Saturday 27 March 2010

An English lady in the harem at Bucharest

From: A journey through the Crimea to Constantinople in a series of letters By Elizabeth, Lady Craven (1789).

Lady Craven the friend of Johnson and Horace Walpole is remembered if at all for the accounts she wrote of her many journeys and for her scandalous private life which cries out for a post-feminist biographer. She became the morganatic wife of Alexander, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach and Bayreuth and she was accorded the title of "Princess Berkeley" by the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II

WHEN I landed in Wallachia I found horfes, provifions, and guards, provided for me, and I rather flew than drove along—From Karalafh, for a confiderable way, the route lay on the borders of the Danube, where cattle of all forts were feeding upon the fineft forts of clover, intermixed with various flowers—There is no road made, and I faw no carriage track, but a fine foil without ftones or ruts, made the journey very pleafant. As I came near to Buccoreft I quitted the meadows, and faw a moft beautiful country, where fmall woods of fine timber and Turkifh corn, ftanding above fix feet
high, formed a rich and varied picture Several
boyards came to meet me, and my Arnauts, or guards, were extremely alert and clever; though their ufual mode of fupplying my carriages with horfes often gave me great difpleafure; for it frequently happened, that a peafant mounted on a. good-looking horfe, with his fack of flour behind him, was difmounted in an inftant, a tired horfe left him, and his frefh horfe harnefled to my carriage—I wanted at leaft to have fome money given the man, and an explanation of the affair, but it feems the Prince of Wallachia had ordered that I fhould have no trouble or delay—and not be fuffered to pay for -any thing, fo that the little money I gave away was privately, and not without much

management could I contrive it Juft as I was
about to enter Buccoreft, I found a party of Janiflaries with a tent pitched about a mile from the town, who quarrelled with all my attendants, and made the poftillions drive back to enter the town another way as I was told, that road having been fhut by order of the Prince. My furprife increafed, when I found myfelf drove under a large gateway belonging to a Greek convent, the inner court of which was very fine and fpacious furrounded by cloifters with Gothic arches—My carriage was prefently furrounded by people of various nations, talking all languages to me—At laft I addrefled myfelf to one in a French drefs; pray, Sir, faid I, where am I?—A German fervant of mine fpoke to him in German, and I found I was driven in there to perform quarantine, for five days at leaft—The fuperior of the convent, by this time had come up to the door of the carriage: fancying by my looks, I fuppofe, that I had not the plague, he defired me to make ufe of his rooms till I had chofen my lodging for the night—The old venerable man fat by me and Mademoifelle while we dined; and I had then fent down to the town to inform the Prince of my fituation—But I afked my refpectable hoft where I fhould lodge if I ftaid—He pointed to a fmall miferable room acrofs the court, with only bare walls, and the windows of it were all broken. This room was to contain all my fuite with me; for every company I found that arrived, was kept apart from the

reft Clofe to the door of this room I faw a
wretched creature alone, with death in his countenance—And pray, fays I, what is that miferable figure?—A man fufpe&ed to have the plague, who was put away as far from the others as poffible, with
a little clean ftraw to lie upon I confefs I was
heartily glad when the Imperial agent came from the town, to inform me the Prince was very forry for the miftake—that it never was his intention I ihould be fent to the convent 1 thanked my old father for his civilities, and haftened to the town where I had been but a few moments, before a gold coach, made I believe in the year one, came to the door, with a fet of brown-bay ftone-horfes, that feemed to fpurn the earth—There was a Turkifh groom that held the bridle of each horfe—A kind of chamberlain, with a gold robe on, and a long white ftick in his hand, and the Prince's private fecretary came to fetch me. The whole town, I believe, by this time was got round the equipage, and we proceeded very flowly to the firft court of the palace, in which I went through a double row of guards, fome of them Janiflaries, and the others Arnauts and Albanians In the fecond court was another
double row of guards, and thefe extended up a large flight of fteps that conducted us to the great audience-chamber, in the corner of which, a fpace was divided off with cufhions, upon which fat the Prince, dreffed and attended a la Turque-, over his head were ranged the horfes tails, the great helmet and feather, the magnificent fabre, and other arms which I had feen parade before him in the ftreets of Conftantinople He afked me by the interpreter, how Choifeul did—and if I would not make fome ftay in Wallachia Coffee and
fweetmeats were ferved, and when I rofe to take my leave, one of his chamberlains told me in a whifper to fit down again, when my ears were aflailed by the moft diabolical noife I ever heard; upon which with a very grave loud voice the fecretary faid, c'efl pour vous Madame—c'eft la mufique du Prince-, and the Prince defired me to look out into the court—There I faw trumpets of all kinds, brafs plates ftriking together, and drums of all fizes— fome of which, not larger than breakfaft-cups, were ranged on the ground, and the ftrikers of them fquatted on the ground to beat them—Each mufician was endeavouring to drown the noife of his neighbour, by making a louder if poffible; and I do not know that my nerves ever were fo tried before—for my companion, who faw the difficulty I had to refrain from laughing, was faying, for God's
fake do not laugh
Mr. de Choifeul's excellent German muficians came into my head too at that moment, and the contraft of his mufic to the noife I heard, added to the abfurdity of the thing, fo that I fuffered extremely—however this fcene did last long, I was called to have an audience of the Princefs—
But here I muft leave you for the prefent. Before I fet out I will finifh my account of this reception.
E. C

iHE Princefs was fitting a la Turque, with three of her daughters by her, they were about nine, ten, and eleven years old—The Princefs might be about thirty, a very handfome face, fomething like the Duchefs of Gordon, only her features and countenance had more foftnefs, and her fldn and hair were fairer—Her perfon was rather fat, and me was above fix months advanced in her eighth pregnancy—She took my hand and feated me by her— The, Prince, to fhew me an extraordinary degree
of refpect, had fuffered Mr. V to come into
the Harem, and he fat down by him. There were near twenty women in the room, one of whom, inftead of a turban, had a high cap of fable put behind her hair, that was combed up ftraight over a kind of roll—This head-drefs was far from being ugly or unbecoming—The Princefs told me it was a lady of Wallachia, and that the cap was the drefs
of the country After the Princefs had afked me
all the fimple queftions generally afked by the Eaftern females—fhe afked me if I was drefled in the French fafhion; and told me fhe mould be happy to know any thing fhe could do to detain me in Wallachia a whole year—The Prince feemed to defire it as much as fhe did—But I affured them I mould not ftay four-and-twenty hours in Buccoreft. They then defired me to fup with them, which I confented to, but defired I might return to my lodgings to write to Conftantinople, as I had promifed immediately upon my arrival to this place— I was conducted back to my coach, and through the courts with the fame ceremony as I came—And being feated, the fecretary told me he was ordered to mew me a fine Englifh garden belonging to an old boyard, which we went to. A country curate's kitchen-garden in England and that were the fame—But the mafter of it was a venerable figure with a beard as white as fnow, dreffed in a long muflin robe, fupported by his fervants, as he walked with difficulty—He prefently ordered all the fruit in his garden to be prefented to me; and when I was going out of the garden, I met the very lady, with her fur cap, I had feen in the palace—She fhewed fuch tranfports of joy upon finding me at her father's houfe, that it was with difficulty I could get from her; me had taken me in her arms, and almoft fmothered me with kifles
The refpectable father's name is Bano Dedefcolo, and one of the principal noblemen in Wallachia; however I got to my lodgings at laft, and fcarcely had finimed a letter to Mr. de Choifeul, when two of the Prince's people with the fecretary came in, followed by many more of his houfehold. The fecretary defired me to go and look over a gallery that furrounded the back court of the houfe, I did fo; and I faw a beautiful Arabian horfe, in the midft
of a great mob; two Turks held his bridle The
fecretary told me the Prince hearing that I was fond of horfes defired me to accept that, which a Pacha of three Tails had given him a few days before—and he hoped I mould accept of it with the regard with which it was prefented—I gave him as civil an anfwer as I could imagine, and very handfome prefents in money to the grooms that brought him, and to the whole fet of ftable people— The fupper was ferved in a more European manner than I mould have imagined; a table upon legs, and chairs to fit on were things I did not expeci. The Prince fat at the end of the table, his wife on one fide, and I on the other. Mr. V was likewife invited, and fat at my left—Several women fat down to flipper with us. The Princefs had nine females behind her chair to wait upon her—feveral filver things, evidently the produce of England, were fet upon the table, fuch as falt-fellers, cruets, etc. etc. but there were four candlefticks that feemed to be made of alabafter, fet with flowers compofed of fmall rubies and emeralds, that were very beautiful Deteftable Turkifti mufic was played
during the whole fupper—but relieved now and then by Bohemians, whofe tunes were quite delightful, and might have made the heavieft clod of earth defire to dance. The Prince faw the impreffion this mufic made upon me, and defired they might play oftener than the Turks—It feems thefe Bohemians are born flaves, the property of the reigning Prince of Wallachia, while his power lafts—There are, as he told me, five thoufand of them left, formerly
there were five-and-twenty thoufand After the
fupper was over we fat fome time in the large room the Princefs firft received me in, but the Prince
and Mr. V fat on one fide, and the Princefs,
myfelf, and the other women on the other
The Princefs, I believe, thought I gave myfelf the liberties of a traveller, when I told her the ladies
with us learned to dance and write—with fome other things which fhe doubted of, likewife — —
Her hufband fmoaked his pipe, and I was forry fhe did not too, for I faw that it was her civility to a twelvemonth with her, which me faid would be a great amufement to her, as my prefence was full
tt it
a ftranger that prevented her -The Prince afked
me if I knew the Emperor and Prince Kaunitz— and upon my anfwering in the affirmative, he afked me—" Should I fee them?"—" Probably"—" Why then (faid he) do you tell the Prince I am devoted to his commands—-and tell the Emperor, I hope " now we are fo near one another, we mall be good " friends"—The oddnefs of thefe meffages was very near making me laugh—but I gravely aflured, him I mould deliver them faithfully, if I had an opportunity About half paft eleven I rofe to take my
leave, and received from the Princefs fome very beautiful embroidered handkerchiefs, and was obliged again to excufe myfelf from ftaying only
of graces 1 retired with all the attendants I had
before, only with the addition of I believe a hundred flambeaux, and all the Turkifh and Bohemian mufic playing by the fide of the large gold coach—The horrid difcord and comical proceffion got the better of all my gravity; arid though the fecretary was there, I laughed all the way to the French Conful's houfe, where I now write, the civil man
and wife infifting upon giving me a bed. Mr. V- 's
ideas of good-breeding were fo difcompofed, by my laughing, that he affured the fecretary the perfection of my ear for mufic was fuch, that the leaft difcord in it made me laugh—and he repeated this in all the
ways he could turn it I faid, oh! oui, c'e/i bien
vrai', but between whiles I faid in Englifh, what would you have me do, I feel like Punch parading through the ftreets, with all thefe trumpets and this mob about me—However, the fecretary and Mr.
V at laft caught the infection, and we arrived
laughing all three at the houfe, where the Conful's wife had prepared me a comfortable bed, and I got rid of my mufic by giving them a handful of money.
S s

It is fo hot that I cannot fleep, and I am writing
to you, dear Sir This is no inconfiderable town,
the fituation of it is very beautiful—indeed, in this country it would be difficult to find an ugly fcite— Wallachia pays to the Porte a tribute of four hundred purfes * yearly, exclufive of grain, wool, and many thoufand fheep—Shepherds pay an annual tribute befide, of eighty thoufand fkins of the cattle, with butter, cheefe, and tallow
If the grain fails from Egypt, this country is obliged to fupply the deficiency at Conftantinople— Still I affirm that upon earth, Sir, all things fuperior in their nature, either animate or inanimate, are taxed cruelly—This beautiful country, the foil and climate of which makes every produce luxuriant, is by the hand of fate under a power which extorts unmercifully from the natives, through the neceffities of the Porte, if not by the rapine of the Princes, and prefles plenty from her fource, driving often the wretched Wallaques to fly into the mountains, where, at leaft for a time, they avoid the cruelties they find from a tyrannical government, which punifhes them for the deficiencies the extortions of that very government have occafionedt

I fet out early to-morrow, and fhall write from Hermanftadt, the firft imperial town I fhall reach— I have a very clever addition to my fuite here, a kind of trader and interpreter, who fpeaks the Wallachian language perfectly, and is going to Hermanftadt

No comments:

Post a Comment