Saturday, September 24, 2011

Honour and Fidelity by Zoia Belyakova

Honour and Fidelity is the first book about the Dukes of Leuchtenberg, one of the junior branches of the Russian Inperial Family. The author of this excellent book is Zoia Belykova, the Russian historian who specializes in the Romanovs.

Maximilian Beauharnais, 3rd Duke of Leuchtenberg, was selected to be the husband of Grand Duchess Maria Nicolaievna, daughter of Emperor Nicholas I. It was a marriage encouraged by Maximilian's mother, Princess Augusta of Bavaria.

The marriage took place on July 2, 1839. Maximilian was given the style of Imperial Highness. Although he remained Roman Catholic, he agreed that their children would be raised in the Orthodox church.

The well-educated Duke of Leuchtenberg undertook numerous in Russia, but he was not happy in Russia. His private life was fodder for gossip. Both the Duke and the Grand Duchess had affairs.. Marie's relationship with Count Grigory Stroganov probably before the premature death of her husband, and he, not Maximilian, may have been the natural father of the younger Leuchtenberg children.

Maria and Maximilian were the parents of seven children: Alexandra, Maria, Nikolai, Eugenie, Yevgeny, Sergei and Georgy.

Alexandra died as a child. Maria married Prince Ludwig of Baden. Their son, Max, was the last Chancellor of Imperial Germany. Eugenie was the wife of Prince Alexander of Oldenburg. It was their son, Peter, who married Grand Duchess Olga of Russia, a marriage that was never consummated, and eventually dissolved by divorce.
It was Maria and Maximilian's eldest son, Nikolai, caused great consternation in spite of his "exceptional abilities." He was a favorite of Alexander, and showed great promise, but it all fell apart when he contracted a morganatic marriage.

Although Maria was married morganatically to Count Stroganov (a marriage in secret), she could not bear the thought that her eldest son had married unequally.

For most of the rest of his life, Nikolai lived a largely nomadic existence with his wife and two sons. Thanks to family connections, Nikolai settled in Bavaria at Castle Seeon. He also owned several other properties in Bavaria.

Duke Nikolai continued to write to his mother-- the letters are included in the book -- but he never received her blessing for his marriage.

Belyakova is an expert historian, and a very good storyteller. She focuses on each of Maria and Maximilian's children in one chapter. The life stories of several grandchildren, Duke Nikolai of Leuchtenberg, Duke Georgy, Prince Peter of Oldenburg, and Daria Yegenia of Leuchtenberg, the daughter of Yevgeny, 5th Duke of Leuchtenberg and his morganatic wife. In 1893, young Dolly, a free spirit of sorts, married Prince Leo Kochubei, and became the mother of two sons.

Dolly was at the center of St. Petersburg society, but she may have been banished to France in 1905, following comments about Nicholas II and his wife. She eventually returned, divorced Prince Leo. Her second husband, a battleship commander, Baron Vladimir Gravenitz, kidnapped Dolly and the married her. Nicholas II decided not to punish Gravenitz, after learning who he had married.

Dolly was no longer welcome at court, She was too eccentric. This marriage soon collapsed, and the good baron may have committed suicide. She resumed her maiden title Countess Beauharnais, but soon evolved into Daria Leuchtenberg.

She went to Bavaria, where she became a citizen, but by 1918, she was back in Russia, ready to be a good Communist. She married for a third time to Viktor Markezetti. They became good Soviet workers and were executed in 1938.

By the 1930s, the Leuchtenberg descendants were scattered across the globe, in Germany, the US and Canada, far from the Soviet Union, but remaining essentially Russian.

The book also includes the previously privately published memoirs of Duke Georg Nicolaievitch.

This book is further enhanced by the publication of many previously unseen photographs, provided by several descendants. Belyakova was also able to draw on correspondence, diaries and other documents.

Inspiration for the book's title was provided by the Dukes of Leuchtenberg's motto, Honour and Fidelity.

The book, published by Logos in St. Petersburg, is a very limited edition: 500 copies in English and 500 copies in Russian. The English translation was done by P.R. Williams.

This book is not available from Amazon. I believe the only bookstore that still has copies is Van Hoogtraten in the Hague. The price is 43.90 Euros.

It is definitely worth the effort to add this book to your library.  One can fault some of the translations, what cannot be faulted is the brilliant scholarship.

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