Authors: Evelyn Anthony
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Curse Not the King
A Romanov Saga
Like its predecessor,
which dealt with the early life of Catherine the Great, this is a true story, the personal story of Catherine's son and heir, Paul of Russia.
In literature, as well as in life, the son has been overshadowed by his brilliant mother and the record of a relentless struggle for power and a bitter family feud has been eclipsed by the more familiar and notorious aspects of her long and fascinating reign.
The story of Paul is tragic and complex; the figure of the man has come down to us distorted by prejudice and fear, and by the need to justify one of the most dreadful crimes committed throughout Russia's history. The popular conception of Paul is best summed up in the words of his son's biographer, PalÃ©ologue, who excuses Alexander on the grounds that he was the son of that “suspicious degenerate, at once cruel and grotesque, that monster, that Death's Head, who was known as Paul the First”.
My study of Paul's life has convinced me that this verdict is untrue. Though written as a novel, it is a true story, with the exception of certain incidents which I have recorded in a note at the beginning of the book, and where accounts have differed, I have tried to select the version most in keeping with my own interpretation.
Most of Paul's biographers describe the Minister Panin as friendly to the Czarevitch, but in view of the fact that Panin betrayed his trust during Catherine's Revolution and could only expect punishment on Paul's accession, the other theory of his enmity towards the Czarevitch seems most likely.
In the first despatch delivered to the Empress in Chapter One I have mentioned Orenburg as the town attacked by Pugachev, when in fact it fell later on in the campaign.
The incident of Paul's intended arrest and Potemkin's intervention is fiction, inserted for dramatic effect and I hope excused by its probability under the circumstances.
Countess Bruce had lost Catherine's favour some time before the advent of Plato Zubov, but to avoid confusion by introducing a new lady-in-waiting I have ignored this.
I have found no record of Paul's attendance at Potemkin's last ball, though the descriptions are those of eye-witnesses, but I have assumed that on such an occasion the Czarevitch and his wife would have been present. They were travelling between Gatchina and the capital quite frequently at that time.
I have scarcely mentioned young Nicholas Panin, nephew of the old Minister and one of the conspirators in the plot to murder Paul, in order to avoid confusion with his uncle who had been dead for many years. Nicholas Panin's part in the plot was always subservient to von Pahlen's, and he did not take part in the actual murder.
Catherine Alexeievna had been Empress and Autocrat of all the Russias for ten years. A decade had passed since a mysterious accident to her husband Peter the Third at his temporary prison in Ropscha had placed his crown firmly upon her head.
It had begun with many promises and plans, but in reality few changes had been wrought. Despite the upheaval of the throne, and the enlightened mind and Liberal leanings of the woman who had ascended it, the fundamentals of Russian life remained the same.
No less a person than the Empress herself acknowledged these facts; and she reviewed them one evening in 1773, seated before the dressing-table in her bedroom in the Winter Palace at Petersburg.
It was Elizabeth Petrovna's old room, and immediately Catherine pictured the dead Empress, the beautiful, vicious daughter of Peter the Great, and she smiled wryly at the memory.
The past seemed very close that night, and the Czarina could not account for it, for the habit of looking back was not one which she encouraged.
Perhaps it was the occasion itself which brought the ghosts of the last ten years crowding into her thoughts. She leant forward and regarded her own reflection in the mirror.
So many things had altered in her personal life, events had harried her almost without respite. Circumstances had delayed her splendid plans for the enlightenment of her country; expediency had decreed that she shelve her cherished project for freeing Russia's millions of serfs.â¦
Catherine frowned slightly. She had not forgotten her ideals, she merely waited until the time most suitable for their application.
It was an argument that she had found it necessary to employ too often in the beginning of her reign. Her conscience had been strong and strident then in its demands; she had been young and flushed with victory. The task of government seemed easy, her problems resolvable by honesty and reason. But the years had taught her the folly of that assumption, and the money she had intended to devote to the building of schools to educate her ignorant people had been poured into armaments for war; the reformer had plunged into a policy of ruthless conquest and expansion, urged on by the nationalistic leanings of her chief Minister, Panin, who had been one of the conspirators that had placed her on her husband's throne. But she remembered very well that her rise to power was never his original intention. In the beginning he had plotted for another â¦ Her frown deepened at the thought.
The occasion was to blame for all these unsatisfactory musings. Years ago Panin and others had intrigued for her son Paul, and it was this night, when she prepared for the banquet to celebrate his wedding, that called the past so vividly to her mind.
Paul Petrovitch; he had been nine years old when she took the crown which should have been his on the death of Peter. Panin had forgotten that technicality as others had done, only too eager to participate in the fortunes of the new sovereign and to share in the spoils divided among her supporters. But the pale, ugly child had remembered, and that tremendous wrong had added to the intensity of his hatred. It was a mutual feeling, ungovernable on the side of the nervous, sullen boy, concealed and deadly in the heart of his mother.
They had never liked each other; they had begun their relationship as strangers and developed it as rivals; it had seemed impossible that there should ever be a truce between them.
She had closed her mind to the advice of those nearest her. He is rebellious and disloyal; he is his father's son in nature as he is in looks. Imprison him, put him to death.â¦
She had been forced in the end to murder one Czar. Ivan had been a babe in arms when he was crowned; he was scarcely two years old when the Empress Elizabeth's palace revolution had dethroned him and swept him into the darkness of imprisonment from which he had never emerged.
Elizabeth, whose cruelty was only matched by her superstitious piety, shrank from ending her hapless victim's agony and her own insecurity, so that Catherine discovered that, with the former's power, she had inherited her nightmare, a rightful Russian Czar, alive and in prison. Reports had dismissed him as mad, and Catherine, mindful of her own love of freedom and daylight, fully credited these tales.
Her instincts of mercy were instantly aroused; she visited the prisoner secretly, determined to free him, assured that the spectacle of his witlessness would render him harmless to her cause. But Ivan Ivanovitch was sane; backward perhaps, but in perfect health. The Empress had returned to her palace, the lie of his lunacy already prepared, but without the living proof. Within two short years the throne was rocking under her, revolt was threatening all over Russia, and the name upon the rebels' lips was Ivan. So Ivan had to die.
The burden of that dreadful deed had done more than anything else to safeguard the life and liberty of Catherine's son, Paul. Despite his faults, his disobedience and open enmity towards her, Catherine had spared him; she had no wish to take life unless she must, and for several years now she had been promised a solution. The doctors who attended upon the Czarevitch prescribed marriage as the cure for the ills of temperament, the nerves, discontent and violent rages to which the royal patient was subject.
Catherine had agreed; she had found him a wife, and that morning the marriage had taken place.
Was it possible that a solution had really been found to this rivalry between them? The Empress hoped so with all her heart. She had no love for her son; he inspired nothing in her but suspicion and dislike, yet she needed desperately the peace of mind his submission could give her. She longed for an omen of prosperity that did not have its origin in the wars her armies waged; she wished for a truce with her enemy, and above all for an heir from this marriage who could succeed him if the need to follow her advisers ever came to pass.â¦
The clock on the dressing-table struck the half-hour, reminding her that it was time to complete her toilette for the banquet, and Catherine rang for her ladies-in-waiting.
She sat quietly in her chair, watching their ministrations reflected in the mirror, examining the image of herself.
At forty-four she was still beautiful, though lines of concentration marred the smooth, high forehead, and the angle of her square jaw was more pronounced. It was a handsome face, fine featured, with vivid blue eyes and the clear complexion of a young girl; the sweep of hair which her ladies were arranging was still jet black; when her reflection smiled it radiated charm and grace. Yet the Empress knew her image to be nothing but a clever mask.
Beside the numberless cares and responsibilities of her position, Catherine had endured a personal torment which had only just been eased. For the first ten years of her reign she herself had been ruled, and the yoke imposed upon her had threatened to crush that indomitable spirit. Her ruler had become her lover when she was still Grand Duchess, a person as fabulous as herself in looks and reputation, the handsome, ruthless Gregory Orlov. Together they had planned the
which was to place her upon Peter's throne, and in his love for her Catherine had found the fullest satisfaction of her life. Cruel and barbarous he may have been, but his passion for her was undoubted. In adversity and danger nothing had come between them; it was in Catherine's triumph that his love for her had died.