Escapes, by John Buchan


The Escape of Princess Clementina

IN the year 1718 the Chevalier de St. George, or, as some called him, the Old Pretender, after the defeat of his hopes in Scotland, had retired to Rome. At the age of thirty he was still a bachelor, but the unhappiness of his condition was due not to his celibacy but to his misfortunes. The Jacobite campaign of 1715 had proved a disastrous failure; and although he still retained the courtesy title of James HI., he was a king without a realm. While the royal exile was twiddling his thumbs in the Italian capital, waiting for a better turn of luck, his friends, seeing that nothing further was to be gained by the pursuit of Mars, sought the aid of Cupid. They laid before the Chevalier the flattering proposal of a marriage with a Princess of beauty and race. This move was inspired less by romance than by polities, for a suitable marriage would not only encourage the waning Jacobite hopes, but might raise up an heir to the Cause.

The Chevalier readily concurred in the scheme, and a certain Mr. Charles Wogan was dispatched to the various European courts to report on a suitable bride for the Chevalier. Wogan’s choice fell on the little Polish Princess Clementina Sobiesky, daughter of James Sobiesky of Poland and Edwige Elizabeth Amelia of the house of Newburgh, and grand-daughter of the famous John Sobiesky, the “ deliverer of Christendom.”

The chronicles of the time are loud in the praises of this lady, her illustrious birth, her qualities of heart and mind, “ her Goodness, Sweetness of Temper, and other Beauties of a valuable character.” She is said to have been “ happy in all the Charms, both of Mind and Body, her Sex can boast of “; “ the Agreeableness of Seventeen and the Solidity of Thirty.” Her accomplishments included Polish, High Dutch, French, Italian, and English, all of which she spoke so well that it was difficult to distinguish which of these languages was the most familiar to her. She was also a young woman of exemplary piety, and therefore a suitable bride for a king in exile. Princess Clementina was only sixteen when the Chevalier and his friends laid siege to her affections.

It was no ordinary business, for there were many hazards and difficulties in the way. The Chevalier had given his consent to the proposed alliance; it was for his friends to see it brought to a successful issue, and the plan of campaign was left entirely in their hands. The bridegroom was a mere pawn a willing pawn in the game. The real difficulty was the House of Hanover, the inveterate enemy of the Stuart cause, which was by no means inclined to look with indulgence on the proposed alliance. Although the affair was kept a profound secret, the matter gradually leaked out; and George I. of England protested with such vigour to the Emperor on the folly and danger of the impending marriage, threatening among other things to break up the Quadruple Alliance, that Princess Clementina was arrested at Innsbruck with her mother and kept there under strict surveillance.

The Chevalier and his friends were in a quandary. Obviously a man built in the heroic mould was necessary to extricate them from the dilemma. They bethought them of Wogan, who had been recalled from his delicate mission on the pretext that it was impolitic to entrust the matter further to an Irish Catholic. Wogan was well adapted for this sort of adventure. He was, besides being something of a poet, a cavalier and a courtier. He had shared the hard fortunes of the Chevalier in Scotland, and had suffered imprisonment for his devotion to the Stuart cause. Once more the soldier of fortune was called upon to prove his devotion in a cause no less hazardous.

The Pope, who had been taken into the secret, had provided Wogan with a passport in the name of the Comte de Cernes, and forth he fared like a fairy-tale knight to rescue a distressed princess. Never had d’Artagnan and his Musketeers a more difficult task. Wogan duly arrived at Innsbruck in the disguise of a merchant, and obtained an interview with the Princess and her mother, who heartily concurred in the proposed plan of a secret “ elopement.” We next find him at Ohlau in quest of the Prince Sobiesky, the lady’s father. Here he met with a rebuff. Prince Sobiesky, a practical man of the world, viewed the whole affair as midsummer madness, and absolutely refused to lend his aid or consent to Wogan’s scheme.

Wogan was in a quandary, but he did not lose heart. He had nothing to complain of during his stay with Prince Sobiesky, for he was well lodged and treated with the most flattering attentions, but the real business of the mission hung fire. Still he waited he had long learned the game of patience and, being a courtier, was used to waiting. At length a happy accident turned the scale in his favour. On New Year’s Day, Prince Sobiesky, as a mark of his esteem, presented his guest with a magnificent snuff-box, formed of a single turquoise set in gold, a family heirloom, and part of the treasure found by John Sobiesky in the famous scarlet pavilion of Kara Mustapha. Wogan, with a charming gesture, declined the gift on the plea that, although he was sensible of the high honour shown Mrq by the Prince, he could not think of returning to Italy with a present for himself and a refusal for his master. The Prince was so touched that he finally yielded, and furnished Wogan with the necessary instructions to his wife and daughter. Wogan set out once more on his adventures in high spirits, carrying not only the precious instructions, but the snuff-box, which Prince Sobiesky had pressed on him as a parting gift.

The next thing was to establish secret communication with the Princess. This was more easily said than done. The garrulity of Prince Sobiesky, who in his parental agitation had babbled the whole story to a certain German baron, and the suspicions of the Countess de Berg, a noted intriguante and spy of the Austrian court, almost brought Wogan’s mission to an inglorious end. The baron was bought over at “ considerable expenditure,” but the Countess was a more difficult matter. While Wogan was the guest of honour of Prince Sobiesky she had been puzzled at the attentions shown to him, which she argued could be for no good end, and set her spies on his track. Wogan escaped by the skin of Ms teeth, and only evaded capture by ostentatiously announcing his departure for Prague. Then by a skilful detour he gave his pursuers the slip and posted on to Vienna, where he vainly tried to enlist the sympathy of the Papal Nuncio, Monseigneur Spinola.

Then came a thunderbolt, for suddenly Prince Sobiesky changed his mind. He dispatched an urgent message to Wogan saying that both the Princess and her mother, alarmed at the dangers that encompassed them, had resolved to proceed no further in the business, and that he forthwith cancelled his previous instructions.

Here was a pretty kettle of fish I Wogan was a stout-hearted fellow, but this new blow almost unmanned him. In his dilemma he wrote to the Chevalier and told the whole story, asking him at the same time to send a confidential servant to obtain fresh powers from Prince Sobiesky. The Chevalier promptly dispatched one of Ms valets, a Florentine called Michael Vezzosi, who, when attached to a Venetian Embassy in London, had been instrumental in aiding the escape of Lord Nithsdale from the Tower. The Chevalier reminded Prince Sobiesky that by his f oolish behaviour he was not only needlessly endangering the lives of Wogan and his friends, but adding to the difficulties of the captives at Innsbruck. He also gave the most explicit instructions to Wogan to proceed with the enterprise.

Wogan accordingly set out for Sehlettstadt, where he met his three kinsmen, Major Gaydon and Captains Misset and O’Toole, who were to lend their aid in the now difficult mission. Mrs. Misset accompanied her husband, together with her maid Jeanneton, but neither of the women was told the real nature of the undertaking. Jeanneton was to play a conspicuous part in the escape of Clementina. Wogan’s plan was that the maid should change places with the Princess and generally impersonate her till she had made good her escape. The light-headed girl was told a cock-and-bull story about O’Toole having fallen violently in love with a beautiful heiress, and Wogan played to such a tune on her sense of the romantic that she gleefully entered into the plot of the “ elopement.”

Wogan, however} was not yet out of the wood, So far he had succeeded, but he had now to deal with the whims and caprice of the ladies wlio liad been pressed into the enterprise. Jeanneton, whose importance to the success of the venture was paramount, proved especially troublesome. First of all she refused point-blank to wear the low-heeled shoes wMch had been specially ordered for her, so as to reduce her height to conformity with that of the Princess; and not only screamed and swore, but went so far in her tantrums as to knock the shoemaker down. She had once been a camp-follower, and her manners were those of the tented field. It was not until Mrs. Misset, in an excess of despair, had thrown herself imploringly at her feet, a ceremony in which the gentlemen of the party were constrained to join, that the maid relented, and the party set forth at last in a ramshackle berline for Innsbruck.

So far so good. At an inn between Nassereith and Innsbruck, while the other members of the party regaled themselves with a banquet of wild boar and sauerkraut, Wogan stole out in the rain to keep an important appointment with a certain M. Chateaudoux, gentleman-usher to the Princess Sobiesky. This gentleman had not Wogan’s spirit, and proposed to defer the matter of the escape till the weather had cleared and the roads were in better condition for travel. Wogan firmly waived aside Ms objections, and succeeded so well in convincing TITTTI that now or never was the time, that at half — past eleven that same night he and the precious Jeanneton made their way in the storm to the schloss where the Princess was confined. Fortune smiled on the enterprise, and even the tempest was propitious, for the sentry, heedless of danger on such a night, had sought refuge in the inn.

Meanwhile within the prison walls the Princess Clementina, in order to assist the plan of escape, was playing the part of an invalid. Jeanneton’s role was simple. The Princess having regained her freedom, all that the maid had to do was to keep her bed on the plea that her megrims were no better, refusing to see any one but her mother. The secret was well kept; not even the governess waa. told, lest her grief at the sudden departure of the Princess might arouse suspicions.

At midnight, according to plan, Chateaudoux was in readiness, and Jeanneton, clad in a shabby riding hood and female surtout, was successfully smuggled into the sleeping chamber of the Princess. Wogan and O’Toole waited at the street corner ready to convoy the Princess to the inn. There was a lengthy farewell scene, between the Princess and her mother. The two having wept and embraced each other, Clementina excused herself for her hurried departure on the plea that nothing in heaven or earth must stand in the way between her and her husband. Then she hastily dressed herself in Jeanneton’s clothes, and followed Chateaudoux down the winding stairs and out into the night.

The Princess was no longer a captive. The tempest, which had increased, favoured the escape. Once more successfully evading the sentry, ‘they quickly gained the street corner where Wogan and O’Toole were kicking their heels, consumed with fear and anxiety. They reached the inn, drenched to the skin, with but one slight misadventure. Clementina, mistaking a floating wisp of hay for a solid log of wood, slipped and plunged over the ankles into a channel of half-melted snow. At the inn she eagerly swallowed a cup of hot spiced wine and changed her soaking garments, Konski, her mother’s page, had foUowed meanwhile with what the chronicles of the period call “inside apparel” and a casket containing her jewels, said to be valued at about 150,000 pistoles. The foolish Konski, no doubt scared out of his wits at his share in the adventure, had thrown the precious packet behind the door and taken ignominiously to his heels, They were now ready for the road. Captain Misset, who had gone out to reconnoitre, having returned with a favourable report, off they started. The inn was silent and shuttered, everybody having retired for the night including the landlady; so they stole off unobserved. As the ancient coach lumbered past the dismal schloss where the Princess had been so recently a prisoner, she could not restrain some natural emotion at the thought of her mother; and then suddenly she discovered the loss of the precious packet. Here was a nice to-do! There was nothing for it but to return to the inn and fetch the packet. O’Toole was entrusted with this anxious mission. By one more stroke of good fortune he succeeded in retrieving it from behind the door where the careless Konski had thrown it, but he had first to prise the door off its crazy hinges.

At sunset the party reached the village of Brenner, where the Princess, who had so far borne up nobly, had a slight attack of the vapours. She was speedily revived, however, by a dose of eau de Cannes, and, having had a meal, soon regained her accustomed gaiety, and began to ply Wogan with all sorts of innocent questions about the manners and customs of the English and his adventures with the Chevalier in Scotland. One by one the party dropped off to sleep, all but Wogan, who as the Master of the Ceremonies, managed to keep himself awake by the expedient of taking prodigious pinches of snuff. At last even he, overcome by the ardours of the night, began to show signs of drowsiness. While dropping off to sleep, his snuff-box accidentally slipped from his lap and fell on to the curls of the Princess, who with her head resting against his knees was reposing at the bottom of the carriage.

Verona was still a journey of forty-six hours, and the party were much inconvenienced by the lack of post-horses. To their horror they discovered that they were travelling in the wake of the Princess of Baden and her son, one of the husbands who had been proposed for Clementina, and whom she had heen actually bribed to marry! At another stage of the journey the coachman was drunk, and they were only saved by a miracle from being dashed to pieces at the foot of one of the precipitous gorges of the Adige.

They were now approaching the most difficult part of the journey, and it was arranged before they passed the frontier of the Venetian States that O’Toole and Misset should remain behind to intercept any messengers from Innsbruck and guard the retreat. This prescience was amply rewarded. O’Toole tad soon the satisfaction of waylaying a courier who had been dispatched in hot pursuit of the fugitive. The fellow was not only put entirely off the scent, but at supper was plied so generously with old brandy that he had to be carried drunk to bed. Having relieved him of his documents the cavaliers rode on to rejoin the party in the berline.

One or two trials had still to be overcome. At Trent there was some delay owing to the behaviour of a surly Governor who put every obstacle in their way. There was besides the continual fear of Clementina being detected by her Highness of Baden, who had installed herself in state at the inn. The poor little Princess had perforce to remain hidden at the bottom of the coach in the public square until such time as they could obtain fresh relays. The best they could find was a couple of tired screws taken from a neighbouring field. At Roveredo things were even worse, as no horses were to be had at all; and to crown their misfortunes they had not proceeded six miles with their weary beasts when the axle of the ramshackle old berline broke!

But at length they reached the great white wall that denoted the boundary between the Venetian States and the dominions of the Emperor. At half-past three in the morning they stole across the frontier and solemnly offered up a Te Deum for their safe deliverance. They reached Pery with the bells merrily tinging for Mass, and narrowly missed being recognized by the Princess of Baden, who with her son was just entering the church when the berline drew up at the church door.

Verona was reached at dusk, and here for the first time during the three days’ journey the Princess had her hair dressed. They came to Bologna on 2nd May, where the Princess sent a message to the Cardinal Origo announcing her arrival. The Cardinal speedily repaired to pay his respects, bringing the present of a “toyley, artificial flowers, and other little things,” and the offer of a box at the Opera. More welcome and important than the courtesies of the Cardinal was the arrival of Mr. Murray, the Chevalier’s agent, with messages from his royal master.

The drama of the royal elopement draws to its close. On 9th May Clementina was married by proxy. The little Princess, all agog with excitement, rose at 5 a.m., and having attired herself in a white dress and a pearl necklace went to Mass and received the Holy Communion. The marriage ceremony was performed by an English, priest. The Chevalier represented by Mr. Murray, with Wogan as witness, and Prince Sobiesky by the Marquis of Monte–Boularois, a loyal friend of the Stuart cause. The “ powers “ of the Chevalier were read publicly on conclusion of the Mass, setting forth his willingness to marry the Princess Clementina Sobiesky, and the ceremony was forthwith performed with the ring which he had sent expressly for the purpose.

The Princess entered Rome on 15th May, amid general rejoicings; and on 2nd September a public marriage was celebrated at Montefiascone.

The daring flight and escape of the Princess Clementina caused some sensation at the time, and a medal was struck to commemorate the event. The Chevalier created Wogan a baronet, as well as his three kinsmen, and Wogan had the further distinction of being made a Roman Senator by Pope Clement XI. Jeanneton, who had played her part well, apart from the regrettable incident of the low-heeled shoes, duly escaped from Innsbruck and was sent to Rome as the maid of the Duchess of Parma. Prince Sobiesky was exiled to Passau by the Emperor for his complicity in the business, and was also deprived of a couple of valuable duchies. Wogan, who had always been something of a poet, devoted the remainder of his life to the cultivation of the Muse, his efforts drawing encomiums from so severe a critic as Dean Swift, to whom he had sent a copy of his verses in “ a bag of green velvet embroidered in gold.” He died in 1747. As for the Princess, her wedded life did not fulfil the romantic promise of its beginnings. Married to a worthy but doleful husband, she never sat on the throne which she had been promised. She was the mother of Prince Charles Edward, and seems to have fallen into delicate health, for in one of his boyish letters, the little Prince promises not to jump or maker a noise so as to “ disturb mamma.”

Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05