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Constantine Pavlovich Romanov (27 April, 1779 - 27 June, 1831), grand duke and tsesarevich of Russia, was prepared by his grandmother, Catherine the Great, to become an emperor of the would-be restored Byzantine Empire. Although he was never crowned, he is sometimes listed among the Russian emperors as Constantine I. In his capacity of the first Viceroy of Poland, he is remembered as the great champion of the Poles. His love for a Polish woman cost him the Russian crown. Generally, he was an impossible man in an impossible situation.
Constantine was born at Tsarskoye Selo on the 27th April 1779. Of the sons born to the unfortunate tsar Paul Petrovich and his wife Maria Feodorovna, the princess of Wurttemberg, none more closely resembled his father in bodily and mental characteristics than did the second, Constantine Pavlovich.
The direction of the boys upbringing was entirely in the hands of his grandmother, the empress Catherine II. As in the case of her eldest grandson (afterwards the emperor Alexander I), she regulated every detail of his physical and mental education; but in accordance with her usual custom she left the carrying out of her views to the men who were in her confidence. Count Nicolai Ivanovich Saltykov was supposed to be the actual tutor, but he too in his turn transferred the burden to another, only interfering personally on quite exceptional occasions, and exercised neither a positive nor a negative influence upon the character of the exceedingly passionate, restless and headstrong boy. The only person who really took him in hand was Cesar La Harpe, who was tutor-in-chief from 1783 to May 1795 and educated both the empress's grandsons.
Like Alexander, Constantine was married by Catherine when he was not yet seventeen years of age, a raw and immature boy, and he made his wife, Juliana of Coburg (Queen Victoria's aunt), intensely miserable. After the first separation in the year 1799, she went back permanently to her German home in 1801, the victim of a frivolous intrigue, in the guilt of which she was herself involved. An attempt made by Constantine in 1814 to win her back to his hearth and home broke down on her firm opposition.
During the time of this tragic marriage Constantine's first campaign took place under the leadership of the great Suvorov. The battle of Bassignanowas lost by Constantine's fault, but at Novi he distinguished oi imseif by such personal bravery that the emperor Paul bestowed on him the title of tsesarevich, which according to the fundamental law of the constitution belonged only to the heir to the throne. Though it cannot be proved that this action of the tsar denoted any far-reaching plan, it yet shows that Paul already distrusted the grand-duke Alexander.
However that be, it is certain that Constantine never tried to secure the throne. After his father's death he led a wild and disorderly bachelor life. He abstained from politics, but remained faithful to his military inclinations, though, indeed, without manifesting anything more than a preference for the externalities of the service. In command of the Guards during the campaign of 1805, he had a share of the responsibility for the unfortunate turn which events took at the battle of Austerlitz; while in 1807 neither his skill nor his fortune in war showed any improvement.
However, after the peace of Tilsit he became an ardent admirer of the great Corsican and an upholder of the Russo-French alliance. It was on this account that in political questions he did not enjoy the confidence of his imperial brother. To the latter the French alliance had always been merely a means to end, and after he had satisfied himself at Erfurt, and later during the Franco-Austrian War of 1809, that Napoleon likewise regarded his relation to Russia only from the point of view political advantage, he became convinced that the alliance must transform itself into a battle of life and death. Such sight was never attained by Constantine; even in 1812, after the fall of Moscow, he pressed for a speedy conclusion of peace with Napoleon, and, like field-marshal Kutuzov, he too opposed the policy which carried the war across the Russian frontier to victorious conclusion upon French soil.
During the campaign he was a boon companion of every commanding-officer. Barclay de Tolly was twice obliged to send him away from the army. His share in the battles in Germany and France was insignificant. At Dresden, on the 26th of August, his military knowledge failed him at the decisive moment, but at La Fre-Champenoise distinguished himself by personal bravery. In Paris the grand-duke excited public licule by the manifestation of his petty military fads. His first visit was to the stables, and it was said that he had been marching and drilling even in his private rooms.
Governor of Poland
In the great political decisions of those days, Constantine took the smallest part. His importance in political history dates only from the moment when the emperor Alexander entrusted him in Poland with a task which enabled him to concentrate all the one-sidedness of his talents and all the doggedness of his nature on a definite object: that of the militarization and discipline of Poland. With this begins the part played by the grand-duke in history. In the Congress Poland created by Alexander he received the post of commander-in-chief of the forces of the kingdom; to which was added later (1819) the command of the Lithuanian troops and of those of the Russian provinces that had formerly belonged to the kingdom of Poland.
In effect he was the actual ruler of the country, and soon became the most zealous advocate of the separate position of Poland created by the constitution granted by Alexander. He organized new army for the Poles, and felt himself more a Pole than a Russian, especially after his marriage, on the 27th of May 1820, with a Polish lady, Joanna Grudzińska. Connected with this was his renunciation of any claim to the Russian succession, which was formally completed in 1822.
His efforts to strengthen the secret police and suppress the Polish patriotic movements led to popular discontent among his subjects. He also persecuted the liberal opposition and replaced Poles with Russians on important posts in local administration and the army, which led to conflicts within the officer corps. Finally, his disobedience of the constitution he was personally proud of, conflicted him with the Polish parliament, until then mostly dominated by supporters of the personal union with Russia.
One inch from the throne
It is well known how, in spite of this, when Alexander I died on the 1st of December 1825, the grand-duke Nicholas had him proclaimed emperor in St Petersburg, in connection with which occurred the famous revolt of the Russian Liberals, known as the rising of the Dekabrists. In this crisis Constantine's attitude had been very correct, far more so than that of his brother, which was vacillating and uncertain.
Under the emperor Nicholas also Constantine maintained his position in Poland. But differences soon arose between him and his brother in consequence of the share taken by the Poles in the Dekabrist conspiracy. Constantine hindered the unveiling of the organized plotting for independence which had been going on in Poland for many years, and held obstinately to the belief that the army and the bureaucracy were loyally devoted to the Russian empire. The eastern policy of the tsar and the Turkish War of 1828 and 1829 caused a fresh breach between them. It was owing to the opposition of Constantine that the Polish army took no part in this war, so that there was in consequence no Russo-Polish comradeship in arms, such as might perhaps have led to a reconciliation between the two nations.
The insurrection at Warsaw in November 1830 took Constantine completely by surprise. It was owing to his utter failure to grasp the situation that the Polish regiments passed over to the revolutionaries; and during the continuance of the revolution he showed himself as incompetent as he was lacking in judgment. Every defeat of the Russians appeared to him almost in the light of a personal gratification: his soldiers were victorious. The suppression of the revolution he did not live to see. He died of cholera at Vitebsk on the 27th of June 1831.
See also Karnovich's The Cesarevich Constantine Pavlovich (2 vols., St Petersburg, 1899).
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