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As mentioned yesterday in the post about Princess Beatrice of Edinburgh, Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna, was denied marriage to Emperor Napoleon I of France, but was twice allowed to wed first cousins; her descendants became the Russian branch of the Dukes of Oldenburg. This post will fill in that information.

Grand Duchess Catherine (Ekaterinburg) Pavlovna of Russia (May 21, 1788 – January 9, 1819) was the fourth daughter of Emperor Paul I of Russia and Duchess Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg, a daughter of Friedrich II Eugene, Duke of Württemberg and his wife, Princess Friederike of Brandenburg-Schwedt. She belonged to a junior branch of the House of Württemberg.


Ekaterina was born in St. Petersburg and named after her grandmother, Empress Catherine II (Ekaterina ) the Great of Russia. Described as beautiful and vivacious, she had a happy childhood and her education was carefully supervised by her mother. Ekaterina received the best education and constantly furthered her education through reading new literary publications and personal contacts with various outstanding persons. Known as Katya in the family, she was very close to her siblings, particularly her eldest brother Emperor Alexander I. Throughout her life she would maintain a close relationship with him.

First marriage

While the Napoleonic Wars were still in progress, the childless Napoléon I arranged his divorce from his beloved but aged wife Empress Joséphine, in order to marry a princess of high birth, get connected to royalty and beget the much desired heir. While the divorce itself did not happen until 1810, Napoleon was on the lookout for a new wife for some years previous to that, and seriously considered Ekaterina as a candidate – in addition to everything else, such a marriage would also provide strategic advantage by drawing the Russians to his side.

The matter was broached or hinted at by the French delegation, at the behest of Talleyrand, at a meeting between them and the Russians at Erfurt in 1808. Ekaterina’s family was utterly horrified, and the Dowager Empress immediately arranged a marriage for her daughter to her nephew, Duke Georg of Oldenburg (1784-1812). Thus, Ekaterina was married to her first cousin Duke Georg of Oldenburg on August 3, 1809. Georg was the second son of Peter, Duke of Oldenburg and his wife, Duchess Frederica of Württemberg.

Georg, Duke of Oldenburg

The couple were quickly blessed with two sons: Peter Georg (b. 1810) and Constantine Friedrich Peter (b. 1812). Although the match had been arranged by their families, Ekaterina was devoted to her husband, and the marriage was harmonious. It was said that he was not handsome but Ekaterina cared for him deeply, and his death in 1812, due to typhoid fever, was a very severe shock to her. They had been married barely three years, and Ekaterina, now the mother of two infant sons, was only 24 years old.

In 1812, some conspirators who planned to depose Emperor Alexander I had the ambitions to put her on the throne as Empress Catherine III. In 1812, she supported the suggestion to summon a national militia, and formed a special regiment of chasseurs which took part in many of the great battles of the era.

Following the death of her husband, Ekaterina spent much of the next few years with her siblings, especially her brother the Tsar with whom she had a very close relationship. During 1813-1815, she travelled to England with her brother Emperor Alexander I to meet the Prince Regent (future King George IV of the United Kingdom). She was again with her brother during the Congress of Vienna in 1815. She was not without influence upon his political acts during these trips. She also promoted the marriage between her youngest sister Anna and Willem II of the Netherlands during this time.

In England, Ekaterina met the Crown Prince Wilhelm of Württemberg (1781-1864). It was love at first sight for the couple. However, Wilhelm was married to princess Caroline Augusta of Bavaria; (daughter of King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria and Princess Augusta Wilhelmine of Hesse-Darmstadt). Crown Prince Wilhelm took the drastic step of divorcing her.

The background to this turn of events is that Wilhelm and Caroline Augusta had hastily married each other in order to avoid a political marriage devised by Napoleon. They had never got on with each other, and both of them claimed, at the time of seeking an annulment, that their marriage had never been consummated. The annulment was duly granted by Pope Pius VII on grounds of non-consummation. Shortly afterwards (in 1816), Caroline Augusta married Emperor Franz of Austria and became Empress Consort.

King Wilhelm I of Württemberg.

Very early in the year 1816, Ekaterina was married to the newly divorced William. The wedding was held in Saint Petersburg. The couple was immediately blessed with a daughter, Marie Frederikke Charlotte, who was born on October 30, 1816, perchance the very day on which Ekaterina’s father-in-law, Friedrich I of Wurttemberg, died.

The day therefore marked her husband’s accession as king, and Ekaterina, now Queen Katharina of Württemberg, became active in charity works in her adopted homeland. She established numerous institutions for the benefit of the public. She supported elementary education and organized a charity foundation during the hunger of 1816. In 1818, she gave birth to another daughter, Sophie Frederike Mathilde, who would marry Ekaterina’s nephew Willem III of Orange and become Queen of the Netherlands.

Queen Ekaterina of Württemberg


In January 1819, six months after the birth of her youngest child, Ekaterina died at Stuttgart of erysipelas complicated by pneumonia. She was barely thirty years old, and left behind four children, dispersed across two different families, the eldest of whom was barely eight years old. After her death, her surviving husband built Württemberg Mausoleum in Rotenberg, Stuttgart, dedicated to her memory. King Wilhelm later married again; his next wife was his first cousin, Princess Pauline of Württemberg.