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Countess, later HSH Princess Dorothea von Lieven ( , Daria Khristoforovna Liven), née Benckendorff (17 December 1785 - 27 January 1857), a Russianmarker noblewoman and wife of Prince Khristofor Andreyevich Lieven, Russian ambassador to Londonmarker, 1812 to 1834, was a political force in her own right.


Dorothea was born into Russia’s distinctive Baltic nobility at Riga, now Latviamarker. Her father, General Christopher von Benckendorff, served as military governor of Russia’s Baltic provinces; her mother, Anna Juliane née Schilling von Cannstatt, held a high position at the Romanov Court as senior lady-in-waiting and best friend of Empress Maria Fyodorovna.

Educated at St. Petersburgmarker’s exclusive Smolny Convent Institutemarker, Dorothea was assigned as a maid of honour to Maria Fyodorovna. In 1800, at age fourteen, some months after finishing her studies, Dorothea married General Count (later Prince) Christopher Lieven. In 1810 he was appointed minister to Berlin. When Tsar Alexander I appointed Count Lieven ambassador to Great Britain in 1812, Dorothea used her intelligence, charisma, and social skills to make herself a leader of London’s politically-infused society, thereby contributing materially to the success of her husband’s embassy.

In London, Princess Lieven cultivated friendships with the foremost statesmen of her day. As well, she and Austrian Chancellor Prince Klemens Lothar Wenzel von Metternich had a notorious liaison.

In England's vibrant political environment, the Princess discovered in herself a flair for politics. She also became a leader of society; invitations to her house were the most sought after and she was the first foreigner to be elected a patroness of Almack's, London's most exclusive social club, where Dorothea introduced the waltz to England.

Dorothea Lieven's position as Russian ambassadress, her friendships, and her political acumen established her as a political force.

In 1825 Tsar Alexander entrusted Dorothea with a secret overture to the British government. “It is a pity Countess Lieven wears skirts”, the Tsar wrote to his foreign minister Count Nesselrode. “She would have made an excellent diplomat.”

The Tsar’s mission marked Dorothea Lieven’s debut as a diplomat in her own right. She at least equaled her husband in importance. During Prince Lieven’s ambassadorship in England, (1812-1834) the Princess played a key role in the birth of modern Greece, and made a notable contribution to the creation of today’s Belgiummarker.

Tsar Nicholas I recalled Prince Lieven (1834) to become Governor to the Tsarevitch; despite her residence in London, the Princess had already (1829) been appointed senior lady-in-waiting to the Empress Alexandra. Soon after the Lievens returned to Russia their two youngest sons died suddenly. This tragedy and her declining health caused the Princess to leave her native land and settle in Paris.

In a city where salons served a unique social and political purpose, Princess Lieven’s salon, known as “the listening/observation post of Europe”, empowered her to be an independent stateswoman. In 1837 she and François Guizot entered into a close personal partnership that lasted until the Princess's death.

During the Crimean War (1854-1856) Princess Lieven acted as an informal and trusted conduit between the belligerents.

Dorothea Lieven died peacefully at her home, 2 rue Saint-Florentin, Paris. She was buried, according to her wish, at the Lieven family estate, Mežotnemarker (near Jelgavamarker) next to her two young sons who had died in St. Petersburg.


Princess Lieven “succeeded in inspiring a confidence” with prominent men “until now unknown in the annals of England”, wrote Russian foreign minister Count Nesselrode. Her friendships with George IV, Prince Metternich, the Duke of Wellington, George Canning, Count Nesselrode, Lord Grey, and François Guizot gave Dorothea Lieven the opportunity to exercise authority in the diplomatic councils of Great Britain, France, and Russia. She was a political force, a position reached by no other contemporary female.

The Princess participated, either directly or indirectly, in every major diplomatic event between 1812-1857. She knew “everyone in the Courts and cabinets for thirty or forty years”; she “knew all the secret annals of diplomacy”, wrote a French diplomat.

Hence, Princess Lieven’s politically-focused correspondence with luminaries across Europe is primary source material for students of the period. Parts of the Princess’s diary, her correspondence with Lords Aberdeen and Grey, François Guizot, Prince Metternich, and her letters from London to her brother Count Alexander von Benckendorff, have been published. There is a vast trove of unpublished material in the British Library, and a scattering of unpublished correspondence in several Continental archives.

“She is a stateswoman”, said the Austrian ambassador to France, “and a great lady in all the vicissitudes of life.”

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