by Susan Flantzer
The Romanov Tsars of Russia often married princesses of German principalities and grand duchies and Tsar Alexander I was no different. Princess Louise Maria Auguste of Baden was born in Karlruhe, Baden (Germany) on January 24, 1779. Her parents were Charles Louis, Hereditary Prince of Baden and Princess Amelia Frederica of Hesse-Darmstadt. Empress Catherine II (the Great) was considering candidates for the bride of her eldest grandson Alexander and was favorably impressed by Louise, who was 12 years old at the time. Louise, along with her younger sister Frederica, went to St. Petersburg, Russia in the fall of 1792. Empress Catherine was enchanted with the young princess and Louise was attracted to the tall, handsome Alexander. Louise stayed in Russia so that she could learn the Russian language and convert to Russian Orthodoxy. She exchanged her birth name for Elizabeth Alexeievna and became a Grand Duchess of Russia. The couple was formally betrothed in May, 1793 and the wedding occurred on September 28, 1793. Elizabeth Alexeievna looked resplendent with the diamond-studded Order of St. Andrei on her silver brocade gown. The bride was fourteen and the groom was fifteen.
Elizabeth Alexeievna and Alexander’s young age and lack of experience caused them to become overwhelmed with expectations that they could not fulfill. Court intrigues confused and frightened Elizabeth Alexeievna and Empress Catherine’s own lover attempted to seduce the young Grand Duchess. She felt alone in a strange world especially after her sister Frederica returned to Baden, and felt comfort only with her husband. Less than six months after her marriage, Elizabeth Alexeievna wrote to her mother, “Without my husband, who alone makes me happy, I should have died a thousand deaths.”
Empress Catherine died in 1796, disappointed that her eldest grandson and his wife had not produced a son, and Alexander’s father Paul became Tsar. Elizabeth Alexeievna did not like her father-in-law nor his policies and avoided his court as much as possible. Alexander and Elizabeth Alexeievna’s marriage started to falter and she sought affection with her husband’s friend Prince Adam Czartorysk, a Polish noble. In 1799, Elizabeth Alexeievna gave birth to a daughter Maria Alexandrovna, who had dark eyes and dark hair like Prince Adam Czartorysk and unlike the blond-haired and blue eyed Elizabeth Alexeievna and her husband. Sadly, the child died when she was 13 months old.
In 1801, the behavior and policies of Tsar Paul led to a conspiracy to overthrow him. Tsar Paul was assassinated and his eldest son became Tsar Alexander I. Elizabeth Alexeievna fulfilled her duties as Empress Consort, but by this time their marriage was really one in name only. Alexander started a long-term affair in 1803 and Elizabeth Alexeievna resumed her affair with Prince Adam Czartorysk. This affair lasted until Elizabeth Alexeievna began a new affair with Captain Alexis Okhotnikov. In 1806, Elizabeth Alexeievna gave birth to another daughter, Elizabeth Alexandrovna, who died of an infection when she was 17 months old. Rumors circulated that Elizabeth Alexandrovna was really the daughter of Alexis Okhotnikov. In 1807, Alexis Okhotnikov was killed and suspicions arose that either Tsar Alexander I or his brother Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich had ordered him killed.
Although the death of Elizabeth Alexandrovna brought Alexander and Elizabeth Alexeievna temporarily closer, they had no more children. In 1819, Alexander became very involved in religious mysticism, ended his long-term affair, and somewhat reconciled with his wife. By 1825, Elizabeth Alexandrovna’s health was suffering due to lung problems and the doctors recommended getting away from the harsh climate of St. Petersburg. Alexander and Elizabeth Alexeievna relocated to the city of Taganrog, Russia by the Sea of Azov where they stayed in a modest house. In November of 1825, Alexander returned to Taganrog after visiting the Crimea. He had a cold, which developed into typhus. On December 1, 1825, he died in Elizabeth Alexeievna’s arms in their home in Taganrog. Elizabeth Alexeievna survived him by five months. While traveling back to St. Petersburg for her husband’s funeral, she felt so sick that had to stop at Belev in Tula Province, Russia. On the morning of May 16, 1826, Elizabeth Alexeievna’s maid went to check on her, and found her dead in bed of heart failure at the age of 47. Elizabeth Alexeievna and her husband were buried at the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.