Born in Stettin, Prussia, Sophie Marie Dorothea Auguste Louise (Oct. 25, 1759)- Duchess of Wurtemburg was a highly educated and cultured young lady. By sixteen, she was fluent in German, Italian, French and Latin. And at seventeen, was selected amongst many of the available and worthy princesses to become the second wife of the future Tsar Paul I (who had just become a widower).
The two future spouses met formally in Berlin for a state dinner in Paul’s honor and, just like that- it was love at first sight. Soon thereafter, Sophie converted to Russian Orthodoxy and was given the name of and title of Grand Duchess of Russia, Maria Feodorovna upon their marriage.
Catherine The Great (one can only imagine having this lady as a mother-in-law) was initially thrilled with the charming Maria, having so many similarities in terms of country of origin and name. Maria had a very kind and delightful personality- she would be one of the rare people that could actually put up with Paul; whose character was quite difficult. This newly Grand Duchess had all the patience in the world when it came to her husband. And, although their union would produce ten children and for the longest time the couple would remain deeply in love, times were often very trying, not only politically, but also due to Paul’s roaming eye.
Maria would dedicate her life to charities and the arts. Endowed with musical talent as well, Maria played the harpsichord and entertained in her beautiful palace. Evenings were carefully planned for the theatre, music and art. As much as she loved to read, Maria was also a devoted writer. She kept a multitude of her diaries that she wrote daily. These contained almost a minute by minute recounting of her days. Later she would ask that all volumes be burnt after her death.
Maria also had the great fortune of becoming Empress alongside her husband when Catherine The Great passed away. Finally she had the chance to pursue her interest in politics and governing the people. Her advice and counsel were invaluable to her husband. They were a very close couple despite his affairs and were destined to be together forever- until his assassination.
Maria then became Dowager Empress and set the stage for second in command after her son, Tsar Nicholas- a first in Russia as second highest rank ( and so it would be that her daughter-in-law- although Tsarina, would be a level under her).
As a widow, Maria took it upon herself to see to her children’s highest level of education. As for herself, she continued to be unparalleled in not only fashion, as patron of the arts, management of charities, and had control over the bank as well. One of her greatest contributions is most certainly the creation of the first schools for girls in Russia. Talk about leaving a legacy!
|From History and Women|