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.
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”).
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.
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.
That is exciting! Thay story is definitely going to be something great. And this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of Gannibal, however, it is the first time I’ve learned more about him and his descendants. But it does make me think about how life was like for them and on race/marriage.
The more I dig, the more fascinating he becomes. I need to procure the bio his grandson wrote.
I will be waiting with bated breath for this book! Thanks for the interesting and informative article.
Isobel, how fascinating! I’d never run across Gannibal, so thanks for sharing this! I’ll say it with you, ooooooh, yeeeaaaah! The granddaughter idea is going to make a wonderful story –can’t wait to read it. She sounds totally kick-ass. Off-beat Regencies that still are well-researched and stay within the realm of what could have been are my first love! 🙂
It’s just so lovely when the universe hands you the perfect solution to an issue you’ve been wrestling with.
[…] 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 … Continue reading → […]
Gannibal is an exciting person. Well done Isobel.