Monday, March 28, 2016

The Countess of Albany

Annamaria on Monday

My post last week about my Alfieri family name drew a number of admiring responses from the men of MIE about the amour of the great italian poet Vittorio Aflieri.  That lady is interesting for more reasons than her hairdo.  So here she is:

Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gerden had a hard life before she met the dashing Vittorio.  She was born in 1752 in Mons, then the Austrian Netherlands (now Belgium).  Her linage was extremely swanky, but she had two big problems when it came to being a high-tone European princess.  For one thing, her family was poor and became even worse off when her father died in battle while fighting on the Austrian side in the Seven Years' War.  Even worse than that, her family was Catholic--which severely limited the main chance for any princess then (or now for that matter): wedlock.  With the patronage of Empress Maria Teresa, Louise was able to secure the best anyone could manage for her--a place in the Convent of St. Waudru in Mons.  This was where she had to stay until she received an offer of marriage.

The convent where Louise stayed until Charlie proposed

To our ears, the proposal that came might seem quite advantageous.  She was to wed one of the most famous Catholic Royals of her age: Bonnie Prince Charlie aka Charles Edward Stuart aka The Great  (actually not so great) Pretender.  Yes, him--the Jacobite claimant to the thrones of England and Scotland.

Charlie in his palmy days

Grandson of James II of England, Charlie was born in Rome, educated there and in Bologna.  Lots of swell people around Europe, including Louis XV of France, thought Charlie's daddy was the rightful King.  Louis, of course, was also taking side bets that the Stuarts' harrying of the ruling Protestants could only be good for France.

Backed by the Frenchies, Charlie invaded Scotland in an effort to restore his papa to the throne, had some early success, and then practically single handedly--through stupid strategies--lost the Battle of Culloden.  (An aside: The Crown commander, "Stinking Billy" Duke of Cumberland, doesn't come off any better.  He was as vicious as Charlie was dumb.)

Anyway, Charlie got out of Scotland in one piece and spent the next couple of decades in exile, drinking, seducing women, and keeping his delusions alive.  At some point, someone hit on the idea that if Charlie got married to a nice Catholic girl, the pope would support his pretension to his granddad's throne.  They went looking for Miss Right, and they found Louise.

The regal couple were married by proxy on the 28th of March 1772.  A few weeks later, they met up face to face in Italy and renewed their vows.  Charlie was 52; Louise was 20!

The groom at Louise's wedding

They moved to Rome, and he set out trying to make a baby.  When his efforts didn't pay off after two years, the pope and his other powerful allies lost interest in him.  Louise found herself--not the Queen of England and Scotland as she had been led to expect, but just a sad princess married to a disappointed old man with no pretensions to glory, who had turned nasty into the bargain.

Charlie took up drinking, spouse abuse, and the comfort of various mistresses.  He moved himself and his wife to Florence and changed their titles to Count and Countess of Albany.  Shortly thereafter, Count Vittorio Alfieri entered Louise's life and within two years of meeting, they secretly became lovers.  Ten years later, after many attempts to get away from the violent Charlie, Louise--through the good offices of King Gustav of Sweden--was granted a decree of separation, which gave her a legal right to live away from her no-longer-bonnie prince.

As time went on, word leaked out about her relationship with the Italian poet.  Little by little, members of the European aristocracy began to shun Louise.  By 1787, the couple abandoned the subterfuge and began to live together openly--in Paris and in Florence.  Even after Charlie died, they continued to stay together without the blessing of the Church.

Home Sweet Home

The Salon

In their palazzo in Florence, Louise became hostess of a famous salon attended by the leading intellectual and artistic lights of the era.

Louise and Vittorio stayed together until he died.  Louise buried him the Church of Santa Croce, between Michelangelo and Machiavelli.

She lived on in Florence for another nineteen years.  Her tomb is nearby his.

Viva L'Amore!


  1. At least Louise got to enjoy some of her life with Vittorio. A lifetime of being miserable would be too much to bear. I noticed the hair before I started reading.

    1. Jono, then I guess what I said to EvKa last week was right. Guys respond to different things than women think they do. I will pay more attention to my characters' hair and what the men in their lives think of it. Amazing what a writer can pick up from a blog post. I'll think of you next time I have reason to use this in a story!

  2. Being a princess (or prince) is rarely all it's cracked up to be. ...temporary aside to figure out where THAT phrase came from, never thought of it before:

    The word "craic" or "crack" is said to have derived from the Middle English word crak, which means "loud conversation, bragging talk." In some parts of the world, the term crack is used to mean "news" or "gossip," which led to the expression "What's the crack?" That is similar to asking: "What's the news?"

    So, being a princess isn't all it's bragged or talked up to be. Like everything else, it has its pluses and its minuses. About the best one can hope for is end up with a positive sum.

    Thanks for the tale, AmA.

    1. Watching you free associate cracks me up, EvKA.

  3. Another fascinating glimpse into the sordid history of royals.

  4. Wonderful blog, Annamaria. And the hair is great, isn't it? 'Bonnie' Prince Charlie didn't age well, did he, and the air of disappointment is captured rather well in that later portrait. I wonder what the subject thought of it ...?

    1. Zoe, I thought the same thing about how bad Charlie looks in that painting. My take: Given the fact that court painters almost always flattered their subjects, I imagine the old boy looked even worse, or the painting (or the painter) would not have survived.

  5. Sounds like a model for the stereotypical Hollywood couple.

  6. So glad that Louise finally had years of happiness after years of misery. So glad she followed her heart and dumped convention and liberated herself.

    Like to hear stories about women who make their own choices.

    My only question: How could she and Vittorio make sure financially? Yes. I know I think of the practical issues, but inquiring minds want to know.

    1. I felt the same, Kathy (not surprise that we agree). She was able, in those hard times for women, to make a life on her own terms. Vittorio was a Count and probably quite rich. He was also a deservedly VERY successful playwright. And who knows, Louise might have gotten some hush money to protect the shreds of Charlie's reputation. Anyway, the happy couple had enough mullah to live large. And happy. Hooray for that.