In 1825, Dorothea thought it was time to finally have a home she could call her own, and she purchased the château of Rochecotte. It was to be her favourite home for the next twenty years. She spent years improving it and enlarging it. Charles had his own rooms there, and he liked visiting it. During these years, Dorothea often suffered from bouts of ill-health – mostly from rheumatism.
In 1829, Charles arranged for the marriage of Dorothea’s eldest son Louis (formerly Napoleon-Louis, but his first name was now quite out of favour!) to Mademoiselle Alix de Montmorency. Dorothea wrote to him, “She is the great match of the season, and Monsieur de Talleyrand (Charles) did not wish to let it escape from Louis whom he intends to vest with a magnificent fortune.”1 Louis was created Duke of Valençay by King Charles X and Charles passed the château to him. They were duly married on 26 February 1829.
It was almost as if this society wedding signalled Charles’ return to the political stage. The following year, King Charles X abdicated during the July Revolution, and the Duke of Orléans became Louis Philippe I, King of the French. In September, Dorothea arrived in Paris to pay homage to the new monarch and Charles was offered the job of Ambassador to the Court of St. James. He was rather hesitant, but Dorothea knew this was the right job for him and urged him to take it. At the end of September, both he and Dorothea were on their way to London.
The United Kingdom also had a brand new monarch – King William IV had become King upon the death of his brother on 26 June 1830. And William was very unhappy with Charles’ appointment as ambassador, while the new Queen “would have no time for any private meeting with the Dino.”2 Despite this, their reception was not quite as bad as expected. Dorothea was once more set to work as a hostess, and the embassy had to be the place to be. This she managed with flair, though the expense was such that they would leave much poorer four years later.
In November 1834, Charles left his post as ambassador – he had begun to feel his age; he was by then 80 years old. Dorothea was sad to leave and wrote, “Farewell to England but not to the memory of the four happy years which I have spent there… Farewell once more to this hospitable country which I leave with regrets and gratitude.”3 Shortly after the return to France, Dorothea’s first grandchild – a granddaughter named Yolande – tragically died at the age of two. Dorothea had never been a fan of her daughter-in-law, but the tragedy drew the two women closer – for a time. Dorothea’s youngest child Pauline had gone with them to England and was 15 upon their return to France – ready to enter society. However, Dorothea’s main concern was Charles’ failing health.
In the end, it was Charles’ forgotten wife Catherine who died before him on 9 December 1835. He only said, “That simplifies my position.”4 When Dorothea fell ill in December 1837, it even seemed he might outlive her. It appeared to have been some kind of stroke, but she recovered. On 17 May 1838, Dorothea and Pauline stood by his bedside as he died at the age of 84. It was the end of an era.
Dorothea was 44 years old at the time of Charles’ death. She wrote, “I have lost Monsieur de Talleyrand either fifteen years too late or fifteen years too soon; at an age when it is most difficult to begin life on a new footing.”5 With Charles’ death, her estranged husband Edmond succeeded to the title of Duke of Talleyrand (which had been ceded to Charles’ brother during Charles’ lifetime), making Dorothea Duchess of Talleyrand as well. Her first thought after Charles’ death was that she wanted to get out of Paris. She took Pauline to Baden to find some rest before she could decide what to do with the rest of her life. After two months, she returned to Paris – ready to face the administrative mess that was left behind.
The first task ahead was finding a husband for Pauline, and they found a suitable one in the form of Henri de Castellane. He was not only rich, but he also stood to inherit the title of marquis de Castellane. They were married in April 1839, leaving just Dorothea’s second son Alexandre unmarried. In October 1839, he married Valentine de Sainte-Aldegonde, though Dorothea was less than pleased with the match. With all her children now safely married, it was time to revisit her estates in Germany, which had prospered in her absence. The death of her sister Wilhelmina without heirs added an extra reason for her to visit Germany. Her estates had been left to the second sister Pauline.
Dorothea arrived in Berlin right around the time that King Frederick William III of Prussia died. Nevertheless, she was warmly received. A few days later, she continued on to Silesia, where she found letters she had written in her youth. She then leisurely travelled back to France, once again by way of Berlin. In Carlsbad, she found her two surviving sisters, Pauline and Jeanne, who had met up there for the summer. It had been 16 years since she had seen either of them, and it was rather awkward at first.
Dorothea decided she needed to be around family and began to divide her time between France and Germany – she considered herself a true European.