Countess, later HSH Princess Dorothea von Lieven, née Benckendorff, a Russian noblewoman and wife of Prince Khristofor Andreyevich Lieven, Russian ambassador to London, 1812 to 1834, was a political force in her own right.
Dorothea was born into Russia’s distinctive Baltic nobility at Riga, now Latvia. Her father, General Christopher von Benckendorff, served as military governor of Russia’s Baltic provinces; her mother, Anna Juliane née Schilling von Cannstatt, held a high position at the Romanov Court as senior lady-in-waiting and best friend of Empress Maria Fyodorovna.
Educated at St. Petersburg’s exclusive Smolny Convent Institute, Dorothea was assigned as a maid of honour to Maria Fyodorovna. In 1800, at age fourteen, some months after finishing her studies, Dorothea married General Count (later Prince) Christopher Lieven. In 1810 he was appointed minister to Berlin. When Tsar Alexander I appointed Count Lieven ambassador to Great Britain in 1812, Dorothea used her intelligence, charisma, and social skills to make herself a leader of London’s politically-infused society, thereby contributing materially to the success of her husband’s embassy.
In London, Princess Lieven cultivated friendships with the foremost statesmen of her day. As well, she and Austrian Chancellor Prince Klemens Lothar Wenzel von Metternich had a notorious liaison.
In England's vibrant political environment, the Princess discovered in herself a flair for politics. She also became a leader of society; invitations to her house were the most sought after and she was the first foreigner to be elected a patroness of Almack's, London's most exclusive social club, where Dorothea introduced the waltz to England.
Dorothea Lieven's position as Russian ambassadress, her friendships, and her political acumen established her as a political force.
In 1825 Tsar Alexander entrusted Dorothea with a secret overture to the British government. “It is a pity Countess Lieven wears skirts”, the Tsar wrote to his foreign minister Count Nesselrode. “She would have made an excellent diplomat.”
The Tsar’s mission marked Dorothea Lieven’s debut as a diplomat in her own right. She at least equaled her husband in importance. During Prince Lieven’s ambassadorship in England, (1812–1834) the Princess played a key role in the birth of modern Greece, and made a notable contribution to the creation of today’s Belgium.