banner
Aug 1, 2022
5 Views
0 0

Wives of Russian Decembrists: inspiring women of different generations

Wives of Russian Decembrists: inspiring women of different generations

In the annals of Russian history, the men of the Decembrist uprising of 1825 are rivaled only by women. Indeed, 11 wives, brides and sisters followed the men into exile and isolation. Over the next few years, saying goodbye to their families and leaving behind the comforts of noble estates.

Selfless Wives

Women went down in history as the wives of the Decembrists and became the personification of “political and social martyrdom.” Their model of self-sacrifice would be celebrated by Russian poets. And it will become the hallmark of a revolutionary code of ethics for generations to come.

Russian noblewomen did not travel with the tsarist troops around the cities of Western Europe. And most of them had no formal education. Although they usually had foreign tutors who taught them on their estates.

The only lesson they have learned well is humility and self-sacrifice. Which were preached by the Russian Orthodox Church. It was this self-abasement that prompted them to leave the comforts of the capital and their homes. And go to the inhospitable expanses of Siberia.

One Soviet historian described them as women “whose spiritual life was limited to the family.” But who by their example taught countless others stamina and strength.

Ekaterina Trubetskaya

The first to follow her husband to Siberia was the wife of Prince Sergei Trubetskoy.  The leader of the Decembrists, who chickened out.  Trubetskoy's cowardice saved him from the scaffold.  But his involvement in the organization quickly led to a sentence of hard labor in Siberia.

The first to follow her husband to Siberia was the wife of Prince Sergei Trubetskoy. The leader of the Decembrists, who chickened out. Trubetskoy’s cowardice saved him from the scaffold. But his involvement in the organization quickly led to a sentence of hard labor in Siberia.

On July 23, with iron chains on his feet, the prince left for Siberia. His wife followed him the next day. Her family and even the wife of Tsar Nicholas, the Empress herself, begged Catherine, Katya, as she was often called, to reconsider her decision to follow her husband into exile.

Family, friends and high-ranking members of the imperial government urged each of the Decembrist wives to renounce men. And start life anew. Otherwise, they will be required to waive their right to ever return from exile. Even if their husbands die. The state also prohibited women from taking their children with them. And if they gave birth to other children in exile, then these children would be counted among the state peasants.

Katya Trubetskaya followed her husband into exile, freely and purposefully. Like all the other women who came after her. Princess Trubetskaya agreed to leave her son and daughter with relatives.

In a horse-drawn carriage, Katya says goodbye to her past. The journey from St. Petersburg to Irkutsk at 5,500 miles was long and uncomfortable.

She could not protect herself from the cold and fell ill with a fever. Her carriage broke down and she ended up in an old, rickety peasant cart. Nevertheless, her arrival in Irkutsk in September 1826 convinced Katya that her presence was necessary to lighten her husband’s burden.

In 1863, the princess closed her eyes for the last time. Two years later, Prince Volkonsky, the husband for whom she sacrificed so much, also died.

Maria Volkonskaya

Maria Volkonskaya, 21, gave birth to her first child in January, shortly after the Decembrist uprising.  Volkonskaya was born into a well-known family with connections.  Her father, General Nikolai Raevsky, was a hero of the Napoleonic campaigns.

Trubetskoy’s situation improved, albeit only slightly, when a second Decembrist wife arrived in December 1826.

Maria Volkonskaya, 21, gave birth to her first child in January, shortly after the Decembrist uprising. Volkonskaya was born into a well-known family with connections. Her father, General Nikolai Raevsky, was a hero of the Napoleonic campaigns.

The reunion of the Volkonskys became the centerpiece of the legend of the Decembrists and their wives. When Mary saw her husband again, now in chains, she fell to her knees and kissed the chains before she hugged him.

It’s hard to ignore the religious symbolism of this episode. Volkonsky accepts with her the image of Christ as his devoted disciple.

In her memoirs, Volkonskaya presented both her husband and herself as martyrs for the cause. She wrote that their sacrifice was “pure—we give everything for our elect and for God.” What used to be a disorganized and poorly planned attempt at revolution. It was now regarded as sacred.

But parting with home and privileges was only the beginning of the suffering of the Decembrists. A little over a year later, Maria received the devastating news that her young son had died in St. Petersburg.

Communities have grown over time.  Initially scattered across several prisons and exiles, the Decembrists settled in Petrovsky Zavod, a suburb of Nerchinsk, in 1830.  There, the women built a series of huts that became known as Ladies Street, often with money sent by their families.

Creation of a settlement

The act of common sacrifice became a model for the wives of the Decembrists. Women in exile relied on each other. Just like their husbands relied on them. The women formed a kind of family. A common misfortune bound them together, and each received each other with open arms.

Communities have grown over time. Initially scattered across several prisons and exiles, the Decembrists settled in Petrovsky Zavod, a suburb of Nerchinsk, in 1830. There, the women built a series of huts that became known as Ladies Street, often with money sent by their families.

Having lived their lives in luxury, women have learned to fend for themselves and provide for their husbands. So, they grew vegetables and even pulled out bad teeth.

One of them, Ekaterina Trubetskaya, knew how to cook hearty meals from the simplest ingredients. Another, Maria Volkonskaya, was an outstanding seamstress. And she admitted that such physical labor helped to lull her mind. And take a break from thinking about everything that is left behind for a while.

How to survive in the cold and lack of medical facilities

One of the greatest sufferings of women was the bitter cold. Their dilapidated houses could not protect from negative temperatures. And without warm enough clothing to make up for this fact, conditions became agonizing.

The lack of medical care was another difficulty in the frozen taiga. And that made the diseases that stemmed from these extreme conditions and lack of resources especially dangerous. This is especially noticeable when we look at the children of the exiles.

Decembrist wives gave birth to more children after they arrived in Siberia.  And the joy of these newcomers often quickly tempered.  Twenty-two children died in infancy or early childhood.  The lack of proper nutrition and medical care that the exiled Decembrists faced increased the number of deceased descendants.

Decembrist wives gave birth to more children after they arrived in Siberia. And the joy of these newcomers often quickly tempered. Twenty-two children died in infancy or early childhood. The lack of proper nutrition and medical care that the exiled Decembrists faced increased the number of deceased descendants.

Help from family to return home

In letters to loved ones, the women acknowledged the hardships they faced but did not mourn their victims. However, they regularly approached their mothers, fathers, and sisters in St. Petersburg to send them clothes, money, and books. Both for myself and for my community.

With donated funds and goods, the women also opened public libraries, schools, and medical clinics. Organized concerts and lectures. These efforts have changed the cultural landscape of the remote Siberian hinterland.

The house of Maria Volkonskaya has always been the center of intellectual and cultural life. Bringing a small piano with her into exile, she filled Ladies Street with music. And she was affectionately called the Princess of Siberia.

Significant Contribution

It is unlikely that the deeds of the Decembrist women would have been of great importance if it were not for their glorification in Russian literature.  A poem by the Russian poet and public critic Nikolai Nekrasov "Russian women" dedicated to two Decembrist wives: Maria Volkonskaya and Ekaterina Trubetskoy.

It is unlikely that the deeds of the Decembrist women would have been of great importance if it were not for their glorification in Russian literature. The poem “Russian Women” by the Russian poet and public critic Nikolai Nekrasov is dedicated to two Decembrist wives: Maria Volkonskaya and Ekaterina Trubetskoy.

He describes them as representative of all Russian women. Who, by their strength and devotion, enable others to fight and endure for sacred ideals.

In the 1870s and 1880s, a new generation of Russian women began their activities along the lines of the Decembrist wives. And as never before, it accepted the revolutionary cause.

Revolutionary energy resumed after Alexander II abolished serfdom. And he carried out reforms in the legal, educational and military systems, starting in 1861.

Russian women began to take direct part in revolutionary discussion groups. Flocking to the countryside to work as teachers, midwives and paramedics. Women activists despised the tsar, talking to the peasants about inequality and revolution.

Article Categories:
Interesting
banner

Leave a Reply