life. I bitterly regret to see my omen justified by the event.

The death of the one hopeful heir to the throne and the server repression by Lord Sidmouth of riots in Derby and elsewhere were causes of a national melancholy. Spies and informers had been employed against others as well as against Roehenstart. There must have glimmered in the back of other minds than his own vague nostalgic recollections of 1715 and 1745. None of the surviving seven sons of George III had in 1817 any legitimate offspring: the Princess Victoria was not yet born.

The Author's Note:

1 Printed in the Miscellany of the Scottish History Society (1951), pp132‑35.

Thayer's Notes:

a An ill-digested reference not to what would normally be called a palace, but to the wooden amphitheatre built by Caesar in 46 B.C. (Dion Cass. XLIII.22).

b The line, in macaronic Latin, is adapted from the burlesque finale of Molière's Malade Imaginaire; "worthy of entering your learned corporation".

c The translation is slightly off in a few places (e.g., first paragraph: Auguste Edouard Maximilien; last paragraph: Roehenstart's future projects, not projects elsewhere). The French original is in the Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, pp133‑35.

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