01 March 2015

Today's Princess: Anna Pavlovna of Russia

By Jean-Baptiste Van der Hulst via Wikimedia Commons
A Russian imperial grand duchess does not always make a perfect foreign consort. Like other Russian highnesses, her high rank and preference for rigid court ceremony and classism made it difficult for Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna (1795-1865) to adjust to life in her husband's far more democratic nation. Today marks the 150th anniversary since her death.

A granddaughter of Catherine the Great, Anna was not forced into marriage. Earlier proposals from the new self-proclaimed Emperor Napoleon and the Catholic Bourbon Prince Charles Ferdinand Duke of Berry were rejected for her, but when the ongoing Napoleonic wars made allies out of Russia and Holland, her brother, Emperor Alexander, let her choose whether to marry the heir of his new friend in The Netherlands. Prince William of Orange came to Russia and Anna agreed to the match. It might have been better for her if they had met on his territory. She might have made a different decision since the more liberal society and less-ornate court life of her husband's country caused her to suffer from culture shock. Likewise, her new subjects did not exactly warm up to her snobby manner, despite her extensive support of charity projects.

At home, life with William was also turbulent. A serial cheater and a terrible gambler, William was hardly an ideal partner. In fact, when her jewels went missing, she suspected he might have taken them to pay his debts. Nevertheless, they had four sons and a daughter together.

William's relatively early death left her a debt-ridden dowager at age 54. To make matters worse, she did not get along with her eldest son, the new King William III and his wife. To get by, she was forced her to sell off some of her Russian property and to sell much of her husband's art collection of Dutch masters to her brother Emperor Nicholas I. Those Rembrandts are still in The Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

Nevertheless, Anna left a lasting impression on The Netherlands where the municipality of Anna Paulowna is named for her and a genus of trees (Empress Tree, Princess Tree and Foxglove Tree) was named Paulownia tomentosa in her honor. She is also the great-great grandmother of today's Dutch King Willem Alexander.

For more about Anna:
The Hot-Tempered Anna Pavlovna of Russia on A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life
Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia, Queen of the Netherlands on Arrayed in Gold
Anna Pavlovna on Hermitage Amsterdam



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