Biographies Russian Rulers Romanov Family of Nicholas I Children Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich

Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich

Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich, son of Nicholas I and Alexandra Fyodorovna, husband of Princess Alexandra Friederike Henriette of Sachsen-Altenburg, lover of Anna Kuznetsova
Born: 1827, St Petersburg
Died: 1892, Pavlovsk

Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich was the fifth child and second son of Nicholas I and Alexandra Fyodorovna. He was born in St Petersburg on 9 September 1827.

Konstantin was a wilful and unruly child. Once, at a palace reception, he pulled the chair out from under a guest, who fell on the floor. The emperor rose, bid his wife to do the same, and apologised to the unlucky victim: “We ask your forgiveness for bringing our son up so badly!”

At an early age, it was decided to send Konstantin to sea – the traditional occupation of second sons in the Romanov family. He was educated by Count Friedrich Benjamin Lütke and learnt to navigate a ship by sailing a small yacht between Peterhof and Kronstadt.

At the age of twenty, Konstantin was given command of a frigate, which he captained on long voyages. He was appointed an admiral in 1831. Like many naval officers, the grand duke was talented and well-educated. He was a fine painter and enjoyed playing the cello.

Despite the nine-year age gap, he and his elder brother Alexander were very close. The grand duke held similar views to Alexander II, but was more impulsive and radical. Within the imperial family, he was the most fervent and consistent supporter of his brother’s reforms.

In 1848, Konstantin married Princess Alexandra Friederike Henriette of Sachsen-Altenburg, who converted to Orthodoxy as Grand Duchess Alexandra Josifovna. She was known in the family as “Sunny.” They had six children – Nikolai, Konstantin, Olga, Vera, Dmitry and Vyacheslav.

In 1850, Konstantin was appointed chairman of the committee reviewing the naval code. As naval minister from 1855 to 1881, he modernised the Russian fleet, replacing the old wooden warships with a new generation of ironclads.

Konstantin’s progressive views earned him many enemies among the government bureaucrats, who believed that he was responsible for the emperor’s determination to overturn the old order. After the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, he headed the agricultural committee responsible for further agrarian reforms.

Between 1862 and 1864, Konstantin was viceroy of Poland, where he survived an assassination attempt. The grand duke served as chairman of the State Council from 1865 to 1881.

Konstantin had a long-running affair with a ballet dancer from the Mariinsky Theatre called Anna Kuznetsova, who bore him five children. Twenty years younger than the grand duke, she was the illegitimate daughter of ballerina Tatyana Kuznetsova and actor Vasily Karatygin.

In 1866, Konstantin left his wife and rented a mansion on English Prospekt for his second family. He spent the summers with Anna and their children at his Crimean estate. Whenever he ran into friends in Yalta, he would explain: “My ‘government-issue’ wife is in St Petersburg, this is my real wife.” He was heartbroken when two of their sons died of scarlet fever in 1886.

After the murder of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, the throne passed to his son Alexander, who disliked his liberal uncle. Konstantin Nikolaevich was stripped of his government posts and withdrew from public life. He suffered a stroke in 1889 and died at Pavlovsk Palace on 13 January 1892.

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