On June 25, 1791, Louis XVIth was brought back into Paris under armed guard. It must have been a solemn moment at the Tuileries Palace when the carriage drew up. A tense moment. No doubt there to greet Louis and Marie Antoinette were the loyal palace guards. Among them possibly was my own ancestor’s cousin, the young viscomte de Salis-Seewis. I am told he was quite a favorite of Marie Antoinette.
But much more than a remote relative connects me to this era and to the events this moment in history set in motion. Due to the fact that I had many documents and was collecting more, I was soon pulled into the world of royal imposters and threatened with international lawsuit if I didn’t cough up documents that would prove one crank was the rightful heir. The house of which I speak is Royal Stuart.
It is amazing that such a famous house as that of Royal Stuart should perish in such obscurity and leave behind the improbability that its lineage cannot be definitely determined as existing or extinct. It is the upheaval in France and the Napoleonic Wars to follow which so antiquated the 18th century and its events and attitudes. It plunged many ruling houses into ruin, and for an exiled house it plunged it into obscurity. By the dawn of the 19th century the visible Stuart claimant to the throne was an old and obviously childless cardinal. No Stuart had held the throne for 100 years.
Let’s transpose back into time again.
Louis’ failure to escape to the Austrian lines would mark the beginning of the chaos that would overtake France. The aristocracy would begin its flight from Paris now, sure that the radicals could no longer be kept in line. Louis and his family were basically prisoners in their own palace, protected by a loyal guard the revolution did not want to take on at present. If his own were faltering, he had his Swiss Guards. The Swiss do not surrender. The Swiss do not retreat. But the time would come. . .
Quite at a contrast to the momentous return of the King was the departure from Paris of a small lady, a native Scott named Clementina Walkinshaw. She was little and old, about 70 years old, a relic of a more adventurous era. She left Paris on the 2nd of August 1791 and went south to Chambery.
There was no royal court for her to go to. No klatch of nobles plotting the demise of the radicals. Though Clementina used the title Comtesse d’Alberstroff, she was hardly a grand noble lady. She was the estranged and out-of-favor mistress of Charles Edward Stuart– “Bonnie Prince Charlie”– the once glamorous and swashbuckling prince who had led the Scots in rebellion in 1745 to depose the usurping George I of Hanover from the British throne and replace James III, his own father, back on the rightful throne of the Stuarts.
Clementina was tough. She was a native Scot. Many of the gentry had been leaving Paris since the revolution officially began in 1789. But in Spring of 1788 Clemetina had renewed a 3 year lease on the humble apartments she rented in Paris on the Rue St. Jacques. Nothing was going to removed this Scot from her pre-paid dwellings until the lease was expired. So it was now. She made due for a few months and she finally departed.
Clementina had been out of favor for a long time and Charles Edward himself had died a gouty old man in 1788 in far away Florence, Italy. Clementina’s only chance at future security died the next year– her daughter by Charles, Charlotte. That left only one Stuart alive, Charles’ brother Cardinal Henry. He didn’t care for Clementina and all the problems she was viewed as having caused “back when.”
Clementina was now in 1791 a poor Scot using a questionable title without any future prospects. She was headed ultimately to Fribourg, a little alpine town in Switzerland. There was no chance of a Stuart restoration. Henry was politically insignificant and without heirs. It was over for Clementina.
Clementina had come so close to success, too, even in disfavor. Charlotte was Bonnie Prince Charlie’s only child. He legitimated her late in life when he saw he would have no heir. He created her Duchess of Albany, made her a knight of the thistle, and prepared his will. He struck up a coat of arms for her and gave it a revealing motto: “Pendet Salus Spe ExiGua et Extrema.” Charlotte was in good stead, at least to lead a respectable life for her and her mother. They had been very close and parted only in later life when Charlotte took the advantage to tend to her gouty father in Florence, Italy.
There were those who did and did not recognize Charlotte as the rightful heir to the Stuart claims of Britain. For one, her uncle Henry did not. Cardinal Henry instead grandly proclaimed himself King of Great Britain as Henry IXth. There wasn’t much reason for Charlotte or Clementina to get in too much of an uproar over it. Charlotte would soon die in 1789 of what appeared to be liver cancer. Thus the Stuart cause, which had so lit the heather on fire, was extinguished in that of an old cardinal who could have no legitimate heirs.
The stage had been set. Bonnie Prince Charlie had led a mysterious and often shadowed life on the continent after the failed rebellion in 1745. After Cardinal Henry died in 1807, the past life of Charles Edward, his brother, would foster any number of imposters to make claim to being not only descended of Bonnie Prince Charlie but also of legitimate descent. To this very day the lineage of Royal Stuart is a battleground of charlatans, into which I have been pulled.
When Charlotte died all were sure that Bonnie Prince Charlie’s issue was over. But later it came to be accepted (in the 1950s) that Charlotte had actually had 3 illegitimate children. The historians who pushed for this view (since the 1930s), Henrietta Taylor and George Sherburn, had uncovered comments, really allusions, in Charlotte’s letters to her mother in Paris (while Charlotte lived with her father in Florence), referring to her “petit jardin” and her “flowers” therein back in Paris. It could only be worded in allusions, they assert, because it seemed the father was Ferdinand Maximillien de Rohan, archbishop-duke de Cambrai (later prince-bishop of Liege). Soon names were detected. More than a 150 years afterward, the names of Marie, Algae and apparently a young Charles Edward, named after his grandfather, were deduced (though the boy’s name is never mentioned in the letters).
This opened up a modern glut of charlatans attempting to claim descent. Ironically, it was not from Charlotte. It wasn’t from these three children. There seemed little doubt they were illegitimate. Nothing to be gained by claiming bastard descent. But it showed how shadowy the last days of a once great dynasty were, and this opened the door for others to claim secret marriages, etc.
There was nothing new in this. The Sobieski Stuarts were quite the flourish in Victorian times. They claimed to be legitimate descent from Bonnie Prince Charlie through a secret marriage. That’s the big deal. One must be legal.
The French Revolution was a contributing factor of course, as I said, as to why so much was wiped from the charts of history. But Cardinal Henry survived a lot of that. Most of the de Rohans survived, but there is no indication of Charlotte’s children amongst them, or any children for that matter.
But in this introductory article, however, lets come back to Clementina Walkinshaw. She is without a doubt the mother of Charles’ only child, Charlotte of Albany. By tradition the dukedom of Albany was given the heir of the Scottish throne. It was obvious by this gesture on his part that there were no other children. The motto says it all — “Salvation Depends on One Last Hope.” Henry proclaiming himself King is another testament.
The first controversial point, raised then and now– Was Charlotte always legitimate? In other words, was it true that Charles Edward married Clementina Walkinshaw in secret? It had been feared at one point. They had always lived as husband and wife. When Charles went by the alias Count Johnson, she was Countess Johnson. They galloped over Europe for over a decade under aliases. They lived as man and wife and little Charlotte was raised by them both. When this became an issue later, Clementina signed a statement she had not been married to Charles. This allowed the continuance of her royal pension after James III died and Henry took up the duty of organizing the strapped household finances. He reduced it when it became his responsibility to maintain her, but he continued it nonetheless
Clementina would cause the resulting uproar about marriage herself. She would use a name. It had sent the Royal household into a tizzy. It was Comtesse d’Alberstroff.
This set me in motion 2 decades ago to find out the details.
In the next Royal Stuart blog we’ll dig into the origins of this title.
For 25 years Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.