Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Romance of an Empress

The Romanov Family was infamous for its story of drama and tragedy. It was this aspect that probably fascinates people the most. Each member of the family, whether they were born into it or married into it, seems to have his or her own unique story to tell. And so for today, I'd like to explore one of the least known member, Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna, wife of Alexander I.

Emperor Alexander I's life was a mystery and continues to be so. His upbringing, his role in his father's death, his domestic and foreign policies, his personality, and the circumstances of his death are all shrouded in enigma. His wife Elizabeth and her life also has its own fair share of drama, tragedy, romance, and mystery. When I was reading about Elizabeth's life, it was like watching a soap-opera and a legend rolled into one. I could not help but be fascinated with this lady, although largely unknown to most history buff, was still quite a personality. She was adored by poets and musicians, and contemporaries and later historians and authors are drawn to her; and it's quite understandable why. Elizabeth was an attractive woman. Her beauty was often described as the angelic kind and this gave her an almost unearthly and ethereal appearance. She was both beautiful and intelligent but sad and inaccessible. She was the perfect muse for an uninspired artist, the perfect heroine of a doomed love story, and the perfect angel to a lost man.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

An Ambassador's Recollection

The Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia
"I remember dining with her in Paris…in about 1891. I can still see her as she was then: tall, stern, with shining blue, naive eyes, her tender mouth, the soft features of her face and her straight slender nose…the charming rhythm of her carriage and movements. In her conversation one intuited a marvelous feminine mind-natural, serious, and full of hidden goodness." - Maurice Paleologue, French ambassador at the Russian court

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Grand Duchess and Her Palace

The Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna, eldest daughter of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia, was a gifted artist. Her artistic and aesthetic inclinations led her to do numerous paintings in watercolor and she delightfully engaged in interior decoration; she decorated her own rooms and when she received a palace of her own, the Mariinsky Palace in St. Petersburg, as a wedding present, she transformed it into one of the most imposing in the city. As a lover of the arts, Grand Duchess Maria built a beautiful collection of paintings from Russia and from different parts of  Europe. A lady-in-waiting recalled the time when she went to the Mariinsky palace for the first time and she was struck by the splendid interiors and the grand duchess's taste for beauty and the arts.

"... I went to the Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna... I found her in her luxurious winter garden, surrounded by exotic plants, fountains, waterfalls and birds; a mirage of spring in a January frost. The palace of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaeivna was truly a magical castle, thanks to the generosity of the Emperor Nicholas to his beloved daughter, and the taste of the grand duchess, who managed to subdue the wealth and luxury which she was surrounded, shows the diversity of her artistic imagination. She was generously endowed by nature, which is coupled by a striking beauty of her subtle mind, friendly nature and excellent heart, but she lacked the lofty ideals of spiritual and intellectual interests... "

-From the recollection of Anna Feodorovna Tyutchev, 
lady-in-waiting at the Russian court

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Daughters of Emperor Paul I of Russia

The daughters of Emperor Paul I: (From left to right:)
Alexandra, Elena, Maria, Catherine and Anna 

Emperor Paul I of Russia and his second wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna, née Princess Sophia Dorothea of Württemberg, had six daughters: Alexandra, Elena, Maria, Catherine, Olga, and Anna. All of the grand duchesses, with the exemption of Olga who died when she was only two years old, married into the royal houses of Europe. Shy and gentle Alexandra married the Archduke Joseph of Austria and lived in Hungary; sensitive and altruistic Elena became a Princess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin when she married Friedrich-Ludwig, Hereditary Prince of Mecklenburg-Schwerin; intelligent and artistic Maria married Grand Duke Karl Friedrich of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach and presided over the cultural development of Weimar; vivacious and strong-willed Catherine was first married to Prince George of Oldenburg and after his death she married the future King William I of Württemberg; and the youngest and sombre Anna became a Dutch queen when she married King William II of the Netherlands.

Emperor Paul, beyond his purported eccentricities and cruelty, was a doting and devoted father to his children, while the Empress Maria was a woman of strong character who was determined to maintain unity and order within her large family. The grand duchesses thus grew up in an idyllic atmosphere of happy family life. They were educated to a high standard, and were taught the necessary skills for their future roles as consorts. Duty has always comes first before one's self. But behind the glittering palace rooms and dazzling court life where these grand duchesses spent their childhood, their lives would never be easy. As they faced a future of uncertainty, it was but their only desire to be of good use to their adoptive countries that made them strive, above all else, to be dedicated consorts and overcome their ever-present longing for their beloved Russia.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"A world of our own..."

Louis IV and Princess Alice, Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Hesse
"If I say I love my dear husband, that is scarcely enough - it is a love and esteem which increase daily, hourly; which he also shows to me by such consideration, such tender loving ways. What was life before to what it has become now? There is such blessed peace being at his side, being his wife, there is such a feeling of security; and we two have a world of our own when we are together, which nothing can touch or intrude upon. My lot is indeed a blessed one; and yet what I have done to deserve that warm and ardent love which my darling Louis ever shows me? I admire his good and noble heart more than I can say."
-Princess Alice's letter to her mother Queen Victoria, 1862.

Monday, July 14, 2014


"The bride conquered everyone. Dagmar regarded life with radiant eyes, and her simplicity and charm boded will for family life, although Sheremetyev wrote the truth: Not everyone in court accepted this hasty switch from the dead brother to the live one. They did not understand that her small and graceful body belonged not to Niks or Sasha but had been intended from birth for the heir of the throne. That is why her mother bore her... From the day their engagement was announced, petite Dagmar was in charge of enormous Sasha. Once they were married, he never left her side. When she went to visit Denmark, he sat lost in her rooms, like a big hound that had lost its master." 
(Edvard Radzinsky, Alexander II: The last Great Tsar)

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Rare Vision

Portrait of Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaievna of Russia (1825-1844) From the Hermitage Museum
"Her lineaments seemed suddenly to recall forcibly her mother and also her grandmother, Queen Louisa [of Prussia]. Among the retinue of the Empress were still persons who retained a lively recollection of Queen Louise, and who were struck by the likeness. [She] showed indescribable grace in all her movements, especially in dancing, so that her parents liked to look at her; even in her mode of walking in the street, where she appeared in all her simplicity and quite unknown, she struck every passer-by as a rare vision. From her features beamed even more than the wonted courtesy of a princess, or the easy cheerfulness of a girl; beyond all others, she was distinguished by elevation of thought, and goodness. Her slightest smile lighted up her whole face, her glance was full of intellect and heart, and on her lofty brow was written true dignity. Many beauties cause astonishment, but permit the spectator no nearer approach; the youthful Alexandra delighted by her first few words, for they came from the warmest depths of her heart. Neither pride nor cold reserve, but intellectual life and spirit, animated her whole being."
- Theodore Grimm, Alexandra Feodorowna, Empress of Russia 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Queen and the Empress

Queen Louise of Prussia and Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna of Russia

In 1809, Tsar Alexander I and the Empress Elizabeth welcomed King Frederick William III of Prussia and Queen Louise in St. Petersburg. The lovely and vivacious Prussian queen managed to charm the whole court, even the Empress Elizabeth herself. The sight of these two beautiful women together caused quite a sensation at the Russian court. Apparently, Louise and Elizabeth instantly "clicked" and they were to become very good friends. Observers were quick to notice the physical resemblance between the two and Joseph de Maistre, Sardinian ambassador to Russia wrote in his memoirs:
"[Queen Louise] has often been compared to the reigning Empress [Elizabeth]. The Queen may be a beautiful woman, but the Empress is a more beautiful sovereign."
After the Prussian couple's departure, Queen Louise and Empress Elizabeth continued writing to each other. Louise wrote to Elizabeth about her and her husband's return to Berlin:
"Our entry was a very touching experience. The people received us with the utmost joy. We could feel that they welcomed us with all their hearts. The King has never been more popular. We see only friendly faces everywhere. God be thanked that we are again in Berlin. Whatever we may still have to endure will be more easily endured here."
Elizabeth was very fond of the Prussian queen. She confided to her mother her thoughts about Louise:
"There is no need for me to measure my words and exercise prudence in speaking of the Queen of Prussia. It is impossible for anyone to be more delightful, more easy to get on with than she is. I cannot think how those reports about her affectation and coquetry originated. I have never seen a trace of any such thing. She was extremely sociable, and one could note the liveliness of her natural disposition. Her relations with the King were quite a pleasure to me. In society she was sure of her position and quite at her ease. Alone with me she was genuinely friendly and confidential. If there is any shade in her portrait I assure you it is barely perceptible."

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Isabella of Angouleme, Queen of England

A Victorian artist's engraving of Isabella.
My first post for this month is about an English queen from the Middle Ages: Isabella of Angouleme. Isabella was one of England's least popular queens consort. This was partly attributed to her husband's bad reputation and partly for her own indiscreet and troublesome ways. Her turbulent life perfectly mirrors the struggles between England and France during the 13th century.

She was described to be a stunningly beautiful woman and possessed the Middle Ages' ideal of beauty: blonde hair and blue eyes. She was called "The Fair Maid of Angouleme" and the "Helen of the Middle Ages". Despite her lovely face, Isabella was not a well-liked Queen during and even after her lifetime; she was described to be vain and capricious, and her marriage to the even more unpopular and disliked King John added more fuel to the people's growing hatred and dissatisfaction on his rule.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"Goodness was her fall"

Lady Jane Grey was one of the most learned women of her day. She was fluent in eight languages, among these are Latin, Hebrew and Greek. She was a very committed Protestant and her faith was her source of strength throughout her short and tumultuous life. Below is a poem about her by English writer William Hone (1780-1842) which was inscribed beneath a portrait of her. More about this fascinating lady in a future post. :-)

Young, beautiful and learned Jane, intent
On knowledge, fount it peace; her vast acquirement
Of goodness was her fall; she was content
With dulcet pleasures, such as calm retirement
Yields to the wise alone; — her only vice
Was virtue: in obedience to her sire
And lord she died, with them a sacrifice
To their ambition: her own mild desire
Was rather to be happy than be great;
For though at their request, she claimed the crown,
That they through her might rise to rule the state,
Yet the bright diadem and gorgeous throne
She viewed as cares, dimming the dignity
Of her unsullied mind and pur benignity.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The First Bavarian Queen: Princess Caroline of Baden

Princess Caroline of Baden, Queen of Bavaria
by Johann Christian von Mannlich, 1817.
Princess Caroline of Baden was born on July 13, 1776 in Karlsruhe. She and her twin sister Amalie were the oldest daughters of Hereditary Grand Duke Charles Louis of Baden and Princess Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt. Caroline had one surviving brother, Charles, and four younger sisters: Louise, Frederica, Marie, and Wilhelmine. All the children of Charles Louis made grand marriages to the different royal houses of Europe and this success was largely attributed to his wife's wise political judgment and strength of character. Amalie was certainly a force to be reckoned with; she made sure that all of her children were highly educated and prepared for their future roles, but at the same time, she was also a caring and devoted mother who fostered a warm and close relationship among her children.

Caroline grew up in a warm and close-knit family. She was very close to her sisters and they would always call and refer to their mother as "my dear beloved Mama". Caroline inherited her mother's love for the arts and talent for painting, but she also developed a strong dislike for anything French. And this was further reinforced by her personal dislike for Napoleon Bonaparte, who was said to be involved with the murder of the Duke of Enghien.

As a teenager, Caroline was considered to be a potential wife for Louis Antoine Henri de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien, a relative of the Bourbon monarchs of France. She was said to be very much in love with him, but before any marriage negotiation began, Caroline's family dropped the matter for fear of French opposition.

In 1796, Caroline met Maximilian, Duke of Zweibrucken, in Ansbach, while both their families were on the run from the advancing French army. Maximilian was a 40-year-old widower with four children, and he fell in love with the 21-year-old Caroline. At first, Caroline hesitated, but due to her mother's cajoling and her budding feelings for Maximilian, who was said to be "kind and simple", made her accept him. They married in Karlsruhe on March 9, 1797 and the family settled in Mannheim.

As a young stepmother, Caroline got on quite well with her stepchildren, Augusta (aged 8), Caroline (age 4) and Karl Theodore (age 2). The children lost their mother just over a year ago and Caroline provided all the maternal love and affection they need. Despite her determination to build a strong relationship with them, she had a great difficulty getting along with her eldest stepson, Ludwig, who couldn't completely accept his stepmother. She would have a lifelong strained relationship with him.

Maximilian became Elector of Bavaria in 1799 and he, Caroline and the children moved to Munich in the spring of 1799. That September, Caroline gave birth to a stillborn son and was followed by another son a year later. She would give birth to six daughters: the first set of twins Elisabeth and Amalie, followed by another twins Sophie and Maria Anna, and then daughters Ludovika, and Maximiliana. She and Maximilian's marriage was considered to be happy and harmonious and Caroline was a supportive wife to her husband. She was also a devoted and loving mother to her children and stepchildren; she carefully supervised their education and upbringing and raised them with a deep sense of duty.

Maximilian maintained a close relationship with France and its emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, and because of this support, Bavaria was elevated into a kingdom by the Treaty of Pressburg, thus Caroline and Maximilian became the first King and Queen of Bavaria. Caroline had a strong sense of duty and relished in her role as Queen. She was a clever and able consort and she used her position and influence for the welfare of the people. As a lover of the arts, she helped her husband in transforming Munich into a cultural center.

When her beloved stepdaughter Augusta was eyed by Napoleon as wife for his stepson, Eugene de Beauharnais, Caroline was against the match. She disliked Napoleon, and sensing this, the French emperor went out his way to gain her favor. He and Josephine showered many presents to Caroline and Augusta, but when Caroline realized that Augusta and Eugene were in love, she finally gave her blessing to the couple.

An older Queen Caroline.
Caroline was allowed to remain a Protestant even after she married Maximilian and had her own pastor. Since the Bavarian court was predominantly Catholic, a new wave of religious tolerance was established in Bavaria and this led to an increased influx of Protestant traders and dealers in the country. This, and the many charitable institution established by the Queen made Caroline popular and well-loved by the people.

King Maximilian died in 1825. Before he died, he made his eldest son and successor, Ludwig I, to promise to take care of his stepmother and siblings. As a youth, Ludwig had an uneasy relationship with Caroline and when he became King, he tried to send her away from Munich. She resisted but decided to stay in Tegernsee Castle, a country seat built by Maximilian for her. Caroline died in 1841, 16 years after her husband. Due to her Protestant faith, her funeral was conducted with little dignity as befitted a Queen. The Protestant clergy were not allowed to enter the church, so the funeral service was given outside. Meanwhile, the attending Catholic clergy wore ordinary clothes rather than their religious vestments. When the funeral procession was dissipated, the coffin was placed in the tomb without any ceremony. This undignified treatment of her stepmother by the Catholic clergy greatly angered Ludwig I. His strong pro-Catholic views were changed forever and his attitude towards Protestant softened permanently.

Read about Queen Caroline's daughters here:
The Daughters of King Maximilian I
Princess Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria, Queen of Prussia

Read about Queen Caroline's two sisters here:
Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna of Russia
Queen Frederica of Sweden

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"The True Goddess Was Revealed With Her Step..."

Portrait of the then Grand Duchess Elizabeth Alexeievna of
Russia, c.1800. From The Royal Collection.

This was how the Comte de La Garde de Chambonas described the Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna of Russia during her stay in the Austrian capital for the Congress of Vienna in 1814. He described her as an "angel on earth", and went on to say that:
"She was endowed with a charming face, her eyes reflecting the purity of her soul. She had magnificent auburn hair, which, as a rule, was allowed to fall loose on her shoulders. Her figure was elegant, lithe, and supple, and even when she wore mask, her walk revealed her identity in a moment. No woman realised more thoroughly the line of Virgil: 'Incessu patuit Dea...' To a most delightful disposition there were added a cultivated and quick intellect, a passionate love of art, and a boundless liberality in money matters. The graceful elegance of her person, her noble bearing, and her inexhaustible kindness won her all hearts. Neglected almost from the first hour of her union by a husband whom she worshiped, her solitude and grief had bred a kind of melancholy. Stamped on every feature, that feeling lent to the accents of her voice and to her slightest movements an irresistible charm."

Anecdotal Recollections  of the Congress of Vienna
by the Comte de La Garde de Chambonas

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Princess Anna of Prussia, Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel

One of the most famous painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter was that of Princess Anna of Prussia. The princess, dressed in this painting in a diaphanous attire of tulle and silk, completed this enchanting ensemble by wearing several rows of pearls on her neck, hands and waist.

Princess Anna was the youngest daughter of Prince Charles of Prussia and Princess Marie of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. She was born in Berlin on May 17, 1836. As a member of the Prussian royal family and one of the leading beauties of the Prussian court at that time, she was the object of admiration among young men. Princess Anna was not only good-looking, but she was also exceptionally clever and charming. 

In 1852, she met the young Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria when he was on a visit to Berlin. He fell in love with Anna and wanted to marry her. The emperor's mother, Archduchess Sophie, was also quite taken with her, and wrote a letter to her sister, the Queen of Prussia, referring to Franz Joseph's feelings: "...the happiness that showed itself to him like a fleeting dream and made an impression on his heart -- alas -- much stronger and deeper than I had first thought".

As much as Franz Joseph wanted to propose to Anna, she was already engaged to Landgrave Frederick William of Hesse-Kassel. To further add complications, the Prussian court were against an alliance with Austria. The Archduchess Sophie, determined as ever, was hopeful that "this sad marriage, which they are imposing on this charming Anna and which leaves her no prospect of happiness whatsoever, could be prevented". The matchmaking was unsuccessful and Anna married Frederick William on May 26, 1853 at the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin.

The 17 year-old Anna was Frederick William's second wife. He was previously married to Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaievna of Russia, a cousin of Anna on her mother's side, but Alexandra died tragically of tuberculosis shortly after giving birth to her baby. Frederick William lost both his wife and son on the same day and it was a devastating blow for him. It took him a long time to find another wife, but the tragedy of Alexandra's death seemed to have preyed into his mind long after he married Anna. Both he and Anna shared a harmonious married life; both respected each other, but Frederick William never truly got over his loss of Alexandra, and as a result he became emotionally distant towards Anna. Nevertheless, the couple went on to have six children.

Anna was considered a fashionable woman who place an utmost care in her appearance. Her splendid figure was flattered by her taste for dresses that have ample skirts and low neckline. 

She was also very interested in music and the arts. She had remarkable talent in playing the piano, having been trained by German composer Theodore Kullak. She was also a great friend of Clara Schumann, Anton Rubinstein and Johannes Brahms; the latter even dedicated a piano quintet for her.

Later in her life, Anna converted to Roman Catholicism, much to the chagrin of the Prussian court, especially the Kaiser William II.

Landgravine Anna of Hesse-Kassel died on June 12, 1918 and she was buried in the Fulda Cathedral.

Read about Landgrave Frederick William's first wife here:
Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaievna of Russia

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Greater Happiness


"Ever more and more, stronger and deeper, grow my love and devotion, and my longing for you. Never can I thank God enough for the treasure He had given me for my very own--and be called yours, darling, what happiness can be greater? ... No more separations. At last united, bound for life, and when this life ended we meet again in the other world to remain together for all eternity. Yours, yours."
- Letter of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia to her husband, Nicholas II, shortly after their marriage.

Image is from:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Wilhelm and Ella

Long ago, there was a prince who fell deeply in love with a princess. He wanted to marry her, however, his love was unreciprocated. The princess never returned his affections, as she had fallen in love with someone else. The prince married another princess, but he never truly forgot about his first love.

The story between the youthful Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia (the future Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany) and his affection for his beautiful cousin, Princess Ella of Hesse (the future Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia) was like from a fairy tale. But unlike fairy tales, the story did not have a happy ending.

The Crown Prince was then a 16-year-old student, completing his studies at the University of Bonn. During the weekends, he would pay a visit to his Aunt Alice in Darmstadt. It was during these visits that he started falling love with Ella, who was only 11 years old at that time. He wrote to his mother: "Cousins look very nice, Victoria full of mirth, had a very good complexion; Ella--who is my special pet--is much grown and is exceedingly beautiful, in fact she is the most beautiful girl I ever saw. She is more quiet than Victoria but still very intelligent. She and I both love each other warmly… I think that, if God grants that I may live till then I shall make her my bride once you allow it." 

Wilhelm loved spending time with Ella and his affections for her only increased as the time went by. He wrote about her to his mother with tenderness and she was one of the few people who could quiet his exuberance. Wilhelm's grandmother, the Empress Augusta, was very keen about their relationship. She encouraged Wilhelm's affection for Ella and was thrilled with the prospect of them getting married. However, Wilhelm's mother, Victoria, was not enthusiastic about the match. She thought that Wilhelm and Ella were too closely related. Furthermore, she was not very fond of Ella, and had other marriage plans for his son. Lastly, Ella herself did not have the same feelings as Wilhelm. She was flattered of the attention, but this is not enough to make her agree for a marriage. And so she politely refused Wilhelm's offer of marriage.

Wilhelm was hurt; he later married Princess Augusta of Schleswig-Holstein, and Ella married Grand Duke Serge of Russia. But it was said that he never truly forgot about her and kept a photo of her on his desk until his death. Years later, when Wilhelm was an old man, he wrote a letter to his grandson who wanted to marry a lady below his rank. He wrote how he had to choose between love and duty: "You will no doubt well know that only few sovereigns in the world are lucky enough to be able to marry the object of their first love. For example, in my youth exactly the same thing happened to me, when my parents refused to allow me to marry my cousin Ella of Hesse. A relationship which my grandmother Kaiserin Augusta especially fostered and which I had begged my parents from the bottom of my heart to permit. My heart bleeding, I obeyed the severe command of duty."

Since Wilhelm and Ella's relationship was one of history's many 'what ifs', it can be quite amusing to ponder about what could possibly happen to them, to Germany and to the whole world if they got married.

Quotes from:
Young Wilhelm: The Kaiser's Early Life, 1859-1888
by John C. G. Röhl

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