An Afro-Russian Nobleman

February is Black History Month so I thought I’d go with the obvious theme. While I know a lot of you are familiar with the Chevalier Saint-Georges (champion fencer, friend of the Prince Regent, Marie Antoinette’s music teacher, forgotten composer [thanks to Napoleon banning his music!]), I thought Abram Petrovich Gannibal might be unknown. He certainly was to me until the brilliant Twitter account @medievalpoc introduced me to him.

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Abram Gannibal, bust in Petrovskoe.

 

Gannibal was kidnapped from what is now Camaroon when he was about seven and given as a gift to Peter the Great. The zar took a shine to him, noting his intelligence, and essentially made him his page. The boy was raised in the royal household and accompanied the zar on military campaigns. He was sent to Mez to be educated, spoke several languages, and was part of the intelligentsia in Paris in the early 1700s (supposedly, Voltarie himself called Gannibal “the dark star of the Enlightenment”).

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Russian medal adorned with Avraham Hannibal’s coat of arms

Eventually became a powerful member of the Russian court under Peter’s daughter Elizabeth and was made a major-general in her army. He was given estates (complete with serfs) and raised to the nobility. He was married twice, once very unhappily to a Greek woman and then later to a woman from the nobility of Scandinavia and Germany. The second marriage was extremely happy, and produced ten children, from whom some very surprising people are descended: Most famously, Aleksandr Pushkin! Yes, that Pushkin. But many British aristocrats are also Gannibal’s descendants, including the wife of the 6th Duke of Westminster, the wife of the 5th Duke of Abercorn, and the current Marquesss of Milford Haven.

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School of Dmitry Grigorievich Levitzky Portrait of Ivan Abramovich Gannibal (1735-1801) Gannibal’s son.

And of course this is really where my brain started ticking. I have a character in my current series who is based on the Chevalier Saint-Georges. His heroine’s race was determined entirely by which model showed up at the cover shoot. And the model who showed up first was black. I’d been toying with the idea of basing her on Belle, but this just seemed sooooo much cooler. A black, French fencing champion and the granddaughter of an Afro-Russian nobleman? Say it with me: OOOOOOH, YEEEAAAAAH.

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