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The mistresses of the Russian emperors

Royal history is dotted with scandalous love stories and so it’s no surprise that the Tsars of Russia have had their fair share of sensational liaisons. Today Royal Central is looking back at some of Russia’s most famous royal mistresses.

Nicholas II and Mathilde Kschessinska

Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia, reigned from November 1894 until he was forced to abdicate on 15 March 1917. Long before his reign saw the fall of the Russian Empire, however, he was a young man and he fell in love with an eighteen-year-old girl named Mathilde Kschessinska.

Nicholas and Mathilde met at a gala dinner in 1890 and the spark between them was instantaneous. Mathilde was quoted as saying ‘I fell in love with the heir on our first encounter… The feeling completely filled my soul, I could only think of him.’

Their passionate affair lasted four years, with the majority of their liaisons taking place at a manor house in St. Petersburg which Nicholas had bought for Mathilde. They called a halt on their love story in 1894 when Nicholas married Alexandra Feodorovna (Alix of Hesse) shortly after the death of his father, Tsar Alexander.

The history of Nicholas II and his family is well known, and their execution at the hands of rebel forces on the night of 17 July 1918 was a brutal end to the Romanov dynasty. Mathilde, on the other hand, went on to have a long and full life. She became a prima ballerina and socialite carrying on further affairs with two Grand Dukes before immigrating to Paris. She died in 1971, just nine months shy of her one hundredth birthday.

Alexander II and Princess Yekaterina (Catherine) Dolgorukova

The son of Nicholas I of Russia and Alexandra Feodorovna (Charlotte of Prussia), Alexander II was the Emperor of Russia from March 1855 until his assassination in 1881. His greatest accomplishments included the emancipation of Russia’s serfs in 1861, a reorganisation of the judicial system and the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867.

Alexander and Yekaterina began their affair in 1866 when she was eighteen and he was forty-six. He had known her since childhood and it was at an official visit to her school two years earlier in 1864 that he became attracted to the girl described as ‘of medium height, with an elegant figure, silky ivory skin, the eyes of a frightened gazelle, a sensuous mouth, and light chestnut tresses’.

Once she had completed her education Alexander II had Yekaterina installed as a lady-in-waiting to his wife, who was suffering from tuberculosis. In 1878 she was gifted her own private apartments at the Winter Palace…the same building which housed Alexander II’s ailing wife. This move alienated Alexander II from his adult children and the relationship was further splintered in 1880 when the Empress died and Alexander II and Yekaterina married. Alexander II legitimised their three surviving children though did not give them titles as Alexander II and Yekaterina’s morganatic marriage prevented his titles and privileges passing to the wife and any offspring.

Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881 in Saint Petersburg when a series of bombs were launched by members of Narodnaya Volya at the Emperor’s procession. With tensions still high between Yekaterina and the Imperial Family she and her children were not allowed a place in the funeral procession and were forced to stand in an entryway of the church. She lived another forty-one years and died in February 1922.

Alexander I and Princess Maria Naryshkina

The son of Grand Duke Paul Petrovich – later Paul I – Emperor Alexander I succeeded to the Russian throne in March 1801 upon the murder of his father and reigned until 1 December 1825. He was the first Russian King of Poland and the first Russian Grand Duke of Finland.

In 1799 the heir to the throne began a relationship with Polish noble, Princess Maria Naryshkina. The affair was sanctioned by Maria’s husband, Chief Master of the Hunt Dmitry Naryshkin.

Described by memoir writer Phillip Vigel, who said that ‘[Maria’s] beauty was so perfect that it seemed impossible…Ideal facial features and impeccable forms were all the more vivid with the permanent simplicity of her attire.’

Their affair lasted thirteen years and produced four daughters – one (Sofia) who lived until the age of sixteen and three of whom died in infancy. It’s said that in 1803 Maria made an unsuccessful attempt to convince Alexander I to divorce his wife, Louise of Baden, whom he had married in 1793. The affair lasted a further nine years, however, and ended in 1814 though no cause or instigator of the break is known.

Alexander I died of typhus in 1825 and Maria died of unknown causes in 1854.

Emperor Paul I and Princess Anna Petrovna Lopukhina

Officially the son of Peter III and Catherine the Great (though Catherine hinted his real father was her lover, Sergei Saltykov) Paul I reigned as Emperor of Russia between 1796 and 1801.

He first met Anna Petrovna Lopukhina in the year of his accession and had her and her family brought to court. Two years later, in 1798, twenty-year-old Anna replaced Catherine Nelidova as chief mistress.

A contemporary described Anna as having ‘a pretty little head, but she was of short height and ugly build, with a sunken chest and without any grace in her manners.’ But Paul loved her and showered her and her family with awards – including making her father a Prince with the title of His Serene Highness.

The Emperor’s attention to Anna was constant – he named ships after her, ordered his guard officers to wear uniforms in her favourite colour (raspberry), cancelled the ban on the waltz as it was her favourite dance and had Mikhailovsky Castle painted to match her ball gloves. The attention eventually proved too much, however, and in 1799 Anna asked for permission to end their affair and marry her childhood friend, Prince Pavel Gagarin.

Paul arranged the marriage but also gifted Anna her own apartments in Mikhailovsky Castle which had a secret staircase linking them to the imperial chambers – eternally hopeful for a change in her affection, it would seem. Sadly, Paul was never able to win Anna’s love back as he was assassinated by conspirators against the crown in March 1801. Anna herself died of consumption in 1805 at the age of twenty-eight.

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