Icy Queen

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Russian Tsaritsa Anna Ivanovna (1693-1740)

This is the story of the mean queen, Tsaritsa Anna Ivanovna, who reigned as Duchess of Courland from 1711 to 1730 and as Empress of Russia from 1730 to 1740. Anna was the fourth-born daughter of the feeble-minded Tsar Ivan V, Peter the Great’s older half-brother, and his wife Praskoviya Fyodorovna Saltykova.

She became Empress in 1730 upon the death of Peter II, appointed by the Russian Supreme Privy Council. Hoping she would feel indebted to the nobles for her unexpected fortune and remain merely a figurehead, she was convinced to sign articles limiting her power so that they could establish a constitutional monarchy. She soon had plans of her own and established herself as an autocratic ruler. To consolidate her power she restored the security police and used them to intimidate and terrorize those who opposed her. She had high ranking officials who were suspected enemies imprisoned and executed. Of these, about 20,000 were exiled to Siberia.

The chubby cheeked Tsaritsa spent much of her time in Moscow in the company of her foolish and ignorant maids. She made her lover, Ernst Ioann Biron, of German-Baltic decent (whom she preferred), the Duke of Courland. He became her closest adviser and was feared all over Russia for his cruelty and sadism. Her affiliation with him earned Empress Anna the nickname “Bironovshchina” – the time of Biron. But Anna had a malicious streak of her own running through her icy veins and enjoyed humiliating old nobility who opposed her coming to the throne.

There was one such prince, Mikhail Golitsyn, who had married a Catholic Italian woman. The Tsaritsa took great offense to this as she was Eastern Orthodox. Although the wife died, the marriage did not go unpunished. Tsaritsa Anna made the elderly Prince Golitsyn a jester. Ah, but that was not enough. Next the Tsartisa arranged a new marriage for the prince with one of her old and unattractive Kalmyk court maids, Avdotya Ivanovna Buzheninova.

During the exceptionally cold winter of 1739-40, Anna ordered a specially constructed ice palace to be built in St. Petersburg, designed by architect, Pyotr Eropkin. The palace was 24 meters tall and 7 meters wide. Huge ice blocks were “glued” together with water. The garden was filled with ice trees with ice birds and an ice statue of an elephant. The outer walls were lined with ice sculptures. Before the palace there were artillery pieces also made of ice. The palace was also furnished with furniture made of ice, including an ice bed with ice mattress and pillows. The whole structure was surrounded with a tall wooden fence.

Tsaritsa Anna Ivanovna forced the couple to wed. The newlyweds were displayed in a procession dressed like clowns while riding an elephant and followed by a number of cripples and despised members of ethnic minorites. At last they arrived at the ice palace, that had been created for the purpose of their honeymoon. They were closed into the icy nuptial chamber under heavy guard. The old couple was made to spend the night there naked on their frigid wedding bed. They barely survived the night.

Legend says that Prince Golitsyn and his wife remained together and she gave birth to twins, though in fact, she died of a cold a few days after her wedding night in the ice palace.

The castle melted the following summer, as would soon the reign of the cruel Tsarina Anna Ianova, who died in October of 1740 of kidney disease at age 47 leaving no heirs. Before her death, Anna appointed Biron the regent for her great nephew, Ivan VI, but because he was despised he was ousted from power after a brief twenty-two days and banished to Siberia himself where the icy empress’ frigid legacy was at last laid to rest.

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Wedding at the House of Ice by Valery Ivanovich Jacobi, 1878

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