Princess Ekaterina Dolgorukaya

Princess Ekaterina Dolgorukaya, Princess Yurievskaya, morganatic second wife of Tsar Alexander II
Born: 1847, Moscow
Died: 1922, Nice

Princess Ekaterina Dolgorukaya was born in Moscow on 14 November 1847 in the family of Prince Mikhail Dolgorukov and Vera Vishnevskaya. After the bankruptcy of her father in 1859, she and her sister were sent to be educated at the Smolny Institute in St Petersburg.

In autumn 1864, Tsar Alexander II paid a visit to the Smolny Institute, where he met the sixteen-year-old Ekaterina. Having known her since she was ten, he was stunned at her transformation into a beautiful young woman. The emperor dropped a hint to his courtiers, who immediately approached Dolgorukaya on his behalf.

Unlike the other lovers of Alexander II, Ekaterina did not immediately submit to the forty-six year-old tsar. Young and inexperienced, she did not believe in physical relations without love. She held the autocrat in too much awe to become his mistress.

But Alexander was besotted by Ekaterina and gradually won her over. After their first night together at Belvedere on 1 July 1866, he told Dolgorukaya: “Alas, I am not free. But I will marry you at the very first opportunity as, from now on and forever more, I consider you my wife before God.”

Alexander kept his word, though he had to wait fourteen years, before Empress Maria Alexandrovna died in 1880. Until then, he installed Ekaterina above his chambers at the Winter Palace. Later, the empress could hear her husband’s illegitimate children running above her head.

In 1872, Ekaterina gave birth in the Winter Palace to a boy called Georgy. He was followed by a daughter, Olga, in 1873. The birth of children was, for Ekaterina, a reason for both joy and sorrow. Although their father adored and spent much time with his son and daughter, they were still illegitimate.

Alexander was particularly proud of the young boy, noting that he had much Russian blood, a great rarity in the Romanov family. On 11 July 1874, the emperor issued a decree, legitimising the two children. Georgy and Olga were given the surname of Yurievsky and the title of “serene highness.”

Another boy called Boris was born in 1876, but died six weeks later. Finally, a second daughter, Ekaterina, was born in 1877. After the death of the empress on 8 June 1880, Dolgorukaya was granted the title of Princess Yurievskaya.

On 6 July 1880, before the traditional forty-day period of mourning for the empress was over, Alexander and Ekaterina were secretly married at the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo. Only a few people were invited to the ceremony. Neither the heir nor his wife was present.

Alexander’s decision to lose no time in marrying Ekaterina can be understood. The emperor was tired of the burden of wearing the crown and being the constant target of terrorists. He wanted to abdicate in favour of his son and quietly enjoy the rest of his life in the south of France with Ekaterina and his young family.

After making Princess Dolgorukaya his wife, Alexander considered raising her to the level of consort and empress. On 1 March 1881, he asked Ekaterina to wait for him at the Winter Palace, so they could take a walk in the Summer Garden. Already dressed to go out, she heard the noise of an explosion in the distance...

The blast that killed the emperor also destroyed Ekaterina’s future. Following the accession of Alexander III, she moved out of the Winter Palace and into the Lesser Marble Palace on Gagarin Street. The princess later settled on the French Riviera, where she lived for many years until her death in 1922.

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