St Petersburg & Russia

Anna Pavlovna

In the province of North Holland there is a village whose name still recalls the connection between this Russian grand princess and the Dutch crown. Anna Pavlovna (1795-1865) was the youngest daughter of Tsar Paul I and Maria Fyodorovna. Through her marriage to Crown Prince Willem Frederik of Orange-Nassau (St Petersburg, 1816) Anna became queen of Holland when he became king in 1840.

Anna was raised by her mother at the summer residence of the Romanovs, Tsarskoye Selo. She spent her childhood there with her two younger brothers, Nicholas (1796-1855) and Michael (1798-1849). Anna received a broad education, including foreign languages and maths. She was good at handicrafts and painting. When she moved to the Netherlands, Anna maintained intensive contact with her mother and brothers. After her mother’s death in 1828 she relied on Nicholas for support. He had by then been reigning for three years and was able to spoil her liberally.

Rather Brussels

At the time of their marriage, it was agreed that Prince Willem’s children should be raised as Protestants, although Anna herself remained Russian Orthodox. On their arrival in the Netherlands, the newlyweds moved into a residence on Lange Voorhout in The Hague, while the palace on Kneuterdijk and Soestdijk Palace were being rebuilt. However, since Willem and his father were constantly quarrelling, they felt far more comfortable in Brussels. The bustling court life of Brussels was far more to the Russian princess’s taste than the sober existence in The Hague.

Problems

Anna and Willem had four sons, among them the later king, Willem III, and one daughter, Sophia. It was for the birth of her favourite son, Alexander, that Anna received Tsar Peter’s House in Zaandam as a gift from her father-in-law. Anna struggled to raise her eldest son, the unruly heir to the throne, Willem. Their marriage ran into trouble in 1829; the princess resented her husband keeping bad company and acquiring debts. Nevertheless, when he took a principled stand in opposition to his father in response to the Belgian Revolt (1830-1839), she supported him.

Nice to know

During a visit to Tsar Peter’s House with Grand Prince Alexander (later Tsar Alexander II) in 1839, Anna knocked her head hard against a low ceiling. Later, she wrote to her brother Nicholas that she was unable to write a long letter since she had a headache.

Allure

As queen, Anna gave life at the Dutch court an international allure, introducing the strict etiquette and opulent ceremony that she knew from Russia’s imperial court. She spoke excellent Dutch, even better than Willem, who generally spoke French. She campaigned for the common folk, founding committees, societies and schools for the poor, especially for women and girls.

Dutch masters

Despite Anna’s reservations concerning their relationship, the death of her husband Willem in 1849 shocked her deeply. She withdrew from public life and went to live at Boschlust. Willem left her nothing but debt. To keep Soestdijk Palace, Anna had to sell some of her Russian property. Willem’s collection of Dutch masters, including various Rembrandts, went to St Petersburg and has remained there as part of the Hermitage collection.

Alone

After her husband’s death, Anna became a lonely figure in Holland. Her relationship with her son, Willem III, was turbulent while her two surviving children, Hendrik and Sophia, lived abroad. Anna died in 1865 aged 70, in The Hague. Her body lay in state for the traditional seventeen days in the Russian Orthodox chapel at Rustenburg before being interred in the royal crypt at in Delft.

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The Hermitage Amsterdam is located on Amstel 51, Amsterdam

Photo Janiek Dam

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