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.