Sunday, May 10, 2020

Love and Marriage Prospects of the Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna

Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaievna of Russia
Detail from a portrait by Christina Robertson
(State Hermitage Museum, Russia)
Beautiful, elegant, imposing and intelligent – these were just some of the words used to describe the Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaievna, the second daughter of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia and his wife Alexandra Feodorovna.

As a young grand duchess in the Russian court, she was the focus of admiration among courtiers and members of the nobility. Contemporaries described her as tall and slender, graceful, blonde, with long eyelashes and a “divine” gleam in her eyes. There was kindness and gentleness in her expression, but she was also proud and judicious.

Despite her beauty, virtues, and her status as the daughter of the Russian emperor, Olga was not lucky in love, unlike her sisters. She married a future king and became a queen, just as her parents hoped, but the relationship with her husband was far from ideal.

Olga’s older sister, Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna, had married a prince of low rank, Maximilian of Leuchtenberg. Consequently, the Emperor and Empress hoped that their second daughter, would make a more brilliant match. They cherished the hope to someday see Olga marry a future king, however they did not want to force her to marry someone against her will.

In 1838, during a visit to relatives in Berlin with her parents, Olga attracted the attention of the then Crown Prince Maximilian of Bavaria. They met during a ball and Max was clearly besotted. He was determined to pursue Olga, but then she was unimpressed. Before marriage talks could even begin, Olga categorically refused to even think about a wedding with the Crown Prince.

The future Maximilian II,
King of Bavaria

A year later, Olga’s brother, the Tsarevich Alexander, paid a visit to Vienna, where he made friends with Archduke Stephan of Austria. Alexander saw Stephan as a potential husband for his sister and communicated his opinions to his parents. Nicholas I supported his son’s idea – he had nothing against Stephan personally and he also thought that this was a good opportunity to finally resume the connection between the Romanovs and the Habsburgs, which started and also ended with the marriage of his sister Alexandra Pavlovna and Archduke Joseph of Austria decades ago.

Archduke Stephan of Austria,
son of Archduke Joseph, Palatine of Hungary
(Image from

For the wedding of Maria Nikolaievna to Duke Maximilian of Leuchtenberg in St. Petersburg in 1839, Archduke Stephan was invited to attend. This was a good opportunity for him to spend time with Olga and get to know more of each other. But instead of him, the Austrian court sent another representative to the wedding, Archduke Albrecht, a cousin of Stephan. To the surprise of Olga’s family, it was Albrecht who fell in love with Olga and made a proposal. Olga refused him – she was liked Stephan better and was hopeful that her feelings would be reciprocated. Furthermore, she found Albrecht to be unattractive, as she wrote in her diary: “At least Stephan was not physically unpleasant like the others…”

Archduke Albrecht of Austria, Duke of Teschen

But the possible alliance with the Habsburgs, which Nicholas I had really hoped for, did not take place. A letter from Vienna arrived in St. Petersburg a few months later stating that “the marriage between Stephan and Olga Nikolaievna, who profess different faiths, was unacceptable for Austria”. The court in Vienna considered that if the wife of the next Palatine of Hungary (Stephan) would remain Orthodox, it could pose a great danger for the country’s stability. It should be remembered that the same difficulty happened when Alexandra Pavlovna, Olga’s aunt, did not give up her Orthodox faith when she married the Catholic Archduke Joseph. The Habsburgs were staunch Catholics and Alexandra suffered mainly because of the issue in her religion. As for Stephan himself,  although he found Olga to be an attractive young lady, he had to give up the idea of marrying her due to the firm opposition of his family.

Now 18 years old, the still unmarried but beautiful Olga caught the eyes of a prince from the Russian aristocracy, Alexander Baryatinsky. The young man was said to be very handsome that he even managed to turn the head of Olga’s older sister Maria two years earlier. He was considered to be the Don Juan of St. Petersburg – he had good looks, was extremely wealthy and very popular with women. When Nicholas I heard about this, he did everything he could to prevent the relationship from going too far. He had Baryatinsky sent to the Caucasus, where he eventually made a brilliant career and becoming the Governor of Caucasus.

Prince Alexander Baryatisnky

By 1840, Olga decided that she would not rush into marriage. She was quite happy to stay home with her parents and her favorite sister Alexandra (“Adini”). Around this time, Olga’s aunt, Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna (wife of Nicholas I’s brother, Mikhail Nikolaievich), began making efforts in finding a match for her still unmarried niece. She suggested her brother, Friedrich of Württemberg. But Olga was clearly averse with the idea. She recalled how Friedrich, who had been visiting Elena for a long time, became a frequent visitor at the Emperor’s palace. “I felt his intentions and directly told everything about it to Mama, who was terrified and choking with indignation. He was twice as old as me, at one time he even danced with Mama, and he is the same age as my parents; I treated him like an uncle …” In the end, Friedrich was refused amiably. And Nicholas I declared that his daughter need not rush into marrying and that she was free to choose who to marry. As for Elena Pavlovna, she did not take her niece’s refusal lightly and was offended.

Prince Friedrich of Wurttemberg,
younger brother of Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna

In 1842, Olga’s mother, Empress Alexandra, began to look for another potential groom for her daughter. The Empress had her eyes set on Duke Adolf of Nassau, but this time, she was not alone. Elena Pavlovna was also hoping that Adolf would choose one of her own daughters. The imminent arrival of Adolf of Nassau and his brother Prince Moritz in St. Petersburg caused a tension between the two families, as Olga recalled: “This nearly caused a break with the Mikhailovsky Palace. Aunt Elena had conceived a dream of making her older daughter Maria, the Grand Duchess in Karlsruhe [Baden] and placing the younger one in Wiesbaden as the wife of Adolf of Nassau. When Papa heard about it, he said at once that his nieces were grand duchesses just like us and that he considered them as his own children, therefore Adolf of Nassau was free to choose among all of us as he wished.” Eventually, Adolf chose Elena’s second daughter Elizabeth as his wife. The Emperor was surprised by the choice but he had nothing against it and so he gave his blessing.

Adolf, Duke of Nassau.
He would eventually become the first Grand Duke of Luxembourg.

Meanwhile, Adolf's younger brother, Prince Moritz, began to show interest to Olga. She later wrote about him: "He was a handsome boy, well-built, very pleasant in conversation, with a slight touch of sarcasm. He quickly won our sympathies, but I like him for his generosity as well as his frankness… My heart was beating like a bird in a cage. Each time it tried to fly up, it immediately fell back heavily.” Maria Nikolaievna noticed that her sister liked the young man and even offered to talk with their father so that he would give permission for marriage. But Olga refused. The thought that her husband would play the same role as Maximilian of Leuchtenberg, whom her older sister had married, was humiliating for her. Furthermore, she firmly believed that the wife should follow the husband, and not the husband to the wife’s homeland.

Prince Moritz of Nassau, Adolf's younger brother.
He would die unmarried at the age of 30.
(Image from

In the following year, another potential bridegroom arrived in St. Petersburg - Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Hesse-Kassel. The heir to the modest Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel was not the most brilliant choice for an Emperor’s daughter, but he had strong family ties with the royal family of Denmark, which made him one of the candidates for the Danish throne. At the Russian court, many speculated that the prince would ask for the hand of Olga and courtiers watched intently on how it would unfold. For her part, Olga liked “Fritz” and found him attractive and charming. Fritz also seemed interested in her, but the budding relationship took an unexpected turn when Fritz met Olga’s younger sister Adini. The young prince instead fell in love with Adini and Olga noted the change in Fritz’s countenance and demeanour every time he saw the younger grand duchess. Noticing all of this, Olga decided that she did not want to be her sister’s rival and an obstacle to her happiness; she graciously step aside and let Adini and Fritz develop their romance. When Fritz asked the Emperor and Empress for Adini’s hand, they were surprised and slightly disappointed that it was not Olga, but still they gave him their blessings. After the couple’s wedding, Adini was diagnosed as consumptive and her failing health was further aggravated by a difficult pregnancy. The suffering that she endured while sick and pregnant at the same time and her subsequent tragic death was a huge blow to her family. The Empress Alexandra fell into depression which seriously affected her health. As a result, doctors advised her to seek treatment outside Russia.

Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, the heir
to the Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel. 

Two years later in 1846, the 22-year-old Olga accompanied her mother in seeking treatment in Palermo, Italy. While staying there, they were visited by Crown Prince Karl of Württemberg. He and Olga had met once when they were teenagers. Karl had turned from a shy boy into a handsome young man. In her memoirs, Olga recalled that she immediately felt that “he was the person whom her heart had been looking for so long”. On the other hand, Karl was so fascinated by the beauty and intelligence of this Russian grand duchess that he proposed to her a few days later. They married in St. Petersburg in July of the same year and festivities lasted for two weeks. Before Olga set out to Württemberg, her new homeland, her father advised her daughter: “Be for Karl as your mother has been for me all these years.”

Image of Crown Prince Karl of Wurttemberg
as a young man.

Once settled in Württemberg, Olga proved to be an exemplary wife and Crown Princess. She and Karl did not have children of their own but their marriage was harmonious. Karl was a homosexual and he had a male favourite to whom he showered many gifts and privileges. It became the talk of Europe and there was public criticism of his scandalous behaviour. Olga, always proud and dignified, bore everything with dignity, and performed her role as the wife of the future King impeccably.

Karl and Olga became King and Queen of Württemberg in 1864. Despite the problems in their marriage, Olga remained a devoted wife to Karl and a worthy Queen to her adopted homeland.


fuzzlebuzzle said...

Great write up, enjoyed reading 8)

Gem said...


Thank you! Glad you enjoyed reading! 😊

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