Monday, February 22, 2010

the curious case of princess yurievskaya

I missed the anniversary of the death of Ekaterina Dolgorukova, Princess Yurievskaya, a few days ago. Katya is one of the most interesting members of the Romanov family. She died on February 15, 1922, and was - technically - the Tsaritsa of Russia, if we go by the definition of the tsaritsa being the wife of the Tsar.

Ekaterina was born in 1847, but did not meet the tsar until she was a teenager. Alexander's wife Maria Alexandrovna was a patron of the Smoly Institute, a St. Petersburg school for wealthy girls. As a favor to Maria, Alexander visited the school one day and met Ekaterina. At first he spent afternoons taking the young girl on carriage rides and discussing politics with her, though he certainly wanted her as a mistress. Her own mother and teacher urged her to better her circumstances, but Ekaterina was stubborn. However, she eventually became the tsar's mistress in 1866. She was 18; he was 47.

It was an affair that would last into the end of Alexander's life. Maria was a very sick woman. Tuberculosis and the early deaths of two children, Alexandra and Nicholas, had robbed her of her health. After the birth of her eighth child, doctors advised the tsaritsa not to have any more children. A lack of birth control meant the tsaritsa had to cease having sex with her husband completely - though Alexander had hardly been faithful before.

The tsar eventually moved Ekaterina into the Winter Palace - under the same roof as his wife. The couple would come to have four children together, not a huge surprise, as they documented their desire for each other in thousands of letters, some of which were auctioned a few years ago. Alexander and Ekaterina were very careful within their letters, never signing them and using "bingerle" as a code word for sex. But the tsar did not completely hide his love for this woman. He married Ekaterina morganatically soon after Maria's death, and created the title Princess Yurievskaya for his new wife and children. Ekaterina supposedly had a premonition the day Alexander was assassinated that something terrible was going to happen to him. She and her children with the tsar, three of whom survived infancy, were not allowed to attend the state funeral, and while Katya was given an impressive pension (3.4 million rubles), she continued to be scorned by the Romanovs for the rest of her life.

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