Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Prince of Benevento, had focussed all his attention on his nephew Count Edmond de Talleyrand-Périgord as his heir. And his heir needed a wife – preferably a rich one. It was probably Count Aleksander Batowski was hinted at Charles that Dorothea might be the woman for his nephew. Charles turned to Tsar Alexander, who was friendly with Dorothea’s mother, to ask her to give her daughter as wife to his nephew.
The Tsar and Dorothea’s mother talked for over two hours as she was most unhappy with the match. She placed her daughter’s preference for Prince Adam Czartoryski on the forefront and how she had no valid reason for stopping the match. The Tsar waved the Duchess’ concerns away. He told her, “At the age of fifteen, Dorothea is too young to have any fixed opinions of her own.”1 But apparently 15 wasn’t too young to be married! Eventually, the Duchess promised to do all she could to persuade Dorothea to agree to the match.
After much persuasion and intent on getting Dorothea to forget Prince Adam, Dorothea finally caught on to the plan to have her marry Edmond. Dorothea returned home for her mother’s birthday in November 1808 and was finally presented to him. She apparently barely slept that night. The following day, her mother officially told her of her promise to the Tsar and how Dorothea should consider “all the benefits which will accrue to your family from the match.”2 Dorothea snubbed her mother with the words, “But happily your situation is not so very bad that I must feel myself obliged to sacrifice what I have so long believed to represent my hopes of a happy future.”3 Dorothea had been ignored and neglected by her mother all her life, and she saw no need to help her now. The Duchess was incensed, but eventually, the two settled on Dorothea being polite to Edmond for the duration of the festivities so “it will at least appear that you are giving the proposal some serious thought.”4 In yet another betrayal of trust, Dorothea was then convinced that Prince Adam did not consider himself engaged to her and was, in fact, engaged to another.
A grieving Dorothea then announced to her mother that she was ready to marry anyone thought to be desirable – even Count Edmond. She then locked herself in her room and stayed there for the rest of the day – crying her eyes out. The following day – with her eyes still red from crying – she was left alone with Edmond. She told him, “I hope, sir, that you will be happy in this marriage which has been arranged for us. I must tell you, however, what you probably know already, that I am giving way to my mother’s wishes, not with actual repugnance it is true, but at least with the most complete indifference towards you. Perhaps I will be happy – I like to think so anyway – but I am sure you will understand my regrets at leaving my country and my friends and won’t resent the sorrow which I will feel, at first at any rate.” To which Edmond replied, “My God! I find that perfectly natural. For that matter, I am only marrying myself as to please my uncle. At my age, you know, it’s much more fun being a bachelor.”5 A promising start to a marriage, indeed.
On 22 April 1809, Dorothea married Edmond in Frankfurt in a Catholic ceremony. None of her three sisters was present as they were all anti-French. Within two days, Edmond had left his bride to rejoin the army in Austria. Dorothea set out for Paris where Napoleon’s star was still flying high. Dorothea and her mother initially stayed with Edmond’s uncle Charles at his mansion in the Rue de Varenne. After two weeks, they moved to Rosny, and Dorothea was only too pleased to be away from the Parisian society for now.
Peace was signed in October 1809, and Edmond returned to Paris, where Dorothea had also returned after six months in Rosny. He found her quite different from the quiet, skinny schoolgirl, and it appears she had a growth spurt. Now, her full emersion into the Parisian society could begin, and for the next two years, they were at almost every event on the social calendar. Initially wary of the society, Dorothea became delighted by it and quickly gained confidence. She was also appointed as one of the ladies-in-waiting to the new Empress – Marie Louise of Austria. However, she found the duties rather boring.
On 12 March 1811, Dorothea gave birth to her first child – a son named Napoleon-Louis – and both the Emperor and the Empress stood as godparents for the infant. By the end of the year, she was pregnant again and on 9 April 1812, she gave birth to a daughter – named Dorothea Charlotte Emilie. A third child – named Alexandre Edmond – was born on 15 December 1813. However, her marriage to Edmond was nothing but an empty shell, and he was more often away than he was at home – either at war, gambling or with other women. Meanwhile, Dorothea was growing closer to her uncle by marriage, Charles, who was nearly 40 years her senior.
Then came the rocky years of Napoleon’s downfall, second rise and ultimate demise. Charles told Dorothea to stay put at Rosny and blamed her absence on an illness following the birth of her third child, which was not entirely a lie. Charles – ever the statesman – had waited for this moment and welcomed Tsar Alexander of Russia as the conqueror of France. Only then, did he summon Dorothea from Rosny to share in the glory. The Bourbon family returned from exile and Charles was installed as their Minister for Foreign Affairs. During these years, Dorothea’s little daughter and namesake died of smallpox – leaving her devastated.6