Alexandra Feodorovna (Charlotte of Prussia)

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Alexandra Feodorovna
Alexandra Fedorovna in yellow Russian dress (1836, A.Malyukov, Hermitage).jpg
Empress Alexandra Feodorovna
portrait by A. Maliukov, 1836,
Hermitage Museum
Empress consort of All the Russias
Tenure 1 December 1825 – 2 March 1855
Coronation 3 September 1826
Spouse Nicholas I
Issue Alexander II
Maria, Duchess of Leuchtenberg
Olga, Queen of Württemberg
Alexandra, Princess Frederick William of Hesse-Cassel
Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich
Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich
Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevich
Full name
Frederica Louise Charlotte Wilhelmina
House House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov
House of Hohenzollern
Father Frederick William III of Prussia
Mother Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Born (1798-07-13)13 July 1798
Charlottenburg Palace
Died 1 November 1860(1860-11-01) (aged 62)
Alexander Palace
Religion Calvinism, then Eastern Orthodox

Alexandra Feodorovna (Russian: Алекса́ндра Фёдоровна; IPA: [ɐlʲɪˈksandrə ˈfjɵdərəvnə]), born Princess Charlotte of Prussia (13 July 1798 – 1 November 1860), was Empress consort of Russia. She was the wife of Emperor Nicholas I, and mother of Emperor Alexander II.

Born as Princess Charlotte of Prussia, she was the eldest surviving daughter of Frederick William III of Prussia, and Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Her childhood was marked by the Napoleonic wars and the death of her mother when Princess Charlotte was twelve years old.

In 1814 her marriage was arrange for political reason with Grand Duke Nicholas Pavlovich of Russia, the future Tsar Nicholas I. They fell in love with each other and married in 1817. Upon her marriage, Princess Charlotte converted to Russian Orthodoxy, and took the Russian name Alexandra Feodorovna. Ideally match with her husband, she had a happy marriage that produced a large family; seven children survived childhood.

At the death of her brother in law, Tsar Alexander I of Russia, in December 1825, Alexandra’s husband became the new Russian Emperor. Alexandra enjoyed her husband’s confidence in affairs of state, but she had no interest in politics other than her personal attachment to Prussia, her native country. She was the obedient and admiring supporter of her husband's views. Her personality was completely overshadowed by Nicholas I's strong character. As empress consort, Alexandra Feodrovona had no interest in charity work. Her chief interests were in family affairs, dancing, balls and jewels. After 1841 her health deteriorated. She spent long sojourns abroad in search for a respite to her frail constitution. The death of her youngest daughter, Alexandra, in 1844, was a terrible blow. As she became largely and invalid, Nicholas I took mistresses, but Alexandra retained her husband's love. She survived Nicholas I by five years and died in 1860, a much loved matriarch of her family.

Princess of Prussia[edit]

Alexandra Feodorovna was born on 13 July 1798 at the Charlottenburg Palace, as Princess Frederica Louise Charlotte Wilhelmina of Prussia. She was the eldest surviving daughter and fourth child of Frederick William III, King of Prussia, and Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and a sister of Frederick William IV of Prussia and of Wilhelm I, German Emperor.

Princess Charlotte's childhood was marked by the Napoleonic Wars. Her father, Frederick William III, King of Prussia, a kind and genuinely religious man, was a weak and indecisive ruler who after crushing defeats of the Prussian army at Jena and Auerstadt in 1806, lost half of his kingdom. Charlotte’s mother, Queen Louise, was famous for her beauty and she was more decisive than her husband. When the Prussians were defeated at the battle of Jena, Louise fled to Königsberg, taking her children with her, including Princess Charlotte, then eight years old. In East Prussia, they were given protection by Tsar Alexander I. Soon, Berlin fell under Napoleon’s control and Princess Charlotte grew up in war-torn Memel, Prussia. In December 1809, Queen Louise finally returned to Berlin with her children, but after a few months, became ill and died at the age of 34, shortly after Charlotte’s twelfth birthday. For the rest of her life, Charlotte treasured her mother’s memory.[1] From her early childhood, Princess Charlotte occupied the first female rank in Prussia as the eldest daughter of her widower father. She would remain attached to Prussia and her family all of her life.

In the fall of 1814, Grand Duke Nicholas Pavlovich of Russia, the future Tsar Nicholas I, and his brother Grand Duke Michael, visited Berlin. Arrangements were made between the two Royal families for Nicholas to marry Princess Charlotte in order to strengthen the alliance between Russia and Prussia. Nicholas was only heir presumptive to the throne, as the heir was his brother Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich who, like Tsar Alexander I, was childless. On a second visit the following year, Nicholas fell in love with the then-seventeen-year-old Princess Charlotte. The feeling was mutual, "I like him and am sure of being happy with him." She wrote to her brother, "What we have in common is our inner life; let the world do as it pleases, in our hearts we have a world of our own." Hand-in-hand, they wandered over the Potsdam countryside, and attended the Berlin Court Opera. By the end of his visit, Grand Duke Nicholas and Princess Charlotte were engaged. They were third cousins, as they were both great-great-grandchildren of Frederick William I of Prussia. The wedding would not take place for another two years.

On 9 June 1817 Princess Charlotte came to Russia with her brother William.[2] After arriving in St. Petersburg she converted to Russian Orthodoxy, and took the Russian name Alexandra Feodorovna. On her nineteenth birthday, 13 July 1817, she and Nicholas were married in the Chapel of the Winter Palace. "...I felt myself very, very happy when our hands joined..." she would later write about her wedding." With complete confidence and trust, I gave my life into the hands of my Nicholas, and he never once betrayed it."[3]

Grand Duchess of Russia[edit]

Imperial Monogram

At first, Alexandra Feodorovna had problems adapting to the Russian Court, the change of religion affected her and she was overwhelmed by her new surroundings. She gained the favor of her mother-in-law, Maria Feodorovna, but did not get along well with the Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna, wife of Tsar Alexander I.

Weeks after the wedding, Alexandra was pregnant. On 29 April 1818, she gave birth to her first son, the future Tsar Alexander II, and the next year she had a daughter, Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna. In 1820 Alexandra produced a stillborn daughter, her third pregnancy in three years, which brought on a deep depression. Her doctors advised a holiday, and in the autumn of 1820 Nicholas took her to see her family in Berlin, where they remained until the summer of 1821, returning again in the summer of 1824. They did not come back to St. Petersburg until March 1825 when Tsar Alexander I required their presence in Russia.

Alexandra Feodorovna spent her first years in Russia trying to learn the language and customs of her adopted country under the tutelage of the poet Vasily Zhukovsky, whom she characterized as being "too much of a poet to be a good tutor." The Imperial family spoke German and wrote their letters in French, and as a consequence, Alexandra never completely mastered the Russian language.

Nicholas and Alexandra Feodorovna were private people who found great pleasure in each other’s company. She wrote in her memoirs of her first years in Russia, "We both were truly happy only when we found ourselves alone in our apartments, with me sitting on his knees while he was loving and tender". For eight years, during the reign of Tsar Alexander I, the couple lived quietly, never once looking forward to the possibility of occupying the Russian throne. Tsar Alexander I had no children and his heir, Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich, renounced his succession rights in 1822, making Nicholas the new Tsarevich.

In 1825, Alexandra received from her brother-in-law, Alexander I the Palace of Peterhof, where she and Nicholas lived happily at the start of her life in Russia. It would remain her favorite summer residence.

Alexandra Feodorovna with her two eldest children, the Tsarevich Alexander, and the Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna, c. 1820

Personality[edit]

Alexandra was tall, slender with a small head of refined features.[4] Her blue eyes were set deep in her head.[5] She had an air of regal majesty. Her quick, light walk was graceful. She was frail, often in poor health. Her voice was hoarse, but she spoke rapidly and with decision.[6]

Alexandra Feodorovna was an avid reader and enjoyed music. She was kind and liked privacy and simplicity. She dressed elegantly, with a decided preference for light colors, and collected beautiful jewels. Neither arrogant nor frivolous, Alexandra was not without intelligence and had an excellent memory; her reading was quite extensive; her judgment of men sure, slightly ironical.[7] However, she took no active interest in politics and fulfilled the role of being an empress consort, rather than being active in the public sphere. She loved her family very dearly, and even developed facial tics whilst fearing the Decembrist Uprising and its plans to kill her family. The facial tics were a trait that ran in the royal German-Russian-British family in many branches.

For her, Russia was summed up in the person of her beloved husband. By forcing his will on this fragile, irresponsible and delicate creature, Nicholas destroyed Alexandra’s individuality.[8] Her husband gave her no time for reflection, for giving herself a sustained occupation, other than adoring wife and devoted mother.[9]

Empress of Russia[edit]

Alexandra Feodorovna became Empress-Consort upon her husband's accession as Tsar Nicholas I on December, 1825. It was a turbulent period, marked by the bloody repression of the Decembrist revolt.

By 1832 Nicholas and Alexandra had seven children whom they raised with care. Nicholas I never wavered in his love for his wife, whom he nicknamed “Mouffy”. In 1837, when much of the Winter Palace was destroyed by fire, Nicholas reportedly told an aide-de-camp, "Let everything else burn up, only just save for me the small case of letters in my study which my wife wrote to me when she was my betrothed."[10]

Only after more than twenty-five years of fidelity did Nicholas take a mistress. He turned to Barbara Nelidova, one of Alexandra's ladies-in-waiting, as the doctors had forbidden the Empress from sexual activity due to her poor health and recurring heart-attacks. Nicholas continued to seek refuge from the cares of state in Alexandra’s company. "Happiness, joy, and repose - that is what I seek and find in my old Mouffy." he once wrote.[11]

In 1845, Nicholas wept when Court doctors urged the Empress to visit Palermo for several months due to poor health. "Leave me my wife." [11] he begged her physicians, and when he learned that she had no choice, he made plans to join her, if only for a brief time. Nelidova went with them, and though Alexandra was jealous in the beginning, she soon came to accept the affair, and remained on good terms with her husband's mistress.

The Empress Alexandra Feodorovna was always frail and in poor health. At forty, she looked far older than her years, becoming increasingly thin. For a long time, she suffered from a nervous twitching that became a convulsive shaking of her head.

In 1837 the Empress chose the resort in the Crimea for a new residence. There, Nicholas ordered that the Palace of Oreanda be built for her. She was only able to visit the Palace once however; the Crimean War began in 1852. Towards the end of 1854, Alexandra Feodorovna became very ill, and she came very close to death,[12] though she managed to recover. In 1855 Tsar Nicholas I contracted influenza, and he died on 6/18 February.

The Dowager Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in 1860, the year of her death

Dowager Empress[edit]

Alexandra Feodorovna survived her husband by five years. She retired to the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, and remained on good terms with her late husband’s mistress Barbara Nelidova, who she made her personal reader.[13]

The Dowager Empress's health became more and more fragile with the years. Unable to spend the harsh winters in Russia, she was forced to make long sojourns abroad in Switzerland, Nice and Rome. She wrote in September 1859 "I am homesick for my country and I reproached myself for costing so much money at a time when Russia has need of every ruble. But I cough and my sick lungs cannot go without a southern climate".[13]

After returning from a trip abroad in July 1860 she did not cease to be ill. In the autumn of 1860, her doctors told her that she would not live through the winter if she did not travel once more to the south. Knowing the danger, she preferred to stay in St. Petersburg, so that if death did come it would happen on Russian soil. The night before her death, she was heard to say, "Niki, I am coming to you." [14] She died in her sleep at the age of sixty-two on 1 November 1860 at Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo.

Issue[edit]

Charlotte married Tsar Nicholas I (6 July 1796 – 2 March 1855) and thereafter went by the name Alexandra Feodorovna. Charlotte was daughter of Frederick William III of Prussia and Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Nicholas and Charlotte were third cousins, as they were both great-great-grandchildren of Frederick William I of Prussia.

Name Birth Death Notes
Tsar Alexander II 29 April 1818 13 March 1881 married 1841, Marie of Hesse and by Rhine; had issue
Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna 18 August 1819 21 February 1876 married 1839, Maximilian de Beauharnais; had issue
Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna 11 September 1822 30 October 1892 married 1846, Karl of Württemberg
Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna of Russia 24 June 1825 10 August 1844 married 1844, Landgrave Friedrich-Wilhelm of Hesse-Kassel
Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich 21 September 1827 25 January 1892 married 1848, Alexandra of Saxe-Altenburg; had issue
Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich 8 August 1831 25 April 1891 married 1856, Alexandra of Oldenburg; had issue
Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevich 25 October 1832 18 December 1909 married 1857, Cecilie of Baden; had issue

Titles and styles[edit]

  • Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Prussia (1798 - 1817)
  • Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia (1817 - 1855)
  • Her Imperial Majesty The Empress of All the Russians (1825 - 1855)
  • Her Imperial Majesty The Empress Dowager of Russia (1855 - 1860)

Ancestry[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Grunwald, Tsar Nicholas I, p. 138
  2. ^ Lincoln, Nicholas I Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias, p. 66
  3. ^ Lincoln, The Romanovs, p. 414
  4. ^ Grunwald, Tsar Nicholas I, p. 137
  5. ^ Romanov Autumn,Zaeepvat, Charlotte, p. 8
  6. ^ Romanov Autumn,Zaeepvat, Charlotte, p. 8 Impressions of Alexandra Feodorovna by Lady Bloomfield, wife of the British representative in St. Petersburg
  7. ^ Tsar Nicholas I The Life of an absolute monarch: Constantin de Grunwald, p. 137 Description of Alexandra Feodorovna personality by Meyendorff
  8. ^ Tsar Nicholas I The Life of an absolute monarch: Constantin de Grunwald, p. 137 Impressions of Mandt, Doctor of The Imperial Family
  9. ^ Tsar Nicholas I The Life of an absolute monarch: Constantin de Grunwald, p. 137 Impressions of Anna Tiutcheva, Alexandra Feodorovna's maid of honor, taken from Tiutcheva's book: In the Court of Two Tsarinas
  10. ^ Lincoln, The Romanovs, p. 417
  11. ^ a b Lincoln, The Romanovs, p. 418
  12. ^ Lincoln, The Romanovs, p. 425
  13. ^ a b Grunwald, Tsar Nicholas I, p. 289
  14. ^ Tsar Nicholas I The Life of an absolute monarch: Constantin de Grunwald, p. 289 quoted from a letter from Meyerdorff to his son

Bibliography[edit]

Alexandra Feodorovna (Charlotte of Prussia)
Born: 12 July 1798 Died: 1 November 1860
Russian royalty
Preceded by
Louise of Baden
Empress Consort of Russia
1825–1855
Succeeded by
Marie of Hesse and by Rhine