Thursday 28 October 2010

The Queen and the Tsarina

"Both women were vilified in ways that transcended all reality by their political enemies. In order to pull apart a family, destroy the image of the mother; in order to bring a nation into revolution, then destroy the reputation/ image of the queen/ empress, who was the mother figure of the people. If they could convince the people that the queen/empress was evil and that the king/tsar was an idiot, then it meant the children were no good and the entire family should be gotten rid of. It was a deliberate ploy. Antoinette and Alexandra are tragic because no matter what they did it played into the hands of their enemies.  The Great Catherine outwardly had lovers and no one held it against her and she was loved by the people. Napoleon's Josephine spent more money on clothes in one year than Marie-Antoinette did in her entire life and yet Josephine was popular with the French people. "
- Elena Maria Vidal, author of Trianon, Madame Royale and The Night's Dark Shade
Via the blog The Sword and the Sea comes a report of a recent online debate on the Alexander Palace Forum debating who was more maligned - Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France (1755 - 1793) or the Empress Alexandra of Russia (1872 - 1918.) American novelist, Elena Maria Vidal, herself the author of two novels based on the lives of Marie-Antoinette's family, offers a judiciously even-handed comparison of both women.

The Tsarina's demonisation by the opponents of the Russian monarchy is tragic, as is the breakdown of her own health in the years after 1905. However, in terms of picking who was the more unfairly traduced, my own sympathies would probably lie on the side of Marie-Antoinette. One gains the impression that she was certainly the "nicer" of the two women - if you had to pick which one to have dinner with, I'm sure Marie-Antoinette would top most people's list. However, the fact that Alexandra was a difficult personality is in itself part of the tragedy of her life and death. Alexandra's determination and struggle to remain devoted to her marriage and her belief in absolute monarchy, even as she faced her own health concerns, the terrible tragedy of her only son's life-threatening illness and her inability to like the glittering, high society glamour of life in Saint Petersburg, is truly admirable. That she was eventually consumed by paranoic fantasies of conspiracy theories is tragic, but perhaps unsurprising.

Interestingly, during her first official State Visit as Empress of Russia, Alexandra visited Paris with her husband, Tsar Nicholas II, and stayed in the apartments at Versailles once occupied by Marie-Antoinette. Like many Victorians, Alexandra was genuinely fascinated by the tragedy of Marie-Antoinette and she kept a large portrait of the dead Queen of France in her own apartments at Tsarskoe Selo.


  1. Interesting theory, along with the other comparisons of France & Russia, with their staggering inequality before their respective revolutions.

  2. Thank you for the link. While Alexandra's fate was tragic, I think Marie-Antoinette's was simply beyond tragic. Just to take one example, the agony M-A must have endured at the horrific abuse and corruption of her little son, is surely something unmatched by royal/imperial consorts before or since.

  3. I never thought much about the last Tsarina of Russia. Actually, I have never thought much about the Russian czars at all, except Catherine the Great. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  4. Thanks to both you and Matterhorn, Gareth.

  5. I hope that it is not too late to comment. I came upon your blog through "Tea at Trianon" and have thoroughly enjoyed your extraordinarily well-informed and beautifully written pieces. Already you have prompted me to reconsider some of my long held views. I was a "Santa Subito" fan of Catherine of Aragon before reading your post comparing the six queens--and now have a more measured view of her and Anne Boleyn. Perhaps each had more wit than wisdom, more courage than deliberation.

    I post here because, several years ago, I started the MA v. Alexandria thread on the Alexander Palace Forum and was pleased to see it surface on your blog. I enjoy comparing historical figures--and my "winner" is usually the more tragic. Two of my favorites are from WWI--the saintly Edith Cavell and the more ambiguous Roger Casement, but both very tragic indeed. I hope that Edith Cavell's memory still burns bright in the UK. She should be remembered as one of humanity's best representatives. I was wondering if you had ever thought of Edith and Roger as an "item"--that is for historical comparison.

    Writing of saints, I saw that you have posted about several. Has Therese of Lisieux (1873-97) ever drawn your scholarly interest? Best, John.


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