Annulment, Emperor Alexander I of Russia, Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich of Russia, Grand Dutchess Anna Fyodorovna of Russia, Juliane of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Leopold of Saxe-Cobu-Gotha, Morganatic Marriage, Patron of the Arts
Despite her misery in her marriage to Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich, the young Grand Duchess began to grow up and became more and more attractive to the Russian court, who nicknamed her the “Rising Star”. This made Constantine extremely jealous, even of his own brother Alexander.
Constantine forbade Anna to leave her room, and when she had the opportunity to come out, Constantine took her away. Countess Golovina recalled: The married life of Anna Fyodorovna was hard and impossible to maintain, in her modesty, she needed the friendship of Elizabeth Alexeievna (Louise of Baden, wife of her brother-in-law Alexander), who was able to smooth things out between the frequent quarrelling spouses…”. During the difficult years in the Russian court, Anna became close to Grand Duchess Elizabeth, of similar age.
In 1799 Anna left Russia for medical treatment and didn’t want to return. She went to her family in Coburg; however, they didn’t support her, as they feared for the reputation of the Ducal family and their finances. Anna left Coburg to have a water cure; but at the same time, the St Petersburg’s court made their own plans. Under the pressure of the Imperial family and her own relatives, the Grand Duchess was forced to return to Russia. In October 1799 the weddings of Grand Duchesses Alexandra and Elena were celebrated. Anna was forced to attend.
The assassination of Emperor Paul I on March 23, 1801 gave Anna an opportunity to carry out her plan to escape. By August of that year, her mother was informed that the Grand Duchess was seriously ill. Once informed about her daughter’s health, Duchess Augusta came to visit her. In order to have a better treatment she took Anna to Coburg, with the consent of both the new Emperor Alexander I and Grand Duke Constantine. Once she arrived to her homeland, Anna refused to come back. She never returned to Russia.
Life after separation
Almost immediately after her return to Coburg, Anna began negotiations for a divorce from her husband. Grand Duke Constantine wrote in response to her letter:
You write to me that I allowed you to go into foreign lands because we are incompatible and because I can’t give you the love which you need. But humbly I ask you to calm yourself in consideration to our lives together, besides all these facts confirm in writing, and that in addition to this other reason you don’t have.
By 1803 the divorce was still refused, because Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna feared that her son Constantine could contract a second morganatic marriage, and the official separation would damage the reputation of the Grand Duchess.
At first, the grand duchess feared an unfavorable opinion about her conduct among the European courts; however, they showed their sympathy. Still legally married, Anna, eager to have a family, found solace in clandestine affairs.
On 28 October 1808, Anna gave birth to an illegitimate son, named Eduard Edgar Schmidt-Löwe. The father of this child may have been Jules Gabriel Émile de Seigneux, a minor French nobleman and officer in the Prussian army. Eduard was ennobled by his mother’s younger brother, Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and assumed the surname von Löwenfels by decree on 18 February 1818.
Later, Anna moved to Bern, Switzerland, and gave birth to a second illegitimate child in 1812, a daughter, named Louise Hilda Aglaë d’Aubert. The father was Rodolphe Abraham de Schiferli, a Swiss surgeon, professor and chamberlain of Anna’s household from 1812 to 1837. In order to cover another scandal in Anna’s life, the baby was adopted by Jean François Joseph d’Aubert, a French refugee. After the affair ended, Schiferli maintained a tender and close friendship with the Grand Duchess until his death.
Two years later, in 1814, during the invasion of France by Russian troops, Emperor Alexander I expressed his desire of a reconciliation between his brother and Anna. Grand Duke Constantine, accompanied by Anna’s brother Leopold, tried to convince her to return with him, but the Grand Duchess categorically refused. That year, Anna acquired an estate on the banks of Aare River and gave it the name of Elfenau. She spent the rest of her life there, and, as a lover of music, made her home not only a center for domestic and foreign musical society of the era but also the point of reunion of diplomats from different countries who were in Bern.
Finally, on March 20,1820, after 19 years of separation, her marriage was officially annulled by a manifesto of Emperor Alexander I of Russia. Grand Duke Constantine remarried two months later morganatically with his mistress Countess Joanna Grudzińska and died on June 27, 1831. Anna survived her former husband by 29 years.
In 1835, her son Eduard married his cousin Bertha von Schauenstein, an illegitimate daughter of the Duke Ernest I; this was one of the few happy events in Anna’s last years – she soon lost almost all the people she loved: her parents, her sisters Sophie and Antoinette, her own daughter Louise (who, married Jean Samuel Edouard Dapples in 1834 died three years later in 1837 at the age of twenty-five), her former lover and now good friend Rodolphe de Schiferli (just a few weeks after their daughter’s demise), her protector Emperor Alexander I, her childhood friend Empress Elizabeth…at that point the Grand Duchess wrote that Elfenau became the House of Mourning.
Anna Fyodorovna died in her Elfenau estate in 1860, aged 79. In her grave was placed a simple marble slab with the inscription, “Julia-Anna” and the dates of her birth and death (1781-1860); nothing more would indicate the origin of the once Princess of Saxe-Coburg and Grand Duchess of Russia. Through the five children of her son Eduard she has many descendants.
Alexandrine of Baden, wife of her nephew Ernst II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha wrote:
Condolences must be universal, because Aunt Juliane was extremely loved and respected, because much involved in charity work and in favor of the poor and underprivileged.