The Rise and Fall of Maria Alekseevna Svistunova

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Maria Alekseevna Svistunova, nee Rzhevskaya (July 1, 1778 1 – September 1, 1866) – maid of honor; the daughter of the writer A. A. Rzhevsky; mother of the Decembrist P.N.Svistunova.

Maria Svistunova

Biography of Maria Svistunova

Maria Svistunovawas born in St. Petersburg in the family of the writer and poet, Senator Alexei Andreevich Rzhevsky from his second marriage with the maid of honor Glafira Ivanovna Alymova. Baptized on July 4, 1778 in St. Isaac’s Cathedral with the reception of the lady-in-waiting N. S. Borshchova. She was the eldest child in the family and the only daughter; she received her name in honor of the Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna. Later, the Rzhevskys had four more sons.

Children grew up in an atmosphere of love and care. Their mother, being the best in the first issue of Smolyanka, was a secular lady, courteous. She knew how to soberly evaluate what she received and tried to increase what she had. The Rzhevskys did not have a large fortune, and their financial situation depended entirely on the service career of Alexei Andreevich, which was developing quite successfully. In their house, the Rzhevskys kept a literary and musical salon, where once a week on Wednesdays the bloom of the Petersburg intelligentsia gathered, the poet and publisher Kheraskov, Derzhavin, and young Zhukovsky were regulars.


Maria Svistunova received a home education. She was personally taught sciences and music by her mother, who was a virtuoso harpist. Beautiful, slender and young Maria Rzhevskaya appeared at the court at the very beginning of the reign of Paul I and was granted a maid of honor. The emperor decided to personally take care of the arrangement of her fate and look for her a groom to his taste.

The choice fell on the 29-year-old chamberlain Nikolai Petrovich Svistunov. He was a kind and noble man, had a good fortune. Together with his father he was among the favorites of the emperor. So Maria Rzhevskaya had to accept this offer. The wedding was scheduled for May 30, 1800 at

Pavlovsk. Paul I wished to be planted by his father and ordered luxurious preparations to be made. But the court intriguers decided to embroil the Rzhevsky and Svistunovs with the emperor. Glafira Ivanovna recalled:

“The favorites of the Emperor, Kutaisov and Princess Gagarina, were not happy with all this. To annoy me, Kutaisov, who was in the post of Chief Stahlmeister, slowed down to send court carriages to us in Tsarskoe Selo. Knowing that the Emperor hates being late, we got into our carriages and set off, finding the court carriages near the palace.

We arrived at the Court two hours later than the appointed time and found everyone in anxiety. The Empress, being in despair, tried in every possible way to hide the cause of the alarm from me, and meanwhile everyone ran, whispered, and the bride’s toilet did not move. The delicacy of the Empress in this case will not be erased from my memory.

The point was that the Emperor ordered to dismiss my husband, groom and his father. They tried in vain to appease the angry Emperor. Neither the emperor nor the empress were present at the wedding, and a strict order was given so that no one would dare to attend except the necessary witnesses … “

Glafira Ivanovna refused to leave the church until everything was clarified. And so it happened, but after this incident the Rzhevskys terminated their relationship with the court. Mother and daughter could not forget this wedding for a long time.

A family

Nikolay Petrovich Svistunov

The Svistunovs settled in a purchased house on Bolshaya Morskaya d. 19, where their children were born one after another. After the death of Paul I, Nikolai Petrovich immediately retired and for a long time could not come to terms with the accession of Alexander I. He was a mystically minded man, an admirer of A. Ya. Labzin and an active member of the Masonic lodge. Maria Alekseevna shared her husband’s interests.

Undoubtedly, she belonged to a considerable number of those Russian women of that era who, in a passionate search for truth, or following fashion, crossed into the bosom of the Catholic Church [5]. Maria Alekseevna made friends with Sophia Svechina, a zealous supporter of Count de Maistre, and under her influence, her interest in Catholicism increased.

In 1812, at the insistence of his friend S. K. Vyazmitinov, Svistunov returned to the service and entered the director of a department at the Ministry of Police. But his health began to deteriorate. He went to the Caucasian Mineral Waters for treatment and died there of a fever on August 16, 1815 . A close friend of the Svistunov family, Princess Turkestanova wrote about her grief to Moscow Christina:

“I lost a person to whom I was sincerely attached and to whom I had infinite trust. He was not happy, and I had the good fortune to offer him my consolation, and he, for his part, was useful to me with his advice. This dear man was an example of piety and without fanaticism, finally, he was unanimous with me on many issues, and I will regret this loss all my life … “

After her husband’s death, Maria Alekseevna converted to Catholicism and was fully engaged in raising her six children. She sent her sons to the Jesuit boarding school of Baron Shabo. Education there was free, so the Jesuits tried to strengthen and diversify their influence on the upper strata of rRussian society.

She tried to instill in her daughters views in the spirit of her religious beliefs and convictions. Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky called Maria Alekseevna “a famous praying mantis”, which did not prevent her, however, from organizing dance evenings for her growing daughters during Lent, which very much embarrassed the highest Petersburg administration at that time.

Like many ladies of high society, Maria Alekseevna was engaged in charity work. She was a member of the Women’s Patriotic Society and even published an article in 1825 “Charity” in the “Ladies’ Journal”.

The next year, 1826, was difficult for Svistunova. The death of her mother and the exile of her eldest son Peter to hard labor forced her to retire abroad. In Russia, nothing else kept her, many friends lived in France, and the eldest daughters were married to Frenchmen. She chose Paris as her permanent place of residence. From time to time Maria Alekseevna came to Petersburg, so on July 29, 1829 Dolly Fiquelmon wrote in her diary:

“Several days ago I spent an evening with Princess Dolgoruka. A large part of the diplomatic corps was present, and there were also … Madame Svistunova, fortunately quite witty, which excuses her talkativeness … “

Maria Svistunova died in Paris on September 1, 1866, in the Catholic monastery of the Sacred Heart of Mary.

By Translator Mike

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