It was perhaps a two-edged sword that I chose upon the occasion of writing to Fribourg to obtain any copies of paperwork their archives had on Clementina Walkinshaw that I should use my ancestral surname of Stuart; in this case the Stuarts of Granichen, the full surname of my heritage until I was kicked up to just von Granichen by the convenient and intervening deaths of several male relations.
It is the surname of the family of which I write here, and naturally there was no identity if I was kin or not. I merely asked for the paperwork. The archivist, Marie Claire L’Homme, dutifully responded and sent me copies of what they had. Apparently, however, there was soon to be a royal pretender/stalker of the archives. They too inquired of Fribourg, desperately seeking some link that they, that is she, was the direct line of Bonnie Prince Charlie. It was so rare that anyone should inquire that the archivist sent her my address, thinking I could help.
What I received was a registered letter from an utter crank wondering, with such consternation, why I should have any such documents of the Stuart family. She, of course, was sure she was the direct and only heir. Her unknown ancestor (James, I think) had gadded about so much, from America and Europe, that he gave her by her estimation quite a lot of reflected glory. She was, among other things, also a daughter of the Revolution! She was searching for the documents to prove her case, and she told me even Scottish Parliament was awaiting her revelation as a genuine living descendant of Charles Edward Stuart. A couple of emails followed. In one she sent me pictures of herself at some Scottish fair. She was draped from head to foot in Royal Stuart tartan. She wore the blue sash of the Knights of the Garter, symbol of the sovereign of the realm. It was captioned as the typical 17th century highland woman’s dress. International lawsuit could follow if I didn’t cough up the documents.
There was, of course, no indication of pride of birth, pedigree, or anything noble. It all smacked of something as superficial as wanting to be “better than the Jones.”
One does not have to be around this sort for long to develop a keen sense about them. No one pretends to be second best. To believe that is the result of absolute psychological naiveté. No one pretends to be an obscure princeling’s decedent who is 100th in line from the throne. Every pretender is sole and primogeniture heir, either of a throne, title or fortune. It’s a way for unaccomplished people to feel prestige or privilege without having the necessary accomplishments to merit that distinction. Royal Pretenders are a little more practical than the reincarnation crowd, but that’s about it. No one is a 17th century tinker with the crabs reincarnated. No one pretends to be the mule herder’s grandson. Everybody is Rudolf Valentino.
But though I shall come across more of these on my quest, the main focus here is on Clementina’s life and pretensions. What I received from Fribourg was interesting. It wasn’t much, but it gave some particulars little known in the history books. There was even the registry in Latin of Clementina’s death.
Poor Clementina passed over poor at the end of an era now passing to the likes of Napoleon and the darker 19th century. Her manner I cannot vouch for, but certainly the title she bore must have been acknowledged only as a courtesy, for she passed over “Clementina Valkinshau sub titilo comitesse d’Alberstoff cognita.” Not exactly the grand entry.
Historians later made a ta-do that somehow Clementina, the disfavored ex mistress, of no political consequence, somehow got this title from an Austrian emperor. What for?
Back then probably the question wasn’t even asked. It was a time of rough and ready titling. Much was passed over in the grand ostentation of the era. Who was truly a Count and who was not? Lesser titles like Baron and even Prince (not very grand on the Continent) were usurped by rogues and charlatans. Chevaliers were all over.
Not much ta-do was made if there was some connection like Clementina actually had. Her ex-lover, Bonnie Prince Charlie, had been a powerful political figure; well, a potentially powerful political figure. When the map of Europe could potentially change, a king might wish to consider trotting him out of mothballs and threaten England with backing him in a rebellion again to take back his rightful throne. Boston royalists had even decided America should be a monarchy. They offered the crown to him. He got out maps, couldn’t find America or at least Massachusetts, and certainly couldn’t pronounce it, and declined the offer to be the first king in America. An interesting irony, since so many of the Scot rebels had fled to America after the disastrous ’45 and were determined to take it out of German Gordy’s hands.
Assuming a title was not so big a deal on the Continent. Assuming a great family association was. On the Continent nobility was determined by their family blood lines, not by titles. When Louis XIVth’s new confessor, Pere du Tellier, boasted within the halls of Versailles that he was from the peasantry and proud of it, his point fell short with the king. Louis Le Grand just sat there it is said and stared about blankly. He didn’t know what it was about. He didn’t know there was a difference between the aristocracy and peasantry. He was the king. All subjects were the same. Truly the first gentleman of Europe. But Louis knew who was who from what family.
Great families of sovereign background were not to be impersonated. Those were the actual nobles. Not toadies given titles. The dynasties. Sovereign nobles in their own land.
Such were the De Rohan, the family of Clementina’s supposed and unofficial son-in-law, Prince Ferdinand Maximillien Meriodec de Rohan. He was the necklace cardinal’s younger brother. His eldest brother Prince Jules had escaped France. The other, Grand Admiral Louis, had bit the dust beneath the national razor.
De Rohan were proud. They were ancient seigneur in France, before it was even a single country. The English Plantagenets had a huge slice of France, Burgundy another. As was the fashion in the 16th Century, the seigneurs assumed the title prince. The de Rohan, de Tingry, de Talmond, the Grimaldi, and others. Since prince is not an actual title of the peerage, they obtained Royal License and were recognized by this license as foreign princes in France despite being Frenchmen.
To imitate a grand family was serious business. For de Rohan it would be disasterous. No one could imitate their arrogance, so it is said. Their motto said it all “Roi ne suis, prince ne daigne, Rohan suis.” My, my. Mon Dieu.
But the Napoleonic time wiped all this out. Ferdinand sold out to Napoleon, becoming his Grand Aumonier, and Clementina lived on a small pittance from a distant relative, Thomas Coutts, the banker. She kept her title, whatever excuse she made of it, and was known in Fribourg as she was buried: “Clementina Valkinshau, comtesse d’Alberstoff.”
The title, of course, was more than simply contrived. It symbolized to Clementina a legal bond between her and her late Charles Edward Stuart. There is no Austrian to it. Never was. Charlotte, her now dead daughter and Charles’ heir, received money in Paris from the Royal Fund, at least that is what she called it in her memorial to Louis XV in 1774, when asking for money. Her memorial was reproduced in toto in a 1791 book, St. Simons Ouevres Completes (XII 191-211), incredibly rare even for scholars to access. Fortunately, Lady Tweedmuir (Susan Buchan) was able to read it, copy it, and reproduce it in her Funeral March of a Marionette (1935).
Astounding, astounding what Charlotte writes of her financial situation.
The exact words:
“A la mors de ce Prince M. le Cardinal D’Yorck reduisie leur pension a 5000 a la faveur de . . . elles vivent dans le Couvent de la Misericorde a Paris.”
That nasty Henry! It continues:
“Mlle Stuart jouit encore depuis 1769 sous le nom Duc D’Albertstroff d’une gratification annuelle de 1200 sus le fond des Ecossois . . .”
Charlotte received this money in an account bearing the title Duc d’Aberstroff. Dear me. Apparently it was an alias Bonnie Prince Charlie used for the account so that it would not be suspected as his. Spies everywhere, you know. No need to invite curious eyes about these ladies of his in Paris.
Thus it becomes quite significant that Clementina, la ex mistress, used as her gadding about handle the title Comtesse d’Alberstoff. By the standards of the time, and even today, this signified a morganatic status. She was not of dynastic background. Therefore she could not be an equal in marriage. She could not use Duchess d’Alberstroff. She used the lesser “Countess”.
The peerage is, starting at the top:
Duke (the biggie); Marquess (a Count with troops); Count or Earl (has the nicest coronet); Viscount (like owning a house without furniture) and Baron (like spawn they were all over).
On the Continent there are many variations to grandeur, but no need to go into that here. The fact is, Clementina had claimed a status of marriage, albeit an inferior morganatic one.
The first time the Royal household would hear of this was when a letter came in with that name at the bottom. Henry, the Royal brother, never fond of this affair, would start the berserking.