I decided to set part of TO TEMPT
A RAKE at the Congress of Vienna, a diplomatic gathering
which convened in the fall of 1814 to reorganize Europe after
exile to Elba. Why? Because it's the perfect setting
for romance, intrigue and mystery. Emperors, kings, princes,
margraves, powerful government ministers and their entourages
all flocked to the Austrian capital to make peace . . . and
to make love (not necessarily in that order!) Yes, there were
serious discussions on borders, political alliances and other
such issues. However, the royals and all the others had come
not just to work but to play!
And play they did! Vienna was THE ultimate party town at the time.
Anybody who was anybody wanted to be there, to rub shoulders (and
other unmentionable body parts) with the kings, princes, emperors
and other high profile celebrities.
The Emperor of Austria hosted many of the dignitaries at his magnificent
castle, and his poor aides spent countless hours trying to figure
out the room assignments, taking into account who was sleeping
with whom, so that late night tiptoeing through the corridors
wouldn’t result in any embarrassing trip-ups.
Glittering balls, sumptuous banquets, fanciful medieval jousts,
spectacular fireworks—the daily list of extravagant entertainments
was mind-boggling. Party girls Princess Bagration and the Duchess
of Sagan (who was having a torrid affair with Prince Metternich,
the head of the Conference) vied with each other to see who could
attract the most influential men to their soirees. As for other
pleasures, well, let’s just say they all were intent on
having a good time. In fact, the Tsar of Russia—a notorious
skirtchaser—had to have a whole new wardrobe sent from St.
Petersburg because he gained so much weight partying every night!
(We girls can sympathize with that!)
Here’s are just a few of my favorite parties from the months
of non-stop entertainment:
The Emperor’s Ball
The Emperor of Austria hosted a welcoming ball for the international
array of royalty and diplomats . . . One of the “decorations”
was having the Duchess of Sagan and 23 of her friends come dressed
as the Four Elements: Six ladies dressed as Water, wearing blue
and green dresses festooned with pearls, coral and seashells.
Six wore bright red dresses and carried torches to represent Fire.
Six wore thin, nearly transparent gauzy dresses and wore wings
to be Air. And lastly, representing Earth, the Duchess and her
group wore brown velvet dresses and headdresses made out of golden
baskets filled with jeweled fruit!
This recreation of a medieval joust, held at the famous Spanish
Riding School (where the white Lipizzaner horses traditionally
were trained) was perhaps the most spectacular party of them all.
Glittering chandeliers and thousands of candles lit the indoor
arena. At one end was an imperial grandstand with gilded chairs
for all the royal guests. The other end was for the “Queens
of Love,” 24 ladies who had been selected to be the tournament’s
belles d’amour for the 24 “knights” who, mounted
on matching black chargers, jousted to win their favor. Around
1200 spectators, including ambassadors, diplomats and high-ranking
officials packed the remaining seats, and the display of jewelry
and sumptuous dresses worn by the ladies was said to be dazzling.
After a mock combat with lances (only one casualty resulted when
Prince Liechtenstein was knocked unconscious from his horse) the
crowd returned to the Emperor of Austria’s palace for a
banquet where acrobats, minstrels and jugglers entertained the
Now I ask you, what could be a more perfect setting for a sexy
historical romance that combines seduction and intrigue.
Tsar Alexander I of Russia
Prince Metternich of Austria
The Peace Ball
The Spanish Riding School
The Duchess of Sagan
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord of
The Duke of Wellington of
The Emperor of Austria
A satirical cartoon depicting the
leaders of the Congress
One of the many lavish balls
The King of Prussia