June 23, 1859 – Death of Maria Pavlovna of Russia, Grand Duchess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
Born in St. Petersburg in 1786, Maria Pavlovna was the third daughter and fifth child of Tsar Paul of Russia and his second wife, Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg. Maria Pavlovna’s siblings included two future Russian Tsars, a Queen of Württemberg, and a Queen of the Netherlands. She grew up mainly at the imperial palaces at Pavlovsk and Gatchina, the latter of which was her parents’ favorite residence. Maria Pavlovna was known by the nickname of “Masha” within the family and was particularly close to her younger brothers Nicholas and Michael.
Maria Pavlovna was close to her sisters, but was not considered as pretty as her smallpox inoculation during her childhood had caused facial scarring. Nevertheless, Maria Pavlovna received an excellent education, with lessons in literature, math, music, and foreign languages. She was a particularly talented pianist. Like Paul’s older children, her lesson plans were designed in part by Maria Pavlovna’s paternal grandmother, Catherine II.
Maria Pavlovna grew up as somewhat of a tomboy, so much so that Catherine referred to her granddaughter as the “guardsman in a skirt” and remarked that she would more fortunate if born a boy. As she matured, Maria Pavlovna’s looks improved greatly, and she was noted for her charm and intelligence.
In 1804, Maria Pavlovna married Charles Frederick, the future Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach in a lavish ceremony in St. Petersburg. Charles Frederick had spent some months in Russia with the imperial family and had become very fond of his new wife, although their different personalities caused some strife in the following years. The match was an excellent one for intelligent Maria Pavlovna, as Weimar was then an important cultural center (particularly for music) in Europe. Her new husband shared her love of music and worked to keep Weimar’s musical heritage strong. Franz Liszt (who was invited to Weimar at Maria Pavlovna’s insistence) and Richard Wagner both enjoyed considerable success while in Weimar.
Maria Pavlovna maintained her intellectual pursuits during her time in Weimar, attending lectures at the University of Jena, hosting circles of local writers in her home, and serving as patroness of various literary, artistic, and scientific organizations. She also maintained correspondence with several Russian and German intellectuals of the time. Maria Pavlovna also established a horticultural school and provided funding for the establishment of several parks.
Maria Pavlovna and Charles Frederick had three surviving children. Their daughters Marie and Augusta respectively married Charles of Prussia and the future German Emperor Wilhelm I. Son Charles Alexander succeeded his father in the grand duchy. Several current European monarchs can claim descent from Maria Pavlovna, including Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and Sophia of Spain.
Maria Pavlovna died of a heart attack at Schloss Belvedere, surviving her husband by six years. She is buried beside her husband at a mausoleum in Weimar. A Russian Orthodox church was erected near the mausoleum in her honor.