14 February 2018

A bride for Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich (1779-1831)

When Tsarina Catherine II The Great was looking for a wife for one of her cherished grandsons, Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich (1779–1831), she invited the Prince and Princess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld to bring their 3 daughters to Russia. It was said that when Catherine and Constantine watched them arrive at the Winter Palace, the elder two Princesses tripped as they dismounted from the carrige, but the third, Juliane, stepped down without mishap. "Al right," said Constantine, "if it must be so, I'll have the little monkey. It dances prettily." On 15 February 1796, Constantine married 14-year-old Juliane of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1781-1860), now Grand Duchess Anna Fyodorovna. Constantine spent their wedding night railing against some guards who had committed a minor infraction, and failed to perform his “marital duties”. 

Constantine of Russia
Constantine, known to be a violent man, and fully dedicated to his military career, made his young wife intensely miserable. Soon their marriage was deeply unhappy. It was even said that Constantine went to bed in his boots. Anyway, he continued to lead a disorderly bachelor life, while his military career occupied his full attention. 
Anna returned to Coburg in 1801. In 1808 she gave birth to an illegitimate son, named Eduard Edgar Schmidt-Löwe. The father of this child may have been Jules Gabriel Émile de Seigneux, a minor French nobleman and officer in the Prussian army. In 1835 Eduard married his cousin Bertha von Schauenstein, an illegitimate daughter of Juliane's brother Ernest. 

After 19 years of separation, the marriage of Constantine and Juliane was formally annulled on 20 March 1820. Two months later, on 27 May, Konstantin married the Polish Countess Joanna Grudzińska (1791-1831), his mistress since 1815. She was given the title of "Her Serenity" Princess of Lowicz. The new Princess's health was poor; she had migraines, fevers and rheumatism, and led a quiet life. 
Grand Duke Constantine died of cholera in Vitebsk (now Belarus) on 27 June 1831. Joanna accompanied his body to Saint Petersburg, dying the same year. 

  • Simon Sebag Montefiore: The Romanovs 1613-1918, W&N, 2017.
  • Arturo E. Beéche, Greg King: The Grand Dukes (Sons and Grandsons of Russia's Tsars since Paul I), Volume 1, EuroHistory.com, 2010. 
  • Wikipedia.

21 November 2017

Miranshah (1366-1408), Tamerlane's Unruly Son

Miranshah (1366-1408)
Miranshah (1366-1408) was the third son of the great conqueror Tamerlane (1336-1405). Tamerlane was known to cross Asia like a firestorm. He had people tortured and had piles made of bloody heads. He was also an avid collector of wives and concubines. One of Tamerlane’s concubines, Mengli Agha, was Miranshah's mother. Miranshah had just 3 wives and several additional concubines. His most famous descendant was Babur (1483-1530) who became the first Mughal Emperor in India.

In 1396 Tamerlane gave Miranshah the control of Azerbaijan. By 1398 stories of Mrianshah’s uncontrolled debauchery had reached Tamerlane, while he was on his way back from India after sacking Delhi. Stories were told of Miranshah's riotous gambling, and of marathon drinking bouts inside mosques. The Prince was said to throw gold coins from palace windows into the hands of frenzied mobs. Further evidence of Miranshah’s disturbed behavior came with reports that he had desecrated the tomb of Mongol Prince Oljeytu in the famous green-domed mosque of Sultaniya, north-west of Theran. Miranshah also had some fine buildings summarily demolished. Castilian embassador Guy Gonález de Clavijo described Miranshah as “a man of advanced age, beging about 40 years old, big and fat, and he suffers much from gout”. He doubted reports of Miranshah’s insanity, attributing his bizarre behavior to “insecurity and attention-seeking”.

Whatever the truth of Miranshah’s mental state, his lack of military talents gave his father the greatest cause for concern. Although Tamerlane loved drinking bouts, too, particularly after great battles - or at weddings and festivals, the difference was that - unlike Miranshah – Tamerlane did not let the drinking get in the way of either winning wars, or administering his empire.
Tamerlane sent some officers to Azerbaijan who reported back that Miranshah had been corrupted by the scandalous company he kept. His shifty entourage of scholars, poets and musicians were blamed for the disastrous state into which Azerbaijan had descended. Thus, Tamerlane had his son’s court favorites sentenced to death. Miranshah himself escaped the death sentence, but was relieved of his throne. 
After his father’s death in 1405 Miranshah tried to support his own son Khalil Sultan in his claims to the throne until he was killed in battle in 1408.

Sources: J. Marozzi: Tamerlane, 2004, HarperCollins & Wikipedia.

2 October 2017

Wilhelm Kettler (1574-1640), Duke of Courland

Wilhelm Kettler (1574-1640)
Wilhelm Kettler was born on June 20, 1574, in Mitau (now Jelgava in Latvia) as the younger son of Gotthard Kettler and his wife Anna of Mecklenburg (1533-1602). She was a daughter of Duke Albrecht VII “The Handsome” of Mecklenburg-Güstrow and his wife Anna of Brandenburg (1507-1567). After his father’s death in 1587 Wilhelm and his elder brother Friedrich inherited the Duchy of Courland and divided the inheritance between themselves.

In 1609 Wilhelm married Sophia of Prussia (1582-1610), one of the 5 surviving daughters of Albrecht Friedrich (1553-1618), the last, mad Duke of Prussia, and his wife Marie Eleonore of Cleves (1550-1608), a sister of the last, mad Duke of Cleves. As a dowry Wilhelm and Sophia received the territory of Grobina (now in Latvia). Their only child, a son Jacob, was born on October 28, 1610, while Sophia died soon afterwards, around November 24.

Due to conflicts with the local nobility, Wilhelm lost control of the Duchy of Courland in 1617. He emigrated, leaving his brother Friedrich als sole ruler. Wilhelm died on April 7, 1640 in Kukułowo in Poland. Two years later his son, Jacob von Kettler (1610-1682), succeeded his uncle Friedrich as Duke of Courland.

7 August 2017

The madness of Nicholas Nikolaevich of Russia (1831-91)

Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich (“Nizi”), was born on 8 August 1831 at Tsarskoye Selo Palace in Russia as a younger son of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. His father arranged for Nicholas a career in the army. Nicholas Nicolaievich unwillingly married his second cousin Princess Alexandra of Oldenburg (1838–1900) who is described as “plain and unsophisticated”. The wedding took place in St Petersburg on 6 February 1856. Soon after, the couple found out that they had little in common. Still, they had 2 sons. 

Grand Duke Nicholas 
Tall, strong and with a long, thin nose and heavily lidded blue eyes, Nicholas Nicolaievich was neither handsome nor very intelligent. An incredible womanizer, Nicholas “loved all women except for his wife”, as a contemporary wrote. Around 1860 Nicholas developed a permanent relationship with Catherine Chislova (1846-89), a dancer from the Krasnoye Selo Theater. Their affair was quite open and they had 5 children. The Grand Duke arranged a change of class into the gentry for his mistress, and their illegitimate children took the surname Nikolayev. In 1881 his wife left Nicholas for good and moved to Kiev, but she refused to grant the divorce Nicholas wanted.

Nicholas' mistress, Catherine Chislova, died unexpectedly in 1889. Shortly after her death, Nicholas went mad. His priapic sexuality had now metamorphosed into hypersexual insanity: “suffering from delusions”, he “molested every women he met”. After a ballet, Nicholas “became so aroused, he went backstage and tried to seduce everyone he saw”. Finally, he was pulled from one of the young male dancers, whom he had cornered and covered with kisses. 

In 1890 Nicholas was declared insane and kept locked indoors in his Crimean Vorontzov Palace. There he was attended by an elderly manservant, allegedly the only person who was safe from his amorous attacks. As a womanizer Nicholas may have suffered from tertiary syphilis

Quickly Nicholas Nicolaievich slipped into a haze of madness. His younger brother Mikhail wittily expressed his “astonishment that a man of such excessive stupidity could still lose his mind”. Nicholas died in his Palace at Alupka, Crimea, on 25 April 1891. The Palace was immediately sold as he was in debt after squandering all his tremendous wealth, and borrowing heavily. 


  • Simon Sebag Montefiore: The Romanovs 1613-1918, W&N, 2017.
  • Arturo E. Beéche, Greg King: The Grand Dukes (Sons and Grandsons of Russia's Tsars since Paul I), Volume 1, EuroHistory.com, 2010. 
  • Wikipedia.

10 May 2017

The Wives of Jagatjit Singh Bahadur, Maharaja of Kapurthala

Born in the autumn of 1872, Sir Jagatjit Singh Bahadur became ruling Maharaja of the Princely State of Kapurthala in India in 1877, succeeding his father Kharak Singh Bahadur (1849-1877). In 1890 Jagatjit attained full ruling powers . Like most of his fellow Princes, Jagatjit reveled in pomp and ceremony. He was an avowed Fracophile who modelled his palaces on French châteaus and filled them with French furniture. In 1935 Jagatjit met with Benito Mussolini. He also attended a Nazi Parteitag in Nuremburg.

Jagatjit Singh Bahadur,
Maharaja of Kapurthala.
At the age of 13 Jagatjit had been married to Maharani Harbans Kaur, daughter of Mian Ranjit Singh Guleria of Poprola. Several years had since passed, and his wife still had not conceived, so questions were asked. Even Jagatjit’s portly girth was blamed for his inability to consummate his marriage. It seems that experts were consulted, and a ramp-like bed was constructed. This apparently solved the couple’s difficulties and in due course a son was born and named Paramjit Singh (1892-1955). The bed’s engineer received a life pension.

During his life Jagatjit Singh married 6 times. His 5th wife was a Spanish girl, Anita Delgado (1890-1962). In 1908 they married and had a son. Anita was never required to live with his other wives, and would accompany Jagatjit on his travels. They were separated in 1925. 

Jagatjit’s 6th wife was Eugenie Grosupova, an illegitimate daughter of a Czech Count and an actress. After the deaths of her grandmother and mother, Eugenie became profoundly disturbed. She was certain that they had both been poisoned, and lived in terror of being poisoned herself. 
As Jagatjit’s roving eye had already alighted on another beautiful girl, Eugenie and Jagatjit were having difficulties in their marriage. One day, Eugenie caught a taxi to a stone tower, and committed suicide by jumping off it. From the marbled 5th storey Eugenie fell 3 storeys to the red-sandstoned, 2nd floor. Eugenie's body was found hanging over the railings. Jagatjit was shocked and upset when he heard of her death, and was said to have aged overnight. He died on June 19, 1949. 

Sources: World of RoyaltyC. Younger: Wicked Women of the Ray, HarperCollins, 2011.