Albany, Louisa (DNB00)

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ALBANY, LOUISA, Countess of (1753–1824), wife of Prince Charles Edward, commonly called the Young Pretender, and the connecting link of half a century of celebrities, was born in 1753. Her parentage was illustrious. Gustavus Adolphus, prince of Stolberg-Gedern, her father, came of an ancient and distinguished family which had been lately raised to princely rank, whilst her mother was a daughter of the house of Horn, and consequently connected with the Montmorencys of France, the Bruces of Scotland, the Colonnas of Italy, and the Medinas of Spain. The pecuniary circumstances of her family were, however, in an inverse ratio to their splendour of descent, and on the death of Prince Stolberg, who held a commission in the Austrian service, at the battle of Leuthen, she and her mother became pensioners of the Empress Maria Theresa. Through the imperial protection Louisa was appointed at the age of seventeen a canoness of Mons, then the wealthiest and most distinguished chapter in the Austrian Netherlands, and exclusivelv reserved for such high-bred dames as could prove the requisite number of quarterings. Her connection with the order was soon terminated. Three years after her admission, tempted by the empty prospect of a crown, she quitted the convent to link her fate with that of the Young Pretender, then an exile and dependent upon the bounty of the Vatican. The marriage took place secretly at Paris on 28 March 1772, by proxy, the mother of the bride hurrying on the ceremony for fear that Maria Theresa might oppose the proceedings. Hastening to Ancona the princess was joined by her husband, and the marriage service was again gone through. The day chosen was ominous—it was 17 April, which fell on a Good Friday. In after life the Countess of Albany, when commenting upon the unhappiness of her union with the prince, was wont to say that it was only what could be expected ‘from a marriage solemnised on the lamentation day of Christendom.’ The alliance was in every sense most miserable. The woman had sold herself for a crown which it was evident would never be worn, and on every public occasion the rank and privileges she claimed were denied her. In the land of his adoption the husband was simply styled Count of Albany, and it was forbidden by the Roman authorities to accord him any higher title. The qualities he had displayed as the central figure of the rebellion of 1745 had long been extinct, and he who had once been the popular and cherished ‘Prince Charlie’ was now an exhausted sensualist of fifty-two, an habitual sot, and a brutal and degraded companion. After a wretched union of some eight years, the countess resolved upon following the lax examples of Tuscan morality with which she was surrounded. Her marriage with the prince had resulted in no issue, and she was bent upon severing the tie which bound her to a man now altogether vile. After accepting for a brief period the shelter of a convent, she eloped with Vittorio Alfieri, the poet, to whom she had long been attached, and openly lived with him as his mistress. Upon the death of Prince Charles no change was made in the relations between the guilty couple. Whether the countess declined to abdicate her empty pretensions to royalty, or Alfieri preferred remaining the lover of a queen, certain it is that the alliance was never consecrated by marriage. The illicit union was, however, socially recognised. In every capital visited by the Countess of Albany and Alfieri they were always received in the best society. At Paris the countess assumed a royal state, had a throne in her salon and the royal arms on her plate. On the outbreak of the French revolution she crossed over to England, was warmly welcomed by the London world, and in spite of her ambiguous position was presented at court. She was announced as Princess of Stolberg. ‘She was well dressed.’ says Horace Walpole, ‘and not at all embarrassed. The king talked to her a good deal, but about her passage, the sea, and general topics; the queen in the same way, but less. Then she stood between the Dukes of Gloucester and Clarence, and had a good deal of conversation with the former, who perhaps may have met her in Italy. Not a word between her and the princesses; nor did I hear of the prince, but he was there and probably spoke to her. The queen looked at her earnestly.’ After wandering aimlessly about the continent for some time, the countess settled upon Florence as her permanent home. Alfieri died in 1803, leaving everything to his mistress, and confiding to her the printing of his literary remains and the guardianship of his fame. ‘I am now alone in the world,’ she moans. ‘I have lost all—consolation, support, society, all, all!’ Yet within a few months of this lament the bereaved woman had installed a young French artist, named Fabre, as the poet's successor. On her death she bequeathed all she possessed—the books, manuscripts, statues, paintings, and curiosities of all sorts that had been collected by the Young Pretender and by Alfieri—to Fabre. With the exception of the manuscripts of Alfieri, which were presented by the artist to Florence, Fabre made over to his native city of Montpelier the whole of the treasures he had inherited. Such is the foundation of the Musée Fabre, now one of the chief objects of attraction in the capital of the department of the Hérault.

[Von Reumont's Die Gräfin von Albany; Hayward's Biographical and Critical Essays, vol. ii.; Ewald's Life of Prince Charles Stuart; Revue des Deux Mondes, 15 Jan. 1861.]

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