Krüdener, Julie de (1764–1824)

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Krüdener, Julie de (1764–1824)

Russian writer, traveler, evangelist, and mystic whose career included a crucial encounter with Tsar Alexander I at the close of the Napoleonic wars which may have contributed to the formation of the postwar Holy Alliance. Name variations: Juliana de Krudener; Madame de Krüdener; Baroness von Krüdener. Pronunciation: CREW-de-ner. Born Barbara Juliana von Vietinghof on November 22, 1764, in Riga, a city in Livonia, which was a Baltic province of the Russian Empire; died, probably of cancer, in the town of Karasu-Bazar in the Crimea, December 24, 1824; daughter of Otto Hermann, Baron von Vietinghof (a landed noble and government official), and Countess Anna Ulrica von Münnich Vietinghof (granddaughter of a distinguished Russian military leader); educated, probably by governesses and private tutors; married Burchhard Alexis Constantine, Baron von Krüdener, in 1782; children: Paul (b. 1784); Juliette (b. 1787); (stepdaughter) Sophie.

Made first trip to Central and Western Europe (1777); made first trip to St. Petersburg and accompanied husband to Venice (1784); moved to Copenhagen (1786); began extended visit to France (1789); began love affair with the Marquis de Frégeville (1790); separated from husband, returned to Livonia (1792); began travels in Germany, Switzerland, and France, and met Jean Paul Richter (1796); published Valérie in Paris (1804); had religious conversion in Livonia (1805); took on missionary work after battle of Eylau and visited Moravian Brethren (1807); met with Tsar Alexander I of Russia which may have contributed to formation of Treaty of the Holy Alliance (1815); occupied with missionary activities in Switzerland and Germany (1816–17); made final return to Riga (1818); journeyed to the Crimea (1824).

Selected writings:

Pensées d'une dame étrangère (1802); Valérie (1804).

The life of Baroness von Krüdener spanned the eventful age that extended from the second half of the 18th century through the first decades of the 19th century. She herself embodied, and perhaps influenced, several of the important trends of the time. Her early adult years were spent in the lively atmosphere and cosmopolitan environment of upper-class European society during the Enlightenment. She was an eyewitness to the horrors of Napoleonic warfare, and she underwent a religious conversion similar to that of many of her European contemporaries. In the most colorful episode of her life, her brief relationship with Tsar Alexander I of Russia, one of Napoleon's conquerors, may have influenced the political shape of Europe after 1815. In her final decade, her religious enthusiasm deepened into full-fledged mysticism with a tinge of social radicalism.

In the years after 1789, when a financial crisis had brought the French government to a halt and led to revolution, Europe was plunged into an era of turbulent political change. By the start of the 19th century, Napoleon, the French dictator who crowned himself emperor, was upsetting the political order throughout Europe. Only a powerful alliance of the existing monarchies, led by such figures as Tsar Alexander I, was able to bring Napoleon to bay in 1814 and, in 1815, to expel him from Europe permanently. These figures from the old order then had the responsibility of reconstructing a political system that would stabilize Europe after its quarter century of turmoil.

Within the intellectual and spiritual world, changes took place just as rapidly. Well before the outbreak of the French Revolution, the harshly critical, rational point of view that characterized the Enlightenment had given rise to a countermovement based upon feelings and spiritual values. This tendency was particularly evident in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. By the start of the 19th century, a religious revival was underway in many parts of Europe, led by such figures as René de Chateaubriand. It continued and intensified in the era of political conservatism that followed the fall of Napoleon.

Tsar Alexander I, with whom Madame de Krüdener is linked in European history, was one of the most complex and fascinating personalities standing in the midst of these events. His education had steeped him in the ideas of the Enlightenment. He came to power following the overthrow of his father Paul I, and he was psychologically devastated when the coup, which he had sanctioned, led to his father's murder.

The Russian leader had shown himself interested in the mystical religious currents of the time long before he met Madame de Krüdener, but he may have been particularly receptive to such views in 1815 and willing to place them in the world of politics. He had been shaken to the core by Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812, and he had turned to religion as a guide more forcefully than before. He now found himself in the heady position of the leading figure on the Allied side. Since the start of the century, at a time when Russia lacked the influence to put his plans into effect, Alexander had been promoting vague schemes pointing toward European unity.

Madame de Krüdener, as she is usually called, was born in the small, insular world of Russian Livonia. In this region along the Baltic coast, German conquerors had established sway over the local peasant population during the Middle Ages. The region came under Russian control at the start of the 18th century as a result of the military successes of Tsar Peter I the Great. Both of her parents came from the German nobility. Her father Otto Hermann, Baron von Vietinghof, was a landowner, government official, and patron of the arts. Her mother, Anna Ulrica von Münnich Vietinghof , was the granddaughter of a noted Russian general from the start of the century. Julie grew up in a privileged environment, dividing her time between the family's mansion in Riga and their country estate at Kosse. She apparently received her education from a series of tutors and governesses. The upper-class Livonian society of her childhood practiced the Lutheran religion, with some of its members, like her father, increasingly attracted by the freethinking of the Enlightenment. Nonetheless, more emotional varieties of Christianity, such as the Pietism practiced by the Moravian Brethren of Central Europe, had penetrated Livonia in the decades before her birth.

The Vietinghof family's comfortable lifestyle was disrupted by a number of factors. Julie's elder sister was a deaf mute, and her mother's grandfather, despite his military honors, had been forced into a prolonged period of exile in Siberia. In 1777, the family, including Julie, traveled to Hamburg to place her sister in an institution; they then went on to Paris where she caught her first glimpse of the center of European culture.

In 1782, Julie's life took a turn when she married Burchhard Alexis Constantine, Baron von Krüdener. The young woman, not yet 18, now had a husband of 36, who was a rising figure in the Russian diplomatic service. As a consequence, she found herself in increasingly cosmopolitan circles: she entertained the future Tsar Paul, she was surrounded by enthusiasts immersed in French literature and ideas, and she soon accompanied her husband to increasingly important diplomatic posts: first Venice, then Copenhagen. The marriage was one of convenience rather than passion, although she gave birth to a son, Paul, in 1784, and a daughter, Juliette, in 1787.

In Venice, Alexander de Stakiev, a young member of her husband's entourage, became infatuated with Julie. The attraction was never consummated, and Stakiev, while serving the Baron de Krüdener in Copenhagen, confessed his passion to Julie's husband in 1787. More than a decade later, the incident provided the theme for her famous novel Valérie.

In the spring of 1789, due to her fragile health, Julie left for a stay in southern France. She reached Paris as the French Revolution was beginning and plunged into the literary world there and in the cities of the south. In Montpellier, she had a love affair with a young French officer of aristocratic lineage, Charles de Frégeville. Her husband refused her request for a divorce, but he agreed to a separation. She was required, however, to end the romantic liaison and return to Livonia. She did so in 1792.

Madame de Krüdener was an independently wealthy woman with an income based on an estate her father had given her shortly before her wedding. In the next years, she traveled widely in Germany and Switzerland. This was a region coming under the shadow of the rising military genius, Napoleon Bonaparte. Standing in a crowd in 1797, Julie saw the brilliant young general for the first time as he passed through the Swiss city of Lausanne. With only intermittent contact with her husband, she may have become involved in a number of love affairs. In 1802, she and her husband formally ended their marriage. He died less than a year later.

Madame de Krüdener's commitment to a literary career took shape in the first years of the new century. Working both in Paris and in Switzerland, she first produced a small work, Pensées d'une dame étrangère (Thoughts of a Foreign Lady), that appeared in the Mercure de France in 1802. Her personal, as well as her literary, connections allowed her easy entry into the literary salons of Paris.

She had the passionate and powerful charm of an inspired person.

—Ernst Moritz Arndt

Valérie, which appeared in 1804, was set in Venice and was told in the form of a series of letters. The novel tells the story of a junior diplomat from Scandinavia, much like the young man who had loved her from afar in Venice in the early 1780s, who serves as secretary to an aristocratic ambassador. The hero follows the events in the life of the noble's wife with fervor, but he cannot declare his love for her openly until he is fatally ill. The ambassador then finds and nurses the young man, seeing him through to death and burial. Critics have noted how the book borrows from prominent themes in the literature of the era as expressed in the work of Rousseau and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It also drew on the religious fervor stimulated by Chateaubriand's Genius of Christianity. Krüdener's biographer Ernest Knapton finds particular significance in the hero's exposure to religion, seeing this part of the novel as an indication of the spiritual fervor of its author. She apparently had found belief in God a consolation for the bouts of melancholy that accompanied her wanderings around Europe.

Although her first novel enjoyed substantial commercial success and drew a measure of praise from literary critics, Madame de Krüdener did not remain in Paris. A variety of factors, including a failed love affair, friction with fellow writers, and her easily overstressed emotional makeup, led her to return to Livonia. There, in 1804 and 1805, her life took its decisive turn toward religion. At this time, she lived both in Riga and at her country estate at Kosse. In the commonplace event of buying a pair of shoes, she was struck by the serenity of the cobbler with whom she was dealing. She then accepted his invitation to attend meetings of the Moravian Brotherhood to which he belonged, and her conversion followed in short order. The noblewoman's physical exhaustion, the atmosphere of religious enthusiasm which she had encountered in France, and the growing spiritual interests she demonstrated in Valérie provide a partial explanation for this seemingly remarkable turn in her life. Some writers note that she was also traumatized by the sudden death of an acquaintance whom she had just greeted from the window of her house in Riga.

By late 1806, Krüdener was back Germany, possibly with the aim of visiting a spa for her health. At the East Prussian city of Königsberg, she found herself in the midst of one of Napoleon's military campaigns. It led to the brutally indecisive battle of Eylau in February 1807, and here Krüdener transformed her religious devotion into good works such as caring for the wounded. As one observer recalled, "We all loved this unusual woman and took pleasure in the radiant nature that revealed itself in all that she said."

In her subsequent travels in Central Europe, Krüdener visited the communities inhabited by the Moravian Brethren and became acquainted with Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling, counselor to the grand duke of Baden, and the Protestant minister John Frederick Fontanes; both would be her spiritual mentors or companions in the following years. The Brethren's Pietist doctrines in which she was increasingly immersed proclaimed the ability of man to reach directly to God without the use of reason, as well as the imminence of Christ's Second Coming. Such beliefs had a strong influence in southern Germany, Switzerland, and Alsace. At the same time, her aristocratic background kept her in contact with some of the leading political circles of the time. One figure in those circles who became her friend was Hortense de Beauharnais (1783–1837), the queen of Holland and Napoleon's stepdaughter.

For a time in early 1809, Julie de Krüdener joined a spiritual community in the village of Cleebronn, southwest of the German city of Heilbronn. Its leader was Fontanes, a charismatic minister of Pietist leanings, whom Julie had visited at length at his parish in Alsace. When the government of Württemberg expelled the group, Madame de Krüdener used her influence to secure a new home for them in the neighboring state of Baden. Her religious fervor deepened. In a letter she wrote to Fontanes from Riga in late 1811, she pointed out the flaws of both Catholicism and Protestantism. Devotees of the former were consumed in ceremonies; adherents to the latter were led astray by the use of reason. She looked to a newly reunited Christianity that would offer a spiritual satisfaction neither of the two could provide.

In the years following, her travels in Central Europe and her personal life once again connected with the great political events of the time. As the combined armies of Napoleon's opponents chased him across Europe and back to France in 1813, Madame de Krüdener and her colleagues began a campaign of spreading religious pamphlets to win over the rank-and-file soldiers in the Allied forces. In the following year, she renewed her acquaintance with Hortense de Beauharnais, who introduced Krüdener to her brother, Eugène Beauharnais. These imperial refugees, the stepson and stepdaughter of the recently deposed Napoleon, had taken refuge in Baden. They were partly shocked, partly amused, when Madame de Krüdener greeted them with an emotional speech setting out her religious beliefs.

Julie's passionate interest centered, however, on Tsar Alexander I. Since early 1814, she had been impressed by his public statements thanking God for the Allied victory over Napoleon. Thus, she welcomed the opportunity to become friends with Roxane Stourdza , a transplanted Rumanian who served as attendant to the tsar's wife Elizabeth of Baden (1779–1826). On one occasion in 1814, Julie wrote Roxane that "I have known for a long time that the Lord will give me the pleasure of seeing" Alexander, and, she added momentously, "I have tremendous things to say to him."

Such emotional letters had their effect. Roxane, whose brother was Alexander's private secretary, sent the letters on to the tsar who expressed an interest in meeting Julie. The fateful encounter took place in the midst of an overwhelming political crisis. In the spring of 1815, Napoleon escaped from his place of exile on the island of Elba near the Italian coast. The tsar's forces and other Allied armies rushed toward France in preparation for the inevitable military encounter. Two weeks before the confrontation at Waterloo on June 18, 1815, Alexander was traveling across Bavaria and stopped at Heilbronn. Joining the crowd in front of the house where he was resting, Krüdener demanded to see the tsar and managed to get a message to him. He responded by calling her into his presence.

Madame de Krüdener's conversation with Alexander on the evening of June 4, 1815, is the most interesting and significant event in her life. It initiated a period in which she touched on some of the great political questions of the era. Historians remain uncertain why Alexander decided to see her and what was said during their meeting. An account later published by one of her followers described a conversation in which she stressed how both of them were sinners; she, however, had succeeded in purging herself of sin. Presumably, he needed to do the same. Their meetings continued for several weeks while the tsar remained in Germany. After Napoleon had been defeated at Waterloo, Alexander invited Krüdener to follow him to Paris, where their meetings resumed. She became a public sensation on September 11, 1815, when he invited her to stand beside him during a huge review of the Russian army. An impressed observer was the French woman of letters Germaine de Staël . She wrote a friend to describe Krüdener as "the forerunner of a great religious epoch which is dawning for the human race."

During the ensuing peace negotiations, the tsar presented the leaders of the other great powers

with a vague but provocative proposal pointing toward a united Europe. This Treaty of Holy Alliance mixed politics and religion in remarkable fashion, calling on the rulers of Austria, Prussia, and Russia to remain linked after the war in "a true and indissoluble brotherhood," as three branches of a common Christian family. Alexander called on them to rule that family with justice. To his biographer Janet Hartley , Alexander's language in this document was typically ambiguous and carelessly drafted; he had little appreciation of the idea's political consequences. Given the military and diplomatic weight of Russia at this time, however, no one could ignore the proposal.

To conservatives like Prince Clemens von Metternich, the Holy Alliance was both perplexing and dangerous. The full draft of the tsar's proposal seemed to raise the possibility that other countries, not just the great powers, would be brought into some kind of union. It also raised the issue of a common bond among the peoples, not just the rulers, of Europe. The Austrian diplomat moved quickly to alter or eliminate such phrases, which smacked to him of the ideas of the French Revolution. In its revised form, the treaty was signed by the rulers of Austria and Prussia on September 26, 1815.

Given Alexander's longstanding religious interests and his frequent earlier calls for a league of European states, recent historians refrain from identifying Madame de Krüdener as the inspiration behind the Holy Alliance. Moreover, its practical significance remains doubtful. The three great conservative powers of Central and Eastern Europe did in fact cooperate for several decades after 1815. But it was on the basis of other, more conventional international agreements, such as the Quadruple Alliance of 1815, which centered on the goal of preventing future French aggression.

The final decade of Madame de Krüdener's life saw her increasingly at odds with the political authorities of the time. Her missionary activities in Switzerland and several German states took place against a background of crop failures and famine. Her enthusiastic rhetoric about how the poor would inherit the earth, sometimes appearing in pamphlets that she and her followers published and distributed widely, seemed dangerously radical to local governmental officials. In one memorable talk she gave at Frankfurt-on-the-Oder, she referred to the devil's servants on earth and identified them as the police officers and customs agents of the time. Thus it is easy to see how, at the highest levels of European conservative leadership, Count von Metternich expressed his alarm at her teachings. Meanwhile, local religious leaders in Protestant regions objected to her use of Catholic practices such as appeals to Mary the Virgin .

Expelled first from Switzerland, then from one German state after another, the aging evangelist suffered from declining health. The hardships of travel and preaching in the face of official disapproval sharply reduced the number of followers who accompanied her. One scholar who met her and her group in Saxony at this time wrote a poignant account of his reaction. He found it painful to see her trying to combine "so much heavenly goodness with such strange beliefs." In his view, she seemed to show how a world "addicted for so long to a frivolous enlightenment … was now reeling into mystical fanaticism and unintelligent superstition."

In the summer of 1818, she returned for the last time to Russia. At the border, her anomalous position as both a well-connected aristocrat and a religious fanatic under police supervision came to the fore. Russian authorities at the frontier were reluctant to admit the foreigners in her band of followers. She solved the problem by a direct appeal to her old acquaintance, Tsar Alexander I. The monarch refused to answer her directly, but he ordered that her party be admitted to his realm without further delay. Back at her estate at Kosse, Krüdener continued her missionary activity among the local peasantry. As usual, both local government officials and church leaders viewed all this with growing hostility.

In 1821, she paid a final visit to St. Petersburg in order to see her seriously ill son-in-law. Although the tsar had given permission for her trip to the capital, it is unlikely the two met. The only certain contact they had was over a political issue that led to a harsh rebuke for the baroness. She urged Alexander to support the Greek rebellion against the Turks that had begun in the spring of that year. He responded through one of his officials demanding that she refrain from comments on politics. She returned to her estate in the summer of 1822.

Following her arrival home, Julie de Krüdener's health continued to falter. Practices tied to her religious beliefs, including deliberate exposure to hunger and cold weather, further weakened her frail physical condition. In these personal circumstances, she made a typically dramatic decision in the spring of 1824: she would participate in founding a Christian colony in the Crimea. Traveling by river boat and sailing vessel, her party of settlers reached the Crimea in August. By this time, the baroness was so seriously ill that she could go no further. Cared for by her daughter, she lived out the last months of her life as an invalid in the small town of Karasu-Bazar. She died there on Christmas Eve, 1824.

Within a few years, several of her followers published accounts that established a vivid picture of Madame de Krüdener and her activities. They stressed her role in bringing the Holy Alliance into existence as well as her personal devoutness. In 1848, for example, an early biographer named Charles Eynard portrayed her life as a single, dramatic voyage that stretched from her years as a cosmopolitan aristocrat to a final status of saintliness. Her American biographer Ernest Knapton has analyzed the colorful baroness in more prosaic terms. He described her as "a natural product of her times," sharing the changing intellectual environment and swept along by great trends in the worlds of politics, literature, and religion that she could not fully understand. For him, her vast travels and broad range of acquaintances were astonishing. In the end, however, "she was one of those who mirrored rather than directed the tendencies of an age."


Hartley, Janet M. Alexander I. London: Longman, 1994.

Herold, J. Christopher. Mistress to an Age: A Life of Madame de Staël. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1958.

Knapton, Ernest John. The Lady of the Holy Alliance: The Life of Julie de Krüdener. 1939 (reprinted, NY: AMS Press, 1966).

Lincoln, W. Bruce. The Romanovs: Autocrats of All the Russias. NY: Dial Press, 1981.

suggested reading:

Gollin, Gillian Lindt. Moravians in Two Worlds: A Study of Changing Communities. NY: Columbia University Press, 1967.

Ley, Francis. Madame de Krüdener: Romanticisme et Sainte-Alliance. Paris: Champion, 1994.

Palmer, Alan. Metternich. NY: Harper and Row, 1972.

Sheehan, James J. German History, 1770–1866. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.


Correspondence and papers located in Bibliothéque Nationale and Archives Nationale, Paris; and Bibliothéque Publique et Universitaire, Geneva.

Neil M. Heyman , Professor of History, San Diego State University, San Diego, California