Louise Lehzen

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Louise Lehzen : biography

03 October 1784 – 09 September 1870

Reports of the reasons behind Lehzen’s departure varied; court diarist Charles Greville noted she was leaving "for her health (as she says), to stay five or six months, but it is supposed never to return." The Times however reported that she was simply visiting friends in Germany. After her departure, family adviser Baron Stockmar remarked of the affair that "it was not without great difficulty that the Prince succeeded in getting rid of [Lehzen]. She was foolish enough to contest his influence, and not to conform herself to the change in her position… If she had done so, and conciliated the P[rince], she might have remained in the Palace to the end of her life."

Death and legacy

When Lehzen was dismissed from the court in 1842 she returned to her native Germany, living in Bückeburg near Hanover. She lived with her sister on the generous pension that Victoria sent her, and covered the walls of her house with portraits of the queen. Though her sister died several months later, the baroness continued to support financially her many nieces and nephews. Lehzen continued to regard Victoria with affection, and the queen wrote regularly to her former governess, weekly at first and later monthly at Lehzen’s request. When visiting relations in Germany, the queen came to visit her twice in private. The Baroness Lehzen died in Bückeburg on 9 September 1870, where she is buried in Jetenburger cemetery. Queen Victoria ordered the erection of a memorial to her. After Lehzen’s death, Queen Victoria spoke of her gratitude for their relationship, but commented "after I came to the throne she got to be rather trying, and especially so after my marriage… [This was not] from any evil intention, only from a mistaken idea of duty and affection for me."

During her time at the English court, Lehzen attracted attention outside of the royal household for her close relationship with Victoria. She was criticised for her influence with the queen, particularly from those who disliked German influences at court. Pamphlets, many released by the Tory party, complained of the "stranger harboured in our country" and the "evil counsellors" surrounding Victoria. One in particular, published as the Warning Letter to Baroness Lehzen, declared that a "certain foreign lady pulled the wires of a diabolical conspiracy of which Lady Flora was to be the first victim," a reference to the Flora Hastings affair. More positive, The Times once described her as having simply "held a highly and strictly confidential situation about the person of the Sovereign." As a sign of the perceived political influence she possessed, in 1838 false rumours suggested that Lehzen had been "converted" to the Whig party, and that she had been offered "an urgent proposal of marriage" by Whig prime minister Viscount Melbourne. Despite all of this criticism, historian Gillian Gill describes how Lehzen was honest and frugal; even after Victoria ascended the throne, she seems to have made no demands for money or rank, preferring instead to simply be in the queen’s company. Historian K.D. Reynolds adds that Lehzen was a major influence on Victoria’s character and moral development, in particular giving the queen the strength of will to survive her troubled childhood and young queenship. Not all of her influence was positive however; Reynolds also speculates that the 1839 Bedchamber crisis stemmed partly from Victoria’s unwillingness to lose Lehzen.

Baroness Lehzen has been portrayed numerous times in film and television. She was played by Renée Stobrawa in the 1936 German film Mädchenjahre einer Königin, Greta Schröder in the films Victoria the Great and Sixty Glorious Years, Barbara Everest in 1941’s The Prime Minister, Magda Schneider in the 1954 television serial The Story of Vickie, Olga Fabian in an episode of Hallmark Hall of Fame, Patience Collier in Edward the Seventh, Diana Rigg in the 2001 television serial Victoria & Albert, and Jeanette Hain in the 2009 film The Young Victoria.