Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (1867-1951), the Swedish-Finnish nobleman and former Tsarist officer who defended Finland from Soviet aggression during the heroic Winter War (1939-1940), is often forgotten outside his homeland. Even less well known are his wife and daughters, but their stories are fascinating and rather remind me of a Tolstoy novel.
Anastasia Arapova (1872-1936) was a charming, flirtatious young Russian heiress, the daughter of General Nikolai Arapov, a former Chevalier Guards officer, and his wife, Vera Kazakova. She was also a relative of the great Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin. Gustaf Mannerheim met Anastasia while serving in the Chevalier Guards in St. Petersburg, and Empress Maria Feodorovna, the mother of Tsar Nicholas II, reportedly, enthusiastically favored the match. Anastasia's wealth would prove a great asset to Mannerheim, who had suffered from financial insecurity ever since his father's bankruptcy during his youth. Gustaf's relatives, however, considered Anastasia emotionally unstable and disapproved of the marriage. Nonetheless, the wedding took place in May, 1892.
Initially, it was a happy union. The couple had two daughters, Anastasie (born 1893) and Sophy (born 1895) and a son who died at birth. Sadly, however, the marital relationship crumbled rapidly, kindling gossip and rumor. Some of the couple's disputes appear to have centered on the education of their daughters. Gustaf wanted them raised as capable, down-to-earth Finnish women, like his beloved sister and confidante, Sophie, a pioneer of modern nursing, while Anastasia sought to form them into glamorous Russian society ladies like herself. In 1903, after traveling to China to nurse Russian troops during the Boxer Rebellion, a task which proved to be beyond her strength, Anastasia left her husband, eventually settling with her daughters in France. Although it seriously depleted his own resources, Mannerheim provided his wife and daughters with a generous financial settlement. The separation remained unofficial for 16 years.
In 1919, after returning to Finland, and leading the White Army to victory in the Finnish civil war, Mannerheim obtained a formal divorce. At this point, according to one of his most best biographers, J. E. O. Screen, he intended to marry Catherine (Kitty) Linder, a beautiful Finnish noblewoman, 20 years his junior, with whom he was deeply in love. Kitty, however, decided against the marriage. After 1921, the pair were nothing more than friends. Feminine affection, understanding and emotional support were always important to Mannerheim, and he had a number of close friendships with distinguished and beautiful ladies throughout his life, although the extent of these relationships is often unclear.
Meanwhile, Mannerheim continued to provide financially for his former wife and his daughters. Finally, in 1936, shortly before her death, he was reconciled with Anastasia, much to the consolation of both. The couple met in Paris and agreed that life can be full of misunderstandings...After Anastasia's death, Mannerheim, although still formally a Lutheran, had an Orthodox requiem celebrated for her soul. He also personally prayed for her in an Orthodox church. He signed her obituary and took care to provide her with a fitting tomb.As for the Mannerheims' two daughters, they attended Catholic boarding schools in France, and received an Anglo-French education. Mannerheim was seriously concerned about his children, and tried to maintain contact with them, but his letters often went unanswered. Nonetheless, around 1910, the girls ceased living with their mother, and contacted their relatives in Finland and Sweden. At this point, their father was serving in Poland, and, given the tense political situation in Central Europe, did not consider it prudent to raise his daughters in his military surroundings. Instead, his sister Sophie, Matron of the Surgical Hospital in Helsinki, took the girls in. Neither Anastasie nor Sophy, however, felt comfortable in Finland.
As a young woman, Anastasie enthusiastically embraced Roman Catholicism and entered a Carmelite convent in London. (I am not sure what religion the girls were raised in, as their father was Lutheran and their mother Orthodox). She left the convent - although without the loss of her faith- in the 1930's. Meanwhile, Sophy lived in England, Switzerland, and France. During his time as Regent of Finland (1918-1919), she visited her father and acted as his hostess. In 1919, when the University of Helsinki bestowed an honorary doctorate on Mannerheim, Sophy played a role in the ceremonies, as the binder of the bays. She later returned to France. During the Winter War, Sophy participated in the efforts to raise international support for Finland. Like her elder sister, she remained unmarried.
Anastasie in her religious habit
Anastasia Arapova is dismissed by some of Mannerheim's biographers as an indolent society flirt and an unloved, unloving wife. Clearly, however, she had kind and even sacrificial qualities, as shown by her brave efforts in China. Ultimately, too, I think her marriage was a successful one, ending in peace and forgiveness and blessed with beautiful children.