Welcome to 'Lost in the Myths of History'

It often seems that many prominent people of the past are wronged by often-repeated descriptions, which in time are taken as truth. The same is also true of events, which are frequently presented in a particular way when there might be many alternative viewpoints. This blog is intended to present a different perspective on those who have often been lost in the myths of history.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Lovely Elizabeth

The Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna painted by
Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun when she was still a
Grand Duchess.
One of the forgotten and elusive figures of the Romanov family was the Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna, consort of Tsar Alexander I. Little has been written about her in English, and sometimes she was only a curious note in books about the earlier Romanovs. This treatment of her might be a little understandable. She did not do anything "great" in history to warrant special attention or popularity. And yet she was married to a man who was hailed as "Napoleon's conqueror" and "the liberator of Europe". She exercised no political influence in Russia, and throughout her lifetime, she was a sad and solitary figure, neglected by her husband, and treated with indifference by his family. 

Judging from her portraits and the written descriptions of her by contemporaries, Elizabeth was an exceptionally beautiful woman. Beauty and charm are all the hallmarks of almost all Russian empresses, but popular opinion puts that she is the most beautiful of the last five empresses-consort of Russia. No wonder why many poets, writers and musicians throughout Elizabeth's lifetime dedicated their works to her, among them were Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Karamzin, and Vasily Zhukovsky. Her angelic beauty, gentle disposition, and cultivated mind made her the star of the Russian court.

But when I look at that charming portrait of her by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun wherein she was wearing a court dress and flowers on her hair, I can't help but think that her beauty, her remarkable qualities, her position as an empress, and her love for Russia, were all wasted by a lonely life that I believe she didn't deserve.

While she never truly won the heart of her husband and that of his family, she was well-loved by the Russian masses, the aristocracy, the courtiers, and even foreign visitors in Russia who were lucky to have the opportunity to meet and know her personally. She was indeed an “angel”, as described by Prince Czartoryski – the only man who had genuinely loved her in life and cherished her memory in death.


Matterhorn said...

What a beautiful portrait and lovely articles on an overlooked imperial lady.

Christina said...

What a fascinating post and beautiful picture, Gem!! Thank you so much for bringing this lady to light :-). I had never thought of her at all but your post is so interesting that now I want to know more.
I am wondering now, do you know the story/legend of Alexander's death being faked and in reality his becoming a hermit? Lord Longford writes of it in his book: "Saints" and it is reported by many others, too...It intrigues me and now I wonder what, if anything, Elizabeth knew of it (if she was still alive at the time?).
Thank you for a lovely post!

Gem said...

Thank you so much Matterhorn and Christina! Elizabeth is one of my favorites. I found her a sympathetic figure. She was a great beauty and a really nice person. Everyone admired her, and so it bewilders me that she was not able to keep her husband's affection and that of the imperial family. About the legend that Alexander became a monk after supposedly 'faking' his death, I remember reading Henri Troyat's book about Alexander, and he argued that such event was highly unlikely. He also mentioned about GD Nicholas Mikhailovich's take about the whole story (the grand duke was a historian and he had access to the secret archives of the imperial family) and he was firmly convinced that Alexander did died. Elizabeth was at her husband's bedside until his death and shed tears for him. Given Elizabeth's nature and her heartrending letters to her mother, I don't think she (and the many people present at Alexander's deathbed) could be capable of such complicity.

Christina said...

Thank you, Gem. It is lovely to have discovered something new, thanks to you, and also your explanation of Alexander's death is very illuminating. I wonder if the legend sprang simply from someone who saw someone who looked like Alexander...Your description of Elizabeth's response to his death clearly shows that the story simply isn't true. Thank you!

Matterhorn said...

Also, I don't see why people would want to hide the truth, if he had become a monk. It seems to me that such a decision would have been admired in Russia, given the strong Orthodox monastic tradition there...so why would there be a need to fake his death, in the first place?

Christina said...

I was under the impression (according to the legend) that he wished simply to abdicate his responsibility to live as a hermit. He didn't want any attention drawn to it...but it was all hearsay at the time anyway. It seems that some people 'recognised' him (a soldier who had once served under him, for example claimed to recognise him not only by his appearance but also by his regal bearing)...and since it clearly wasn't Alexander whom they saw, I'd now be interested to know who Feodor Kuzmuch was before he became a hermit.

(An interesting and brief article:
http://www.hermitary.com/lore/alexander.html )

Val said...

Gem - what a lovely portrait! She certainly seems like a beautiful woman inside and out. It's too bad that her husband and his family didn't appreciate her as she deserved.... Thank you for such an insightful article, Gem.