Emperor Alexander II entered Russian history as a reform king, who abolished serfdom, conducted judicial, financial, military, zemstvo reforms. And although his government is assessed ambiguously (reforms were not carried to completion, the Polish insurrection was brutally suppressed, the use of the Ukrainian language was restricted and forbidden), perhaps no Russian tsar did as much for his people as did Alexander the Second. About his deeds and about the tragic death at the hands of terrorists from "People’s Will" written a lot. Less is known about Alexander as a man, about his weaknesses and his passions.
Alexander’s first wife was a German princess. The future king, then still heir to the throne, met her in March 1839. Traveling through Europe, he visited the German city of Darmstadt and here "by the will of fate", as they wrote in ancient novels, met Princess Maximilian Wilhelmine Augustus Sophia Maria of Hesse-Darmstadt. This is her full name, but Alexander from the very beginning called her simply Maria. "Princess Mary scared me terribly, from the very first moment when I saw her", he wrote from Darmstadt to his father Nikolai the First.
Princess of Hesse – Empress Maria
It really was love at first sight, passionate and unwilling to know any barriers. "Sweet mother, that to me before the mysteries of Princess Mary! – says in another letter from Alexander, written by the empress’s mother. “I’m only marrying her, that’s my decision!”"
A "secrecy" were, that’s why the crowned parents did not first give consent to the marriage, and Alexander even threatened sooner "abandon the throne", than from the princess. The fact is, the parents of Mary at the time of her birth did not live with each other for a long time. Everyone had their own passions, and there were persistent rumors that in fact the father of the princess was not the great duke of Hesse, but his mastermaster, a certain Baron de Grancy. However, officially everything was as it should be, and the duke was considered the legitimate father of Mary. Most likely, it was this, and not the threats of Alexander, that played a decisive role, and two years later the young married in St. Petersburg. Mary was 17 years old, Alexander – 23 years old.
Anna Tyutcheva, who knew the princess of the maid of honor, left detailed memories of her. Maria all her life looked younger than her years and, according to the lady’s maid, was "thin, fragile and unusually elegant". Her mind, as Tyutchev notes, "like her soul: subtle, graceful, penetrating, very ironic, but devoid of fervor, breadth and initiative …" For that "lack of initiative", or, more precisely, for the lack of interest and activity in those areas that Maria, already an empress, should have been engaged in, she was criticized a lot. True, we owe her the creation of the Mariinsky Theater (which is why it bears her name), the flourishing of the activities of the Russian Red Cross, but, perhaps, all of her outstanding public actions. From the empresses in Russia they expected more.
…And went to the Summer Garden to walk
However, Maria can hardly be reproached. She simply did not have enough strength for active social activities. Wife Alexander II gave birth to the Emperor eight children (the first two died early, and the third, who was called as a father, later became Emperor Alexander III). In addition, Maria Hessenskaya had weak lungs, and, ultimately, tuberculosis brought her to the grave in 1880. But, as many believe, there were two more reasons. One of them – a constant fear for her husband, who was committed several attempts (until the last, which cost a life to Alexander, Maria has not lived). Another reason is the long-standing romance of the emperor with Catherine Dolgorukova, whom the entire entourage of the tsar knew. He took her with him on foreign trips and even settled in the Winter Palace.
Ekaterina Dolgorukova. Postcard of the late 1870s
The story of their love is no less romantic than the story of Alexander and Maria of Hesse. In 1859 the emperor was to take part in the festivities dedicated to the anniversary of the Battle of Poltava. Near Poltava, he stopped at the estate of Prince Mikhail Dolgorukov, where he met his daughter, who then turned eleven years old. Later the children of the ruined prince were taken into state care: their sons were assigned to a military school, their daughters, including Katenka Dolgorukov, to the Smolny Institute.
After graduating from college, Ekaterina Dolgorukova stayed in St. Petersburg, where she lived with her elder brother. In the Summer Garden, where the emperor liked to walk and the emperors, they met, remembered the past and already went on a walk together. I must say that Alexander was, as they said at the time, "hunt to the female". Talked about his novels with the ladies-in-waiting before marriage, and later, when their relationship with the empress cooled, he several times made a favorite. But this time there was something else. In Catherine Dolgorukov, he fell in love with passion, desperately, "dizzy"as one of the Tsar’s friends wrote in his memoirs.
For a time, their relationship remained platonic – until the night of July 1866 in Belvedere near Peterhof. Katenka was 18 years old, Alexander – 48. There are several of their letters to each other, which are unexpected for those Puritan times frankly erotic character. However, only the passion of an aging emperor to a young girl does not explain that their romance lasted 15 years, until the tragic death of Alexander II.
He even settled his beloved in the Winter Palace and for this he introduced Princess Dolgorukov to her spouse’s private suite. The rest of Catherine, who occupied three large rooms, were just above the emperor’s chambers, and one could freely get from one to the other.
Ekaterina Dolgorukova gave birth to four children. Their future, like the future of their mother, was of great concern to the emperor, who well remembered how the problems of origin were interfering with his first wife. And when she died, the emperor, even without waiting for the end of the official mourning period, got married with Dolgorukova. This marriage was morganatic, that is, Catherine could not become a new empress. But she and her children were given the title of the most brilliant princes of Yuryevsky.
All this caused great discontent at the court, especially from the heir to the throne, the future of Alexander III. And when after the death of his father (less than a year after his new marriage) he ascended the throne, Catherine Dolgorukova-Yuryevskaya had to leave Russia together with the children. Later, she wrote memories of Alexander, about their love. She kept as relics his uniforms and even his home gown under the glass in his private chapel. She died at her villa in Nice in 1922.
About her novel with the emperor and about her most written a lot of books (the author of one of which was herself – under a pseudonym), filmed several films. The most famous of them is the 1959 French film "Katya – uncrowned empress", in which the main role was played by the magnificent Romy Schneider.
- Film "Kate": love of the king and favorites