CONSTANTINE PAVLOVICH (1779-1831), grand-duke and cesarevich of Russia, was born at Tsarskoye Selo on the 27th of April 1779. Of the sons born to the unfortunate tsar Paul Petrovich and his wife Maria Feodorovna, née princess of Württemberg, none more closely resembled his father in bodily and mental characteristics than did the second, Constantine Pavlovich. The direction of the boy's upbringing was entirely in the hands of his grandmother, the empress Catherine II. As in the case of her eldest grandson (afterwards the emperor Alexander I.), she regulated every detail of his physical and mental education; but in accordance with her usual custom she left the carrying out of her views to the men who were in her confidence. Count Nicolai Ivanovich Soltikov was supposed to be the actual tutor, but he too in his turn transferred the burden to another, only interfering personally on quite exceptional occasions, and exercised neither a positive nor a negative influence upon the character of the exceedingly passionate, restless and headstrong boy. The only person who really took him in hand was César La Harpe, who was tutor-in-chief from 1783 to May 1795 and educated both the empress's grandsons.
Like Alexander, Constantine was married by Catherine when not yet seventeen years of age, a raw and immature boy, and he made his wife, Juliana of Coburg, intensely miserable. After a first separation in the year 1799, she went back permanently to her German home in 1801, the victim of a frivolous intrigue, in the guilt of which she was herself involved. An attempt made by Constantine in 1814 to win her back to his hearth and home broke down on her firm opposition. During the time of this tragic marriage Constantine's first campaign took place under the leadership of the great Suvorov. The battle of Bassignano was lost by Constantine's fault, but at Novi he distinguished himself by such personal bravery that the emperor Paul bestowed on him the title of cesarevich, which according to the fundamental law of the constitution belonged only to the heir to the throne. Though it cannot be proved that this action of the tsar denoted any far-reaching plan, it yet shows that Paul already distrusted the grand-duke Alexander. However that may be, it is certain that Constantine never tried to secure the throne. After his father's death he led a wild and disorderly bachelor life. He abstained from politics, but remained faithful to his military inclinations, though, indeed, without manifesting anything more than a preference for the externalities of the service.
In command of the guards during the campaign of 1805 Constantine had a share of the responsibility for the unfortunate turn which events took at the battle of Austerlitz; while in 1807 neither his skill nor his fortune in war showed any improvement. However, after the peace of Tilsit he became an ardent admirer of the great Corsican and an upholder of the Russo-French alliance. It was on this account that in political questions he did not enjoy the confidence of his imperial brother. To the latter the French alliance had always been merely a means to an end, and after he had satisfied himself at Erfurt, and later during the Franco-Austrian War of 1809, that Napoleon likewise regarded his relation to Russia only from the point of view of political advantage, he became convinced that the alliance must transform itself into a battle of life and death. Such insight was never attained by Constantine; even in 1812, after the fall of Moscow, he pressed for a speedy conclusion of peace with Napoleon, and, like field-marshal Kutusov, he too opposed the policy which carried the war across the Russian frontier to a victorious conclusion upon French soil. During the campaign he was a boon companion of every commanding-officer. Barclay de Tolly was twice obliged to send him away from the army. His share in the battles in Germany and France was insignificant. At Dresden, on the 26th of August, his military knowledge failed him at the decisive moment, but at La Fère-Champenoise he distinguished himself by personal bravery. On the whole he cut no great figure. In Paris the grand-duke excited public ridicule by the manifestation of his petty military fads. His first visit was to the stables, and it was said that he had marching and drilling even in his private rooms.
In the great political decisions of those days Constantine took not the smallest part. His importance in political history dates only from the moment when the emperor Alexander entrusted him in Poland with a task which enabled him to concentrate all the one-sidedness of his talents and all the doggedness of his nature on a definite object: that of the militarization and outward discipline of Poland. With this begins the part played by the grand-duke in history. In the Congress-Poland created by Alexander he received the post of commander-in-chief of the forces of the kingdom; to which was added later (1819) the command of the Lithuanian troops and of those of the Russian provinces that had formerly belonged to the kingdom of Poland. In effect he was the actual ruler of the country, and soon became the most zealous advocate of the separate position of Poland created by the constitution granted by Alexander. He organized their army for the Poles, and felt himself more a Pole than a Russian, especially after his marriage, on the 27th of May 1820, with a Polish lady, Johanna Grudzinska. Connected with this was his renunciation of any claim to the Russian succession, which was formally completed in 1822. It is well known how, in spite of this, when Alexander I. died on the 1st of December 1825 the grand-duke Nicholas had him proclaimed emperor in St Petersburg, in connexion with which occurred the famous revolt of the Russian Liberals, known as the rising of the Dekabrists. In this crisis Constantine's attitude had been very correct, far more so than that of his brother, which was vacillating and uncertain. Under the emperor Nicholas also Constantine maintained his position in Poland. But differences soon arose between him and his brother in consequence of the share taken by the Poles in the Dekabrist conspiracy. Constantine hindered the unveiling of the organized plotting for independence which had been going on in Poland for many years, and held obstinately to the belief that the army and the bureaucracy were loyally devoted to the Russian empire. The eastern policy of the tsar and the Turkish War of 1828 and 1829 caused a fresh breach between them. It was owing to the opposition of Constantine that the Polish army took no part in this war, so that there was in consequence no Russo-Polish comradeship in arms, such as might perhaps have led to a reconciliation between the two nations.
The insurrection at Warsaw in November 1830 took Constantine completely by surprise. It was owing to his utter failure to grasp the situation that the Polish regiments passed over to the revolutionaries; and during the continuance of the revolution he showed himself as incompetent as he was lacking in judgment. Every defeat of the Russians appeared to him almost in the light of a personal gratification: his soldiers were victorious. The suppression of the revolution he did not live to see. He died of cholera at Vitebsk on the 27th of June 1831. He was an impossible man in an impossible situation. On the Russian imperial throne he would in all probability have been a tyrant like his father.
See also Karrnovich's The Cesarevich Constantine Pavlovich (2 vols., St Petersburg, 1899), (Russian); T. Schiemann's Geschichte Russlands unter Kaiser Nicolaus I. vol. i. (Berlin, 1904); Pusyrevski's The Russo-Polish War of 1831 (2nd ed., St Petersburg, 1890) (Russian).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)