You Were: The Taste-Maker
June 27, 2010
(Who Were You? #6)
You were a Russian princess, cousin to Peter III and widow of the future Tsar’s only childhood friend. In 18th century St. Petersburg, you were widely regarded as the biggest snoot east of the Urals. Your taste was said to be exquisite, your knowledge of etiquette unsurpassed, and your blood as blue as the Baltic. As far as anyone knew, your main form of recreation was parading through town in your magnificent carriage, passing judgment on all who crossed your path. A single look of disapproval from you could spell disaster for a lesser mortal’s social prospects. As a result, rich mothers often presented their daughters to you long before the girls were set to make their public debuts. It was better to hear the brutal truth and deal with it privately than to have the whole city snickering behind your daughter’s back.
No one suspected that your priggishness was all an elaborate ruse. You had no interest in fashion or society, and you only picked on people who deserved it. Your carefully-crafted façade had been constructed to hide the fact that you and your lowborn gardener were engaged in a torrid affair–an affair that had lasted for more than a decade.
The two of you met shortly after you moved to St. Petersburg as a naive nineteen-year-old bride. Your husband was a charmless aristocrat whose only interest was maintaining his relationship with the cruel, demented young man who was the heir to the Russian throne. In fact, your marriage had been arranged by Peter III himself, who thought your family fortune might do wonders for his best friend’s taxidermy collection.
The first months of your marriage were the worst of your life. One evening, as you were strolling through your formal gardens, you felt the urge to end it all, and threw yourself into an ornamental pool. The urge quickly passed, but not before a lily pad root had wrapped around your ankle, holding you deep underwater. Fortunately, the gardener’s handsome, love-struck assistant had been watching from a distance and managed to pull you out of the pool.
You thanked him the best way you knew how—behind some shrubbery—and for the next ten years, you never stopped expressing your gratitude.
If you’d had your druthers, you and the gardener would have run away from St. Petersburg on that very first day. But you both knew that the future Tsar would never allow his friend’s family name to be so besmirched. Wherever you ran, the future Peter III was sure to find you. Even after your husband’s death (some say murder), you were forced to remain in St. Petersburg for fear of Peter’s wrath.
Then one day, Peter III finally came to power. Six months later he had been assassinated, and his wife had seized the throne. The new ruler, Catherine the Great, as she was called, wasn’t the sort to hold a girl’s lovers against her. In exchange for an introduction to the gardener’s handsome brother, she granted your lover the title of Baron. Still, the two of you opted to spend the rest of your lives in France, where none of the revolutionaries you palled around with ever suspected you’d once been a member of the Russian royal family.