Meet Catherine Dolgorukov, the wife of Emperor Alexander II. Yes, she was not the Empress herself and their marriage was not publicly known. She was the morganatic wife of Alexander II.
Alexander II as a young man was a true charmer. He had a long list of mistresses and at one point he allegedly even dated Victoria, the future Queen of England. Alexander travelled much in Europe and met his future wife Maria of Hesse-Darmstadt when she was only 14. They married in 1841 and had 8 children, 7 of whom survived. In the beginning, it was a very happy marriage.
But Maria Alexandrovna had poor health. She suffered from tuberculosis that made her spend much time abroad, in famous medical institutions of Italy and other European countries. She hardly ever participated in public events, she spent most of her time in bed coughing, having a high fever. Doctors even advised her not to involve in any sexual intercourse with her husband due to her health.
And then there was Katia. Her real name was Catherine Dolgorukov. A descendant of one of the most prominent families of Russia, she was a 16-year-old girl at the Smolny Institute of Noble Maidens. She was “of medium height, with an elegant figure, silky ivory skin, the eyes of a frightened gazelle, a sensuous mouth, and light chestnut tresses”
Alexander II met her on his official visit to the Smolny Institute. The 47-year-old tsar was immediately attracted to Katia and, in order to keep her close to him, made her the lady-in-waiting to her sick wife. The young Catherine was initially reluctant to become Emperor’s mistress, although her mother kept encouraging her to seize the opportunity. The couple was first intimate while in the Belvedere Pavilion of Peterhof in June 1866. After that Alexander made a promise:
“Now you are my secret wife. I swear that if I am ever free, I will marry you”
– Alexander II to Catherine Dolgorukov
They began seeing each other 3-4 times a week. The couple soon had two children and Alexander secretly moved his new family to a private apartment in the Winter Palace. There was a secret door going from Alexander’s bedroom straight to Katia’s room. They wrote letters to each other every day, sometimes several times a day. These were intimate love letters with the word “bingerle” meaning “making love”.
The Romanov family and the court were fiercely against Catherine. They hated her for calling the tsar “Sasha”. They plotted against her, spread evil rumors and tried to persuade the tsar to send her away. Rumors began spreading that Alexander had moved his illegitimate children in the Winter Palace so that his dying wife will hear them run around upstairs. After the assassination attempt of 1880, when a bomb exploded in the Winter Palace, rumors said that Alexander had completely forgotten that he also had a dying wife.
After Empress Maria Alexandrovna finally died on 3 June 1880, Alexander kept his word and married Katia. He also granted her the title of Princess Yurievskaya and legitimised their four children.
Their happy marriage was cut off by the assassination of Alexander II with a bomb in March 1881. Katia had warned him that day not to go out because she had a premonition that something bad might happen. The tsar would not listen.
After Alexander’s death, Katia quickly moved to French Riviera. She lived quite comfortably there with her personal pension fund of 3.4 million rubles and 20 housemaids until her death in 1922. The Romanov family never stopped looking at Catherine and her children with disdain.