Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sisters-in-Law at the Russian Court: Elizabeth Alexeievna and Anna Feodorovna

In the last decade of the 18th century, two very young German princesses separately made a long and tiring journey from their homeland to the vast Russian empire. The first princess, Louise, came from Baden in 1793 to marry the heir to the Russian throne, Alexander. The second princess, Juliane, came to Russia in 1796 from Coburg to marry Alexander's younger brother, Constantine. Both princesses came to Russia when they were only adolescents - Louise was 13 and Juliane was 15 - and in order to become full-fledged member of the Imperial Family both were required to give up not only their names but also their religion. Upon their conversion to the Russian Orthodox Church, Louise of Baden became Elizabeth Alexeievna and Juliane of Coburg became Anna Feodorovna.

For the first three years of her married life, Elizabeth had no closed female friend at Court to whom she could share her intimate thoughts and feelings. She had no one to turn to for a 'girl talk' since she was not even particularly closed to Alexander's sisters. But everything changed with Anna's arrival in Russia. Here was a new girl who also came from Germany and who was also subjected to the same bride-choosing ordeal as Elizabeth was when she came to Russia with her sister three years ago. They had so much to share with each other - news from Germany, the latest fashion trend, the music and the dances, the balls...and they could converse to each other in German. Elizabeth was more than happy to welcome the newcomer and soon she was writing an enthusiastic letter to her mother about her new sister-in-law:
"Julia is such a wonderful child: kind, polite, trustworthy, and she is the best friend I could ever dream of. She is cheerful and amusing... She has brown hair, brown dazzling eyes, and a pretty mouth..."
As for Anna, she likewise immediately felt comfortable with Elizabeth. Only two days after her arrival, she suddenly approached Elizabeth during a ball, held her hands, and called her in a German endearment equivalent to "darling". This vivacity initially surprised Elizabeth but she felt quite amused of Anna's naivete and spontaneity.
Grand Duchesses Elizabeth Alexeievna and Anna Feodorovna as young wives
Elizabeth and Anna were actually poles apart. In terms of physical appearance, Elizabeth was blonde while Anna was a brunette. Temperamentally, Anna was more vivacious and exuberant, while Elizabeth was the serene and soft-spoken one. But they have a thing in common: the two grand duchesses were highly acknowledged for their pretty faces and charming manners. Prince Eugen of Wurttemberg wrote about the two grand duchesses when he met them in St. Petersburg:
…During these early days of my life in St. Petersburg, I was introduced to Grand Duchesses Elizabeth and Anna, the wives of Alexander and Konstantin. The first, a former Princess of Baden, was lovely and kind, and at the same time possessed the most gentle character. The latter was probably even more a striking beauty, but still she could not overshadow the charms of Elizabeth…”
The then ruler of the Russian Empire was the indomitable Empress Catherine the Great. She was the one, through her careful machinations, who was largely responsible for these two early marriages of her grandsons. She was nonetheless delighted of her granddaughters-in-law and asked Mme. Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun to do a portrait of them.

Mme. Le Brun described Elizabeth to be 'ravishing' and a 'heavenly figure'
while she described Anna to be 'sweetly pretty' and with features of 'life and mirth'.

After her death, the throne was inherited by her despotic son who became Paul I. Paul resented his mother and upon his accession he was swift to enact changes and undo some of her mother's legacy. The brilliance and opulence of Catherine's reign was quickly replaced by military-structured and austere Court life which proved to be exceedingly stifling and boring for his two older sons and their wives. Court life was never the same as before. In this highly oppressive environment, coupled by Paul's temperamental and volatile nature and his wife Maria Feodorovna's obvious dislike of her daughters-in-law who treated them a little more than ladies-in-waiting, it was not surprising that the two young wives, Elizabeth and Anna, drew closer to each other. Elizabeth wrote to her mother several weeks after Catherine's death:
" I am certain, dear Mother, that the death of the good Empress affected you deeply. As for me, I can assure you that I cannot cease thinking of it. You have no idea how every little thing has been turned upside down. All this made such a wretched impression on me, especially in the first days, that I scarcely recognized myself. Oh, how awful those first days were! Anna was my only consolation, as I was hers. She practically lived with me, coming here in the morning, dressing here, having dinner on most occasions and remaining all day until we would go together in attendance on the Emperor. Our husbands were hardly ever at home and we could find little to do with ourselves, the way of life not having been regulated in every aspect."
In these early years of their life in Russia, Elizabeth was happily married to Alexander. They were a good-looking couple and their marriage was clearly based on friendship and mutual respect, if not love. But the same cannot be said of Anna and Constantine. Their married life was becoming increasingly unhappy as the months went by. From the beginning, Constantine was indifferent from his wife, and made no efforts to gain, at least, her friendship. He was moody and bad-tempered, totally dedicated to his military career, and Anna was too outspoken not to berate him about it and his lack of affection. This almost always resulted in quarrels between husband and wife. Despite his disinterest in his wife, Constantine proved to be an extremely jealous and insecure boy who exercised a very tight control over his wife. He was jealous of his brother Alexander's close friendship with her and he resented her increasingly popularity at Court. Whenever Anna earned admiring glances and remarks, he would forbade her to leave her rooms. In her misery, the usually cheerful and witty Anna soon became sickly and dispirited. She relied heavily on Elizabeth for moral and emotional support, as she was the one who could relieve the tension and smooth things out between the frequently quarreling couple. Throughout the duration of Paul's reign, Anna led a miserable married life.

After the death of Tsar Paul in 1801, Anna decided once and for all that her marriage is over. She left Russia and once in Coburg refused to return to Russia. She was determined not to go back to her unhappy life and immediately she started divorce proceedings against her husband. It was a bold move in her part despite her family's initial lack of support. It certainly says something about her character. She never returned to Russia but she and Elizabeth continued writing to each other well until Elizabeth's death in 1826. In the absence of Anna, Elizabeth once again felt lonely and deprived of a closed female friend within the imperial family. The new Empress certainly missed Anna, who settled permanently in Switzerland, that when she had a new sister-in-law, Charlotte of Wurttemberg later Elena Pavlovna, she confided to her mother how Elena reminded her so much of Anna and how her tender feelings for the new grand duchess were reminiscent to that she had for Anna more than twenty years ago.

Despite the subsequent breakdown of her marriage and the many other tribulations in her life, Elizabeth was determined not to follow Anna's example and leave Russia. She was fully resolved to stick to her husband and her marriage, knowing that he would one day finally come to his senses and return to her.

The close friendship between Elizabeth and Anna was the result of those early years they spent in Russia when they first knew opulence under Catherine the Great and which eventually gave way to a time of uncertainty and stifling formality under Paul I. In those uncertain times, they found comfort and solace with each other, and these helped them get through to their early life in the intimidating grandeur and magnificence of the Russian court.

Elizabeth and Anna in later life. Elizabeth would die at 47 and Anna at 79.

Monday, April 13, 2015

"Same beautiful soul"

Portrait of the Grand Duchess Ella 
by Friedrich August von Kaulbach.
Colorized by me. :-)

German portraitist Friedrich August von Kaulbach painted several portraits of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth throughout the late 19th century when she was apparently at the height of her beauty. Her brother Ernst-Ludwig particularly likes Ella's portraits by Kaulbach for they capture some of that elusive charm that most artists failed to convey on her other portraits. In this portrait, Ella's elegant, supple and graceful figure were apparent, as well as her beautiful Greek profile and that faraway look in her eyes. At the same time, she projects an aura of exquisite delicacy, simplicity and nobility. The Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, who was in awe of the newly-married Ella, describe her in his diary: "She is so feminine; I am struck by her beauty. Her eyes wonderfully delineate calm and gentleness. In her, despite her gentleness and shyness, there is a certain feeling of self-confidence, a sense of power. Under such a beautiful appearance must be the same beautiful soul." 

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Daughters of Prince Ivan Baryatinsky

Prince Ivan Baryatinsky was one of the most influential nobles in Russia of the early 19th century. He was a wealthy landowner and the owner of several palaces throughout Russia and Europe. As the sole heir of his father, Prince Ivan inherited the vast fortune of his family. He first served in the Yekaterinoslav Hussars of the Russian Imperial Army as a young man, and he later distinguished himself as an astute diplomat and was made Russian ambassador first in London and then at the court of the King of Bavaria in Munich. While he was on a diplomatic service in London, he met and married an Englishwoman named Frances Mary Dutton, the daughter of Lord Sherborne. They had one daughter, Elizabeth, but Frances Mary died in 1807. Later that year, Prince Ivan was sent to Bavaria as the Russian ambassador and there he met and married a German countess, Maria Keller, with whom he had four sons and three daughters. It was a match made in heaven. Prince Ivan and the now Maria Feodorovna were a good-looking and generous couple, and enjoyed a successful marriage. Prince Ivan was especially interested in agronomics and applied the things he learned from his travels all over Europe in the development and management of his estates. Princess Maria Feodorovna, on the other hand, was a philanthropist. She was particularly involved in charity and other social causes. After their marriage, Prince Ivan built a magnificent palace complex in Kursk which he named "Marino" in honor of his first and second wives. In here, his children grew up and received an excellent education with special emphasis on Christian values. Thus, the Baryatinsky children will grow up to closely follow their parents' examples in philanthropy and social astuteness.

Princess Olga Ivanovna Baryatinsky,
Countess Orlova-Davydova 
Olga, born in 1814, was the eldest daughter of Prince Ivan and Maria Feodorovna Keller. She married Count Vladimir Petrovich Orlov-Davydov in 1832. Count Davydov was a scion of one of the most powerful noble families in Russia. He was a wealthy landowner and a philanthropist. He was educated in Britain and as a result, he acquired a great love for Britain and its culture. Olga and Davydov primarily lived in Orel and there Olga took interest in the welfare of the people. She was described to have possessed a wonderful character. Her simplicity and unassuming ways particularly in the way she treats peasants amazed courtiers and dignitaries. Like her mother, Olga had a developed social conscience. She and Davydov made it a point that charity must be a foremost importance in their life. They built schools, churches, hospitals and charitable institutions. The writer Aksarov who had the opportunity to see the couple's charitable work was surprised with their attitude towards ordinary people. He wrote that they "lead a living union with the Church, and not less than a living union with the Russian people", and that the "Russian village became a part of Olga's moral being". She was well-acquainted with peasant life and with the needs of the people both in general and in detailed. After her mother's death, Olga inherited the guardianship of the Community of the Sisters of Charity, which her mother founded. 

Princess Leonilla Ivanovna Baryatinsky, 
Princess of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn
Born in 1816, Leonilla was the second daughter. The princess, like her brothers and sisters, was highly educated and cultured. When she was 16 years old, her mother brought her to St. Petersburg to be introduced to the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. She immediately became famous at the court for her attractive looks. She was described to be tall like a 'Lebanese cedar, slender, somewhat restrained and very serious, but beautiful from head to toe'. Her 'velvet eyes and sable eyebrows' gave her an 'Italian look'. In the spring of 1834, she became a maid-of-honor to the Empress. However, less than year after her appointment, the beautiful and cultured Leonilla married the Tsar's aide-de-camp, Prince Ludwig of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, who was also a widower. After their marriage, Leonilla and her husband left Russia and settled in their estate in Vilna, Lithuania. Prince Wittgenstein inherited a vast fortune from his first wife, which afforded him and Leonilla to lead a luxurious lifestyle. Following her mother's example, Leonilla was also interested in charity and founded several schools and hospitals for the poor. Although their marriage started happily, Leonilla and her husband soon drifted away from each other. She converted to Catholicism and fell into a sort of religious mania. She had an affair with a Frenchman while her husband settled in the wing of the castle with his German mistress. Before the the Prince's death in 1866, he and Leonilla were somewhat reconciled. "Thus ended", wrote the writer Smirnov, "this married life that started with feigned love, passed on for a short time in indifference, and then in friendship..." As a widower, she became a close friend of the Empress Augusta of Germany and tried to help her resolve a number of diplomatic issues to prevent the Franco-Prussian War. In the last 30 years of her life, Princess Leonilla lived in a villa at Ouchy, overlooking Lake Geneva. For many years, her homes has been a "bourne of crowned heads and imperial personages". One of her oldest friends is the Dowager Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, 94, who, until the outbreak of the war, would visit once a year. Until the last days of her long life, Leonilla, kept an excellent memory and a sober mind. She died in 1918 at the age of 102.

Princess Maria Ivanovna Baryatisnky,
Princess Kochubey
The youngest daughter of the family, Maria, was born in 1818 . Like her mother and her sisters, she was also a famous beauty at the Russian court. She also became a maid-of-honor to the Empress Alexandra and a close friend of the Empress's daughter, Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaievna. The Grand Duchess fondly remembers Maria in her memoirs:
"After the start of the Lent was the end of all celebrations. Only a few were invited to gather in the evening with Mama in the Green Room, where for the most part we read aloud. Among these guests were Princess Baryatinsky and her daughter Maria. Her shyness and modesty endeared her to me and soon we became friends. She was serious and deeply religious. The friendship between us was truly what I've always dreamed of: she ennobled our nature. We both were full of ideals according to our age... We are especially protective of our desires, thoughts and ideas from prying eyes. Maria Baryatinsky was blond with black eyebrows, her eyes if she sympathized with anyone, were full of warmth, which I have not seen in anybody, except for the Empress Maria Alexandrovna (wife of Emperor Alexander II), perhaps because I truly loved them both.
Maria Baryatinsky's hair was the same as mine. When she unravels her hair, it covered her knees. She plaits it into a twine three times around the head and fastened it with gold pin. I remember one birthday celebration of Papa in Peterhof. Despite the fact that Baryatinsky lived nine miles from there, she came with fresh flowers on her hair. Most of the flowers were still in bud, and during a dance, they were dispersed. The portrait by the famous artist Robertson captured her in all her charms while she was about to play the piano. In 1841, she married Mikhail Kochubey, and eighteen months later she is gone. She died of a fever... How short this friendship was! But this remains an indelible trace in my soul. Her sister Leonilla, the future Princess Wittgenstein. was also very attractive, but her beauty was of the earth, while Maria was like an angel. In Maria, I found an echo of myself, and this four-year friendship was just beautiful. "
After Maria's early death, her mother founded a shelter for poor women as a dedication to her.

Portraits of Prince Ivan Baryatinsky and Princess Maria Feodorovna nee Keller

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