Catherine Radziwill

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Princess Catherine Radziwiłł
Princess Catherine Radziwiłł.jpg
Full name
Ekaterina Adamovna Rzewuska, Princess Radziwiłł, Mrs. Kolb-Danvin
Born30 March 1858
Saint Petersburg
Died5 December 1941(1941-12-05) (aged 83)
New York City
Noble familyRadziwiłł
Spouse(s)Prince Wilhelm Radziwiłł
Karl Emile Kolb-Danvin
Nicholas Radziwiłł Wacław
FatherAdam Adamowicz Rzewuski
MotherAnna Dmitrievna Dashkova

Princess Catherine Radziwiłł (Polish: Katarzyna Radziwiłłowa; 30 March 1858 – 12 May 1941)[1][2] was a Polish-Russian aristocrat. Born in Russia into the Polish-Lithuanian House of Rzewuski, her maternal family was the Russian Dashkov-Vorontsov family. In 1873 she married the Polish-Lithuanian Prince Wilhelm Radziwiłł.

She was a prominent figure at the Imperial courts in Germany and Russia, but became involved in a series of scandals. She combined her love for the luxury of the courts, social life, gossip and intrigue with her literary talent and she wrote two dozen books on European royalty and the Russian court, including Behind the Veil at the Russian Court (1914) and her autobiography It Really Happened (1932).

Family and early life[edit]

Princess Catherine Radziwill was born in St. Petersburg as Countess Ekaterina Adamovna Rzewuska, a member of the House of Rzewuski, a Polish family of warriors, statesmen, adventurers and eccentrics. She was the only child of the Russian General Adam Adamowicz Rzewuski (1845—1911), who took part in the Crimean war, and his second wife Anna Dmitrievna Dashkova, a daughter of the writer Dmitry Vasilyevich Dashkov, Tsar Nicholas I's minister of justice. Catherine's mother, who belonged to some of Russia's most notable families: Dashkov, Stroganov, Pashkov and Vasilchikov, died while giving birth to her. Catherine's father married for a third time and provided her with three half-brothers, including Stanislaw Rzewuski, who became a novelist and literary critic. The Rzewuski was a family of notable writers, including Catherine's great-great-grandfather Wacław Rzewuski, her uncle Henryk and her aunts Ewelina, wife of Honoré de Balzac, and Karolina, who kept a literary salon in Paris.

Catherine was educated under the supervision of her stern father in his large estates in central Ukraine. Although the Rzewuski family originated in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Catherine had no attachment to Poland and considered herself Russian.

On 26 October 1873, at age 15, she married Prince Wilhelm Radziwiłł (1845-1911), a Polish officer in the Prussian army.[1] The couple moved to Berlin to live with his family. She had seven children, four sons and three daughters. Two of her sons died in early childhood, but the other five children (Louise, Wanda, Gabriela, Nicholas and Casimir) reached adulthood. Little is known about Radziwill's marriage except what she wrote in her memoirs: Her husband treated her kindly, but she felt bored and frustrated. The couple became prominent at the court in Berlin.

Literary career[edit]

Princess Catherine Radziwiłł with a red ribbon around her neck, by Giovanni Boldini

In 1884, Nouvelle Revue published a series of articles written as letters to a young diplomat by the elderly Count Paul Vasili. The articles were critical of Berlin society and full of damaging gossip about the imperial court. The publication of the articles, collected in the book Berlin Society, created a great scandal at the court.[2] Count Paul Vasili was a fictional character and a subsequent investigation indicated Auguste Gérard, the empress' French reader, as the author. Only in 1918 in her book Confessions of the Czarina, Radziwill admitted that she was the author of Berlin Society. The confusion was aggravated as other anonymous writers also began to use the pen-name Count Paul Vasili.[2]

After the publication of Berlin Society, Radziwill began to be seen with suspicion in Berlin and she traveled extensively with her husband. When her father died in Russia in April 1888, Radziwill decided to stay in St. Petersburg where her youngest son, Casimir, was born the same year. At the Russian court, Princess Radziwill had a prominent position. She became a friend and admirer of Konstantin Pobedonostsev. Her political leanings, very liberal while in Berlin, turned to staunchly conservative in Russia. She also began an affair with General Peter Alexander Cherevin, court commandant, head of the Third section of the Okhrana, and one of Tsar Alexander III's few trusted friends. During the late 1880s and early 1890s, Princess Radziwill reached the pinnacle of her life and of her influence at the court. Her situation suffered a sharp down turn with the deaths of Tsar Alexander III in 1894 and of her lover Cherevin in early 1896. Estranged from her husband and children, she earned some money writing articles for American magazines and newspapers chronicling British society, but she accumulated debts.

In the summer of 1899, Radziwill left for South Africa setting her eyes on South African-based British magnate and politician Cecil Rhodes. They initially became friends, but Rhodes, who some writers and academics have suggested was homosexual,[3] pulled away from her. Nevertheless, he paid her debts and sent her back to London; there Radziwill published the book The Resurrection of Peter, defending Rhodes.

A scandal in London involving debts accumulated by her son Nicholas (that she tried to pay by claiming a stolen pearl necklace on a London Hotel) sent her back to Cape Town in the summer 1900. There she met Harry Hindle, son of James Hindle of Bradford, masonry contractors on the new Town Hall and Post Office and building associates of Cecil Rhodes at Groote Schuur. Harry and Catherine had a son out of wedlock. His name was Alexi who would later grow up in New York. It would not be until 1971 when he visited South Africa to track down his half-sister living in Durban. However, that did not keep Radziwill from again becoming a news item:

Princess Radziwill who was charged with having forged bills for large amounts up to £6000- on Mr. Rhodes was arrested on the 24.Sept.1901 for fraud but released on bail the same day until she was charged in the Supreme Court of the Cape Colony, Oct.1901 and sentenced to two years' imprisonment after three days of trial. In her own evidence she stated that she had received the bills signed in blank by Mr. Rhodes from Mrs. Scholtz but there appear[sic] to be no doubt that she forged the bills and then attempted to prevent action being taken by threats of publishing correspondence which she alleged was of a compromising nature from Mr Rhodes and Lord Milner. Her methods were, as the Attorney-General described them, the ordinary armoury of the blackmailer: and she had made use of her social position for purposes of intrigue and fraud. She was a fine specimen of the lady adventurer of detective fiction and we may expect her reappearance in a roman à clef dealing with South Africa.[4]

Radziwiłł spent the two years in jail where she occupied herself in writing. She was fortunate to end up spending only 16 months in prison for her crimes, being released in March of 1903. It is not known what happened to little Alexi during her stay in prison.[5][6]

Some months later, her memoir, My Recollections (1904) was published in London and New York with some level of success. Her youngest son, Casimir, however, had died while she was in prison and her estranged husband finally divorced her in 1906. In 1909, she married Karl Emile Kolb-Danvin, a Swedish engineer and entrepreneur. The couple settled in St. Peterburg, where her son Nicholas was serving in the Russian army. She published two more books, Behind the Veil of the Russian court, under her pen-name Paul Vasili, and Memoirs of Forty Years (1914), a second autobiographical book. During World War I, her son was killed in the Eastern front in November 1914. Radziwill and her husband moved to Stockholm, where she was living at the outbreak of the Russian revolution. In a four-year span, she published a dozen books. She was on a visit to the United States when her second husband died, and she decided to stay in America.

She settled in New York City where she spent the rest of her life. Radziwiłł played a major role in exposing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In 1921, she gave a private lecture in New York in which she claimed that the Protocols were compiled in 1904-1905 by Russian journalists Matvei Golovinski and Manasevich-Manuilov at the direction of Pyotr Rachkovsky, chief of the Okhrana, the Russian secret service in Paris.[7] Golovinski worked together with Charles Joly (son of Maurice Joly) at Le Figaro in Paris. This account, however, contradicts the basic chronology of the Protocols publication as they already had been published in 1903 in the Znamya newspaper. Moreover, in 1902, Rachkovsky was dismissed from the Paris Okhrana and returned to St. Petersburg. Radziwill's statements were cited during the Berne Trial by Russian witnesses in 1934 and by experts in 1935; they gave evidence that her date of 1905, when Matvei Golovinski would have shown her a manuscript of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion ("with a big blue ink spot on the first page") in Paris, is obviously an error of chronology, possibly caused by a typo in her article published in The American Hebrew and reprinted by The New York Times.[8]


  • La Société de Berlin: augmenté de lettres inédites. 1884 as Paul Vasili
  • La Société de Saint-Pétersbourg: augmenté de lettres inédites. 1886 as Paul Vasili
  • La Sainte Russie; la cour, l’armée, le clergé, la bourgeoisie et le peuple. 1890 as Paul Vasili
  • The Resurrection of Peter. A Reply to Olive Schreiner, 1900. [in response to Schreiner’s book Trooper Peter Halkett of Mashonaland (1897)]
  • My Recollections, 1904
  • Behind the Veil at the Russian Court, 1914.
  • The Royal Marriage Market of Europe, 1915.
  • The Austrian Court From Within, 1916
  • Sovereigns and Statesmen of Europe, 1916
  • Because it was Written, 1916 [fiction]
  • The Black Dwarf of Vienna, and other weird stories, 1916
  • Germany under Three Emperors, 1917
  • Russia's Decline and Fall: The Secret History of a Great Debacle, 1918
  • Rasputin and the Russian Revolution, 1918
  • Cecil Rhodes, man and empire-maker, 1918
  • Confessions of the Czarina, 1918
  • The Firebrand of Bolshevism; The True Story of the Bolsheviki and the Forces That Directed Them, 1919
  • Secrets of Dethroned Royalty, 1920
  • Those I Remember, 1924
  • The Intimate Life of the Last Tsarina, 1929
  • Child of Pity: The Little Prince [the Tsarevitch] Rides Away, 1930
  • Nicholas II: The Last of the Tsars, 1931
  • The Taint of the Romanovs, 1931
  • It Really Happened; An Autobiography by Princess Catherine Radziwiłł, 1932
  • The Empress Frederick, 1934

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Books by Author Catherine Radziwiłł, The New York Times, on 13 May 1941, reported that the death of Catherine Radziwiłł occurred on 11 May.
  2. ^ a b c Farrant, Leda. (2000). The Princess from St. Petersburg: The Life and Times of Princess Catherine Radziwiłł.
  3. ^ Aldrich, Robert; Wotherspoon, Garry (2001). Who's who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II, Volume 1. Psychology Press. pp. 370–371. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  4. ^ "Notes of the Week". The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art. 93 (2427): 547. May 3, 1902. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  5. ^ Roberts, Brian. (1969). Cecil Rhodes and the princess. Hamilton. ISBN 0-241-01603-7.
  6. ^ Anthony, Thomas. (November 1997). Rhodes: The Race for Africa. London Bridge. ISBN 0-563-38742-4.
  7. ^ "Princess Radziwill Quizzed at Lecture – Stranger Questions Her Title After She Had Told of Forgery of "Jewish Protocols" – Creates Stir at Astor – Leaves Without Giving His Name – Mrs. Hurlburt Corroborates the Princess". The New York Times. 4 March 1921. p. 13. Retrieved October 19, 2017. cf. Full article
  8. ^ "Protocols Forged in Paris" Says Princess Radziwill In an Exclusive Interview With Isaac Landeman, published in The American Hebrew, February 25, 1921, Volume 108 Number 15, page 422.

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