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Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich of Russia : biography

27 April 1779 - 27 June 1831

Constantine Pavlovich () (27 April 1779 – 27 June 1831) was a grand duke of Russia and the second son of Emperor Paul I and Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg. He was the Tsesarevich of Russia throughout the reign of his elder brother Alexander I, but had secretly renounced his claim to the throne in 1823. For 25 days after the death of Alexander I, from 19 November (O.S.)/1 to 14 December (O.S.)/26 December 1825 he was known as His Imperial Majesty Constantine I Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, although he never reigned and never acceded to the throne. The succession controversy became the immediate cause of the Decembrist revolt.

Constantine was known to eschew court etiquette and to take frequent stands against the wishes of his brother Alexander I, for which he is remembered fondly in Russia, but in his capacity as the commander-in-chief and de facto viceroy of Congress Poland he is remembered as a ruthless ruler.

Failed assassination and November uprising

An assassination attempt was made on the life of Grand Duke Constantine which precipitated the November 1830 insurrection in Warsaw (the November Uprising). Like the assassination, the recruitment of army units by the rebels failed; only two units joined them, and only the capture of the armory and the subsequent arming of the populace kept the revolt alive.Lukowski, p.132 Constantine refused to send his troops against the revolutionaries, saying "The Poles have started this disturbance, and it's Poles that must stop it", and left the suppression of the revolt in the hands of the Polish government. He himself retreated behind Russian lines but following the failure of the uprising expressed admiration for the valor of the Polish insurgents.

Death and memory

Constantine died of cholera at Vitebsk on 27 June 1831; he did not live to see the suppression of the revolution. His frequent stands against the wishes of the imperial family were perceived in Russia as brave, even gallant; but in Poland, he was viewed as a tyrant, hated by the military and civilian population alike, and in Polish literature Constantine is portrayed as a cruel despot.


Governor of Poland

Constantine's importance in political history dates from when his brother, Tsar Alexander, installed him in the Congress Poland as de facto viceroy (however he was not the 'official viceroy' - namestnik of the Kingdom of Poland), with a task of the militarization and discipline of Poland. 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 Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (so called Western Krai). Alexander's policies were liberal by the standards of Restoration Europe; classical liberals lapped up the freedoms of education, scholarship, and economic development, but key deficiencies in Poland's autonomy of lack of control over the budget, military, and trade left them hungry for more.Lukowski, p. 124 The Kalisz Opposition, led by the brothers Bonawentura and Wincenty Niemojowski, pressed for reforms including more independence for the judiciary; Alexander, calling their actions an "abuse" of liberty, suspended the Polish parliament (Sejm) for five years, and authorized Constantine to maintain order in the kingdom by any means necessary.Lukowski, p. 125

Into this scene of unrest entered Constantine, attempting to execute his brother's mandate to silence dissent. His efforts to strengthen the secret police (Ochrana) and suppress the Polish patriotic movements led to popular discontent among his subjects. Constantine also harassed the liberal opposition, replaced Poles with Russians on important posts in local administration and the army, and often insulted and assaulted his subordinates, which led to conflicts within the officer corps. The Sejm, until then mostly dominated by supporters of the personal union with Russia, saw his actions as disobedience of the very constitution of which he felt personally proud.

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