Thursday, 22 November 2012

Russian War hero visits Alton Towers 1839

Gallitzin- a battle hardened visitor comes to Alton Towers

It is gratifying to note that corrections in spectacular mistakes in newspapers are not a new phenomenon. I came across such a correction in the Staffordshire Advertiser in July 1839 concerning a distinguished visitor to the home of the Earl of Shrewsbury- Alton Towers. The newspaper amended a previous report that Prince Dmitry Gallitzin of the Imperial Russian court was the governor of Moscow and not Mexico as had been previous stated.

It was something about the name Gallitzin that triggered a response in me. I looked further. They were an extended family of Russian aristocrats that served the Czar’s right up to the revolution where a descendent of Dmitry was the last Prime Minister to Nicholas II and like his master was shot by the Communists. The one who visited Staffordshire in the 1830s was a soldier. He seems to have been involved in every battle fought against Napoleon from Austerlitz in 1805 to the killing grounds of Borodino in 1812. His mother was the model for the poets Pushkin’s “Queen of Spades”, she was also known as the “moustached lady”, and his brother Nicolay was a patron of Beethoven and commissioned the late string quartets. While Dmitry was in the area he visited the Potteries he visited the Copeland showrooms.

The Battle of Borodino was a ferocious encounter fought was the largest and bloodiest single-day action in Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. It involved more than 250,000 troops and resulting in at least 70,000 casualties. Such losses were next seen in World War One. The French attacked the Russians under General Kutuzov, but failed to destroy the Russian army despite heavy losses. About a third of Napoleon's soldiers were killed or wounded; Russian losses were also heavy. Gallitzin commanded a cavalry division. The Russians retreated after the engagement and the French advanced on Moscow burning it before being forced into an ignominious retreat. By the time they left Russian lands over 300,000 had died in fighting or cold and disease. In the depths of the savage winter the retreating French ate their horses and huddled inside the carcasses of animals to keep warm. The campaign forms a backdrop to Tolstoy’s great novel “War and Peace”. Given this experience the life of French Prisoners of War at this time lozzucking in Leek would seem to be cushy.