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17 May 2008

Yelizaveta Petrovna Romanova (1709 - 1762) Empress.

Empress of all the Russias from 1741, Yelizaveta took Russia into the War of Austrian Succession, (1740 –48), and the Seven Years War (1756-63). She encouraged the foundation of the University of Moscow and the Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg, and the building of fine buildings such as the Winter Palace and Smolny Cathedral. She remains popular because she excluded Germans from the government, and not a single person was executed during her reign.

Charles d'Eon de Beaumont was part of the French embassy to Russia during her reign, but the claims that he first practiced crossdressing at her court seem to be without foundation.

Ekaterina Romanova, Yelizaveta's successor, comments on life under Yelizaveta in the mid 1740s: 'In those days, there was a sort of masquerade at court every Tuesday. ... The Empress had decreed that, at these masquerades, to which only those persons had access who had been selected by her, all the men had to be dressed as women and all the women as men. I must say there could have been nothing more ugly and at the same time more laughable than most of the men so disguised, and nothing more miserable than the women in men's clothing. The Empress alone, who was best suited to men's clothing, looked really well; thus costumed, she was, in fact, very beautiful.'

While Yelizaveta's body was rather heavily built in the upper half, she had a well-shaped pair of legs, which at that period could be shown only in a male costume.

Yelizaveta was known for her intolerance of any member of the court who dressed as she did, or outdid her in any way. When the beautiful Mme Lopukhin appeared at a ball wearing a rose in her hair, exactly like the Empress, Yelizaveta not only cut off the rose, and the attached hair, but she boxed the woman's ears in front of the assembled court. It was not easy to avoid dressing like Yelizaveta for she would change her dress several times a day.

In this light it is not surprising that the courtiers did not transvest with the enthusiasm that is required for success. Success might be costly.

The Russian writer Barsukov, in his Annals de le Patrie, says that the masquerades took place twice a week. He also says that Yelizaveta decided to be the dresser at the court theatre, where all female roles were played by young men. He cites an instance in 1750 when the Empress personally dressed a young cadet who was to play a female role in a tragedy by Sumarakov.

When she died, Yelizaveta left 15,000 dresses, as well as a selection of male clothing.
  • Cynthia Cox. The Enigma of the Age: the Strange Story of the Chevalier d'Eon. Longmans. 1966: 24-5

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