Anna of Russia

Anna Ioannovna  Empress of Russia from 1730 to 1740.
Anna Ioannovna was born in Moscow on 28 January, 1693. After the death of her father, Czar Ivan V, Peter the Great's imbecile half-brother and co-czar for seven years, in 1696 she grew up with her mother, Praskovia Saltykova, and sisters in the village of Izmailovo on the outskirts of Moscow.

Her mother was an ignorant, bigoted, old-style tsarina who neglected and even hated her daughters. A shy and reserved girl, Anna was educated at home. She studied writing, German, French, dancing and etiquette, but never advanced beyond the bare essentials of literacy and grew into a clumsy, grim and gruff young woman.

Contemporaries noted her rough face, dark complexion, bad manners, deep voice, slovenliness and great height; she towered above all the cavaliers of her court. Anna was also famed for her big cheeks, which Thomas Carlyle once compared to a “Westphalian ham.” Still, she had natural good sense and in her more cheerful moments was a true friend and amiable companion.

Peter the Great acted as a second father to the Ivanovs, as Praskovia and her family were known. In 1708, on his order, the family moved to St. Petersburg and in 1710 Anna married Frederick William, Duke of Courland. The wedding took place in the still unfinished Menshikov Palace in St. Petersburg on 31 October. The next day Peter the Great held a second wedding for two court dwarves (he hoped to breed a race of small people) and ordered dwarves to be sent to St. Petersburg from all over Russia. About 70 dwarves attended the event. The two celebrations were joined together in a drinking bout that lasted several days.

In January 1711, the young couple set off for the capital of Courland, Mittau (now Jelgava in Latvia). On the way, the Duke, exhausted from heavy drinking, fell ill and died 25 miles from St. Petersburg. Anna became a widow just two months after her marriage. The Duke's body was taken to Courland for burial while his widow returned to St. Petersburg where she spent the next six years.

In 1717 Anna was sent to Mittau again, this time to take over the government of Courland. However, realizing that his niece might not necessarily act in Russia's best interests, the Emperor dispatched his lord steward, Peter Bestuzhev-Rumin, who was given three tasks – to govern Courland, to inform the Tsar of everything going on there and to be Anna's lover. Anna’s mother protested the last point, until she was reminded of her own youth, when she had betrayed Tsar Ivan V and given birth to a child fathered by her own bailiff.

Anna's existence at Mittau was embittered by the utter inadequacy of her revenue. Peter the Great allowed Anna 40 thousand roubles a year for her court and the Duchess was constantly obliged to ask Peter or his wife Catherine I, as well as local magnates and Russian aristocrats, for money. Her presence provided an anchor for the growing Russian influence in the eastern Baltic region and her retainers doubled as agents of the Russian government. ...


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