When we left off yesterday, a now grown-up but penniless Tasha Pushkina-Dubelt, daughter of the deceased poet Alexander Pushkin, has fled from her abusive spouse, Mikhail Dubelt and is hiding at her aunt’s estate in Hungary. Her aunt Alexandra Goncharova being the Baroness Vogel von Friesenhof. This was a sad state of affairs for a once-promising young life. Tasha was said to have inherited positive traits from both of her parents: From her mother, a sparkling beauty, composure and carriage which made her highly popular at high society balls. From her father: a charisma that made everyone love her; and a vibrant “active” character, what we would call nowadays a “just do it” kind of character. Unfortunately, this trait can sometimes veer into impulsiveness, which was Tasha’s downfall, causing her to impulsively marry the wrong guy. In those days, that was an almost fatal error, very difficult to correct.
And so we have the abused wife, bundling her children in the middle of the night and fleeing, practically barefoot (or maybe in a rusty troika) across the snowy wastes of the Russian Empire, frantically escaping a cruel man with a moustache and a whip…. A man whose father is the Chief of Staff of the Head of the Russian Secret Police! (Reads like a Hollywood thriller so far?)
Tasha’s New Lover
Ah! but now we introduce the plot twist!
Tasha was not alone when she fled from her home in Petersburg. Accompanying her, even then, was a man she had met earlier, at one of her “high-society rounds” as they called it. Fans of Jane Austen novels know what this entails: people, especially young ladies of the upper classes (who have more time on their hands than they know what to do with), get into their carriages and “go visiting” from one “estate” (or “park” as the English call it) to another, staying sometimes for days on end as guests of various friends and acquaintances. All of this just an opportunity to “get out there” and show themselves to future husbands or, in the case of married woman, future lovers.
In Tasha’s case, while still buzzing around the Petersburg social circuit, she had met a man named Nikolaus Wilhelm von Nassau. Prince Wilhelm, to you and me. The Prince, born in 1832, was the scion of the noble family of Von Nassaus. His sister Sofia was the Queen of Sweden. Niki’s wiki page shows him to be a man with a long-ish beard. And here, conveniently, is the English-language version of that wiki. However, the Russian and English versions differ on some crucial points. According to the English version, Tasha had one child with her gambling hubby Dubelt; according to the Russian version, three.
Here is what Russian wiki has to say about Willy’s liaison with our plucky heroine Tasha:
В 1856 году Николай Вильгельм, как представитель княжества Нассау, приезжал на коронационные празднества по случаю восшествия на престол императора Александра II. На одном из светских раутов он встретился с Натальей Дубельт, дочерью великого поэта Александра Пушкина. Между ними начался роман. Но Наталья Александровна была замужем за генерал-майором Михаилом Леонтьевичем Дубельтом (1822—1900) и имела трех детей. Брак был несчастливым: заядлый карточный игрок, Михаил Дубельт промотал всё состояние, даже приданое жены (28 тысяч серебром); он ревновал жену и даже бил её. Совместная жизнь супругов стала невыносимой, и в 1862 году супруги разъехались. Но лишь в мае 1864 года Наталья Александровна получила свидетельство — вид — на право проживания отдельно от мужа (без развода). Брак супругов был расторгнут 18 мая 1868 года.
In 1856 [yalensis: doing the math, this was back when Tasha was 20, and Nassausky was 24 years old] Nikolaus Wilhelm, as a representative of the Princedom of Nassau, arrived at the coronation celebrations for the new Russian Emperor Alexander II. At one of the high society rounds Nikolaus met Natalia Dubelt, the daughter of the great poet Alexander Pushkin. A romance began. But Natalia Alexandrovna was married to the Major-General Mikhail Leontievich Dubelt (1822-1900) and had three children. [yalensis: Again doing the math. If Tasha married Dubelt at age 17 and had 3 children by the age of 20, then she would have had to pop them out at an average rate of one kid per year.] Her marriage was unhappy: An inveterate card-player, Mikhail Dubelt had gambled away all their property, even his wife’s dowry (28,000 in silver); he was jealous about his wife, and even beat her. The marriage became unendurable, and in 1862 the spouses separated. But it was only in 1864 that Natalia Alexandrovna received a certificate giving her the right to live apart from her husband without divorce. The divorce became official in 18 May 1868.
END OF TRANSLATION
And then almost exactly one year later, July 1, 1867, Prince Nikolai and Tasha were wed in London. Yes, Dear Readers, SHE MARRIED HIM!*
*[Jane Eyre reference]
Tasha The Morganatic?
So, you are asking, did our little Tasha become a Disney Princess? The short answer is No. Again from wiki: Since this was considered a “morganatic marriage“, i.e., a marriage between royalty and commoner, then Tasha (the commoner) was not allowed to adopt a royal title. Oh sure, Tasha had aristocratic blood running through her veins. Just not aristo enough for the Von Nassaus.
As a sidebar, I looked up the etymology of the word “morganatic”. According to wiki, it comes from Medieval Latin morganaticus, and as frequently happens in medieval Latin, there is a mixture of French and German, with the German word Morgen (“morning”), coming into play: matrimonium ad morganaticam, means “Morning Gift”, or the gift which the husband gives his bride the morning after the wedding. According to medieval German custom, “the wife and the children that may be born are entitled to no share in the husband’s possessions beyond the ‘morning-gift’.”
Well, in the case of Tasha Pushkina-Dubelt-Merenberg, her “morning gift” was a pretty good one anyhow: Nicki’s family bestowed on her the title of “Countess Von Merenberg”, and presumably after that point she received some income from the Merenberg estates.
According to all accounts, Tasha and Nicki were a happy couple, they had three children together (two of whom married back into the Romanov dynasty), and Tasha seemed to appreciate a life of calm and contentment, after the earlier dramas of her youth. The couple only rarely visited Russia, preferring to spend most of their time in Wiesbaden. Anna Pavlovna Filosofa, the Russian feminist and public figure (1837-1912) encountered the family in Germany and described them thusly in a letter to the writer Fyodor Dostoevsky:
“It was so strange the see the child of our demigod [=Pushkin] married to a German. She is beautiful even to this day. She is very courteous, and her German husband is a nice guy, a very good-hearted gentleman.”
Wilhelm died in 1905. Countess Tasha, his widow, continued to live on for a few more years. When she died, her ashes were sprinkled over Willy’s grave. Since she was not allowed to be buried with him side by side. (As a morganatic — I like that word!)