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Messages - CarolynnB

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Having Fun! / Re: Who is the greatest Empress
« on: June 10, 2008, 11:41:44 PM »
Again, a vote cast for Catherine the Great.  Not only did she seize the throne from her rather ineffective and offensive husband, she added huge amounts of territory to Russia, considered some pretty amazing reforms for her time, was incredibly well-read for a woman, basically started the Hermitage art collection (yes, Peter I bought the first art, but Catherine was the first to be systematic about it), and was, for the most part, religiously tolerant.  There is the whole area of what she did NOT manage to accomplish (freeing the serfs, turning Russia into a constitutional monarchy, etc.) but her record is, for this period, pretty remarkable.

Dear LisaMarie,

I would suggest two books---the first, Suzanne Massie's Land of the Firebird is an easy read, and its about art, culture, all kinds of Russian creativity before the Revolution.  It's out of print now, but I'm sure that you could find it in the library.  I'd read this one first, as it will give you an overview of Russian culture and history.

The second is Robert Massie's Peter the Great.  It is a long book, but it is so well-written that it won't be confusing or boring.  

Hope this helps!

The Yussupov palace is very interesting, and I really love to visit the cemetary at the Alexander Nevsky monastery---lots of famous people and cool monuments there (Rimsky-Korsakov, Petipa, etc.)  One of the cooler "Soviet" sights is the WWII/seige memorial.  One of the best views of the city is the view from the top of the St. Issac Cathedral---you can climb to the base of the dome.  

For the earlier Romanovs, I would add Robert Massie's amazing "Peter the Great" and also Isabel de Madariaga's books on Catherine the Great.  There's also a good bio of Alexander I by Troyat, although it is out of print and a bit hard to find.

Hope this helps!

Romanov and Imperial Russia Links / Re: Traveling in Russia
« on: April 02, 2004, 04:11:21 PM »
Suzanne Massie usually does a tour each year---but they're pretty expensive.  There is a link from this site to Exeter Travel, which features her tour, along with others.

I've always been fascinated by the Russian love-hate relationship with Napoleon.  It seems that when I've talked to some Russians about the various invasions that they are virulently anti-German (which is understandable), but that there is almost a grudging admiration of Napoleon and the French.  I'm not a big fan of Napoleon either (although he is fun to study from a historical perspective---whacking people on the head with his sceptre at his coronation!), but I'm intrigued with this situation.  Perhaps it is rooted in the Francophile history of the court, or perhaps it was simply long enough ago that much has been forgotten....?


Hi Bob!

Troyat argued that 2 of Alexander's sisters were considered as possible spouses for Napoleon---by Napoleon, but not really by the family.  At their Erfurt meeting in 1808, Napoleon apparently told Alexander that he was planning to divorce Josephine and suggested that he be allowed to marry Alexander's favorite sister Grand Duchess Catherine (Ekaterina Pavlovna).  Alexander, who was apparently horrified at the prospect of this marriage, stalled for time with Napoleon by telling him that his mother the Dowager Empress would have to approve such a marriage.  When he returned to St. Petersburg, he immediately engaged Catherine to the Duke of Oldenburg so as to thwart the marriage to Napoleon.  Napoleon then proposed to marry Alexander's younger sister, Anne, who was only 15 years old.  The Dowager Empress came up with a scheme to again stall for time, claiming that Anne was too young to be married, but that there would be a "possibility" of a marriage in a few years.  By this time, Napoleon had settled on Marie Louise, but he was extremely upset by the actions of his "ally."

In both cases, it seems pretty clear that there was a desire on the part of the royal family not to involve the girls in a "miserable existence" (the Dowager Empress's words) but also a need not to completely alienate Napoleon when they were ill-equipped to fight him.  It seems a tribute to the family that while they were perhaps willing to break protocol and give him the Order of St. Andrew, they were not willing to sacrifice one of their own.  I do remember one of my history teachers commenting that one of the reasons that Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 was because of the insult to his "person" caused by the unwillingness of the Romanovs to allow him to marry into the family.


The Imperial Family / Re: What got you interested in the Romanovs?
« on: March 29, 2004, 06:59:33 PM »
I have to weigh in with Robert and Suzanne Massey being incredibly influential in my fascination with Russian history, along with 2 terribly gifted teachers.  

The first teacher was my high school freshman Amercian History teacher.  He saw that I was incredibly bored with basic American history, and loaned me not only his personal copy of "Nicholas and Alexandra" but his copy of Hedrick Smith's "The Russians."  Understand, this was still cold-war America---a 14-year old kid in central Missouri knew absolutely nothing about Russia except that it was "the enemy."  Imagine my surprise.  I can still remember that I was sitting in his class when I read the section in Massie about the execution of the family---I remember that I was outraged--I had no idea that the book would end that way, and I can remember that I acutally yelled at him that he had gotten me hooked on this stupid book and on these people that I had come to care for, and that they had died!  Well, that was the beginning.  

In college, I decided to take classes in Russian language so that I could fulfill my foreign language requirement, and learn a little bit more about Russia.  I was blessed with an absolutely brilliant professor, who introduced us to Russian literature, Russian history, and Russian music.  I was hooked.  I changed my major from economics to Slavic Studies, and took 3 more years of language, Russian history, literature, economics, politics, and culture (I think basically everything that was offered).  I have never regretted my choice, and I love that now I am teaching and can pass my love of Russia on to other students.  The greatest latest blessing has been a non-traditional, older student who has taken maybe 3 of my Russian history classes.  She has also grown to love all things Russian, and found out recently that she has terminal cancer.  This dear lady gave me all of her Russian history books so that I could pass them on to other Russian students---that's what this passion that we all share does for us, I think---it gives us a connection that makes us a "family" in some way.


Dear Nick,

Back again with the source information.  Henri Troyat's "Alexander of Russia" states on page 107 that "Alexander charged Prince Kurakin to deliver to Napoleon the insignia of the Order of St. Andrew, for himself and for four members of his suite.  In exchange, Napoleon had General Duroc bring the Czar five badges of the Legion of Honor.  Shortly afterward Alexander, wearing the cordon of the Legion of Honor, and Napoleon, wearing the cordon of St. Andrew, reviewed together the regiments of their personal guard...."

A second source, Leonid Strakhovsky's "Alexander I of Russia" (1947) notes on page 83 that the five insignia of the Order of St. Andrew were to be presented by Prince Kurakin to Napoleon himself, to Napoleon's brother Jerome, and to Murat, Tallyrand and Marshal Berthier.  The five insignia of the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor were presented to Alexander, his brother Constantine, Baron Budberg (Alex's minister of foreign affairs at the time), Prince Kurakin and Prince Lobanov-Rostovsky.

I raised the question because both of these sources are somewhat dated, and because neither of them provides a citation to their primary source.  While it is possible that this did happen, I would really like to know if did---Troyat does not acknowledge the Strakhovsky book in his bibliography, so it is possible that both of them are quoting from a 3rd source that neither one of them cites.
Surely there is some good history of the Treaty of Tislit process that I haven't run across that has a primary source that would support or deny that this happened.

The point that Napoleon wasn't exactly from a royal line is a good one in favor of this being a misunderstanding of what order was presented.  However, my understanding of the whole Treaty of Tilsit was that Alexander was in a relatively weak position, and needed to make Napoleon believe that he was on his side against the British---perhaps military need could outweigh what was protocol---and it would explain why the Russians were so unhappy with the terms of the peace treaty (along with losing such a huge amount of trade with Britain.)

What do you think?

Dear Nick,

I thought that it was pretty odd myself (that's probably why it stuck with me).  I believe that I ran across the information when preparing a series of lectures on Alexander I and the relationship with France in the early 19th century.  I'll have to go back and check my notes and bookshelf to see what specific reference I have for the information.

I raised the question here because I ran across this same information on a DVD I purchased through ebay from  The series of DVD's was produced for Russian television by NTV, for the St. Petersburg tricentennial, and are titled "Rossiiskaia Imperiia."  On them, the host makes the point that not only did Alexander award Napoleon with the St. Andrew, but that he also asked that one of his officers be awarded the French Legion of Honor.  Apparently Napoleon declined to do this, as the officer had been involved in the coup against Paul, and Napoleon asserted that he didn't want to reward regicide.  Nice, huh?  I guess that I was not only looking for some verification of the story, I would like to know about the reliability of the information on the DVD (I would really like to have a transcript of the Russian text, since the English subtitles are not always correct or complete).  

I'll get back with you on the textual information---Thanks for the response!

I remember reading someplace that Alexander I and Napoleon exchanged honors as part of the Treaty of Tilsit---Napoleon awarded Alexander (and perhaps 4 other Russians) with the Legion of Honor and Alexander awarded Napoleon with the Order of St. Andrew the First-Called.   My understanding was that this did not sit well with many of the Russian military, who had just been fighting against Napoleon.   I would really like to know what happened to both of these honors, given that Napoleon invaded Russia just a few years later....
does the French government still have Napoleon's St. Andrew?


Dear Janet,

I have a copy of the book on my shelves.  It has, in fact, about 100 pages (they are not all numbered, the numbering stops on page 86, but 100 is pretty close estimate).  Perhaps Amazon made a mis-type from 112 pages?

I would not hesitate about purchasing the book, especially if you can find it used, as Sarai suggested.  Almost half of the book is made up of nice quality reproductions of Gleb Botkin's paintings, each of which is given a full page.  The book includes, as Antonio explained, a foreward by Greg King which features black and white photos of the family and the Botkins.  There are also acknowledgements and an introduction by Maria Botkin Schweitzer.  The text contains three stories, along with some of Gleb's other pictures.  Hope that this helps!


Imperial Succession and the Throne / Re: Who is the rightful heir?
« on: March 25, 2004, 10:03:59 AM »

Thank you for so eloquently explaining what I tried to say in my late-night post-- historically, whoever was recognized to be "in power" had control over the succession.  I realize that there are lots of people out there who disagree with this, but it holds up under historical scrutiny.  

In addition, your point about the power of the Russian people to chose who or what they want in Russia is also a matter of historical record---if people have doubts about this, they need to look at both recent political events, and at the zemskii sobor that brought the Romanovs to power in the first place.

Just my 2 cents,
Carolynn Burbee

Imperial Succession and the Throne / Re: Who is the rightful heir?
« on: March 13, 2004, 07:42:18 PM »
I believe that I need to weigh in on Bob's side on this one---it is fun to speculate what might have happened, but history shows that the Romanovs were willing to simply change the laws (or ignore them) to put individuals onto the throne.  Peter I re-wrote the succession laws so that he could chose his successor---then he failed to do so.  His second wife then succeeded him because she had the support of the court and the military.  Their daughter Elizabeth (who was, I believe, born out of wedlock) seized power several years later in a coup.  Catherine II, a German princess, seized power 20 years later in another coup.  Her son Paul, who was extremely put out at his mother, would again re-write the law so that only the oldest male heir could inherit the throne.  I would venture to guess that if there had been an issue over Alexei Nicholaevich not being able to inherit the throne, or if the monarchy could have been restored after 1918, that the Romanovs themselves could have made the decision--or simply returned to the good ol' days when the zemsky sobor elected Michael Romanov in the first place.

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