1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Krüdener, Barbara Juliana, Baroness von

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 15
Krüdener, Barbara Juliana, Baroness von
See also Barbara von Krüdener on Wikipedia; and our 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica disclaimer.

KRÜDENER, BARBARA JULIANA, Baroness von (1764-1824), Russian religious mystic and author, was born at Riga in Livonia on the 11th of November 1764. Her father, Otto Hermann von Vietinghoff, who had fought as a colonel in Catherine II.'s wars, was one of the two councillors for Livonia and a man of immense wealth; her mother, née Countess Anna Ulrica von Münnich, was a grand-daughter of the celebrated field marshal. Juliana, as she was usually called, was one of a numerous family. Her education, according to her own account, consisted of lessons in French spelling, deportment and sewing; and at the age of eighteen (Sept. 29, 1782) she was married to Baron Burckhard Alexis Constantin von Krüdener, a widower sixteen years her senior. The baron, a diplomatist of distinction, was cold and reserved; the baroness was frivolous, pleasure-loving, and possessed of an insatiable thirst for attention and flattery; and the strained relations due to this incompatibility of temper were embittered by her limitless extravagance, which constantly involved herself and her husband in financial difficulties. At first indeed all went well. On the 31st of January 1784 a son was born to them, named Paul after the grand-duke Paul (afterwards emperor), who acted as god-father. The same year Baron Krüdener became ambassador at Venice,[1] where he remained until transferred to Copenhagen in 1786.

In 1787 the birth of a daughter (Juliette) aggravated the nervous disorders from which the baroness had for some time been suffering, and it was decided that she must go to the south for her health; she accordingly left, with her infant daughter and her step-daughter Sophie. In 1789 she was at Paris when the states general met; a year later, at Montpellier, she met a young cavalry captain, Charles Louis de Frégeville, and a passionate attachment sprang up between them. They returned together to Copenhagen, where the baroness told her husband that her heart could no longer be his. The baron was coldly kind; he refused to hear of a divorce and attempted to arrange a modus vivendi, which was facilitated by the departure of De Frégeville for the war. All was useless; Juliana refused to remain at Copenhagen, and, setting out on her travels, visited Riga, St Petersburg — where her father had become a senator[2] — Berlin, Leipzig and Switzerland. In 1798 her husband became ambassador at Berlin, and she joined him there. But the stiff court society of Prussia was irksome to her; money difficulties continued; and by way of climax, the murder of the tsar Paul, in whose favour Baron Krüdener had stood high, made the position of the ambassador extremely precarious. The baroness seized the occasion to leave for the baths of Teplitz, whence she wrote to her husband that the doctors had ordered her to winter in the south. He died on the 14th of June 1802, without ever having seen her again.

Meanwhile the baroness had been revelling in the intellectual society of Coppet and of Paris. She was now thirty-six; her charms were fading, but her passion for admiration survived. She had tried the effect of the shawl dance, in imitation of Emma, Lady Hamilton; she now sought fame in literature, and in 1803, after consulting Chateaubriand and other writers of distinction, published her Valérie, a sentimental romance, of which under a thin veil of anonymity she herself was the heroine. In January 1804 she returned to Livonia.

At Riga occurred her “conversion.” A gentleman of her acquaintance when about to salute her fell dying at her feet. The shock overset her not too well balanced mind; she sought for consolation, and found it in the ministrations of her shoemaker, an ardent disciple of the Moravian Brethren. Though she had “found peace,” however, the disorder of her nerves continued, and she was ordered by her doctor to the baths of Wiesbaden. At Königsberg she had an interview with Queen Louise, and, more important still, with one Adam Müller, a rough peasant, to whom the Lord had revealed a prophetic mission to King Frederick William III. “Chiliasm” was in the air. Napoleon was evidently Antichrist; and the “latter days” were about to be accomplished. Under the influence of the pietistic movement the belief was widely spread, in royal courts, in country parsonages, in peasants' hovels: a man would be raised up “from the north . . . from the rising of the sun” (Isa. xli. 25); Antichrist would be overthrown, and Christ would come to reign a thousand years upon the earth. The interview determined the direction of the baroness's religious development. A short visit to the Moravians at Herrenhut followed; then she went, via Dresden, to Karlsruhe, to sit at the feet of Heinrich Jung-Stilling (q.v.), the high priest of occultist pietism, whose influence was supreme at the court of Baden and infected those of Stockholm and St Petersburg.[3] By him she was instructed in the chiliastic faith and in the mysteries of the supernatural world. Then, hearing that a certain pastor in the Vosges, Jean Frédéric Fontaines, was prophesying and working miracles, she determined to go to him. On the 5th of June 1801, accordingly, she arrived at the Protestant parsonage of Sainte Marie-aux-Mines, accompanied by her daughter Juliette, her step-daughter Sophie and a Russian valet.

This remained for two years her headquarters. Fontaines, half-charlatan, half-dupe, had introduced into his household a prophetess named Marie Gottliebin Kummer,[4] whose visions, carefully calculated for her own purposes, became the oracle of the divine mysteries for the baroness. Under this influence she believed more firmly than ever in the approaching millennium and her own mission to proclaim it. Her rank, her reckless charities, and her exuberant eloquence produced a great effect on the simple country folk; and when, in 1809, it was decided to found a colony of the “elect” in order to wait for “the coming of the Lord,” many wretched peasants sold or distributed all they possessed and followed the baroness and Fontaines into Württemberg, where the settlement was established at Catharinenplaisir and the château of Bönnigheim, only to be dispersed (May 1) by an unsympathetic government.[5] Further wanderings followed: to Lichtenthal near Baden; to Karlsruhe and the congenial society of pietistic princesses; to Riga, where she was present at the deathbed of her mother (Jan. 24, 1811); then back to Karlsruhe. The influence of Fontaines, to whom she had been “spiritually married” (Madame Fontaines being content with the part of Martha in the household, so long as the baroness's funds lasted), had now waned, and she had fallen under that of Johann Kaspar Wegelin (1766-1833), a pious linen-draper of Strassburg, who taught her the sweetness of “complete annihilation of the will and mystic death.” Her preaching and her indiscriminate charities now began to attract curious crowds from afar; and her appearance everywhere was accompanied by an epidemic of visions and prophesyings, which culminated in the appearance in 1811 of the comet, a sure sign of the approaching end. In 1812 she was at Strassburg, whence she paid more than one visit to J. F. Oberlin (q.v.), the famous pastor of Waldbach in Steinthal (Ban de la Roche), and where she had the glory of converting her host, Adrien de Lazay-Marnesia, the prefect. In 1813 she was at Geneva, where she established the faith of a band of young pietists in revolt against the Calvinist Church authorities — notably Henri Louis Empeytaz, afterwards destined to be the companion of her crowning evangelistic triumph. In September 1814 she was again at Waldbach, where Empeytaz had preceded her; and at Strassburg, where the party was joined by Franz Karl von Berckheim, who afterwards married Juliette.[6] At the end of the year she returned with her daughters and Empeytaz to Baden, a fateful migration.

The empress Elizabeth of Russia was now at Karlsruhe; and she and the pietist ladies of her entourage hoped that the emperor Alexander might find at the hands of Madame de Krüdener the peace which an interview with Jung-Stilling had failed to bring him. The baroness herself wrote urgent letters to Roxane de Stourdza, sister of the tsar's Rumanian secretary, begging her to procure an interview. There seemed to be no result; but the correspondence paved the way for the opportunity which a strange chance was to give her of realizing her ambition. In the spring of 1815 the baroness was settled at Schlüchtern, a piece of Baden territory enclave in Württemberg, busy persuading the peasants to sell all and fly from the wrath to come. Near this, at Heilbronn, the emperor Alexander established his headquarters on the 4th of June. That very night the baroness sought and obtained an interview. To the tsar, who had been brooding alone over an open Bible, her sudden arrival seemed an answer to his prayers; for three hours the prophetess preached her strange gospel, while the most powerful man in Europe sat, his face buried in his hands, sobbing like a child; until at last he declared that he had “found peace.” At the tsar's request she followed him to Heidelberg and later to Paris, where she was lodged at the Hôtel Montchenu, next door to the imperial headquarters in the Elysée Palace. A private door connected the establishments, and every evening the emperor went to take part in the prayer-meetings conducted by the baroness and Empeytaz. Chiliasm seemed to have found an entrance into the high councils of Europe, and the baroness von Krüdener had become a political force to be reckoned with. Admission to her religious gatherings was sought by a crowd of people celebrated in the intellectual and social world; Chateaubriand came, and Benjamin Constant, Madame Récamier, the duchesse de Bourbon, and Madame de Duras. The fame of the wonderful conversion, moreover, attracted other members of the chiliastic fraternity, among them Fontaines, who brought with him the prophetess Marie Kummer.

In this religious forcing-house the idea of the Holy Alliance germinated and grew to rapid maturity. On the 26th of September the portentous proclamation, which was to herald the opening of a new age of peace and goodwill on earth, was signed by the sovereigns of Russia, Austria and Prussia (see Holy Alliance; and Europe: History). Its authorship has ever been a matter of dispute. Madame de Krüdener herself claimed that she had suggested the idea, and that Alexander had submitted the draft for her approval. This is probably correct, though the tsar later, when he had recovered his mental equilibrium, reproved her for her indiscretion in talking of the matter. His eyes, indeed, had begun to be opened before he left Paris, and Marie Kummer was the unintentional cause. At the very first séance the prophetess, whose revelations had been praised by the baroness in extravagant terms, had the evil inspiration to announce in her trance to the emperor that it was God's will that he should endow the religious colony to which she belonged! Alexander merely remarked that he had received too many such revelations before to be impressed. The baroness's influence was shaken but not destroyed, and before he left Paris Alexander gave her a passport to Russia. She was not, however, destined to see him again.

She left Paris on the 22nd of October 1815, intending to travel to St Petersburg by way of Switzerland. The tsar, however, offended by her indiscretions and sensible of the ridicule which his relations with her had brought upon him, showed little disposition to hurry her arrival. She remained in Switzerland, where she presently fell under the influence of an unscrupulous adventurer named J. G. Kellner. For months Empeytaz, an honest enthusiast, struggled to save her from this man's clutches, but in vain. Kellner too well knew how to flatter the baroness's inordinate vanity: the author of the Holy Alliance could be none other than the “woman clothed with the sun” of Rev. xii. 1. She wandered with Kellner from place to place, proclaiming her mission, working miracles, persuading her converts to sell all and follow her. Crowds of beggars and rapscallions of every description gathered wherever she went, supported by the charities squandered from the common fund. She became a nuisance to the authorities and a menace to the peace; Württemberg had expelled her, and the example was followed by every Swiss canton she entered in turn. At last, in August 1817, she set out for her estate in Livonia, accompanied by Kellner and a remnant of the elect.

The emperor Alexander having opened the Crimea to German and Swiss chiliasts in search of a land of promise, the baroness's son-in-law Berckheim and his wife now proceeded thither to help establish the new colonies. In November 1820 the baroness at last went herself to St Petersburg, where Berckheim was lying ill. She was there when the news arrived of Ypsilanti's invasion of the Danubian principalities, which opened the war of Greek independence. She at once proclaimed the divine mission of the tsar to take up arms on behalf of Christendom. Alexander, however, had long since exchanged her influence for that of Metternich, and he was far from anxious to be forced into even a holy war. To the baroness's overtures he replied in a long and polite letter, the gist of which was that she must leave St Petersburg at once. In 1823 the death of Kellner, whom to the last she regarded as a saint, was a severe blow to her. Her health was failing, but she allowed herself to be persuaded by Princess Galitzin to accompany her to the Crimea, where she had established a Swiss colony. Here, at Karasu Bazar, she died on the 25th of December 1824.

Sainte-Beuve said of Madame de Krüdener: “Elle avait un immense besoin que le monde s'occupat d'elle . . . ; l'amour propre, toujours l'amour propre . . . !” A kindlier epitaph might, perhaps, be written in her own words, uttered after the revelation of the misery of the Crimean colonists had at last opened her eyes: “The good that I have done will endure; the evil that I have done (for how often have I not mistaken for the voice of God that which was no more than the result of my imagination and my pride) the mercy of God will blot out.”

Much information about Madame de Krüdener, coloured by the author's views, is to be found in H. L. Empeytaz's Notice sur Alexandre, empereur de Russie (2nd ed., Paris, 1840). The Vie de Madame de Krudener (2 vols., Paris, 1849), by the Swiss banker and Philhellene J. G. Eynard, was long the standard life and contains much material, but is far from authoritative. In English appeared the Life and Letters of Madame de Krüdener, by Clarence Ford (London, 1893). The most authoritative study, based on a wealth of original research, is E. Mühlenbeck's Étude sur les origines de la Sainte-Alliance (Paris, 1909), in which numerous references are given. (W. A. P.)


  1. A portrait of Madame de Krüdener and her son as “Venus disarming Cupid,” by Angelica Kauffmann, of this period, is in the Louvre.
  2. He died while she was there in 1792.
  3. The consorts of Alexander I. of Russia and of Gustavus Adolphus IV. of Sweden were princesses of Baden.
  4. She had been condemned some years previously in Württemberg to the pillory and three years' imprisonment as a “swindler” (Betrügerin), on her own confession. Her curious history is given in detail by M. Mühlenbeck.
  5. In 1809 it was obviously inconvenient to have people proclaiming Napoleon as “the Beast.”
  6. Berckheim had been French commissioner of police in Mainz and had abandoned his post in 1813.