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Russian Empress Anna Ivanovna: The Real-Life Supervillain With a Torture-Chamber Ice Palace  Hermitage Museum/ Public Domain/ via Wikimedia Commons
Hermitage Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

18th-century Russian empress Anna Ivanovna was an ice queen in the purest sense of the term. Not only did she despise the concept of love itself, but she also commissioned an actual palace made of ice, complete with ice furniture, ice trees, and a working ice fountain.

But her frozen palace was only the tip of the iceberg (so to speak) of the bizarre and terrifying story of the Empress of Russia’s war on love. Anna’s reign — under which she further empowered the autocracy, presided over two wars (the War of the Polish Succession and the Russo-Turkish war), and funded elaborate constructions in St. Petersburg and the Russian Academy of Science — would be long-remembered as a “dark era” for the Russian empire.

How Anna Became Ice Empress of Russia

Anna Ivanovna, born in Moscow in 1693, was the niece of Peter The Great and the daughter of Ivan V, his half-brother. Descriptions of young Anna of Russia are not favorable; writers of the time reported she was ill-mannered and unattractive. Nonetheless, she was married off to Frederick William, Duke of Courland (a duchy in now-Latvia), whom she seemed to genuinely love.

Their wedding, though a beautiful affair itself, would be promptly marred with embarrassment and tragedy. Peter staged a parody of the wedding two days later, with dwarfs playing the married couple in a miniaturized Russian court. Whether a comment on the brides reported unattractiveness or not, the indignity of the dwarf wedding seemed to stick with Anna. Soon after her wedding, Duke William died, possibly due to losing a drinking contest with Peter. Despite a later rumored affair with Baltic German Duke Ernst Johann von Biron, Anna never remarried.

Fredrick’s untimely death made Anna Duchess of Courland. In 1730, Czar Peter II’s early death brought an end to the Romanov dynasty’s male line. Peter I’s daughter Elizabeth Petrovna was born out of wedlock to his wife Catherine I, so Anna was chosen by the Supreme Privy Council for the Russian throne instead.

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 Anna Ivanovna’s Cold War on Love

Anna had become embittered towards love, so when the son of Russian nobles Prince Mikhail Golitsyn married an Italian Catholic woman, she punished the happy couple by making him her court jester. In 1739, she extended her revenge on Mikhail to absurd levels with the construction of an 80-foot long ice palace in Siberia. Anna forced Mikhail to marry one of her elderly maids and spend their “honeymoon” night in the freezing palace.

During one of the coldest winters in Russian history, the couple was stripped naked and encouraged to stay warm by consummating their marriage on an ice bed. Miraculously, the couple didn’t freeze to death that night. The bride had traded her pearl necklace for one of the guard’s coats. A few days later, however, likely of pneumonia.

Palace Revolutions: History of Russia

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Anna’s own death from kidney stones would soon follow the next year. She declared her grandnephew Ivan VI her heir before her death, but due to the unpopularity of his mother Anna Leopoldovna, Peter’s daughter Elizabeth seized power and imprisoned Ivan.

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A lover, fighter, and freelance writer, María Cristina hunts down buzzworthy stories by day and trains to be a championship kickboxer by night. As a full-time digital nomad, she's lived everywhere from Chicago to Mexico City to Medellín to Bali -- but Austin, Texas will always be home.
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