So, Just Who Was Alexei Grigorievich Bobrinsky?

The name ‘Bobrinsky’ is a noble name that is synonymous with Russian nobility. The counts Bobrinsky descended from Alexei Grigorievich Bobrinsky, who was the illegitimate son of none other than Catherine the Great and Grigory Orlov.

Born during a house fire, under incredibly controversial circumstances, Alexei Grigorievich Bobrinsky was the original count of the Bobrinsky family and would go on to create a legacy.

But why was his birth controversial, how come his birth occurred during very traumatic circumstances, and who exactly was Alexei Bobrinsky?

Catherine The Great

So, Just Who Was Alexei Grigorievich Bobrinsky?
Catherine II by Antoni Albertrandi | Image: Wikimedia

Catherine the Great is a name that will echo throughout history until time itself ceases to be.

Catherine the Great was a strong-willed woman, and that was before she became a Russian Empress as a result of a coup d’etat.

Catherine was married to Peter, who would go on to become Peter III of Russia. Despite this, she was having an affair with Grigory Orlov. In late 1761 however, she fell pregnant and was forced to hide it from Peter, as it was not his son.

Catherine wore a tight corset to hide her pregnancy and was forced to take part in numerous royal duties, and activities that, to this day, would be considered unsuitable for a pregnant woman. This caused her a great deal of pain and discomfort and put her life at risk as well as her unborn child’s life.

Peter became Peter III of Russia when Elizabeth passed away, and soon after he embarked on an affair with Elizabeth Vorontsova. He flaunted this relationship in the face of Catherine and banished her to the opposite side of the palace, moving his new love interest into the luxurious Emperor’s quarters.

Catherine was clearly a woman scorned and she would use her isolation to meet with her friends to make plans to overthrow Peter. There was, of course, still the issue of her pregnancy.

Born Through Fire

So, Just Who Was Alexei Grigorievich Bobrinsky?
The Bobrinsky Palace on the Admiralty Canal Embankment | Image:

When Catherine was due to give birth, Catherine knew she had to distract Peter, so she made her valet Vasily Shkurin set fire to his house, knowing that this would distract Peter as he was mesmerised by fire and would spend hours watching the house burn. Catherine gave birth to her second son Alexei in 1762.

Because of the traumatic birth and the damage Catherine had done to her body to hide her pregnancy, Alexei was a weak and sickly child. He was entrusted to the care of Vasily Shkurin, despite the fire and was brought up in his home which was rebuilt after the fire.

Catherine still visited her illegitimate son, despite the risks of the public finding out, and it was clear she had a soft spot for him. Alexei formed a close bond with Shkurin, right up until 1782 when he sadly died. This deeply saddened Alexei who stated that he missed him dearly.  

A year prior in 1781, Catherine had sent him a letter which openly avowed her maternity. He was given the surname ‘Bobrinsky’ which was a surname that had been derived from the estate in which he resided.

Going Off The Rails

Alexei, now a grown man, graduated from his studies and shortly afterwards, he embarked on a trip around Russia, followed by the rest of Europe. It was during these trips that those who oversaw him grew concerned for his welfare.

Alexei began drinking heavily, likely experimented with other substances too and would gamble and engage in promiscuous behaviour with multiple female sexual partners. He enjoyed the high life and he soon began running up huge debts which his mother was forced to pay to bail him out of trouble. He was selfish, he was reckless, and he was clearly going off the rails.

Despite his behaviour, it was clear he was not an evil man, he had simply been seduced by power, women, gambling, drinking, substance abuse, and the high life. In reality, this kind of thing still happens to this day.

Settling Down And Later Years

So, Just Who Was Alexei Grigorievich Bobrinsky?
Image: Wikimedia

On the orders of his mother, Alexei Bobrinsky was summoned back to Russia in 1788. He was sent to live in a remote town called Revel, which we now know as Tallin, Estonia.

In 1799 he married Anna von Ungern-Sternberg. She was a baroness of German origin. She was a kind and gentle woman. After they married, Alexei was permitted to return to St Petersburg after his mother passed away.

The new Emperor Pavel, Alexei’s half-brother, invited him and his wife to St. Petersberg. The two instantly connected and grew very close. Pavel made Alexei a Count, as well as an army general and commander. Alexei, however, did not enjoy military life and requested his discharge, which the emperor granted him.

In his later years, he and his wife moved to the Tula region, where he studied agriculture, astronomy, and geography. His son, Alexei Jnr, founded a sugar plantation producing sugar from beetroot. The family lived a very peaceful life in the countryside.

Alexei Grigorievich Bobrinsky Snr passed away in 1813, at the age of 51. The trauma of his birth, combined with his years of late nights, alcohol, substance abuse, gambling, and partying had finally caught up with him.

His descendants, however, lived on, becoming one of the most well-known Russian nobility families in all of Europe. They took on high-ranking positions in the Empire throughout the 19th century. In particular, the Bobrinsky family descendants proved to be influential in politics, business, and science.