Friday, July 22, 2011

From Princess to Poverty: Elizabeth of Hungary

Princess Elizabeth of Hungary,
Landgravine of Thuringia
Painting by Edmund Blair Leighton

One of the most beloved saints of the Catholic Church is Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. Born a Hungarian princess and died in profound poverty at the age of 24, she is an inspiration to many and one of the influential women of the Middle Ages. Through her daughter Sophia, Duchess of Brabant, she is the ancestress of the House of Hesse and almost all royal houses throughout Europe.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Olga Nikolaievna of Russia: The Second Russian Queen in Wurttemberg

Portrait of Queen Olga of Wurttemberg
by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
(Current Location: Landesmuseum Wurttemberg)
Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaievna was the second daughter of Nicholas I of Russia and his consort Alexandra Feodorovna. She was born on August 30, 1822 in the Anichkov Palace. While pregnant with Olga, Alexandra had suffered some anxiety because two years earlier, she gave birth to a stillborn daughter. Fortunately, this time, everything went well and the newborn daughter was named Olga, probably in honor of Princess Olga of Kiev. Within the family, she was called 'Ollie'.

In 1825, when Olga was 3 years old, her father ascended the throne as Nicholas I. The Emperor and the Empress doted on their children and Olga grew up in a loving and close-knit family. Nicholas and Alexandra were able to create a real home - a "happy island" in the words of the grand duchess: "Along with a very strict upbringing, on the other hand, we were given a lot of freedom. My father demanded strict obedience, but allowed us pleasure inherent in our childhood, which he himself loved to decorate what some unexpected surprises. "

In 1828, Olga was given a governess of a Swedish descent and a Protestant faith, Charlotte Duncker. Well-educated and strict, she inspired her student to work and study hard. In five years, Olga could read and write in three languages. However, according to her, her religious upbringing was rather superficial. "We are surrounded by Protestant teachers, who barely knew our language and our Church." She explained that because of the religious differences that existed in their environment, she and her siblings developed a strong attraction to their Orthodox faith.

Her education consisted of studying languages (German, French and English), history and geography. She learned how to play the harpsichord and the organ. However, her passion were painting and sculpting. One of her tutors, Count Vasily Zhukovsky, who had to return to Germany before Olga finished her education, wrote about her to her sister Maria: "Olga is very industrious. ...and always very, very attentive. She listens diligently, and does not forget what she learned... I am sorry that I do not have more time: it is a great pleasure to learn with her..."

In 1838, the imperial family traveled to Prussia to visit Empress Alexandra's father, King Frederick William II. It was Olga's second trip abroad. She recalled how she and her sisters enjoyed their stay with their Prussian relatives, where there were always jokes and laughter. The old King loved being surrounded by his Russian granddaughters. Olga recalled how during dinners, he always wanted Maria, Olga and Alexandra to be seated across from him, and how he "liked to look at [them] all and enjoy [their] beauty". Olga also mentioned that among the three of them, it was she who bore little resemblance to their mother, and opined that Alexandra was their grandfather's favorite because she, the King said, "was the only one among us who look 'Prussian' with her snub nose and a sly face."

It was in also in Prussia that Olga met the Crown Prince Maximilian of Bavaria. In Charlottenburg, she was able to dance with him in a cotillion. The Bavarian royal family wanted Max to marry one of the Russian princesses, and they thought about Maria. But the Crown Prince told Olga that he saw a resemblance between her and a portrait in one of the Bavarian palaces, and so it was only her that he wanted to marry. At first, Olga didn't know that she was already being courted. When her mother told her about Max's intention, Olga refused even to think about marriage.

After the marriage of their sister Maria to the Duke of Leuchtenberg, and their brother Alexander being away for periods of time in search for a bride, Olga became closer to her sister Alexandra. "We talked a lot together, especially about the future... Most of it was about our future children, whom we will love and believe passionately, fill them with respect to all the beautiful and above all to the ancestors and their deeds, and to imbue them with love and devotion to our family. Our future husbands do not take us completely, it was enough that they seemed to us perfect and full of generosity."

By this time also, Olga was already 19, attractive, cultured and still unmarried. She was regarded as one of the most eligible princesses in Europe. After the wedding of her sister Maria, who married a prince below her rank, their parents were determined to find Olga a royal husband. Back in 1838, there was Max of Bavaria, but neither Olga nor her family liked him. A year later, their thoughts turned to Archduke Stephan of Austria. He was the son of Archduke Joseph, Palatine of Hungary (Joseph's first wife was none other than Olga's aunt, Alexandra Pavlovna) from his second marriage. Olga liked Stephan, but a possible marriage between her and Stephan was prevented by his stepmother, who, probably out of jealousy, didn't like a Russian relative of Alexandra Pavlovna. Furthermore, Austria didn't want a princess with an Orthodox faith as this can lead to social unrest among the minorities. By 1840, Olga decided that there was no need to rush into marriage. She was happy to stay home. Her father told her that she was free to choose who she like.

When Prince Frederick William of Hesse-Kassel visited Russia in 1843, Nicholas and Alexandra were hopeful that he might consider marrying the already 21-year-old Olga. He was introduced to her when he came to Peterhof. Olga seemed to have liked Frederick and enjoyed his company and conversation. However, the next day, Frederick met the 18 year-old Alexandra, and to everyone's surprise, fell in love with the younger princess. Realizing that the couple were very much in love with each other, Olga graciously 'stepped aside' in favor of her sister. Frederick William and Alexandra married in January 1844 but the couple's blissful married life was tragically cut short when Alexandra died 6 months later from consumption and premature childbirth.

Later that year, Adolf, Duke of Nassau came to visit Russia with his younger brother Maurice. The Emperor and the Empress were considering this visit as a great opportunity for a marriage between Adolf and Olga. However, their hopes were dashed once again when Adolf fell in love and decided to marry Olga's cousin, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mikhailovna. The Emperor was surprised, but Olga wrote that "he had nothing against [the match]".

Meanwhile Olga turned 22 year old, still unmarried, and a suitable groom can't still be found.

Olga was said to have a strong personality and was very much like her father "with regular features, a strong will and a persistent nature". While on the other hand, she also inherited her mother's "femininity and angelic tenderness". She was described as the ideal feminine beauty: "tall, slender, blond, with a cameo profile and big blue eyes."

The death of Olga's younger sister Alexandra in the summer of 1844 was a devastating blow to the whole family. Olga's grief in the death of her beloved sister inspired her to write her memoirs later in life and described how it felt without Alexandra, the favorite of the family. She described her as "a lark that emanates with joy." The Empress was doubly affected by Alexandra's death. Not of a robust constitution, her grief greatly worsened her health. She was advised by her physicians to spend sometime abroad and to benefit in the warm climate of the South. Olga was to accompanied her mother, and wrote sadly that the trip was like a death sentence. "Away from the family, from home, without Papa and my brothers, wandering around Europe, not knowing when we can return." Olga, her mother and a few staff wander across Europe, visiting one health resort to another. When they reach their final destination, Palermo in Italy, the Empress's health certainly improved and Olga happily wrote that her mother was doing quite well, was able to put on some weight, was more cheerful and was strong enough to do everyday activities. It was also during this stay in Italy that Olga received a letter that would finally decide her fate. The letters that Olga received are from Stuttgart. The first dispatch of letters contained a request from the King of Wurttemberg to introduced his son to Olga, because the prince wanted to meet her. The second dispatch was a letter from Count Metternich stating that the Austrian Imperial Family were interested in a rapprochement, regarding the failed match between Archduke Stephan and Olga.

Olga felt confused and in her own words, the first time she went in doubt. She didn't want to be bound to a husband, who, not having a firm position, depends entirely to Metternich. The unexpected request from Stuttgart made her more confused and undecided. But she later remembered her father's advice that everything is in God's hands. She decided to visit Stuttgart to meet the Crown Prince of Wurttemberg, and it was after then that she would decide which of the two candidates is more suitable for her.

Then Olga made her decision. She decided that she would chose to marry Crown Prince Charles of Wurttemberg. Her reason for selecting him was familial. Among all the ruling families in Germany, Wurttemberg was most closely associated with the Romanovs. Olga's grandmother, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna was born a princess of Wurttemberg, so was her aunt, Elena Pavlovna, and another aunt, Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna was once married to the King of Wurttemberg.

Crown Prince Charles of Wurttemberg arrived in Palermo on January 1, 1846. On their first meeting, Olga felt nervous but not shy. She recalled how she immediately fell in love with his soft voice, and admired his figure, his brown eyes and how his hair framed his forehead and temples. "He was rather shy and spoke little." After several meetings, Olga accepted Charles's marriage proposal. She was brimming with happiness in this event, same also her whole family and Russia. The Russian Court sighed in relief upon receiving the news that she was marrying Charles instead of Archduke Stephan. "In Austria, she would be unhappy, as was the late Alexandra Pavlovna... Thank God she was saved from trouble and gave her a more dignified fiance."

After their engagement was announced, Olga spent most of her free-time with Charles:
"I looked at his eyes and listened to him in intently, but the upcoming big change in my life also interested me, so I kept clear memories and impressions. It seemed to me that it is more important and significant to know the character and nature of Charles. His childhood was not happy: his parents never had a harmonious time together. He grew up lonely, and his need for affection was great. He loved to talk to me while walking in the garden, on bank of the Arno. When I was sitting in the room with work in hand, he quickly grew impatient, and this reminded him of his joint family evenings at home, where his mother and sisters sat in silence for their work, shivering in advance of the chicanery of the King. When he found out that my birthday is on 11 September, he exclaimed: 'Oh, it lies exactly between the birthdays of my parents! This may mean that you are destined to become the connecting link between the two.' He guessed my nature and I have thus the direction of my path."

Olga and Charles were married in great splendor at the Peterhof Palace in Russia on July 1846. Olga looked radiant. After the Orthodox wedding, a Lutheran one followed. The celebration lasted for several days and then the couple attended a ball in their honor. The people observed: "She was incomparably beautiful. Her husband was not handsome, but his face radiates common sense and kindness."

In September, Olga and Charles left Russia for Wurttemberg. She was enthusiastically welcomed by the people. The couple settled in Villa Berg in Stuttgart. Less than a month after her arrival to her new homeland, Olga was settling herself with great ease, bringing herself closer to her new country and her people: "It's comforting to think in a moment of separation that my grandmother was born unforgettably in this land where I was destined to live and where Ekaterina Pavlovna left so many memories. They love their Russian name, and Württemberg connected us by many ties."


"The Golden Dream of My Youth" by Queen Olga of Wurttemberg

Sunday, July 17, 2011

'Dear Katya': Catherine Pavlovna of Russia

Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna of Russia,
Duchess of Oldenburg
Queen of Wurttemberg

"Catherine had eyes of fire and a figure of demi-goddess." 
- Nikolai M. Karamzin

Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna of Russia or "Katya" as she was affectionately called by her family, was the favorite sister of Alexander I and one of the few people he trusted implicitly. Elegantly beautiful, vivacious, highly-intelligent and ambitious, Catherine was one of the brightest stars in the Russian court. She exercised a considerable moral influence to Alexander and he kept up a detailed and continual correspondence with her over the years. Their 10 year age gap and their differences in personality didn't prevent these two people to become deeply attach to each other. Alexander was calm, humble and reserved. Catherine was whimsical, dramatic and impulsive. She had a fiery nature that Alexander found irresistible, and he adored and worshiped her, so much so that some people in the Russian court even suspected that they were having an incestuous relationship. But I strongly doubt that such a thing between Alexander and Catherine ever existed. They were simply too devoted to each other.

Catherine Pavlovna (or Ekaterina Pavlovna, the Russian equivalent of her name) was the fourth daughter of Paul I of Russia and Maria Feodorovna. She was born on 10 May 1788 in Tsarskoe Selo and was named in honor of her formidable grandmother, Empress Catherine II. Her birth was a disappointment to her parents, who were expecting a son, but the Empress was delighted with this little baby girl who was named after her. She wrote: "Yesterday, the grand duchess gave birth to a daughter that received my name - Catherine. Mother and daughter are healthy now."

Catherine's education began under the supervision of the Empress, and Countess Lieven became her governess. After the Empress's death, Maria Feodorovna continued the supervision of her daughter's education. Her education was "rigid" and Catherine grew up to be a witty and very intelligent woman, with a good sense of independence and individuality. In addition to French, German and English, Catherine was also fluent and wrote well in Russian - something that was rare for Russian women of high rank during those times. She was well-read in mathematics, economics, politics, history and geography. She was also taught in music and painting, and she was engaged in engraving. By the age of 16, her beauty became more noticeable. Her character became even more lively and sociable, and shyness was alien to her. But it was her eyes that greatly stood out, as the historian Nikolai Karamzin recalled: "Catherine had eyes of fire..." With her remarkable beauty, slender figure, brilliant mind and royal descent, Catherine was a much sought-after bride. The Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna wanted her daughter to be Empress of Austria, and this prospect was shared by the ambitious Catherine herself. However, Alexander I, who wanted a fine husband for his favorite sister, would not hear of it, since he thought that the Emperor Franz was too old for her, feeble and weak-willed. Furthermore, Alexander never forgot the unhappy life of his sister Alexandra in the Austrian court, which eventually resulted to her premature death.

Catherine on the other hand, was very keen to marry Emperor Franz and live in Austria. She wrote to her brother that even though Franz was already 40 years old, she didn't find that a problem, adding: "I understand that he is no Adonis, but he is a decent man, enough to make a happy family life." However, nothing came out from this possible marriage with Austria (due to the strong opposition of Alexander I), and soon Catherine, by this time already 20 years old, finds herself still unmarried.

In the summer of 1807, Alexander received a proposal from Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon wished to strengthen France's ties to Russia and he thought about marrying one of Alexander's sisters who was of marriageable age - Catherine. Alexander was shocked and he communicated this to his mother. The Dowager Empress was horrified; she didn't want any of her daughters to become wife of a "tyrant", as she called Napoleon. Catherine was likewise averse of Napoleon and she said "I would rather marry the last Russian stoker than that Corsican." Hastily, the Dowager Empress arranged for the meeting and subsequent betrothal of Catherine to Prince George of Oldenburg. They were married on 18 April 1809 when Catherine was already 21 years old. The tragic short life of Catherine's older sisters, Alexandra and Elena, who both died in childbirth, made the Dowager Empress determine not to marry off her remaining daughters in such early age.

Although it was said that Prince George of Oldenburg was neither handsome nor imposing, he was an honest and respectable man. Catherine became deeply attached to him, and felt happy and contented with her married life. Their honeymoon was spent in Pavlovsk and eventually Alexander gave them the Anichkov Palace in St. Petersburg. Later, Prince George was made Governor-General of Tver and he and Catherine moved there in August 1809. Catherine gave balls in the palace, festivities, illuminations and fireworks. She changed "the quiet and simple provincial life" in Tver. She made every effort to "give this dear place a piece of St. Petersburg". She became involved in charity, and, with a great sense of duty, adopted many public causes. According to the French Ambassador Joseph de Maiste: "The life of the Grand Duchess Catherine in Tver is truly astonishing. In the evening, her home is like a monastery. A famous writer, Mr. Karamzin, reads her lectures in Russian history... The Princess teaches Russian language to her husband and serves as a mediator between him and the common people. Her kindness and courtesy are unparalleled. If I were a painter, I would send a picture of her eyes, that you may have seen her good nature... And this young princess was high in favor to her brother [Alexander], who lavishes her...with much attention. She is very well-educated and very intelligent. Hers is a mind that can foresee a lot and take the most decisive measures."

In 8 August 1810, Catherine gave birth to her first son, Frederick Paul Alexander. And two years later, another son, Peter. During these times, Catherine exercised considerable influence to Alexander. He took her advice concerning domestic and foreign policy. She even showed consideration to his mistress, the wily and astute Maria Narishkina, which touched Alexander deeply. During the war with Napoleon, amidst the general confusion and distress, Catherine showed a remarkable energy and initiative. She was tireless in her every effort and Alexander admired her more than ever. Unfortunately, on December 1812, before the expulsion of the French troops from Russia, her husband Prince George fell ill and died of typhus. Catherine was devasted and wrote to Alexander: "I lost with him all." She felt her loss so much that for weeks, she refused to leave her room, crying and lamenting. Her family and her friends became so concerned about her that they feared her sanity, and persuaded her to travel around Europe to take her mind off things.

The widowed Catherine traveled extensively abroad, writing numerous letters to her mother. While staying in England, she met the Prince Regent, and he proposed to her. Catherine was shocked and refused his proposal. Thereafter, she refused ever meeting him again. Because of her behavior, which provoked the outrage of the royal court and the British public, relations between Russia and Britain became even more strained.

While staying in England, Catherine met her cousin, Crown Prince William of Wurttemberg. William was married to the gentle Princess Caroline of Bavaria but their marriage was deeply unhappy and remained childless. They divorced in 1814. And now William, lonely and very unhappy, fell in love with his charming and beautiful cousin. Catherine reciprocated his feelings, and finally William proposed to her. In January 1816, they were married. Soon, the couple moved to Stuttgart. Months later, King Frederick of Wurttemberg fell gravely ill. Despite the fact that Catherine was in the last month of her pregnancy, she was almost always near the patient and taking care of him. The king died and in the same day, Catherine gave birth to a daughter. She was named Marie Frederika Charlotte. William and Catherine were now the King and Queen of Wurttemberg.

Catherine's life in Wurttemberg didn't start off very well. She had to deal with difficult in-laws and the poor financial state of the kingdom. But, having a strong character and keeping in mind that she was a Russian grand duchess, she was able to install herself perfectly in her position, and gained the respect of the people. Just like what she did in Tver, she continued her efforts to the benefit of her new country. She became involved in charity and promoted many social causes, such as establishing schools, orphanages and workhouses, and helping farmers and horticulturists to better cultivate the land. Unfortunately, Catherine's life in Wurttemberg would be cut short.

In early 1819, less than three years in her adopted homeland, Catherine fell gravely ill with erysipelas which later complicated by pneumonia. She died in the morning of 9 January 1819. Her husband, who loved her and was greatly devoted to her, was devastated, and her children were deeply affected by the death of their mother. When Empress Maria Feodorovna received the news that her daughter had died, she burst into uncontrollable sobs and cried "No, it's not true! Dear Katya is not dead, it's a lie!"

To house the remains of her precious wife, the inconsolable William commissioned the Italian architect Giovanni Salucci to build a mausoleum at the peak of the Wurttemberg Hill in Stuttgart.
Catherine was outspoken, exuberant and had a very strong personality, but she also possessed great kindness, intellectual prowess and a non-judgmental approach towards people. She was devoted to Russia, and after marrying William, to Wurttemberg, which welfare was of an utmost important for her. She was a loving and devoted wife and mother, and the people of Wurttemberg greatly mourn the premature loss of their beloved Queen.

The Countess Lieven wrote about Catherine as Queen of Wurttemberg:
"I've never met a woman who was so much afflicted with the need to move, act, play a role and overshadow others. She has charming eyes and manners, confident gait, a proud and graceful posture. Although her features were not classic, her striking fresh complexion, bright eyes and gorgeous hair captivated everyone. She knew perfectly well all the rules of decency and was blessed with strong feelings of the sublime. She spoke briefly but eloquently, her tone was always commanding."
Maid-of-honor to the Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna, Countess Edling, wrote about Catherine:
"Ekaterina Pavlovna, sister of the emperor, later Queen of Wurttemberg, whose greatness of heart was equal to that of her mind, could charm any and dominate everyone who surround her. Beautiful and fresh as Hebe, she was able, had a charming smile, and eyes that penetrate into one's soul. Her eyes sparkled with wit and gaiety... [Her] lively conversation exuded her peculiar charm. The family adored her and she felt that by staying in Russia, she could play the most brilliant role!"

Read more about Catherine's sisters:

Alexandra | ElenaMaria 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Song for Sissi - If I Had a Wish

Dutch singer Petra Berger dedicated this song to the beautiful and tragic Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

Sisi, I know you’re sad
Through all the hurt you’ve had
I can’t make it right
Can’t win your fight
Although I’d like to

You married far too young
You were a precious one
He stole you away
A new role to play
The empress of Austria
If I had a wish
I wouldn’t miss
My chance to say

Sisi I’d braid your hair
Brush away all despair
You flirted with death
To take your last breath
And lead you to heaven

Sisi it makes me sad
You had your babies too
Taken away from you
How did you survive
So long in that life
I couldn’t do it
Let’s dream that you’ll be
Barefoot and free
With all your children

Sisi I’d braid your hair
Brush away all despair

Angel of Schwerin: Elena Pavlovna of Russia

Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna of Russia,
Hereditary Princess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Portrait by Josef Grassi, 1803

On December 13, 1784, in Gatchina, Tsarevich Paul of Russia and his wife Maria Feodorovna gave birth to a second daughter. The proud parents and the formidable grandmother Empress Catherine were surprised with the unusually regular features of this baby. She was named Elena - after Greek mythology's Helen of Troy - and true enough the baby would grow up to be a great beauty.

Elena was educated privately at home together with her elder sister Alexandra, to whom she shared a close relationship. The first years of her education were strictly supervised by her grandmother, and Elena was given a governess, Countess Charlotte Lieven. The Countess closely monitored the child's spiritual and emotional qualities and she quickly realized that the child was particularly sensitive to all things beautiful. Countess Lieven reported this to the Empress, and in turn the Empress ordered to decorate the room of the little grand duchess with special care and fill it with flowers everyday. The Empress, filled with pride about her granddaughter, wrote to Baron Grimm about Elena: "She seems to be a beauty in the full sense of the word. She has an unusually regular features. She is slim and graceful by nature, she had a lively and playful character and a kind heart. Her brothers and sisters are extremely fond of her cheerful disposition..." The Empress was meticulous when it comes to matters about her grandchildren but she was particularly proud and quick to compliment Elena. She wrote: "...beautiful Helen is thriving and I believe that in the next six months she will be smarter and livelier than her older sister, who will be two years old next week."

Elena, together with her sister Alexandra, learned painting, music and languages. By the time they were in their early teens, they could already speak five languages. As Elena grew older, her grandmother never tried to hide her preference for "beautiful Helen", comparing her with her sisters and was always praising her appearance. For the Empress, Elena was the embodiment of beauty and grace. She was fond of drawing flowers and plants, loved taking long walks in the parks of Pavlovsk, and probably kept a diary - but it was not preserved. She grew up to be a thoughtful and sensitive but impressionable girl.

When Elena was 12 years old, the French painter Madame Vigee Le Brun did a portrait of the two eldest grand duchesses: Alexandra and Elena. Another painter, Vladimir Borovikovsky, also painted a portrait of Elena. These portraits were shown to the European courts, and monarchs and ministers were fascinated with the two grand duchesses.

Soon there were talks about Elena's marriage. Emperor Paul chose the Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. This German state is not only small but it is also not wealthy. Nevertheless, Paul saw it was politically advantageous for Russia. Negotiations were conducted and fortunately no problems arose and so it was completed successfully.

On February 17, 1799, Prince Frederick Louis, the heir to the Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin arrived in St. Petersburg. He was introduced to his bride-to-be. According to contemporaries, Frederick was rather "naive and plain, but he is kindhearted, handsome and has a strong sense of humor". He was obviously captivated with his bride's "elegant beauty, refined manners and gentle eyes". Elena was also fascinated with the young man, and they quickly fell in love. She was happy to meet his entourage and was eager to see his future father-in-law. She sent him letters, almost everyday, which she diligently and respectfully written in German and French.

Elena and Frederick Louis were engaged on May 5, 1799 in Pavlovsk and on October 12, 1799 they were married in Gatchina. A week later, Elena's sister Alexandra was married to Archduke Joseph of Austria. These two weddings were celebrated with great joy and pomp, and celebrations lasted for a month.

In early 1800, Elena and her husband left Russia for Schwerin. On their arrival, she was warmly received by her father-in-law, the Duke. He immediately liked Elena and she was to become his favorite daughter-in-law. A banquet was held in honor of the newlyweds. Elena appeared in her magnificent dress decorated with diamonds, things that were never seen in impoverished Schwerin. She quickly realized the condition of her new homeland and she became involve in charity.

Despite the fact that Schwerin is far from being magnificent or opulent like the Russian court, Elena was happy and contented with her new country and tried her best to make the most out of it. The new Princess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin was affectionate and amiable. She was friendly to all people: from her in-laws to the street urchins. She and Frederick explored the streets on foot while generously giving the people, especially the children, with flowers, coins and sweets. She became involve in encouraging children's education and did her best to help those in need. She quickly won the hearts of her people. They loved their Princess and were proud of her kindness and beauty. Elena was indeed lovely and charming, with blond hair, a slender figure and beautiful blue eyes, but she also possessed a warm heart devoid of any pretensions. She treated people with respect and in the way they would not feel intimidated nor distressed in her presence. On her birthday, her maid got hold of something rare in those days: a bunch of Parma violets (these normally bloom during warm season, and Elena's birthday is in December). She presented the flowers to her mistress, and Elena, deeply moved with her maid's thoughtfulness, gave her something that is "more valuable than gold" - she simply embraced her. Both stood for several minutes in silence and with tears in their eyes.

On September 1800, she gave birth to her first child - a son - and he received the names Paul Frederick. He was named in honor of his grandfathers. In the following year, she and her husband visited Berlin. She met the Prussian royal family and became friendly with Queen Louise. The people of Berlin were fascinated with the sight of these two lovely creatures walking together, and they were called "A Pair of Roses".

In 1803, when Elena was expecting her second child, her fragile health deteriorated rapidly. There were signs of consumption. Physicians were called from Berlin and St. Petersburg, but there was nothing they can do to save her. Consumption was incurable during those times. She died in the evening of September 24, 1803. She left behind a bereaved husband and in-laws, a one year old son and a newborn daughter. The people of Schwerin were saddened by her sudden death. She was buried with great sorrow in a mausoleum in Ludwiglust. On the day of her death, a paper was found under her pillows. It contains a long list of the names of families she intended to help in the future.

The people of Schwerin called Elena an "Angel" because she made no enemies and was loved by everyone. Despite her short life, Elena was still luckier than her older sister Alexandra. While both princesses grew up together, were almost inseparable, married almost at the same time, and had relatively short life and both dying in childbirth, Elena was more fortunate. Until her untimely death, she was surrounded by loving and kind people. Her husband was loving towards her, her father-in-law gave her with fatherly affection and the servants all loved and respected her (strikingly different from the cold and stiff Austrian court that Alexandra had to endure).

Read about Elena's sisters:
AlexandraMaria | Catherine 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Psyche: Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna of Russia

"Her features were well formed and regular, her face a perfect oval; her fine complexion was not bright, but was of a paleness completely in harmony with the expression of her countenance, whose sweetness was angelic. Her fair hair floated over her neck and forehead. She was clad in a white tunic, a carelessly knotted girdle surrounding a waist as slender and supple as a nymph's. As I have described her, so ravishingly did this young person stand out against the background of her apartment, adorned with pillars and draped in pink and silver gauze, that I exclaimed, "That is Psyche!" It was Princess Elisabeth, the wife of Alexander." 

-Madame Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun
I have always been fascinated about Elizabeth Alexeievna, wife of Tsar Alexander I of Russia. She was one of the saddest figures of the Romanov family. Extraordinarily beautiful, sensitive, charming, compassionate, intelligent and kindhearted, it seemed she had all the requirements to please the future Alexander I of Russia and become the perfect Empress-Consort of Russia. Alexander himself was a handsome and very charming man, and his marriage to Elizabeth was dubbed as 'the marriage of Cupid and Psyche'; it was said that no other couple looked so perfect together. Everybody commented that Alexander was married to the most desirable of women. Indeed. But with all her beauty and good character, Elizabeth was not able to find happiness in her marriage to Alexander nor in her life in Russia.

Elizabeth as Princess Louise of Baden
Elizabeth was born as Princess Louise Augusta Marie of Baden on January 13, 1779 third daughter of Hereditary Prince Charles Louis of Baden and Princess Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt. Louise grew up in a tightly-knit family. She was very close to her brother and sisters and they in turn had a warm relationship with their parents. Louise was particularly close to her mother and would remain her confidant even when she was already married and lived in Russia.

Around the time when Louise was thirteen years old, the Empress Catherine II of Russia was on a search for a wife for her favorite grandson, the Tsarevich Alexander. She was informed about the princesses of Baden who were said to be very pretty and well-educated. The Empress immediately communicated her interest to the Baden court and invited its two unmarried princesses, Louise and Frederica.

Louise was not completely unfamiliar with Russia. Her maternal aunt, Princess Wilhelmine of Hesse-Darmstadt married the then Tsarevich Paul, the Empress's son. She was with Louise's mother, Amalie, when she traveled to Russia when they were also in their early teens, and Wilhelmine was subsequently chosen by Paul to be his wife and became Grand Duchess Natalia Alexeievna. Amalie had told stories about Natalia to Louise and the young impressionable girl of thirteen was filled with admiration to an aunt whom she never met.

Just like her mother and aunt before her, Louise traveled to Russia with her younger sister Frederica at the invitation of the Empress Catherine. It must have been a very daunting experience for these two young girls barely age 13 and 11 to travel to a foreign land unaccompanied by their parents. They were naturally filled with apprehension if they would make a good impression to the Empress, otherwise they will be sent back to Baden. Upon their arrival in St. Petersburg, they were met by the Empress herself and she was immediately impressed by the princess's appearance and the magnificence of their trousseau. She was amused of the pretty and dark-haired Frederica for her vivaciousness, and admitted that she would make a good bride for another grandson. However, she was particularly taken with the blond and blue-eyed Louise, whom she also described to have possessed an angelic face and a melodious voice. She found her to be the epitome of beauty and charm. In her heart, the Empress was secretly hoping that Alexander would choose Louise to be his wife.

The reluctant groom-to-be, Alexander, was not very keen to the idea of marriage, however he admitted that Louise was indeed pretty and charming. He was very shy on her presence and had no idea how to treat her. Eventually, the two of them warmed up to each other and their initial awkwardness blossomed into friendship. He told his parents and his grandmother that he liked the princess and on their blessing, wrote a letter to Louise telling her his feelings and asking her to marry him.

Upon their engagement ceremony, Louise was baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church and was given the names and title Elizabeth Alexeievna, Grand Duchess of Russia. A few months later, Alexander and the new Elizabeth were married with great pomp in the Chapel of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. The bride was radiant in her wedding gown of silver brocade and on her ash-blond hair was a diadem of diamonds. It was said that the couple were so good-looking together that they were compared to two angels getting married. The Empress could hardly contained her happiness and contentment to this beautiful couple whom she referred to as "Cupid and Psyche".

Elizabeth as Grand Duchess of Russia
After the wedding, Elizabeth's sister went back to Baden. Elizabeth felt homesick and she relied to her husband for comfort and companionship. She wrote to her mother that her husband was worthy of her love and affection. Alexander, in turn, admitted to his tutor that he loved his wife and that she was an angel of kindness. As the wife of the Tsarevich, Elizabeth poured out her energy and enthusiasm in learning the history and language of her new country. Her tutors, one of them was Princess Dashkova, were impressed by the speed to which she mastered the Russian language and the way she spoke it without any hint of a foreign accent. People at court were filled with admiration to her resolve to become fully accustomed to her new country and the St. Petersburg society admired her beauty, kindness and humility.

The court of the Empress Catherine was opulent, lively and magnificent but it was also beaming with intrigues. There was also the tension and rivalry between the Empress and the Tsarevich Paul: the Empress's court against the Tsarevich's court. Alexander and Elizabeth were full of anxiety about the tensions and intrigues surrounding them and they only found solace in the company of each other. This drew them closer together and their relationship deepened as the time went by.

After the death of the Empress and the ascension of Paul as the new Emperor, things turned upside down. The magnificence of the court under Empress Catherine was replaced by a militaristic one created by Emperor Paul. He had an erratic character and a volatile temper that made earned him a lot of anger and hatred among the people. His wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna was rather cold towards her daughter-in-law and proved to be unsympathetic to her. During the Coronation Day of Emperor Paul and Empress Maria Feodorovna, all wore court dresses, and Elizabeth - desiring to supplement her attire, fastened fresh roses with the diamonds attached on her dress. When the Empress saw her, she immediately pulled out the roses and threw them on the floor, saying, "These don't suit the court dress." Elizabeth's only consolation during those times, other Alexander, was her sister-in-law Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna, wife of Alexander's brother Grand Duke Constantine. She was Elizabeth's constant support and companion. She wrote to her mother after Empress Catherine's death how Anna was her only consolation, as she was for her. "She spends almost all of her time in my place. She comes in the morning and take meals with me almost everyday, and stay with me all day..." But when Anna left St. Petersburg permanently for Coburg because of her failed marriage to Constantine and with Alexander started his dalliances with different court ladies, Elizabeth felt completely alone.

In the summer of 1799, Elizabeth became pregnant. Everyone at court were rejoicing for the upcoming birth of an heir. She gave birth in the spring of the following year, but to the disappointment of everyone at court, the baby was a daughter. She was dark-haired and dark-eyed as opposed to the baby's blond parents that the Emperor Paul remarked how could two blond parents have a dark-haired baby. Malicious people at court began to gossip that the baby's father was not Alexander, but instead it was his best-friend, a Polish prince named Adam Czartoryski. Prince Czartoryski was handsome and intelligent and he was attracted to the then Grand Duchess Elizabeth. It was said that Alexander encouraged his best-friend's affection towards his wife so that he could be free to pursue other women. Whether Elizabeth did succumb to the charm of the handsome Polish prince was debatable. There was no strong evidence to suggest that Czartoryski and Elizabeth had sexual relations. But almost certainly, he was in love with Elizabeth and he admitted this on his journals. Nevertheless, his association with Alexander (and Elizabeth) caused him the ire of Emperor Paul and he was sent on a diplomatic mission in Italy.

The years 1800-1801 proved to be trying years for Elizabeth. Her baby daughter Maria died of teething infection in July 1800. In her sorrow, she wrote to her mother: "Not an hour of the day passes without my thinking of her, and certainly not a day without my giving her bitter tears. It cannot be otherwise so long as I live, even if she were to be replaced by two dozen children." The following year, Emperor Paul, with his erratic character and volatile temper which earned him the anger and hatred of many people, was consequently murdered in his bedroom by a group of conspirators. Alexander was said to be in full knowledge of the plans by the conspirators to kill his father. The murder of his father left an indelible mark of remorse on his inner psyche that he would always carry with him for the rest of his life and this was best summed up by Elizabeth to her mother: "His sensitive soul will forever remain torn."

With the death of Emperor Paul, Alexander and Elizabeth suddenly found themselves Emperor and Empress of Russia. It was a tremendous responsibility for their age. Alexander was only 24 and Elizabeth was 23 and though both of them possessed intellectual power and noble character, they were virtually unprepared for the task that lies ahead of them. They were overwhelmed by their new roles and the burden that goes with them. Their relationship which sweetly formed out of friendship, respect, warmth and affection began to crumble. Alexander, tortured by his grief and guilt, became a restless soul. Elizabeth, on the other hand, was too placid to keep him down, and he gradually drifted away from her.

Elizabeth as a young Empress of Russia
As a young Empress, Elizabeth tried to fulfill her role in the best way she can. She exhibited such calm and strength of will when she had to pull her husband together (who was completely overcome with grief after the murder of Emperor Paul) and encourage him to take the reins of the government. She dutifully presided over court ceremonies and balls and started setting up charities, schools and hospitals. However, she was superseded in her role by the Dowager Empress herself. This was something unique in Russia and Alexander was more than willing to let his mother take the center stage."The Dowager Empress sought to eclipse [Elizabeth] by a more majestic demeanor, and at every State pageant occupied a place by the side of the emperor. She regarded Elizabeth as her chief rival - a feeling she showed with some haughtiness towards her daughter-in-law..." Elizabeth was more than willing to let her mother-in-law upstage her, but she would also be upstaged, unwillingly, by another woman in her husband's heart.

Soon after his ascension as Emperor of Russia, Alexander began an affair with a Russian primadona, Princess Maria Naryshkina. Maria Naryshkina was a Polish princess and she was married to Prince Dmitri Naryshkin, court-master of the Russian court. She was said to be a woman whose beauty was so perfect that it was "almost impossible". Her jet black hair and black eyes were her main charms and she had a habit of wearing a simple white gown without any jewels in every ball and court ceremonies so she would stand out. She was not intelligent as Elizabeth and was rather vulgar and distasteful in her remarks, Nevertheless, Alexander found her irresistible and greatly enjoyed her company. Some historians often wonder why Alexander would fell for a woman like Maria Naryshkina who was described as "without any merit other than the charm of her beauty". Alexander's affair with Naryshkina would last for 13 years. And in those years, they virtually lived together as husband and wife. They had several children together who would unfortunately lived until their teenage years only.

Elizabeth, with her gentle character and forbearance, became withdrawn. She was determined that if she would to suffer due to her husband's infidelity and neglect, she would do it in silence and with dignity. She was sustained by the knowledge that it was only she who had known the depths of his emotions and the hope that her husband would someday return to her. Indeed, it was with his moments with Elizabeth that Alexander found a sort of oasis for his tortured soul. When  he was undecided with a certain matter, he asked Elizabeth for her opinion. He relied on her for current events because according to him "she was more of a reader than him". He made efforts to have meals with her as often as his schedule allowed and she showed her kindness and respect when in public. When Maria Naryshkina tried to persuade him to divorce Elizabeth, he rebuked her and vehemently refused; the subject was not brought up anymore.

In 1804, Elizabeth, then 24 years old and who was by this time at the height of her beauty had fallen in love with a handsome Guard Officer, Alexei Okhotnikov. Alexei called her in French: "My little wife" and "My friend, my wife, my Goddess, my Elise, I love you." According to a diary entry by Elizabeth's sister-in-law, the future Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Alexei would climb to a window in Elizabeth's room "when the moon was not shining" and the lovers would spend around 3 hours together. Soon enough, Elizabeth became pregnant. She gave birth to a baby girl who was also named Elizabeth and called "Lisinka" by her mother. Nevertheless, Alexander declared that the child was his, but during the baptismal ceremony, according to the Dowager Empress, he felt quite ambivalent and showed little attention to the infant. Alexei and Elizabeth's affair lasted for only two years. He died after an attempt in his life. After his death, she felt abandoned and lonelier than ever and turned to her only solace, her daughter Elizabeth. Unfortunately, the little girl died after just fifteen months. Elizabeth was grief-stricken and wrote to her mother: "Now, I am not longer good for anything in this world, my soul has no more strength to recover from this last blow."

Towards the end of their lives, Alexander became more religious and reserved while Elizabeth's health declined. He regretted his past actions and sought to redeem himself. He left Maria Naryshkina for good and returned to Elizabeth. He wanted to spend more time with her and somehow the couple tried to bring back a certain piece of their past together. They traveled to Taganrog in 1825 due to Elizabeth's ill health and stayed in a small house. There, Alexander and Elizabeth enjoyed a happy and quiet life together. She wrote to her mother while in Taganrog: "Sometimes I am reduced to thinking of myself as Alexander’s mistress, or as if we had been married secretly." Near the end of 1825, Alexander caught a cold that developed into typhus while returning to Taganrog from Crimea. On December 1825, he died in the arms of his wife. Elizabeth was stricken by her loss, writing in her diary, "I do not understand myself, I do not understand my destiny. "

The Empress Elizabeth by George Dawe
Elizabeth was now too weak to go back to St. Petersburg for the funeral and decided to stay for some time. When the journey finally started, she felt very sick and they had to stopped at Belev in Tula. In the early hours of May 16, 1826, five months after her husband's death, Elizabeth was found dead in her bed by her maid. She had died of heart failure. Her remains were buried in St. Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg.

The Comtesse of Choiseul-Gouffier wrote sadly about Alexander and Elizabeth: "What a difference would it have made in the happiness of both, if they had been able to understand each other! They seemed to have been made the one for the other; the same goodness, the same gentleness and intellectual power. Yet there seemed to have been one point on which their hearts could not meet. Why is it that death alone has reunited such perfect souls?"

Elizabeth's life in Russia had been unhappy and unfulfilled. She was an example of one of those women who, despite their rare qualities and nobleness of heart, were destined to lead a lonely and deeply unhappy life. Neglected and abandoned by her husband throughout most of her life in Russia, her potential as a woman and as an empress were not fully realized. Certainly, she deserved more, all the goodness and the happiness in her life, just as the Comtesse de Choiseul-Gouffier declared wistfully, "How happy she deserved to be!"

Further Reading:

Catherine the Great by Henri Troyat

Alexander of Russia: Napoleon's Conqueror by Henri Troyat

Memoirs of Countess Golovine: A Lady at the Court of Catherine II by Countess Varvara Nikolaevna Golitsyna Golovina

Historical Memoirs of the Emperor Alexander I: and the Court of Russia by Sophie, Comtesse de Choiseul-Gouffier

Life and Times of Alexander I Emperor of All the Russias by F.R. Grahame

Grand Duchess Alexandra Pavlovna of Russia

Grand Duchess Alexandra Pavlovna of Russia,
Archduchess of Austria
Portrait by Vladimir Borovikovsky
Grand Duchess Alexandra Pavlovna was the eldest daughter of Paul I of Russia and Empress Maria Feodorovna. She was born on August 9, 1783 in Tsarskoe Selo. Her grandmother Empress Catherine took Alexandra's elder brothers, Alexander and Constantine, to be brought up and educated under her supervision. She had no interest in a granddaughter that's why Alexandra was allowed to be brought up by her parents. In turn, Alexandra became her father's favorite daughter. 

The young princess was educated to a high standard. She received lessons in languages, music and painting. By the time she was 10 years old, she could already speak four languages and was an excellent harpsichord player. Her dancing was exquisite, and although Catherine had greatly admired the beauty of Alexandra's younger sister, Elena, she was also starting to praise young Alexandra's beauty and her gentleness. Catherine wrote to Baron Grimm: "She speaks four languages, writes well, draws, plays the harpsichord, sings, dances, learns easily and reveals a nature of extraordinary gentleness."

Alexandra had many talents: she was also an amateur translator and a painter. Her translations were published in the book "The Muses" and her paintings were sent to the Academy of Fine Arts. When she was being prepared by her grandmother for the role of Queen of Sweden, she also studied the Swedish language.

Alexandra was only 10 years old when her fate was sealed by her grandmother. The Empress wished to strengthen Russia's ties with other European countries, and thought about Sweden. She immediately began negotiating with the Swedes on a marriage between Alexandra and the young Swedish king Gustav IV Adolf. The Swedes accepted and the wedding would take place when the bride turned 18 (Alexandra was only 13).

Catherine liked the young king very much. He was said to have "a very pleasing face, in which wit and charm were portrayed." And Alexandra was described by Madame Vigee Le Brun with"an angelic face, complexion so tender and delicate that one might have supposed that [she] lived in ambrosia. ...She was of the Greek type of beauty, and very much resembled Alexander [her older brother]."

Another description of her: "At 14, she was already tall and womanly; her figure was noble and majestic, softened by all graces of her sex and age. Her features were regular, and her complexion fair as alabaster. Innocence, candour, and serenity stamped their divine impressions on her brow; and light flaxen hair...fell in ringlets on her well-turned neck. Her heart, her talents, and her intellect were in unison with her exterior appearance."
Alexandra saw a miniature of her future husband and convinced herself to be in love with him and that she will be happy 'forever'.

On August 1796, Gustav IV Adolf arrived in St. Petersburg. His stay in the capital was accompanied by endless festivities, balls and parades. Gustav first saw the portrait of Alexandra by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun in the artist's studio. Madame Le Brun recalled: "He was only seventeen years old, but his tall figure and his proud and noble bearing made him respected in spite of his youth. Having been very carefully brought up, he showed a most unusual politeness. The Princess whom he had come to marry, and who was fourteen, was lovely as an angel, and he speedily fell deeply in love with her. I remember that when he came to my house to see the portrait I had done of his bride elect, he looked at it with such rapt attention that his hat fell from his hand." Gustav was so fascinated with his Russian princess that he immediately asked the Empress for Alexandra's hand. Catherine joyfully consented and the engagement ceremony was scheduled for September in the Throne Room of the Winter Palace.

Unfortunately, everything happened very badly on the day of the betrothal ceremony. As the future Queen of Sweden, Alexandra must change her religion from Orthodoxy to Protestantism. Catherine insisted that Alexandra should keep her Orthodox religion. Catherine thought that Gustav had implicitly agreed to this when he declared his love to Alexandra. It was a misunderstanding, and not just a simple one. Upon reading the contract where it was stated that Alexandra will remain an Orthodox after her marriage, Gustav was livid. He was adamant that he will never give his people an Orthodox queen. He didn't appear in the betrothal ceremony. The whole Russian court - and the whole Europe - was shocked. The social affront was humiliating for Catherine and the whole Russia. As for Alexandra, she also felt humiliated and brokenhearted.

This rebuke apparently shortened Catherine's life and she died two months later. But the new emperor Paul I, had other plans. He hoped to make an alliance between Russia and Austria against France and Napoleon.
In 1798, Alexandra's parents received a proposal from the Austrian court about a possible marriage between Alexandra and Archduke Joseph, Palatine of Hungary, younger brother of Emperor Franz II of Austria. Negotiations were conducted, and Archduke Joseph personally went to St. Petersburg to ask Alexandra's hand for marriage.

Archduke Joseph was described as 'nice and intelligent, shy, awkward but kind... His accent more Italian than German'. He felt deeply in love with Alexandra and they were married in St. Petersburg in October 1799. A month after the wedding, Alexandra and Joseph left Russia for Austria. She was quiet and very sad to say goodbye to her family, particularly to her father. She confined to a lady-in-waiting that she had a feeling that she would never be able to see Russia or any of her family again. And indeed she was right.

Joseph and Alexandra arrived in Austria, and stayed in Vienna for the next few weeks. She was warmly welcomed by her brother-in-law, the Emperor Franz I, but not by his wife, the Empress Maria Theresa. Alexandra looked so much like the Emperor's beloved first wife, Elizabeth of Wurttemberg, who had died in childbirth, (Elizabeth was Alexandra's maternal aunt), and he felt naturally drawn to her. The kindness he was showing her quickly aroused the animosity of the Empress. In addition, the Empress became jealous of Alexandra's youthful beauty, her magnificent jewelries from Russia, and her growing popularity among the people. As a result, Alexandra's life at the Austrian court became exceedingly unhappy. When she appeared for the first time in a theater box to watch a performance, the audience's attention immediately drawn to her. They were captivated by her fresh beauty and her incredible Russian jewels. This greatly infuriated the Empress, and in the next day, when Alexandra was to attend a ball, the Empress forbade her to wear her jewelries. Alexandra meekly followed, and during the ball, she decorated her hair and her dress with fresh flowers only. Her simple attire further enhance the radiance of her beauty, and when she appeared, the people were all attention to her. This further aroused the Empress's animosity, and she began to be concerned of Alexandra's influence might have at court. She insisted to Joseph to take his wife and leave immediately for their residence in Buda, the capital of Hungary. The Empress rendered Alexandra's life so intolerable that when Emperor Paul learned how his favorite child had been treated, "he flew into a rage, demanded that she should be sent back to St. Petersburg, and even threatened war".
Archduchess Alexandra of Austria,
wearing the traditional Hungarian costume.

In Buda, the couple settled in the castle of Alcsut. For the first time since she left Russia, Alexandra was extremely happy. She was happy with Joseph, and she immediately won the hearts of the Hungarian people, even calling her "The Queen". She became her husband's counselor and persuaded him to build a town center in order to give Budapest the features of a European capital city. She did not have difficulty in feeling herself one with the culture of Hungary that she started wearing the Hungarian national costume, and this was followed by the aristocrats who used to refuse wearing it.

Joseph was a doting husband and he deeply cared for his young wife. He was constantly by her side, especially during their early days in Austria, comforting and encouraging her, knowing how his wife deeply misses Russia and her family. However, he had a weak character and he could not protect his wife from the intrigues of the Viennese court and from the antagonism of the Empress. But even in Hungary where she was beloved, she was not free to practice her Orthodox religion. The court at Vienna was watching her every move, and she was forbidden to attend Orthodox masses. She was not allowed to have her own Orthodox chapel in Buda. Alexandra's confessor Father Andrew Samborski wrote in his memoirs that the ministers of the Austrian court were afraid because if Alexandra bore a son, then there would be a possibility of establishing an independent Hungarian kingdom.

When Alexandra became pregnant, Joseph decided to return to Vienna with his wife. Alexandra had a difficult pregnancy, and Joseph was convinced that if they were in Vienna, Alexandra could receive better medical care. Unfortunately, she was far from having a comfortable situation. The rooms she was given to in the palace were cold and wet. Her food was so badly prepared that she could not eat any of it. Father Andrew even had to use his own money to buy provisions and food for Alexandra. Joseph could do nothing to help her, although he loves her.

Alexandra finally gave birth to a daughter, who was named Alexandrine, but unfortunately, the baby died several hours later. Alexandra was greatly weaken by her pregnancy and childbirth. Several days later, she contracted puerperal fever, and died without ever regaining her consciousness. When Father Andrew came to her rooms to check her, he found her already dead. His cries awaken Joseph who was sleeping on a chair. He rushed to his wife only to see her dead. Joseph was grief-stricken and cried the whole time. On March 16, 1801, Joseph mournfully wrote to Paul I of Russia, "I had an irreparable misfortune on losing my wife. She is no more, and my happiness all vanished." Joseph didn't know that Paul would never be able to read this letter. Five days before Alexandra's death, Paul had been killed in his palace by conspirators.

After Alexandra's death, Empress Maria Theresa refused her burial in Austrian grounds. Her coffin remained unburied for some time in the basement of the palace. Then, with the efforts of Father Samborski, her remains were transferred in Buda, and an Orthodox chapel was constructed to house her remains.

Joseph remained a widower for the next ten years. He eventually remarried two times and had children but he never truly forgot Alexandra. He remained devoted to her memory. In 1814, Emperor Alexander I and the Grand Duchesses Ekaterina and Maria visited the grave of their sister. For many years, Alexandra's tomb was carefully maintained by the Orthodox Church in Russia. But after the Revolution, everything changed. Her coffin was exhumed and the jewels on Alexandra's corpse were robbed. In the end, her remains were reburied to the family vault of the Hapsburgs. For a daughter of a Russian emperor, Alexandra's short life and the events after her death were rather sad and tragic.

Read about Alexandra's sisters:
Elena | Maria | Catherine 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ella's Beauty

She was reputed to be the most beautiful of Queen Victoria's granddaughters. Tall and stately, with golden-brown hair and deep-set blue-grey eyes, contemporaries regarded her as one of the most beautiful princesses in Europe, and the Russians - in the words of Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich - 'fell in love' with her the moment she arrived in Russia from her native Hesse-Darmstadt. It's not difficult to 'fall in love' with the charming Ella. With her ravishing beauty, gracefulness and good heart, Ella certainly won the hearts of people from all walks of life. 

This is a poem dedicated to Ella by her friend and admirer, Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich of Russia, also known as the poet "KR".

I look at you and I enjoy it ever
You are so beautiful, no words can tell!
Oh! I am sure that such beauty hosts
A soul that is wonderful as well.
The depth of modesty and quiet sorrow
Is in your eyes of beauty so pure
You are as calm as an angel;
And as a lady, gentle and demure.
Amidst the many earthly sins and evils
Let nothing blur the pure soul of thine,
And let us all sing praises to the Creator
Who gave such beauty to a soul divine!

Flower of the Bonapartes: Hortense de Beauharnais

Hortense de Beauharnais,
Queen of Holland
Portrait by Anne Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, 1808
"My life has been so brilliant and so full of misfortune that the world has been forced to take notice of it."
- Hortense de Beauharnais

Hortense de Beauharnais, the future Queen of Holland, was the the daughter of Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais and Marie Josephe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie or more popularly known as Josephine de Beauharnais. She was born on April 10, 1783 in Paris. Shortly after her birth, her parents separated. Her father was executed during the French Revolution when Hortense was 11 years old, and her mother was also imprisoned. She was later released in the summer of 1794.

The now widowed Rose took her two small children with her, but she was penniless. The Revolution greatly traumatized her, but she tried to forget its horrors and began embracing Parisian society. With her natural charm, aristocratic manners and sharp wit, she befriended many influential people. Hortense was sent to be educated at Madame Campan's school at St.-Germaine-en-Laye. Here she received an excellent education: she learned to compose music and, besides the usual skills such as learning languages, took dancing and acting lessons. She received painting and drawing lessons from the famous painter Jean Baptiste Isabey. Hortense excelled in everything and was loved by everyone at school. But her mother had no time to admire the accomplishments of her daughter. She was busy establishing herself and making a name in Parisian society.

Soon, Rose attracted the attention of a 28-year-old Corsican general, Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon became passionately in love with the charming 32-year-old Rose. When Hortense first met Napoleon, she admitted to her mother that she disliked him. Soon, Napoleon decided to marry Rose. He changed the name of his future bride into Josephine because he didn't like the name Rose. Rose was henceforth called and known as Josephine. Napoleon and Josephine quickly married, and began his rise to power. Hortense was angry towards Napoleon for stealing her mother's heart, but after writing her a letter which describes his devotion to her mother and his longing to be of a good father for her, Hortense slowly softened her attitude towards him. Now the husband of Josephine, Napoleon doted on his stepdaughter. He admired her talent for singing and composing that he called her "notre Terpsichore". He fondly said about her: "Hortense, so good, so generous, so devoted." He treated her as his own daughter and was fiercely proud of her talents. When Napoleon and Josephine were crowned as Emperor and Empress of France, Hortense was present during the coronation.

When Hortense was 17 years old, the ambitious Napoleon arranged the marriage of his brother Louis Bonaparte to Hortense. It was a match that neither of them wanted. But Louis and Hortense, both obedient to Napoleon, consented. They were married in January 1802. The couple's marriage was unhappy from the very beginning and even the birth of three children didn't change that. Eventually, Louis and Hortense were chosen as the King and Queen of Holland and they moved to The Hague. Hortense quickly became accustomed to life in the Netherlands and fell in love with the country. Much to the annoyance of her husband, the Dutch people liked her and was highly regarded. Louis and Hortense lived in different parts of the palace and avoided each other at every opportunity.

After the death of Louis Bonaparte, Hortense embarked in an affair with Colonel Charles Joseph, Comte de Flahaut, a handsome and sophisticated man. Hortense then gave birth secretly to a son.

Near the end of her life, Hortense was banished from France because of her support to Napoleon. She then purchased a house in Switzerland, which was named the Château of Arenenberg. She lived there until her death in October of 1817. She was buried next to her mother Josephine in a church in Malmaison.

Melancholic Princess: Elizabeth Mikhailovna of Russia

The Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mikhailovna of Russia,
Duchess of Nassau
Vladimir Ivanovich Hau

One of the lesser-known but tragic figures in the Romanov family was the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mikhailovna. She was the second daughter of Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich of Russia (youngest brother of Tsars Alexander I and Nicholas I) and Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna (who was born as Princess Charlotte of Wurttemberg). This grand duchess is almost of the same age and shared the same fate as her cousin, Alexandra Nikolaievna, and I can't help but feel fascinated about her as much as Alexandra.

Elizabeth was born in Moscow Kremlin on 26 May 1826. She was named after her aunt, the Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna, wife of Alexander I. The Empress Elizabeth was a close friend of Elena Pavlovna and her death robbed the young Elena of any close friend at court. So it was understandable that she decided to named her second daughter after the lonely and kindhearted Empress.

Elizabeth was nicknamed "Lili" and she and her sisters grew up and educated at the Mikhailovsky Palace in St. Petersburg. Their education was carefully supervised by their admirable and highly-intelligent mother. Elizabeth was considered the prettiest among the sisters, but she was delicate, less animated, melancholic and reserved. She was also sensible, and had an extreme love of music. Her cousin, the Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaievna, wrote about Elizabeth: "Cousin Lily is very outspoken, quick-tempered and a little like a boy..."

Elizabeth and her cousins frequently spend time together, especially when there were balls and other occasions at the Winter Palace. She was closest to Alexandra, to whom she shared almost the same age. But unlike Alexandra, Elizabeth was, in some degree, estranged from the inevitable splendor of the court. She was brought up in a more relaxed atmosphere than that of the court. Her father, Grand Duke Michael, was a simple, unassuming and upright man who felt happier without any exterior pomp. On the other hand, her mother Elena Pavlovna, was a graceful and intellectual woman. She delighted on conversations with likewise intellectual people and always listen to the opinions of people from all walks of life. Surrounded by these kind of people, Elizabeth was nearer the realities of life than Alexandra, who almost knew nothing about the outside world.

When Elizabeth was 17, Duke Adolf of Nassau came to visit St. Petersburg at the invitation of the Emperor. The arrival of the Duke of Nassau almost caused a rift between the family of Nicholas I and his sister-in-law Elena Pavlovna. Elena had always cherished a dream of marrying off her eldest daughter Maria to the Hereditary Prince of Baden, and Elizabeth to the Duke of Nassau. At the same time, Nicholas I and Empress Alexandra were hoping that Adolf would choose their unmarried daughter Olga. Olga had been also a prospective bride to Prince Frederick William of Hesse-Kassel but the gallant prince fell in love instead to Olga's younger sister Alexandra. So Olga was left with no future husband again. The Emperor then intervened and said that Adolf is free to make his own choice between the two cousins. But Elena was concerned that Adolf might prefer Olga because she was the daughter of the Emperor. In the end, Adolf chose Elizabeth to be his wife, as the couple seemed to have fallen in love already.

Elizabeth and the Duke of Nassau got married in St. Petersburg, few days after her cousin Alexandra's wedding to the Prince of Hesse-Kassel. The 'double' wedding in the imperial family caused so much festivities. Few days after their wedding, Elizabeth and Adolf left Russia for Nassau. The climate in Nassau was far more favorable and mild compared to that of St. Petersburg. They settled in Biebrich Castle in Wiesbaden. In here, Elizabeth was extremely happy, full of life and charm. She didn't require to embellish her residence by her imagination, for scarcely on the world is a more lovely place to be found than Nassau; but Elizabeth could appreciate this as a special happiness. She was well-loved by her people and travelers reported her happiness. However, that summer, a tragic news arrived from St. Petersburg: her cousin Alexandra had died with her newborn baby. Everyone was shocked, especially Elizabeth, who had only celebrated their wedding together that winter. In the months that followed, she began to convince herself that she would died in childbirth as well. Unfortunately, Elizabeth did die giving birth to her daughter, who didn't survive as well a year after her wedding. Her husband Adolf was devastated. He ordered the building of an Orthodox Church that will house the remains of Elizabeth using his wife's dowry. The sculptor Hopfgarten has immortalized Elizabeth's features in the marble. The church rises above the Nero Valley near in Wiesbaden so that Adolf could still see the church from his residence. Elizabeth's death was a great sorrow for Adolf and it took many years before he remarried. But he wasn't able to forget the memory of his beloved first wife.

Elizabeth's sarcophagus at the St. Elizabeth Church in Wiesbaden.

The Golden Dream of My Youth - The memoir of Queen Olga of Wurttemberg
Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of Russia by August Theodor Grimm, translated by Lady Grace Wallace

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