Princess Juliane Henriette Ulrike of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (Coburg, 23 September 1781 – Elfenau, near Bern, Switzerland, 15 August 1860), also known as Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna of Russia, was a German princess of the ducal house of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (after 1826, the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) who became the wife of Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich of Russia.
"La Grande Duchesse Anna Feodorovna", Portrait by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun, painted shortly after her wedding (ca.1795-1796). This portrait was destroyed by bombs during World War II
She was the third daughter of Franz Frederick Anton, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Countess Augusta Caroline Reuss of Ebersdorf. King Leopold I of the Belgians was her younger brother, while Queen Victoria of United Kingdom was her niece and King Ferdinand II of Portugal was her nephew.
Grand Duchess of Russia
Empress Catherine II of Russia began to search a suitable wife for her second grandson, Grand Duke Constantine after the marriage of her eldest grandson, Grand Duke Alexander, with Louise of Baden in 1793. The Empress spoke of pride about the young Grand Duke as an enviable match for many brides in Europe, as he was the second in line to succession to the Russian Empire. Soon a marriage offer arrived from the court of Naples: King Ferdinand I and Queen Maria Carolina suggested a marriage between the Grand Duke and one of their many daughters, which the Empress immediately rejected.
In 1795 General Andrei Budberg was sent in a secret mission to the ruling European courts, to find a bride for Constantine. He had a huge list of candidates, but during his trip became ill and was forced to stay in Coburg, where he was attended by the Ducal court doctor, Baron Stockmar, who, once he knew the real intention of his trip, drew the General's attention to the daughters of Duke Franz. Budberg wrote to St Petersburg that he found the perfect candidates, without visiting any other courts.
After a little consideration, Empress Catherine II consented. Duchess Augusta, once she knew that one of her daughters would be a Grand Duchess of Russia, was delighted with the idea: a marriage with the Imperial Russian dynasty could bring huge benefits for the relative small German Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. However, in Europe there were other views; for example, Charles-François-Philibert Masson, in his Secrets Memoirs of the court of Saint-Petersburg wrote about the unenviable role of German brides in the Russian court:
- Young touching victim, which Germany sends as a tribute to Russia, as did Greece who sent their maids to the Minotaur...
Life in RussiaJuliane, along with her mother and two elder sisters, Sophie and Antoinette, travelled to St Petersburg at the request of Empress Catherine II of Russia. After the first meeting, the Empress wrote: "The Duchess of Saxe-Coburg was beautiful and worthy of respect among women, and her daughters are pretty. It's a pity that our groom must choose only one, would be good to keep all three. But it seems that our Paris give the apple to the younger one, you'll see that he would prefer Julia among the sisters...she's really the best choice". However, Prince Adam Czartoryski, in his Memoirs, wrote:
This point of view was confirmed by Countess Varvara Golovina, who also wrote:
- He was given an order by the Empress to marry one of the princesses, and he was given a choice of his future wife.
After the young Grand Duke chose Juliane, she began her training as a consort. On 2 February 1796 the not yet fifteen years old German princess took the name of Anna Feodorovna in a Russian Orthodox baptismal ceremony and twenty days later, on 26 February, she and Constantine were married. The Empress died nine months later, on 6 November. By virtue of her wedding, she was awarded with the Grand Cross of the Imperial Order of St Catherine and the Order of St John of Jerusalem.This union, in connection with the wedding of her brother Leopold with Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, made the little Duchy of Saxe-Coburg the dynastic heart of Europe. In addition, thanks to relations with the Russian Empire, Saxe-Coburg was relatively safe during the Napoleonic Wars. However, on a personal level, the marriage was deeply unhappy. Constantine, known to be a violent boy and fully dedicated to his military career, made his young wife intensely miserable.In the meanwhile, the young Grand Duchess began to grow up and became more and more attractive to the Russian court, who nicknamed her the "Rising Star". This made Constantine extremely jealous, even of his own brother Alexander. He forbade Anna to leave her room, and when she had the opportunity to come out, Constantine took her away. Countess Golovina recalled: The married life of Anna Fedorovna was hard and impossible to maintain [...] in her modesty, she needed the friendship of Elizabeth Alexeievna (Louise of Baden, wife of her brother-in-law Alexander), who was able to smooth things out between the frequent quarrelling spouses...". During the difficult years in the Russian court, Anna became close to Grand Duchess Elizabeth, of similar age.In 1799 Anna left Russia for medical treatment and didn't want to return. She went to her family in Coburg; however, they didn't support her, as they feared for the reputation of the Ducal family and their finances. Anna left Coburg to have a water cure; but at the same time, the St Petersburg's court made their own plans. Under the pressure of the Imperial family and her own relatives, the Grand Duchess was forced to return to Russia. In October 1799 the weddings of Grand Duchesses Alexandra and Elena were celebrated. Anna was forced to attend.The assassination of Emperor Paul I on 23 March 1801 gave Anna an opportunity to carry out her plan to escape. By August of that year, her mother was informed that the Grand Duchess was seriously ill. Once informed about her daughter's health, Duchess Augusta came to visit her. In order to have a better treatment she took Anna to Coburg, with the consent of both the new Emperor Alexander I and Grand Duke Constantine. Once she arrived to her homeland, Anna refused to come back. She never returned to Russia.
- After three weeks, the Grand Duke Constantine forced to make a choice. I think that he did not want to marry.
Life after separation
Almost immediately after her return to Coburg, Anna began negotiations for a divorce from her husband. Grand Duke Constantine wrote in response to her letter:
- You write to me that I allowed to go into foreign lands because were are incompatibles and because I can give you the love who you needed. But humbly I ask you to calm yourself in consideration to our lives together, besides all these facts confirm in writing, and that in addition to this other reason you don't have.
By 1803 the divorce was still refused, because Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna feared that her son Constantine could contract a second morganatic marriage, and the official separation would damage the reputation of the Grand Duchess.
At first, the Grand Duchess feared an unfavorable opinion about her conduct among the European courts; however, they showed their sympathy. Still legally married, Anna, eager to have a family, found solace in clandestine affairs.
On 28 October 1808 Anna gave birth to an illegitimate son, named Eduard Edgar Schmidt-Löwe. The father of this child may have been Jules Gabriel Emile de Seigneux, a minor French nobleman and officer in the Prussian army. Eduard was ennobled by his mother's younger brother, Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and assumed the surname von Löwenfels by decree on 18 February 1818.
Later, Anna moved to Bern, Switzerland, and gave birth to a second illegitimate child in 1812, a daughter, named Louise Hilda Agnes d'Aubert. The father was Rodolphe Abraham de Schiferli, a Swiss surgeon, professor and chamberlain (French:Chambellan, German:Oberhofmeister) of Anna's household from 1812 to 1837. In order to cover another scandal in Anna's life, the baby was adopted by Jean François Joseph d'Aubert, a French refugee. After the affair ended, Schiferli maintained a tender and close friendship with the Grand Duchess until his death.
Two years later, in 1814, during the invasion of France by Russian troops, Emperor Alexander I expressed his desire of a reconciliation between his brother and Anna. Grand Duke Constantine, accompanied by Anna's brother Leopold, tried to convince her to return with him, but the Grand Duchess categorically refused. That year, Anna acquired an estate on the banks of Aare River and gave it the name of Elfenau. She spent the rest of her life there, and, as a lover of music, made her home not only a center for domestic and foreign musical society of the era but also the point of reunion of diplomats from different countries who were in Bern.
Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna. Portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1848.
Finally, on 20 March 1820, after nineteen years of separation, her marriage was officially dissolved by a manifesto of Emperor Alexander I of Russia. Grand Duke Constantine remarried two months later morganatically with his mistress Joanna Grudzińska and died on 27 June 1831. Anna survived her former husband by twenty-nine years.
In 1835 her son Eduard married his cousin Bertha von Schauenstein, an illegitimate daughter of the Duke Ernest I; this was one of the few happy events in Anna's last years - she soon lost almost all the people she loved: her parents, her sisters Sophie and Antoinette, her own daughter Louise (who, married Jean Samuel Edouard Dapples in 1834 died three years later in 1837 at the age of twenty-five), her former lover and now good friend Rodolphe de Schiferli (just a few weeks after their daughter's demise), her protector Emperor Alexander I, her childhood friend Empress Elizabeth...at that point the Grand Duchess wrote that Elfenau became the "House of Mourning".
Anna Feodorovna died in her Elfenau estate in 1860, aged seventy-nine. In her grave was placed a simple marble slab with the inscription, "Julia-Anna" and the dates of her birth and death (1781-1860); nothing more would indicate the origin of the once Princess of Saxe-Coburg and Grand Duchess of Russia. Through the five children of her son Eduard she had descendants who exist until today.
- Condolences must be universal, because Aunt was extremely loved and respected, because much involved in charity work and in favor of the poor and underprivileged.