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Greece’s secret spy in Metternich’s bedroom

Wednesday 30 May 2012, by Wayne Hall

Greece’s secret spy in Metternich’s bedroom

by Panagiotis Paspaliaris

Baroness Lieven: History’s great double agent. She was active in the period when the Greek Revolution of 1821 was hanging in the balance. From the bed of the Austrian chancellor Metternich, Europe’s great inquisitor and sworn enemy of the Greek uprising, she schemed for the benefit of Russian and Greek interests.

“…this letter will find you perhaps angry; perhaps joyful I doubt it ; perhaps busy I am sure of it. Does your pulse beat quickly or slowly? Slowly I hope ; for, if it did not, you would be dead already. Have you ever let St. John feel it?”

Thus ends the letter of 23rd February 1823 from Baroness to her lover, Prince Metternich, Europe’s great inquisitor, as he was known to the diplomats of his day. The greatest diplomat of all time, as he was falsely characterized by Henry Kissinger.

But who was the baroness and who was Saint John? “Saint John of the Apocalypse” or “the man with the Apocalyptic style” was the nickname given by Metternich himself to Russia’s Foreign Minister Ioannis Capodistrias. The baroness, later Princess Lieven, was the wife of the Russian ambassador to London, Baron Lieven. In reality she was the one who pulled the strings at the embassy. She was also Metternich’s mistress from 1818 and corresponded with him almost every day. Her contemporaries and later historians are in agreement that she was essentially a spy for Metternich.

Two letters changed the course of history

The above extract shows that the baroness was aware of Metternich’s attempts to dislodge Capodistrias from his position, something he succeeded in doing later the same year. This was the key goal of the triumvirate directing the politics of reaction at that time: to get rid of the leader of Europe’s liberal cabal. Besides the Austrian prince the other two members were the King of England, George IV, and his minister Lord Castlereagh (Londonderry from 1821). The baroness was the connecting link. Castlereagh was so devoted to her that she herself felt it necessary to write to Metternich that there was nothing “practically erotic” between them. The king was in love with her too. He even bought a portrait of her (probably the one illustrating this article) and put it in his bedroom. In 1822 the Congress of Verona was to take place, at which Metternich and Castlereagh had decided to put an end to the Greek Revolution. Then something unexpected happened. Two anonymous letters reached Castlereagh. One of them threatened to tell his wife about his erotic misdemeanours. The other was something more revolting: proof of his somewhat confused sexual predilections. The lord lost his mind. He committed suicide a few days later, cutting his throat with a penknife. George Canning was appointed the new Foreign Secretary and the objectives of Verona were abandoned because Canning was opposed to Metternich and desired that the Holy Alliance should not continue. The Greek Revolution had been written off, given the facts of the international balance of power, the smallness of Greece and the perennial fratricidal tendencies of Greeks. But on the international political stage strange events like the suicide of Castlereagh were continually undermining the endeavour of bringing the Hellenes to heel. It was as if there was a crack in the Chalice of the Holy Alliance, with resulting leaks. Our attention is attracted, at first intuitively, and later with evidence, to Baroness Lieven.

The evidence

While the Baroness was still enjoying the love and devotion of Metternich, she found time to write to her brother, the general Alexander Beckendorff, on 5th October 1819: “We have had staying here for several weeks the Count Capo d’lstria. I have never known a foreigner in England make himself so thoroughly popular as he has done; everybody recognises him to be a man of ability, of tact, and of excellent judgment; everything in him, including his appearance, has charmed everyone…” Including herself, as is evident from the letter.
In October 1823 she met, supposedly by chance, Capodistrias in Geneva, and spent hours in discussion with him. She told Metternich about it, without giving him any real information about the plans of the former Russian minister. At that time he was organizing the Philhellene current in Europe. All she said was the following: “Alexander is going through a period of giddy aberration. Forty years of right feeling must prevail against two years of self-important delusion. He will feel, as his people wish him to feel, the ignominy of being ruled by an Austrian Minister”.

The leader of the opposition, Lord Earl Grey (well-known for his good taste in tea) wrote to her on 7th September 1824, revealing the climate of their personal understanding. “Rejoice with me in the destruction of the Turks at Ipsara, and the prospect of final success to the Greek cause. In this, at least, I hope we may agree”.

She confessed to Metternich that she was in constant contact with George Canning. While the role that had been assigned to her was to intrigue against Canning, she in fact had a two-hour meeting with him every Sunday. Having from 1826 on broken all ties with Metternich and the Holy Alliance, the baroness supported in every way she could the activities of Capodistrias, disclosing that she was functioning as his envoy for Greek affairs in London, as for example in the matter of Leopold, the Powers’ first choice for the throne of Greece.

In 1827 Capodistrias was elected Governor of Greece and before assuming his duties visited England to persuade the government that he was working in the name of Greece and not of Russia. The baroness made desperate efforts to arrange a meeting for him with Earl Grey. She lost her temper, demanding and pleading. She conveyed messages from Capodistrias to Grey. In an aside in a letter of 12th September 1827 she says the following: “but, before all, you would have recognised in him an ardent patriot who, all his life long, has only had at heart the cause of his country’s independence”.

And lest there should be doubt about her position, she wrote to Earl Grey on 19th November 1827: “The Curé (Metternich) received the news of Navarino on the very day of his wedding —November 5. What a feu-de-joie to honour the occasion with!”

Capodistrias targeted

As early as 1812 Metternich had taken note of the energy, and the goals, of Capodistrias. When the latter assumed office as Foreign Minister of Russia the surveillance became intense, with numerous agents shadowing the Corfiot count in all his movements. What a shock it must have been for Metternich when he realized that an agent of Capodistrias had found her way into his bed: that every intrigue of himself and his collaborators in England was known and every item of information utilized in accordance with the needs of the Greek uprising! Perhaps it was for this reason that he returned her letters to her.

The story of Baroness Lieven requires further research, as many of the letters are still unpublished. The light of inquiry will expose two well-hidden historical secrets. One has to do with history’s first great double agent, Baroness Lieven. The second pertains to something more important for us: the fact concealed in our official history books, that the Greek Revolution took place, was saved and prevailed, as a result of the personal involvement of Count Capodistrias who, having succeed in his aims, was murdered, so that power would pass into the hands of foreign powers through their local agents. These agents imposed the damnatio memoriae on the father of the modern Hellenic nation, and
their conspiracy – through their descendants – still runs this country.

Peter Quennell, The private letters of princess Lieven to Prince Metternich 1820-1826, New York, 1936.

Guy le Strange, Correspondence of Princess Lieven and Earl Grey, London,1890.

Lionel G. Robinson, Letters of Dorothea, Princess Lieven, during her residence in London, 1812-1834,London,1902.

Panagiotis Paspaliaris is a historian. His works: “Great Hellenes: Ioannis Capodistrias”; “Great Hellenes: Pericles”; “History of the Medieval Hellenism of Asia Minor” (all in Greek).

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