An Atcherley in Germany

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Elizabeth Atcherley [] lived a remarkable life. She married a Prussian Count and became Countess Elizabeth Krockow von Wickerode. She also developed intimate friendships with some very notable people – a German baroness who travelled Europe promoting kindergartens, a leading German novelist, a brilliant Polish pianist, the mistress (and later wife) of a famous composer of operas, and the great composer himself, Richard Wagner. It was written of Elizabeth that “She knew half the world, most of the well-known and celebrated personalities of her time, many scholars, and above all, many artists.”

Were it not for Elizabeth’s relationships with so many notable people, we would know very little about her. She was baptised at Wolborough St Mary, in Devon, on 18 March 1811, daughter of Rowland Atcherley and his wife Eliza (née Oliver). But while her siblings make appearances on English census returns from 1841 up to 1891, Elizabeth does not feature on a single schedule as she spent so much of her adult life on the European mainland.

When the 1841 census was taken, for example, Elizabeth was almost certainly in Dresden. The evidence for this can be found in a book about Baroness Bertha von Marenholtz-Bülow written by the Baroness’s niece, Bertha Bülow-Wendhausen: “In the winter of 1840 [a later passage in the book gives the year as 1841] my aunt for the first time visited Dresden with her whole family. … She met many old friends … [and] also made new friends among whom were Miss Elizabeth Atcherley who later became Countess Krockow-Wickerode and to whom my aunt remained affectionately attached until the death of that lady.”

Elizabeth, according to the younger Bertha, “could not exactly be called beautiful, but she had a tall, imposing figure and a remarkable, pale, interesting face, with a high clever forehead, surrounded by short black curls. Beneath this forehead lay rather deeply-set, dark eyes—not large, not even very bright, but eyes which held people spellbound, which could not be forgotten, and by which she could attract everybody she wished.”

Through her associations with some of the people she attracted, we can follow Elizabeth’s life during the 1840s, ’50s, ’60s and into the 1870s, until her death in 1882.

Countess Ida Hahn-Hahn

Ida Hahn-HahnFrom Bertha’s writings we know that another friendship formed by both her aunt and Elizabeth Atcherley during the winter of 1840-41 “was with Countess Ida Hahn-Hahn, who was at this time at the height of her literary career and had not yet begun to use her talents in the interests of Romanism.” It has been written that for many years, Countess Hahn-Hahn’s novels were “the most popular works of fiction in aristocratic circles” and that her best works were Ulrich andGräfin Faustine, published in 1841, with other stories published later in the 1840s (Sigismund Forster, Cecil and Sibylle) also being well received.

Ida Hahn-Hahn’s friendship with Elizabeth Atcherley continued for some years, and one result of this is that we have evidence of Elizabeth’s return to England in the late 1840s. Ida dedicated her novel Levin, published in 1847, to “Elizabeth Atcherley in Newton Abbot Devonshire.” A few years later, after the Countess wrote about her life and her conversion from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism in Von Babylon nach Jerusalem and Aus Jerusalem, these books were translated into English by Elizabeth Atcherley. From Babylon to Jerusalem was published in 1851, and From Jerusalem in 1852.

Count Carl Reinhold Johann Krockow von Wickerode

1852 was also the year in which Elizabeth married Graf (or Count) Carl (or Karl) Reinhold Johann Krockow von Wickerode. The wedding took place at the Holy Trinity Church in Brompton, Middlesex on 19 July, and the marriage register showed that Elizabeth, daughter of “Roland Atcherley” (actually Rowland Atcherley) was living in Brompton and was 38 years of age. She was in fact 41, which made her 14 years older than her husband.

Carl Krockow von Wickerode was, at the time of his marriage to Elizabeth, aged 28 and a gentleman, living in Kensington (according to the marriage register). A marriage notice in The Times stated that he was of “Koslawagura, Upper Silesia, Prussia.” Two different editions of the Gotha Genealogical Handbook agree on the date when Carl was born (27 Jan 1825) but give slightly different places of birth. Both of those places were situated in “Hinterpommern” – Farther or Eastern Pomerania, which had become part of Prussia (and is now part of Poland). Carl’s father is named in one of the handbooks as Karl Gustav Adolf Graf Krockow von Wickerode (born 17 May 1800 and died 30 April 1842).

Of the Count and Countess, Bertha Bülow-Wendhausen wrote:

Although considerably younger than she, he gave up everything for her sake, and handed the Majorat, the entailed estate, over to his younger brother. The Count, a handsome, stately man, with real, aristocratic features, blue eyes and a splendid long fair beard, was a great sportsman. His book on his African travels and sport is well known, and whenever the countess came alone to Dresden, she used to announce: ‘I come alone—Karlo could not come with me—he has to shoot.’ When I became acquainted with them, they still were a remarkably fine couple, she, with her stately appearance and still dark hair, beautiful in her long ermine cape; he already grey and tormented by gout; but, when decorated on great occasions with the Sohanniter cross, a picture of refinement. A German housewife, the countess really never became; it lay too far from her nature. The count looked after what was necessary, whilst the countess devoted herself to her studies.

Baroness Bertha von Marenholtz-Bülow

Bertha Marenholtz-BülowBaroness Bertha von Marenholtz-Bülow was a keen advocate of Friedrich Fröbel’s methods of education. Fröbel’s career in this field had started in 1805. Recognising the values of play and contact with nature in children’s education, Fröbel developed the concept (and invented the name) of the kindergarten – literally, “children’s garden”. Baroness von Marenholtz-Bülow has been described as “the most important woman who undertook propaganda work for the kindergarten, almost single-handedly launching the movement in Britain, France, Belgium and Holland.” Following the death of Fröbel in 1852, Marenholtz-Bülow embarked on a series of lecturing tours which took in London (in 1854) and then Paris. Countess Elizabeth Krockow von Wickerode not only accompanied Marenholtz-Bülow on her trip to London, she also translated her friend’s book about Fröbel’s methods. Woman’s educational mission: being an explanation of Frederick Fröbel’s system of Infant Gardens was published in 1855, and it included this preface by its translator:

Of late years public attention has been particularly directed to the extensive improvement of the education of all classes. The Educational Exhibition of the Society of Arts in St. Martin’s Hall, in the year 1854, tended to give an additional impulse to the great educational movement. Amongst the variety of objects there exhibited, Frederick Fröbel’s games and occupations for early childhood attracted general notice. Since the closing of the Exhibition, his method of instruction has not only been made a subject of investigation by those who are engaged in the matter of education, but, in consequence of the satisfactory explanation of his system that has been given before the most competent judges, by those Germans who have imported it from Germany, his principles of instruction have been adopted, and are now being carried into operation in some of the most distinguished educational establishments in the metropolis. The demand that has thus been raised for a translation of some German works explanatory of Fröbel’s method of instruction, is the inducement to offer the present little volume to the English public. It has been translated from the original of the Baroness von Marenholtz—the same lady who sent Fröbel’s inventions for the use of children to the Exhibition—and it is to be hoped that it may be followed by a translation of Fröbel’s own works, in order that an intelligent public may obtain a more perfect and detailed account of that system, which is in every way calculated to produce an extensive and sweeping reformation in education in general.

The Wagners, and Carl Tausig

Another of Elizabeth’s friends was Cosima von Bülow, daughter of the famous pianist and composer Franz Liszt. Cosima had married one of her father’s pupils, Hans von Bülow, but the marriage was not a happy one. During the 1860s Cosima found love with the composer and conductor Richard Wagner. Cosima had three children by Wagner before Hans von Bülow finally granted her a divorce, paving the way for her marriage to Wagner in 1870. Elizabeth’s friendship with Richard Wagner developed a few years after she became acquainted with Cosima, although the two had known of each other for some time and very nearly met in Vienna in the early 1860s. That meeting however did not come to pass, despite the fact that both parties wished for it.

Carl TausigElizabeth was at that time a very close friend of Carl Tausig, a brilliant pianist and composer from Warsaw. He had been taught by Lizst, and was a friend of Richard Wagner. The closeness of Elizabeth’s relationship with Tausig did not go unnoticed by Wagner when the three of them were staying in Vienna. Wagner later wrote in his autobiography:

… I thought Tausig’s curious conduct at my hotel suspicious. I was told that he took his meals in the downstairs restaurant, after which he climbed up past my floor to the fourth storey, to pay long visits to Countess Krockow. When I asked him about it, and learned that the lady in question was also a friend of Cosima’s, I expressed my surprise at his not introducing me. He continued to evade this suggestion with singularly vague phrases, and when I ventured to tease him by the supposition of a love affair, he said there could be no question of such a thing, as the lady was old. So I let him alone, but the amazement which his peculiar behaviour then caused me was intensified some years later when I at last learned to know Countess Krockow very well, and was assured of her deep interest in me. It seemed that she had desired nothing more than to make my acquaintance also at that time, but that Tausig had always refused to find an opportunity, and had made the excuse that I did not care about women’s society.

Carl Tausig went on to marry Seraphine von Vrabély, a fellow pianist, but after that marriage broke down he resumed his friendship with Elizabeth Krockow von Wickerode. When he died in Leipzig on 17 July 1871, a victim of typhoid at the age of just 29, Elizabeth was at his bedside. So too was another admirer, Countess Marie Mouchanoff-Kalergis. One author wrote that Tausig was “devotedly nursed to the last” by these two; another that the pianist expired “between the two people who knew and loved him best.”

Elizabeth sent letters to the Wagners both before and after Tausig’s death. Cosima’s diary recorded that the first letter, in which Elizabeth relayed the news that she was in the hospital at Leipzig with the dying Tausig, was received on 18 July. Two days later came Elizabeth’s second letter, confirming that Tausig has passed away. Elizabeth met with the Wagners on Whit Sunday the following year (19 May 1872). She was one of several people who saw the couple that day – among the others was Friedrich Nietzsche.

Bertha Bülow-Wendhausen

Bertha Bülow-Wendhausen, niece of the Baroness Bertha von Marenholtz-Bülow, regarded Elizabeth as a very dear friend who spent several weeks in Dresden in the Spring. “On account of this delightful visit,” Bertha wrote, “Spring was to me the best time of the whole year, for with the first roses and the magnolias so beloved by her, she appeared, always full of interest for each and all—sharing our joys and sorrows—always in admiring love and friendship for my aunt—always this wonderful unique personality.”

Elizabeth’s death on 12 Oct 1882, in Luben, Germany, was a great loss which was keenly felt by her young friend:

The countess … appeared also on the occasion of Fröbel’s hundredth anniversary [21 April 1882] … Even then, the countess was ailing, but we never dreamt on saying good bye, that so soon we should have to lose her. But next autumn she was struck down by an apoplectic fit and died some weeks later in the arms of her husband and of an American lady, who was very devoted to her, and who, on the news of her severe illness, had hurried across the ocean to nurse her. Her death was a terrible blow to us; my aunt felt it deeply. Countess Krockow’s loss is still mourned by me, and I cannot get over it, even now, after so many years have elapsed. When spring comes into the country, and when the first roses and magnolias are blooming, my longing awakens for the beloved friend and for the intercourse with this interesting and original soul.

Postscript: Alida Elizabeth Marjorie Schoonmaker (or Schoomaker)

The American lady who had hurried across the ocean to nurse Elizabeth in her final days was almost certainly Alida Schoonmaker (born about 1858 in New York, USA). Alida was a student at the Empress Augusta Institute in Berlin and afterwards studied at Dresden and Venice. On 22 August 1883, at Brompton in Middlesex, she married Count Krockow von Wickerode and became his second wife. The Count died in 1901, while Alida lived until 1940.

Picture credits. Ida Hahn-Hahn: Wikimedia Commons. Bertha von Marenholtz-Bülow: The life of the Baroness von Marenholtz-Bülow (public domain – copyright expired). Carl Tausig: Wikimedia Commons.


[1] Wolborough St Mary, Devon, England, parish register covering 1811; entry for the baptism of “Elizabeth Daughter of Rowland & Eliza Atcherly”.
[2] Bertha Bülow-Wendhausen (1901), The life of the Baroness von Marenholtz-Bülow.
[3] Wikipedia: Ida, Countess von Hahn-Hahn.
[4] Ida Hahn-Hahn (1847), Levin.
[5] Bayard Quincy Morgan (1922), A bibliography of German literature in English Translation.
[6] Copy of Brompton Holy Trinity marriage register viewed at website (London, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754-1921).
[7] The Times, issue 21177, 26 Jul 1852, page 9.
[8] Justhus Perthes (ed.) (1894), Gothaisches Genealogisches Taschenbuch der Gräflichen Häuser.
[9] Justhus Perthes (ed.) (1871), Gothaisches Genealogisches Taschenbuch der Gräflichen Häuser.
[10] Wikipedia: Friedrich Fröbel.
[11] Mary Hilton (2007), Women and the Shaping of the Nation’s Young: Education and Public Doctrine in Britain 1750-1850.
[12] Bertha von Marenholtz-Bülow (1855) (translated by Elizabeth Krockow), Woman’s educational mission: being an explanation of Frederick Fröbel’s system of Infant Gardens.
[13] Wikipedia: Cosima Wagner.
[14] Wikipedia: Richard Wagner.
[15] Richard Wagner (1911) (authorised translation from the German), My Life. Volume 2, page 846.
[16] Wikipedia: Carl Tausig.
[17] Alan Walker (2005): Reflections on Liszt.
[18] Martin Gregor-Dellin (1983), Richard Wagner, his life, his work, his century.
[19] Milton E Brener (2006), Richard Wagner and the Jews.
[20] Geoffrey Skelton (translator) (1977), Cosima Wagner’s Diaries, 1869-1877.
[21] Huguenot Street: List of Personal and Family Papers
[22] Copy of Brompton Holy Trinity marriage register viewed at website (London, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754-1921).