Thursday, October 3, 2013

Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia, Queen of the Netherlands

In the past, I have already written articles about the daughters of Emperor Paul I of Russia: Alexandra, Elena, Maria, and Catherine. So here is a new one about his youngest daughter, the Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna, the future Queen Consort of the Netherlands.

The Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia was born in January 18, 1795 as the youngest daughter of Emperor Paul I of Russia and the Empress Maria Feodorovna. Just like any younger children from other families, she was the “pet” of her parents. As she was too young to spend time with her older brothers and sisters, who were already grown up men and women by the time she was born, Anna’s playmates were her two younger brothers, Nicholas and Michael.

It was said that Emperor Paul’s three youngest children, Anna, Nicholas and Michael were his favourite children. This was not far from the truth. Anna was barely one year old when her grandmother, the Empress Catherine the Great, died. As a result, the three youngest children were brought up by their parents themselves. When Paul was assassinated in 1801, Anna was only six years old, but her recollections about her father were full of tenderness. She wrote in later years how Paul loved to have his three youngest children about him and how he told them that he was estranged to his elder children because they were taken away from him soon they were born.

Anna, Nicholas and Michael were very close to one another. They called themselves the "Triopathy" and wore rings as symbols of their bond to one another. They shared each others' secrets and burdens, and even when they were already adults and had families of their own, their correspondence never ceased.

As for Anna (nicknamed "Annette"), her adolescence years were already clouded by different marital prospects. Each suitor tried to win her hand because of the political significance that such an illustrious marriage with a Russian grand duchess entailed. She became the talk of Europe when in 1810, the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte proposed a marriage between him and Anna.

Anna's vivacious older sister,
Napoleon had divorced his wife Josephine due to her inability to provide him an heir. As he was now on a search for a suitable wife - and a wife that could give prestige to his new empire – his first thought was the Grand Duchess Catherine, Anna’s elder sister. But Emperor Alexander could not possibly consent to a marriage between his favourite sister and his enemy. Likewise, Catherine loathed the French emperor. Conveniently, she was quickly married to Prince George of Oldenburg while the negotiation with the French was ongoing. However, Napoleon was not the type of person who easily gives up. His next choice fell on the 14-year-old Anna who was described as tall for her age, pleasant in appearance, and behaves like an adult princess.

After Alexander found out about Napoleon’s intent to marry Anna, he broke the news to his mother, who was appalled with the idea. She stated that advantages and disadvantages of such marriage for young Anna. On one hand, the interest of the State and the other, the happiness of her daughter. The imperial family gathered together to discuss the matter and in the end, Napoleon's proposal was politely refused - on the grounds that Anna was too young to get married. Later on, the French emperor married the Austrian archduchess, Marie Louise.

After France's defeat in 1813 in the Napoleonic Wars and Napoleon's subsequent exile in Elba, Russia emerged as the leading European power. With the peace in Europe finally restored, different royal courts of Europe were vying for the hand of Anna in marriage. For the second time around, France was offering its candidate: Charles Ferdinand, Duke of Berry. This candidate, unlike Napoleon, came from the illustrious Bourbon Dynasty of France. Charles Ferdinand was a nephew of King Louis VIII of France, but Alexander was not in favour of this match. He felt that the newly-restored throne of King Louis VIII was not firmly established. His opinion was shared by the Dowager Empress. Eventually, Emperor Alexander and the Dowager Empress were right in their observation with France and its king – just a few years later, Charles Ferdinand was assassinated and King Louis VIII was overthrown.

For some time, Alexander had been seriously considering marriage between Anna and his good friend, William, the Prince of Orange. Prince William had been previously and briefly engaged to the Prince Regent’s daughter Princess Charlotte. Their engagement was broken off, however, by Charlotte herself, in 1814 because she did not want to leave England and live in the Netherlands. During the Napoleonic Wars, Prince William distinguished himself to be an able commander and he became one of the war-heroes of the Battle of Waterloo. He was educated at the University of Oxford, and his courage and kind nature made him popular with the British people.

The future King William II of
the Netherlands, portrayed
here as a young man in 1815.
On December 1815, Prince William came to St. Petersburg to meet his intended bride. Two months later, on February 21, 1816, they were married in Orthodox rites at Pavlovsk. A Protestant wedding was performed at the White Hall of the Winter Palace a few days later. Anna was allowed to retain her Orthodox faith, but it was agreed that her children must be raised as Protestants. She and her husband stayed in Russia for six months and afterwards they travelled to the Netherlands. They lived in Palace Kneuterdijk in The Hague, but Prince William did not have a very good relationship with his father, which impelled the young couple to establish their court in Brussels, which was then under the Dutch crown. Anna loved living in Brussels than in The Hague because Brussels’ bustling and sophisticated court life reminded her more of the Russian court. When the Belgian Revolution broke out in 1830 which established Belgium’s independence from the Netherlands, William and Anna left Brussels for good and spent the rest of their lives in the Netherlands.

Anna and William had five children: William, the future King (1817-1890), Alexander (1818-1848), Henry (1820-1879), Ernst Casimir (1822), and Sophie (1824-1897).

As Princess of the Netherlands and later Queen, Anna immersed herself in the study of the Dutch language, history and culture. She became fluent in Dutch more than her French-speaking husband and occupied herself in establishing various charities. However, she never forgot that she was a Grand Duchess of Russia and thought herself of high rank. Her love of pomp, strong adherence for etiquette and old traditions, and unsociable behaviour did not make her very popular with the people. As a result, she was filled with feelings of sadness, longing and resentment.

Anna had a complicated relationship with her husband. William liked to associate with people who had questionable virtues and he gambled his way to debt. He kept mistresses which greatly infuriated Anna. When several pieces of her jewellery were stolen, she suspected her husband to be involved. Nevertheless, she loved William, and her letters to her family in Russia were filled with love and loyalty for him.

She also had a turbulent relationship with her eldest son, William and his wife, Sophie. Anna intensely disliked her daughter-in-law even though she was her niece, being the daughter of her sister Catherine. Anna did not have a particularly warm relationship with her sister and it was widely speculated that this was due to Anna being jealous of Catherine's intellect and magnetism.

Anna Pavlovna wearing the
Russian court dress.
In 1828, Anna received the news that the Dowager Empress Maria had died. She wrote to her brother, the now Emperor Nicholas I, that the death of their mother was like "a chasm that opens up" before them all and that with her death she "felt quite alone in the whole universe". In 1849, she also had to deal with the sudden and unexpected death of her husband. After King William’s death, his valuable and enormous collections of paintings were sold by Anna to her brother Nicholas to pay for the late king’s debt. She retired from court life and became a sad and solitary figure until her death on March 1, 1865 at the age of 70.

Note: A detailed version of this article appears in the latest issue of Royal Russia Annual.

Read about her sisters:
Alexandra | Elena | Maria | Catherine

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