Birth of Empress Anna Ivanovna~7th February 1693
Anna was the daughter of Czar Ivan V, who is often referred to as Ivan the Ignorant.
Ivan was apparently mentally deficient to such an extent, that he would remain in a nearly vegetative state for hours on end.
He could walk only with the support of courtiers and was capable only of performing ceremonial functions as czar, while Peter the Great, Annas uncle and co-czar, performed most of the real court.
Anna had something of an odd childhood.
Her mother wasnt a happy woman and sternly believed in maintaining the old Russian ways.
That meant little education for girls, so Anna was barely literate. And, according to accounts, she wasnt pretty either.
She is said to have had terrible manners and a grim demeanor.
Her lack of pleasing attributes did not keep her from being married off.
In 1710 she married Frederick William, the Duke of Courland (part of todays Latvia)
The wedding was beautiful.
Anna wore a cape embroidered with gold and a bejeweled tiara, and the ceremony ended with a display of fireworks.
Frederick William, the Duke of Courland, drank a lot.
He even engaged in a drinking contest with Peter the Great.
Trying to keep up, Frederick drank so much that he fell ill immediately after the marriage, and died two months later.
Anna was a widow.
And desperate to remarry.
She wrote her family more than 300 letters, most of them expressing her fervent desire for a husband.
Peter the Great rejected every suitor until Anna seemed to sour on the concept altogether.
Bitterness overtook her, she wanted to punish people who were happy, and in love.
When Prince Mikhail, from one of the most noble houses in Russia, married a Catholic Italian woman, it seemed they were flaunting their happiness right in front of Anna.
Anna may have hated love and marriage in general, but she despised Catholics even more.
Their happiness was short lived, Prince Mikhails wife died shortly after their marriage.
Anna didnt seem to believe that this was sufficient punishment, for falling in love in the first place.
She turned Mikhail into a court jester.
He had to pretend to be a chicken, sit on a nest of eggs in Annas reception room, and pretend to lay them when visitors came to see her.
Anna wanted to punish Mikhail further.
She intended to show himand everyonethe folly of love and marriage.
So in 1739 she ordered the construction of a massive ice palace 80 feet long and 33 feet high, where all the blocks were glued together with water.
Inside was a furnished bridal suite, made of ice.
The bed, the pillows, even the clocks!
Outside there were ice trees in which ice birds nested.
There was even an ice statue of an elephant that spouted water from its trunk.
Bitter Anna decided to marry Prince Mikhail to one of her maids, Avdotya Ivanovna.
The maid was apparently very old and ugly, so this union was clearly not intended as a reward for the prince.
On the day of their wedding, the couple were dressed as clowns, and made to ride an elephant to be presented to a laughing crowd.
Immediately after the wedding the couple was forced to spend their wedding night inside the ice palace.
During one of the coldest winters in Russian history.
The expectation was that they would freeze to death.
Supposedly they survived because the bride traded her pearls for a coat from one of the guards.
The popular legend is that the couple went on to enjoy a happy marriage and have twins, conceived that terrible night on the ice mattress.
Historians now say thats unlikely, and records point to the fact that the woman, already in weak health, died a few days after the ice palace experience.
She likely contracted pneumonia.
As for Anna Ivanovna, she died the following October of kidney troubles.
She left no heirs, and to this day, people often describe her as the worst ruler in Russian history.
Portrait of Empress Anna of Russia, 1730.
Painting by Louis Caravaque/Wikimedia Commons