Born Princess Wilhelmine of Hesse-Darmstadt, Grand Duchess Natalia Alexeyevna died in labor when her husband, the future Russian Emperor Paul I, was still a crown prince with little hope to ever lay his hands on the Russian crown.
As I worked on the article about her for Gilbert's Royal Russia Annual, I had to dig deep into lots of first-hand sources: memoirs, contemporary accounts and private letters. They confirmed my initial suspicions that the dirty rumors about Natalia's affair with Paul's best friend, Count Andrei Razumovsky, which many of today's researchers take for a solid fact and spare no bile in condemning the young woman, found absolutely no confirmation in contemporaries' accounts.
Which is more, the rumor itself only started after Natalia's torturous death in labor, and very conveniently served the purpose of removing all of Catherine the Great's ill-wishers, starting with Razumovsky himself, from court.
In fact, contemporary chroniclers, namely D.I. Fonvisin and Chevalier de Corberon, who left detailed accounts of Natalia's last days, unanimously pointed out that the very idea of Natalia's possible adultery hadn't crossed anyone's mind until several days after her death. The news came as a complete surprise to all who knew her.
No one at the time could confirm the existence of the hypothetical "compromising letters" that - as rumors claimed - Catherine had supposedly found in her late daughter-in-law's secret chest. But it's true that they gave Catherine a perfect excuse to get rid of Razumovsky and a few others.
I have unearthed lots of little-known facts so I hope the article will be quite interesting.