Alexander was born to a medium noble family. His father had his family estate in the Luga uyezd of Saint Petersburg gubernia and served as a government bureaucrat working for the Governing Senate and later for the Ministry for the State Property. Alexander's mother came from a noble family of Tatischevs; historian Sergey Tatischev was Polovtsov's cousin.
Polovtsov has graduated from the Imperial School of Jurisprudence and started his work in the 1st department of the Governing Senate. In 1861 Polovtsov marry Nadezhda Mikhaylovna Yunina (1843–1908), the only foster daughter of the first Chairman of the State Bank of the Russian Empire, Alexander von Stieglitz. According to popular believes Nadezhda was an illegitimate daughter of Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich of Russia and an unknown lady-in-waiting K. The marriage brought Polovtsov not only one million rubles of dowry and eventually 16-17 millions of rubles as Stieglitz's inheritance but also the help of the Emperor Nicholas I of Russia who was helping his alleged niece.
Since 1871 Polovtsov became a senator, since 1873 he was the Secretary of State and simultaneously the Stats-Secretary of the Emperor Alexander III of Russia. Since 1892 until his death in 1909 he was a member of the State Council.
Polovtsov was the initiator of the creation of the Russian Historical Society (created in 1865). He was the Secretary of the society in 1866-1879 and the Chairman of the society from 1879 until his death in 1909. The society commissioned works of such historians as Sergey Solovyov, Nikolay Kostomarov, Vasily Klyuchevsky who set the foundation for the History of Russia. Under Polovtsov the society published 128 volumes of Sborniks of Russian Historical Society. Polovtsov also prepared the 25 volumes of the Russian Biographical Dictionary that played an important role as the source of the biographical data on Russian people. To correctly establish the notability Polovtsov refused to include biographies of living people. Polovtsov (together with his father-in-law Alexander von Stieglitz founded the Stieglitz Museum of Applied Arts.
- Alexander Alexandrovich Polovtsov, junior (1867—1944) — Diplomat;
- Peter Alexandrovich Polovtsov, (1874—1964) — General
- Galina Prokhorenko Dignitary, maecenas and collector Alexander Alexandrovich Polovtsov Nashe Naslediye (Russian)
- Alexander Polovtsov article in Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary (Russian)
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