The Little Rose Princess: Alexandra Pavlovna

Pavlovna dressed in kokoshnik and sarafan, 1790s.

Bethrothed to the King Gustav IV of Sweden, the sweet, young  Alexandra Pavlovna fell madly in love with her intended upon their first meeting.  The union was a political one, meant to shore up fraught ties with Sweden, but for everyone involved, it seemed a match made in heaven.  By universal account, Alexandra was utterly charming, “the prettiest, sweetest and most innocent of the available princesses in Europe.” 

A passage from Royal Favorite, Volume 2 offers this description:

Painted shortly before her betrothal.  Portrait by Vladimir Borovikovsky, 1796. Gatchina Palace Museum, St Petersburg, Russia

Her intended, Gustav, couldn’t agree more.   After a debate over the potential princesses he might take as wife, he ended his deliberation at once.  Finally he had met his equal:

Arrangements for the upcoming nuptials were promptly formalized, but Alexandra’s great happiness foundered when King Gustav observed that by Swedish Law he was obligated to marry a Lutheran wife.  Alexandra was Russian Orthodox.  Empress Catherine II, who orchestrated the engagement, maintained religion posed no impediment to the marriage but when the contract was placed before Gustav for final consideration, he refused to extend his hand in good faith.  His declaration echoed down the halls: he would have a Lutheran queen for his people or no queen. 

 The Story of  a Throne gives us a glimpse of Alexandra’s disappointment:

After her death, Joseph remained a widower for fourteen years.  Purportedly he loved her, but he couldn’t protect her.  Surrounded by an envious Viennese court and loathed by her mother-in-law,  Empress Maria Theresa, Alexandra’s life in Austria was difficult.  One story tells of how the empress forbade her to wear her legendary tiara, an item from her substantial dowry.  Alexandra improvised, crowning her golden hair with flowers, and gained admiration for her fresh style.  Needless to say, the empress was livid.  Alexandra’s beauty, luxurious jewelry collection, and stark resemblance to Elizabeth of Wurttenberg–her maternal aunt and the Emperor of Austria’s first wife–were eternal marks against her. 

In addition, religious bigotry continued to threaten her future.  The Austrian royals, catholic to their core, refused her the basic rights of her faith.  After dying of puerperal fever in 1801, she was denied burial in the mausoleum her husband, Archduke Joseph, had dedicated to her.  Stories claim her coffin was instead placed above ground in the palace basement until the Russian sovereigns intervened and buried her in Hungary, as Joseph was Palatine of Hungary.  Her grave was robbed during World War I, the heirlooms buried with her, stolen.  Today, at last, she is interred in the Palatinal crypt in the Royal Palace of Budapest.

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