Aleksandra von Engelhardt
|Aleksandra von Engelhardt|
|Parents||Wassily von Engelhardt
Marfa Yelena Potemkin
|Consorts||Franciszek Ksawery Branicki|
|Children||with Franciszek Ksawery Branicki
Władysław Grzegorz Branicki
|Date of Birth||1754|
|Date of Death||1838|
Aleksandra von Engelhardt (1754–1838), also known as Sasjenka and Countess Branicka, was a Russian noble. She was the niece, confidant and likely the lover of Grigory Potyomkin, and the favourite and lady-in-waiting of Catherine the Great.
She was one of the most notable socialites at the Russian Imperial court during the reign of Catherine, and given a position close to a member of the Imperial family.
She was the daughter of Wassily von Engelhardt and his wife Marfa Yelena Potemkin, and thus the niece of Grigory Potyomkin.
Aleksandra von Engelhardt was introduced to the Russian court with her five sisters (and her brother) in 1775. They were initially uneducated and ignorant, but was soon given a sophisticated polish and made to be the most favored women at the Russian court; they were treated almost as if they were a part of the Imperial family, and were to be known as : "almost Grand Duchesses" and as the "jewels" and ornaments of the Russian court. Potemkin gave them large dowries and had Catherine appoint them ladies-in-waiting. They were alleged to be the lovers of their uncle, which was one of the most known gossip subjects and scandals of the age. His first mistress among them was Varvara: after her marriage in 1779, Aleksandra was pointed out as her successor.
Aleksandra von Engelhardt was the oldest of the sisters taken to court. She was described as ignorant and uneducated, but also as intelligent and willfull, and with a magnificent and confidant manner and a haughty personality which effectively hid her lack of education.
She was also a noted business person: she earned millions by selling timber and wheat. Her marriage was described as harmonious. Her spouse continued to waste their fortune and make huge debts, but this was always very temporary, as she, in parallel, continued to earn millions and thereby paid his debts quickly.
She was described by ambassador Harris as: " a young, very attractive and well-shaped lady, with a superior talent for creating plots"; he added, that she spent a lot of time with Catherine and Potemkin, and that: "unless her uncle changed his attitute toward her, she is likely to become the next female confidante (of Catherine)". She is described as an influential force at the Russian court. She is pointed out as the person who exposed the adultery between the favourite of Catherine, Ivan Rimsky-Korsakov, and Catherine's confidant and lady-in-waiting, Praskovja Bruce, thereby bringing about the fall of both Korsakov and Bruce (1779). She was treated as an "unofficial member of the Imperial family", a rank which was taken for granted until her death. British ambassador Harris reported that she received gifts and presents in exchange for information, and recommended her as an excellent informer, and she functioned as an agent for the British, from whom she received money.
She was rumoured to be the daughter of Catherine; a legend claimed that she was born instead of the later Emperor Paul, but switched with the son of a Kalmyck woman because of her gender, since a male heir was wanted.
She is mentioned as the most intimate confidant and friend of Potemkin after Catherine, and his favourite among his nieces. Their alleged sexual relationship ended in 1779 and she was replaced by her sister Jekaterina, with whom he was to have had an on-and-off relationship the rest of his life, but the intimate friendship between Aleksandra and Potemkin continued. She acted as the hostess of Potemkin, and an invitation to her was a sign of favour from him. They also corresponded. She was present with him in Ukraine and on his household in the south in the 1780s. She often argued with him, which was suggested as a sign of their close friendship.
In 1791, she expressed a wish that Potemkin should be the successor to the king of Poland. For many years, there were rumours in Poland that Potemkin had plans to make her children heirs to the Polish throne.
She nursed Potemkin during his illness. She is said to have inherited the marriage certificate of Potemkin and Catherine. Potemkin died in her arms.
She created a sanctuary for Potemkin's memory on his estate, and was visited by Alexander I, who appointed her Lady of the court. In 1816, Wiegel reported how she was kissed on the hand and treated with the same rank in etiquette as that of an Imperial Grand Duchess, and that she and others seemed to take this for granted.
In 1781 she married Franciszek Ksawery Branicki. The marriage was arranged to create a contact in Poland.
She had five children:
- Katarzyna Branicka
- Aleksander Branicki
- Władysław Grzegorz Branicki
- Zofia Branicka
- Elżbieta Branicka – Pushkin's secret love
- Simon Sebac Montefiore : Potemkin (2006)
- Marian Kukiel, Książę Adam, Warszawa 1993.
- Henryk Mościcki, Aleksandra Branicka, w: Polski Słownik Biograficzny, t. II, Kraków 1936