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The Fifteen Princesses of Orange: Anna Pavlovna of Russia

Anna Pavlovna was born on the 18th of January 1795 as the daughter of Paul I of Russia and Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg, or Maria Feodorovna as she was known after marriage. She was the eighth child out of a total of ten. Anna was just six years old when her father was assassinated. He was succeeded by her 23-year-old brother Alexander I. Anna was especially close to her younger brothers Nicolas and Michael and they even had rings to represent this bond. Anna was educated quite well. She spoke Russian, German and French fluently and she was also taught in mathematics and physics. In her free time she painted and embroidered; several works from her hand still survive.

She was considered to be great match and several candidates were turned down, including Napoleon, the Duke of Berry, the future Ferdinand I of Austria and the Duke of Clarence. In 1815 her brother chose the Prince of Orange, who had excelled as the hero of Waterloo. William traveled to St. Petersburg to meet Anna. Anna considered herself to be above him in birth but the meeting went well anyway. She agreed to marry him. Her dowry was settled at 1 million rubles. Anna could remain faithful to the Russian Orthodox Church as long as any children were raised as protestants. They married on 21 February 1816 and arrived in the Netherlands in August of that same year. Anna was now known as Her Imperial and Royal Highness The Princess of Orange. They lived in The Hague and Brussels. William was popular in Brussels and Anne enjoyed the Brussels court life, more than The Hague which was more austere. Brussels reminded her of St. Petersburg.

King William II with his family. From left to right: Willem III (1817–1890), Alexander (1818–1848), Willem II (1792–1849), Anna Pavlovna (1795–1865), Sophie (1824–1897) and Henry (1820–1879).

King William II with his family. From left to right: Willem III (1817–1890), Alexander (1818–1848), Willem II (1792–1849), Anna Pavlovna (1795–1865), Sophie (1824–1897) and Henry (1820–1879).

Between 1817 and 1824 Anna gave birth to five children. Her oldest son, yet another William, was born in Brussels on 19 February 1817, followed by Alexander on 2 August 1818, Henry on 13 June 1820, Ernst Casimir on 21 May 1822 and Sophie on 8 April 1824. Ernst Casimir was the only one not to survive to adulthood. Her favourite son Alexander had a weak health and died of Tuberculosis on Madeira at the age of 29. She was close to Henry and Sophie but she often berated her son William for his debauchery.


Anna and William’s marriage was rocky. William had relationships with both men and women and when several pieces of jewelry were stolen in 1829 she suspected him of stealing them due to his debts. He was blackmailed several times for his homosexual relationships. They lived apart until 1843 but she remained loyal to him during the years of the Belgian troubles and eventual separation. Anna became Queen consort of the Netherlands when her father-in-law abdicated on 7 October 1840 to marry his late wife’s lady-in-waiting. She was known as a cold and haughty Queen but she was still very involved. She even spoke better Dutch than her own husband.

In March 1849 her husband suddenly became very ill while he was in Tilburg. Anna and her son Henry traveled to him and he died in their presence on 17 March 1849. He was interred in Delft and according to custom Anna did not attend the funeral. She wrote to her brother Nicolas, now Russian Emperor, that she visited the crypt several days later. Despite their rocky relationship Anna was devastated at her husband’s death. She completely withdrew from public life. With her son, the new King William III, relations continued to be strained. She disliked his wife, whom she considered sly and his ‘scourge here on earth’, but he disliked her too finally giving the two something to agree on.

Anna died on the Buitenhof estate The Hague on 1 March 1865 at 4.38 PM. Buitenhof was later torn down to make way for the Peace Palace. She too was interred in the crypt in Delft.

Anna Pavlovna’s name lives on in the Netherlands as a town (Anna Paulowna) was named after her.

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