January 22 1815: Sleigh Party at the Congress of Vienna

“The next day [January 22 1815 ] witnessed one of the most memorable, as well as the most frivolous, entertainments of the whole congress. Heavy snow on 15 January, followed by a strong frost and a cold spell, provided the perfect conditions for Trautmannsdorff to organise a grand sleighing party. Thirty-two sleighs, upholstered in green and blue velvet, embroidered with gold, drawn by horses coiffed with ostrich plumes, assembled in the grand court of the Hofburg.

A huge sleigh drawn by six horses and carrying an orchestra opened the procession. It was followed by a second driven by the Emperor Francis himself, with the Tsarina at his side. Then came the others. ‘Each sledge was drawn by a single pair of horses, covered with richly embroidered cloths of gold, with plumes upon their heads and necks, and a great mass of silver or gilded bells hanging in the usual manner across their shoulders. A servant in a rich fur cloak stood behind each sledge, and between each, three or four equerries attended, in the uniforms and liveries of the Emperor, or of their respective masters.’ The rear was brought up by another large sleigh full of musicians, this time a ‘Turkish’ band. It was, in the words of Count Otto von Löwenstern, ‘a great display of coquetterie et luxe’. ‘The merry silver bells, the embroideries, the fringes, were all new, and glitteringly bright as the frost-bound snow,’ he continues. ‘The cavaliers for the most part were beaux; les dames, without exception of course, très-belles, and all muffled up in ravishingly becoming velvet and furs.’

The event began with farce. Just as the sleighs were about to move off, Stewart, probably drunk, drove his own coach and four into the courtyard, and stopped, blocking the exit. Lord Pumpernickel, as he had been dubbed, after the character of a cretinous lout in a popular play running at the time, refused to move out of the way, defying orders and threats. It was only after his horses had been seized by their bridles and the carriage had been pulled away that the party could begin.33 The procession of sleighs snaked through the streets of the city and out of it all the way to Schönbrunn, where they were drawn up in a rank surrounding the frozen pond, on which a pair of Dutch skaters dressed as milkmaids performed a ballet. They were followed by an Englishman who cut the monograms of the sovereigns into the ice with his skates, after which the company alighted and went into the palace, where they watched a performance of Cinderella, then dined and danced before climbing back into their sleighs. The procession then returned to Vienna by torchlight through the falling snow. ‘As it approached over the glacis, an open space between the walls of the city and its suburbs, the effect was very striking,’ according to one onlooker. ‘The ground was covered with deep snow, and the winding course of the procession was marked like a river of fire, by the flames of the moving torches.’ Just to round off the evening, there was a masked ball at the Hofburg.”

— Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna by Adam Zamoyski

The photograph above is of ‘Strauss playing in snow, Vienna February 2013’ by peetjvaneeden.

My apologies. I initially had identified the sleigh party as taking place on January 23 and not the correct date of January 22, 1815.

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