Tsarevna Anna Petrovna

Tsarevna Anna Petrovna, daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I, sister of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, wife of Duke Carl Friedrich of Holstein-Gottorp, mother of Peter III
Born: 1708, Moscow
Died: 1728, Kiel

Anna Petrovna was the fourth child and second daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I. She was born in Moscow on 27 January 1708.

Anna grew up in the houses of Peter’s younger sister Natalia and Prince Alexander Menshikov. Although born illegitimate, she and her younger sister Elizabeth were awarded the titles of “princess” (tsarevna) on 6 March 1711 and “crown princess” (tsesarevna) on 23 December 1721.

Peter planned to marry his daughters to foreign princes in order to gain European allies for the Russian Empire. The two girls were educated with this aim in mind, learning literature, writing, embroidery, dancing and etiquette. Anna developed into an intelligent, well-read girl who spoke four foreign languages – French, German, Italian and Swedish.

Anna’s modesty and shyness were evident at an early age. One witness describes the amusing hitch that once occurred during the traditional exchanging of Easter kisses. When the duke of Holstein-Gottorp tried to kiss the fourteen-year-old Anna, she turned bright red in embarrassment, while her younger sister “immediately stuck out her little pink mouth for a kiss.”

Foreign visitors to the Russian court were struck by the uncommon beauty of the two girls. The dark-eyed Anna looked more like her father and was considered more level-headed and intelligent than her younger sister, the fair-haired Elizabeth. A contemporary described Anna: “She was a beautiful soul in a beautiful body ... both in appearance and in manners, she was [her father’s] complete likeness, particularly in her character and mind ... set off by her kind heart.”

Peter the Great began his diplomatic assault on Europe in 1711, when he married his son, Tsarevich Alexis Petrovich, to Princess Charlotte Christine Sophie of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. In 1710, his niece Anna Ioannovna was given to Duke Friedrich Wilhelm of Courland. Her sister, Ekaterina Ioannovna, wedded Duke Carl Leopold of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1716.

In 1720, Duke Carl Friedrich of Holstein-Gottorp came to St Petersburg to marry a Russian princess. He wanted Peter the Great to help him win Schleswig back from Denmark and support his claim to the Swedish throne (although the Treaty of Nystad, signed a year later, expressly forbade Russia from interfering in Sweden’s internal affairs).

Duke Carl Friedrich spent three years in St Petersburg, waiting to see which of Peter’s daughters he would be offered – the brunette or the blonde. But the emperor was in no hurry to lose his beloved girls and delayed all questions of their marriage. The two sisters were equally unhappy at the prospect of leaving home. As the French ambassador wrote, “the minute that the subject of their marriage is raised, they immediately burst into tears.”

Peter was eventually obliged to come to a decision and Anna was betrothed to the duke of Holstein-Gottorp in 1724. The tsar was forced into this step by the revelation that his wife and anointed heir, Catherine, had been unfaithful to him with Willem Mons.

Fearing for the future of the Romanov dynasty and the fate of his great legacy, Peter tore up his will in favour of Catherine and ordered his vice-chancellor, Heinrich Johann Friedrich Ostermann, to come to an agreement with Holstein. After dragging on for several years, the negotiations were wrapped up in a matter of days and the couple were engaged on 24 October 1724.

On 23 November 1724, Carl Friedrich signed a marriage contract, agreeing to give up any claims to the Russian throne on behalf of himself, Anna and their children. A secret clause stated that Peter could take any son of their marriage to Russia and make him the heir. Having excluded Catherine from the succession, the tsar was determined to secure the throne and the future of Russia. To this end, he did not even spare his beloved daughter – just as he had never spared himself or anyone else in the pursuit of his aims.

Peter’s plan would have worked had he lived until 21 February 1728, when Anna gave birth to a male child. But the tsar was not fated to see this happy day, dying in terrible pain on the night of 27/28 January 1725. The previous day, he had sat down to write his last will and testament, but only managed to write Leave everything to...

After Catherine was proclaimed empress, she held a magnificent wedding for her daughter at the Trinity Cathedral in St Petersburg on 21 May 1725 (the first knights of St Alexander Nevsky were awarded their orders in a parallel ceremony). The wedding party then crossed the River Neva to the Summer Garden, where Mikhail Zemtsov had designed a special banqueting hall for the occasion.

The tables were set with all sorts of delicacies, including enormous pies. When the orchestra began to play, male and female dwarves jumped out of the pies and began to dance on the tables. Each toast was accompanied by cannon fire from a nearby yacht and the guards regiments positioned on Tsaritsa Meadow. The following day, everyone was invited to Peterhof, where the banqueting and dancing continued in the Upper Palace.

Carl Friedrich and Anna spent the next two years in St Petersburg. Catherine I made her son-in-law a lieutenant colonel of the Preobrazhensky Regiment and a member of the Supreme Privy Council. He began to play an important role in the life of the Russian Empire and foreign diplomats predicted that the empress would name Anna as her successor.

But after Catherine died in May 1727, Prince Alexander Menshikov – the power behind the throne under the new emperor, Peter II – more or less expelled Anna and her husband from Russia. Before her departure for Holstein, Anna was asked to sign a receipt for all the money awarded to her as her dowry. For a long time, the document was not accepted by the government, because it gave the old title of Peter’s daughter – “crown princess of Russia.” Now, she was neither Russian nor a crown princess.

On 25 July 1717, Anna and her husband left St Petersburg for Kiel. When they arrived in the capital of Holstein, the duke underwent an instant personality change. Merry and gallant in St Petersburg, he was now a rude, drunken boor. He spent his time in the rowdy company of friends and other women, leaving his wife, now pregnant, entirely on her own.

Surrounded by love and attention from the day she was born, Anna was unaccustomed to such treatment. She spent her days writing long, tearful letters to her sister Elizabeth. Semyon Mordvinov, a lieutenant in the Russian navy, remembers Anna crying bitterly when she gave him her mail to take back to Russia. In one such letter to Elizabeth, she writes: “Not a day passes without my weeping for you, my dear sister!”

On 21 February 1728, Anna gave birth to a son called Carl Peter Ulrich, the future Peter III. A few days later, the twenty-year-old duchess caught puerperal fever and died on 4 March 1728. In memory of his wife, Carl Friedrich founded the Order of St Anne, which subsequently became a Russian decoration.

Before her death, Anna Petrovna had asked to be buried alongside her father in St Petersburg. Two ships, the Raphael and the Cruiser, were dispatched to Kiel for Anna’s body. The coffin was transported up the River Neva on a galley, with long black crape hanging overboard, trailing in the water. On 12 November 1728, Anna was laid to rest next to her parents in the still unfinished St Peter and St Paul Cathedral.

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