Zinaida Yusupova

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Princess Zinaida Yusupova
Портрет княгини З.Н. Юсуповой.jpg
Head of the House of Yusupov
Tenure19 July 1891 – 24 November 1939
PredecessorPrince Nikolai Yusupov
SuccessorPrince Felix Yusupov
Full name
Zinaida Nikolayevna Yusupova
Born2 September 1861
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died24 November 1939 (aged 78)
Paris, France
Noble familyYusupov
Spouse(s)Count Felix Felixovich Sumarokov-Elston
IssuePrince Nicholas Felixovich Yusupov
Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov
FatherNikolai Borisovich Yusupov
MotherCountess Tatiana Alexandrovna de Ribeaupierre

Princess Zinaida Nikolayevna Yusupova (Russian: Зинаи́да Никола́евна Юсу́пова; 2 September 1861 – 24 November 1939)[1] was an Imperial Russian noblewoman, the only heiress of Russia's largest private fortune of her time. Famed for her beauty and the lavishness of her hospitality, she was a leading figure in pre-Revolutionary Russian society. In 1882, she married Count Felix Felixovich Sumarokov-Elston, who served briefly as General Governor of Moscow Military District (1914–1915). Zinaida is best known as the mother of Prince Felix Yusupov, the murderer of Rasputin. She escaped revolutionary Russia and spent her remaining years living in exile.

Early life[edit]

Princess Zinaida Nikolayevna Yusupova was the only surviving child of Prince Nicholas Borisovich Yusupov (12 October 1827 – 31 July 1891), Marshal of the Imperial Court, and Countess Tatiana Alexandrovna de Ribeaupierre (29 June 1828 – 14 January 1879). Prince Yusupov was a patron of the arts, and first served in the chancery of Tsar Nicholas I. Zinaida's mother, a lady-in-waiting to the Empress Alexandra, was the daughter of Comte Alexandre de Ribeaupierre and his wife Catherine Mikhailovna Potemkina, a niece of Prince Potemkin.

Zenaida Yusupova by V. Bobrov, 1889.

Princess Zinaida's only brother, Prince Boris Nicholaievich Yusupov, died in early childhood. She also had a younger sister, Princess Tatiana Nicholaievna, who died young, in 1888. As the only surviving child of a distinguished, highly placed, and vastly rich couple, Zinaida enjoyed great favor at court. She was the greatest Russian heiress of her day, and the last of her line, the House of Yusupov. The Yusupovs, a family of Tatars origin, were very wealthy, having acquired their vast fortune generations earlier. Their properties included four palaces in St. Petersburg, three palaces in Moscow, 37 estates in different parts of Russia (Kursk, Voronezh and Poltava). They owned more than 100,000 acres (400 km²) of land and their industries included sugarbeet factories, brick plants, saw-mills, textile and cardboard factories, iron-ore mines, flour mills, distilleries and oil fields on the Caspian Sea.

Princess Zinaida was known for being intelligent, hospitable, socially skilled, and beautiful; qualities that would last her late into her life.


The Yusupov family in 1902: Prince Felix, Prince Nicholas, Count Felix Felixovich Sumarokov-Elston and Princess Zinaida.
Princess Zenaida in her Moika Palace, 1902. This portrait is often considered Valentin Serov's masterpiece.

Prince Nikolai Borisovich Yusupov was hoping that Zinaida would make an illustrious marriage, but at a reception organized to pair her with Alexander of Battenberg, Zinaida met and fell in love with Count Felix Felixovich Sumarokov-Elston (5 October 1856, Saint Petersburg, Russia – 10 June 1928, Rome, Italy), son of Count Felix Nikolaievich Sumarokov-Elston.[2] Felix was a lieutenant in the Horse Guards. They were married on 4 April 1882 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Princess Zinaida and her husband had four sons, two of whom survived childhood: Prince Nicholas Felixovich Yusupov (1883–1908) and Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov (1887–1967). After his father-in-law died, in 1891, Felix was granted special permission by Tsar Alexander III to carry the title Prince Yusupov as well as that of Count Sumarokov-Elston and to pass them both to his and Zinaida's heir. Prince Felix was appointed adjutant to the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich in 1904 and commanded the Cavalry of the Imperial Guards. In 1914 he was appointed Governor General of Moscow, a position he held briefly.

The couple had their own mansion in Liteyny Avenue, where the Institute of Economic Relations, Economics and Law is currently located. She owned the palace at Nevsky Prospect 86 as well.[3]


As a leading figure in pre-Revolutionary Russian society, Zinaida was famed for her beauty, elegance and the lavishness of her hospitality. In her book of memoirs, Ladies of the Russian Court, Meriel Buchanan (1886–1959), daughter of the British ambassador at the Russian court, described Princess Zinaida as:

"Delicate in health, easily exhausted, essentially feminine, she was not one of those capable, competent woman, able to run big charitable organizations. She was always ready to give, freely and generously, to anyone who appealed to her, to do what she could to help anyone in distress, to lend her name, her house, her resources for any worthy cause, but she shrank from publicity, from all the complications of executive administration".[4]

Princess Zinaida Yusupova served as lady-in-waiting to both the Empress Maria Feodorovna and later Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. She was a personal friend to Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna wife of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia.[2] In private, she became a severe critic of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Grand Duchess Elisabeth's sister. Zinaida's eldest son, Nicholas, age 26, was killed in a duel in 1908, an event which cast a shadow over the rest of her life. In February 1914, Zinaida's younger son, Felix, married Princess Irina Alexandrovna of Russia, Tsar Nicholas II's only niece and a great-granddaughter of King Christian IX. Felix fell from grace for participating in the murder of Grigori Rasputin.

Following the Russian Revolution, she lost her vast wealth. She and her husband moved to Rome living under reduced circumstances. After his death she moved to Paris, where she died in 1939.


Her descendants are as follows:

  • Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov (11 March 1887 – 27 September 1967), Count Sumarakov Elston, who married Irina Alexandrovna Romanova (21 March 1895 – 30 August 1970), and had one daughter and a son:
  • Princess Irina Felixovna Yusupova, (21 March 1915, Saint Petersburg, Russia – 30 August 1983, Cormeilles-en-Parisis, France), married Count Nikolai Dmitrievich Sheremetev (28 October 1904, Moscow, Russia – 5 February 1979, Paris, France), son of Count Dmitry Sergeevich Sheremetev and wife Countess Irina Ilarionovna Vorontzova-Dachkova and a descendant of Boris Petrovich Sheremetev; had issue:
    • Countess Xenia Nikolaevna Sheremeteva (born 1 March 1942, Rome, Italy), married on 20 June 1965 in Athens, Greece, to Ilias Sfiris (born 20 August 1932, Athens, Greece); had issue:
      • Tatiana Sfiris (born 28 August 1968, Athens, Greece), married in May 1996 in Athens to Alexis Giannakoupoulos (born 1963), divorced, no issue; married Anthony Vamvakidis and has issue:
        • Marilia Vamvakidis (born 7 July 2004)
        • Yasmine Xenia Vamvakidis (born 17 May 2006)[citation needed]
    • Prince John Felixovitch Yusupov (born 15 November 1922, Paris, France), married on 19 May 1962 in Edinburgh, Scotland, to Sadie Nuttall ; had issue:
        • Princess Sarah Felixovitch Nuttall-Yusupova (born 4 July 1969)
    • Princess Martha Felixovitch Nuttall-Yusupova (born 22 October 1971, Edinburgh, Scotland), married on 21 June 1997 in Edinburgh, Scotland, to Nigel Montagu-Douglas-Scott ; had issue:
        • Prince Euan Felixovitch (born 4 August 1999)
        • Prince Guy Felixovitch (born 23 September 2002)
        • Count Lucas Felixovitch (born 7 April 2008)

The Australian conductor Alexander Briger claims descent from her,[5] though this is unproven. His stated genealogy does not match the actual family relationships.

Jewel collection[edit]

As the head of one of the most important noble families in Russia, she also inherited a vast fortune, which meant owning the largest collection of historical jewels in Russia, second only to that of the vaults of the Russian Imperial Family. She was in possession of 21 Tiaras, 255 Brooches, 42 Bracelets, 210 kilos of assorted Objet d'art and hundreds of thousands of loose gems.[6] Some of the famous gems were: The mid-16th century La Pelegrina pearl, "The Polar Star Diamond" (41.28 carat diamond), The "La Regente Pearl" (fifth largest pearl in the world), The 17th century "Ram’s Head Diamond" (a 17.47-carat diamond), The 17th century "Sultan of Morocco Diamond" (35.67 carats, fourth largest Blue diamond in the world),[7] The 17th century "Diamond Earrings of Marie Antoinette" (two 34.59 carat diamonds),[8] The "Blue Venus Statuette Sapphire" (4-inch-tall sapphire statuette of the goddess Venus atop a large Spinel)[9] and also The 15th century "Ruby Buddha" (70+ carat Ruby statue).[10]

Following her narrow escape during the Russian Revolution, she was forced to leave all her financial assets in Russia: her entire jewel collection was hidden in a secret vault in Moika Palace in hopes that she would retain their use in their return to Russia, however all were found and sold by the Bolsheviks in 1925. During her exile she took only the major jewels, and those of historical importance, and had them sold to fund her family's life.[10]



  1. ^ Variously transliterated from Russian as Yussupov, Yossopov, Iusupov, Youssoupov, Youssoupoff
  2. ^ a b Papi, Jewels of the Romanovs: Family & Court, p. 176
  3. ^ Соболева, Инна Аркадьевна (2013). Невский проспект: Дорога, ведущая к храму (in Russian). Издательский дом "Питер". pp. 236–237. ISBN 9785496006521.
  4. ^ Ladies of the Russian Court
  5. ^ Clive Paget, "Russians adore Aussie maestro with link to Rasputin's killer", Limelight, April 2017, p. 15
  6. ^ , About The Jewels of Princess Yusupouv
  7. ^ here, enter your name. "The Sultan of Morocco Diamond". tripod.com. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  8. ^ "Marie Antoinette Diamond Earrings - Gem Gallery - Smithsonian Institution". Archived from the original on November 1, 2015. Retrieved September 16, 2015.
  9. ^ "An Antique Sapphire, Spinel and Diamond". christies.com. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  10. ^ a b "A 15th-Century Ruby Buddha and the Yusupov Jewels". jewelsdujour.com. 23 May 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2016.


  • Buchanan, Meriel. Princess Zenaida Yusopova . Royal Russia. N 4, 2013. ISBN 978-1927604045.
  • Papi, Stefano. Jewels of the Romanovs: Family & Court . Thames & Hudson, 2013. ISBN 978-0-500-51706-2
  • Youssoupoff, Prince Felix. Lost Splendor: The Amazing Memoirs of the Man Who Killed Rasputin. Turtle Point Press, 2003. ISBN 978-1885586582