Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich

Born: 1798, St Petersburg
Died: 1849, Warsaw

Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich was the tenth child and fourth son of Paul I and Maria Fyodorovna. He was born in St Petersburg in 1798.

Master of the ordnance. Served in the Artillery Department (1819), inspector general of the engineers (1825). Fought in the Napoleonic Wars (1814). Commanded guards regiments during the Russo-Turkish War (1828–29) and the November Uprising (1830–31).

Mikhail was an obsessive stickler for detail and discipline. An unpolished button or unfastened lapel was enough to unleash a storm of rage. Despite his strictness and hot temper, he still commanded the affection of his men. The grand duke’s biographer writes that he never bore any grudges and “his harsh exterior concealed a kind heart.” He had a droll sense of humour, and many of his phrases and expressions became popular sayings.

On one occasion, Mikhail was sitting in his box at the theatre, looking down at the stalls, when he noticed an officer who was supposed to be on duty in his regiment. During the interval, he ran out of the theatre, climbed into a sledge and tore round to the regiment’s headquarters. When he got there, he found the same officer that he had spotted in the theatre. This happened several times, before Mikhail finally asked the man to share his secret. The officer confessed that Mikhail was not the only one looking round the theatre – he too was observing the grand duke from the stalls. When Mikhail ran out of the theatre, the officer jumped onto the back of his sledge, disembarking when they reached the regimental courtyard. Mikhail laughed and forgave the officer.

In 1824, Mikhail married Princess Friederike Charlotte Marie of Württemberg, a great-niece of Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna, who converted to Orthodoxy as Elena Pavlovna. They lived in the Mikhailovsky Palace and had five daughters, who fondly remembered their father’s kind heart. When he visited their bedrooms in the evening, they would jump out of their beds with squeals of delight, flinging themselves around his neck. But when their mother appeared, they would lie obediently under the covers, waiting for her cold kiss.

Elena had none of her husband’s warmth and spontaneity. Everything that she did was restrained, orderly and rational. The couple had so little in common that, on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Mikhail joked: “Another five years and our marriage might be called the Thirty Years War.” But Mikhail did not live to celebrate that date, dying unexpectedly in Warsaw in 1849.

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