Moura Budberg

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Moura Budberg, by Allan Warren

Maria Ignatievna Budberg (Russian: Мария (Мура) Игнатьевна Закревская-Бенкендорф-Будберг, Maria (Moura) Ignatievna Zakrevskaya-Benckendorff-Budberg), also known variously as Countess Benckendorff, Baroness Budberg (February 1893 – November 1974), born in Poltava, was the daughter of Ignaty Platonovitch Zakrevsky (1839-1906), a Russian nobleman and diplomat.[1] She was an adventuress and suspected double agent of OGPU and British Intelligence Service.[2]

Early life[edit]

She first married in 1911, Johann (Ivan) Alexandrovitch von Benckendorff, 2nd Secretary at the Russian Embassy in Berlin and Gentleman of the Court, born in 1882. They owned the mansion Jendel Jäneda, in Estonia where he was shot dead, 19 April 1919, by a local peasant.[3]


Before the October Revolution Moura worked in the Russian Embassy in Berlin where she became acquainted with British diplomat R. H. Bruce Lockhart. Upon the assassination of her husband in 1919, she was arrested on suspicion of spying for the United Kingdom and transferred to the Lubyanka prison. Lockhart, who mentions her under her given name in his book Memoirs of a Secret Agent[4], tried to vouch for her; however, he was detained as well for couple of weeks. Some[5][6] allege that they were lovers.

After Lockhart was released and expelled from Russia soon after, in connection with the "Ambassadorial Conspiracy" affair (also known as the "Lockhart conspiracy"). Budberg was released as well under the condition that she would cooperate with the intelligence service if the need should arise in the future. Budberg got a job publishing "World Literature", where she met the writer Maxim Gorky with the help of Korney Chukovsky. She became a secretary and common law wife of Gorky, living in his house with a few interruptions from 1920 to 1933 (when the writer lived in Italy before returning to the USSR). He bitterly dedicated to her his last major work, the novel The Life of Klim Samgin.

H. G. Wells[edit]

In 1920 she met historian and science fiction writer H. G. Wells[7] and they became lovers. Their relationship was renewed in 1933 in London, where she emigrated after parting with Gorky. The close relationship with Wells continued until his death; Wells asked her to marry him, but Budberg strongly rejected his proposal.

She visited the Soviet Union twice, in 1936 for the funeral of Gorky (which made people call her an agent of the NKVD) and at the end of 1950, with a daughter of Alexander Guchkov.

She was briefly married, on 13 November 1921 to Baron Nikolai (Rotger Emil Arthur Friedrich) von Budberg-Bönningshausen, born in 1896.[8]

Double agent[edit]

She was widely suspected of being a double agent for both the Soviet Union and British intelligence and has been called the "Mata Hari of Russia", after the famous Dutch exotic dancer and accused spy.

An MI5 informant said of her, "she can drink an amazing quantity, mostly gin".[9]


Among her many activities, she wrote books and was the script writer for at least two films: Three Sisters directed by Laurence Olivier and John Sichel (1970), and The Sea Gull directed by Sidney Lumet (1968).[10][11] She translated Gorky's novel The Life of a Useless Man into English.


Moura Budberg's older half-sister, Alexandra 'Alla' Ignatievna Zakrevskaya (1887–1960), who married Baron Arthur von Engelhardt in 1908 but was divorced in 1909 [12], was the great-grandmother of Nick Clegg, leader of the British Liberal Democratic Party between December 2007 and May 2015, and Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the 2010–2015 parliament.

Moura Budberg's grand-daughter was businesswoman Helen Alexander.[13]


In May 2008 a television film My Secret Agent Auntie directed by Dimitri Collingridge was released in England.[14] Her biography was written by Nina Berberova, chronicler of the emigres.


  1. ^ Nicolas Ikonnikov, La noblesse de Russie (2nd edition, Paris, 1962) Tome T.2, 299-301.
  2. ^ Biography at
  3. ^ Nicolas Ikonnikov, La Noblesse de Russie (2nd edition, Paris, 1962) Tome T.2, 301.
  4. ^ Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart Memoirs of a British Agent First published 1932 384 pages Publisher: Macmillan (January 1975) ISBN 0-333-17329-5 ISBN 978-0-333-17329-9
  5. ^ The sexy Russian spy in Lib Dem leader hopeful Nick Clegg's past. Daily Mail
  6. ^ Mystery of Nick Clegg's 'Mata Hari' aunt and a plot to kill Lenin Archived 2015-09-19 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Burris, Charles (2007-08-01) Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal: An Annotated Bibliographic Guide,
  8. ^ Nicolas Ikonnikov, La noblesse de Russie (2nd edition, Paris, 1962), Tome T.2, 301-2
  9. ^ "Mosley was tracked by MI5". BBC News. 2002-11-28. Retrieved 2010-05-13.
  10. ^ Internet Movie Database
  11. ^ Filmography – Retrieved on 2006-10-23
  12. ^ Nicolas Ikonnikov, La noblesse de Russie (2nd edition, Paris, 1962) Tome T.2, 301
  13. ^ Emmott, Bill (7 August 2017). "Helen Alexander, former Economist Group chief executive, 1957-2017". Financial Times. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  14. ^ My Secret Agent Auntie (2008). IMDB

Further reading[edit]

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