column house divided affections

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It was the palace of the late Queen Caroline, once painted by Maria. Across the lake, in an elegant waterside house, the wretched queen took the first steps towards her disgrace. One of the servants, Pergami, wormed his way into her confidence and then her bed. Stooping to consort with a major domo gave the King the evidence he wanted. He almost succeeded in getting rid of her by trial in the House of Lords. The masses supported the unfortunate queen, pitying her as the victim of a cruel husband. Her popularity was so great that the politicians didn’t dare to find her guilty of adultery. Maria was in London at the time, caring for Richard after his health failed. Her letters to Annette Prodon, now one of her schoolmistresses, were full of the cause célèbre:

We have a terrible example in the Queen; one cannot find her criminal and the King would give, I believe, half of his empire for a divorce; and yet here she is! In what a state! Upsetting all the Nation, herself plunged in an abyss…all by an imprudent conduct. Ah! my dear, inculcate in the children religion, morality, common sense, a healthy judgement…

The poor queen was unlucky or unwise on the shores of Como, but Maria found the key to the rest of her life in this lacustral paradise. In Bellagio, a few miles to the north, Melzi had introduced her to the magical region on her journey back to Lyon. And it was here that the plan for a school in Italy was born, later supported by Melzi with deeds as well as words. His confidence in Maria’s methods took concrete expression with the purchase of a disaffected convent in the town of Lodi, some twenty miles south of Milan. With a patron like Melzi all went swiftly. Five months after visiting him, the Convent di Santa Maria delle Grazie was hers and three months later on 1st April 1812, Signora Cosway opened a school with one pupil, Giuseppina Menrisi, and two French mistresses, Annette Prodon and Josephine Lambreaux. By the end of the year there were some forty young girls in her charge and now over thirteen years later more than fifty.