Deviant behavior of Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich as the trigger of his success and failure (on materials of Russian and Polish literatures)

Maya Kucherskaya, Higher School of Economics, Moscow

In my paper I am going to study the image of Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich (1779-1831) as represented in Russian and Polish literature. Constantine Pavlovich Romanov, the brother of two Russian Emperors - Alexander I and Nicolas I – was mainly known for his abdication from the throne in 1825, which led to the Decembrist rebellion later that year. Though best-known, this action was by no means the only example of what we call the “deviant behavior” of the Grand Duke. In fact, his entire life represents a pattern of actions that overthrew the norms of conventional behavior on many levels. As a member of the royal family, he broke the expected standards by divorcing his spouse Grand Duchess Anna Fiodorovna to enter a morganatic marriage with Duchess Ioanna Grudzinska. As a member of the royal court, he entertained himself by playing enfant terrible and using obscene vocabulary during high-level diplomatic meetings and royal balls. As a military commander in Russia and Poland, he insulted and mistreated his officers and beat his soldiers (Karnovich, 1995; Masson, 1996).

Such behavior became the object of active cultural reflection both in Russia and Poland. Surprisingly, the very same type of his deviant behavior met with totally different responses in the Russian and Polish literatures respectively. Russians, especially common people, viewed his behavior as a challenge to the entire royal family and, therefore, as a sign of bravery and gallantry. This gave rise to numerous folk songs and tales about his generosity to the poor, especially to peasants and soldiers, who cherished hopes of getting freedom and money from him when he is hoisted to the throne (Russkaia istoricheskaia pesnia, 1987; Chernov, 1960). However, when Constantine was Commander-in-chief of the Polish army (1815-1830), his way of treating (or, rather, mistreating) his inferiors, received a totally opposite reaction. In Poland, he was viewed as a tyrant and, therefore, hated by the military people and civilians likewise. In Polish literature Constantine is represented as a cruel and despotic person (Slowackii Ju., 1960, Wyspianskii S, 1963).

This striking difference in reactions and, therefore, images of the same person in Russian and Polish societies can be explained by differences in the political histories of the two countries. Russia had always been an absolute monarchy with the Tsar as “the father to all people, to whom people looked up almost as they did to God. Poland, by contrast, represented a considerably more democratic parliamentary tradition, which naturally excluded this type of attitude and required its King to abide by the constitutional law, just as any other citizen.

This paper is based on the study of folk songs and tales, plays, memoirs, diaries, reports of the secret police, many of which have never been published and have been researched by the author in the Russian libraries and archives.


Chernov S. Sluxi 1825-1826 godov (Folklor i istoria) – Chernov S. U istokov russkogo osvoboditel'nogo dvizhenia. Saratov, 1960

Karnovich E. Cesarevich Konstantin Pavlovich – Karnovich E. Sobranie sochinenii v 4-x tomax. T.3. Moscow, 1995.

Masson Sh. Sekretnye zapiski o Rossii vremen carstvovania Ekateriny II i Pavla I. Moscow, 1996.

Russkaia istroricheskaia pesnia. Moscow, 1987.

Slovackii Iu. Kordian – Slovackii I. Izbrannye sochinenia. T.1. Moscow, 1960.

Wyspianskii S. Noiabrskaia noch' in Wyspianskii S. Dramy. Moscow, 1963.