Nadezhda Andreyevna Durova (September 17, 1783 – March 21, 1866), was a woman who, while disguised as a man, became a decorated soldier in the Russian cavalry during the Napoleonic wars.
She was the first known female officer in the Russian military.
Nadezhda published her memoir of the war as a junior officer. The title of the book is “The Cavalry Maiden.”
Nadezhda – Butch Lesbian?
I read all the research about this woman and concluded – yep, she’s a lesbian. Like most women of her time, marriage was an escape from home and if married well, it could be a life of more freedom.
Married life did not suit her, nor did motherhood, because Nadezhda, I’ll call her Nad from hereon – left both husband and son and joined the cavalry. She was known as the “Amazon” in the cavalry and a woman fell in love with a person who looked like a sixteen year old boy. In her book, she mentioned everything about her except information about her marriage and her son. She wrote that she had little time or interest in women’s crafts or way of life.
After retiring from the military, Nad continued to wear male clothing for the rest of her life.
Nadezhda Durova was born in an army camp at Kiev, the daughter of a Russian major. Her mother certainly did not have maternal instincts or was insane, because she threw Nad out of the window of a moving horse carriage. This act alarmed her father and he placed Nad in the care of his soldiers. Nad was every inch a ‘tomboy’ giving marching commands. (I, paula, did that as a young kid. My mother told me I’d march kids behind me with a stick under my arm and yell out, “Right About Turn – A Quick March!” I do remember the marching but not the words!).
Nad’s favourite toy was an unloaded gun and playing with broken sabres. Her family states that she secretly tamed a stallion that was considered to be untamable!
Get that Girl Married!
She was eighteen years of age in 1801 when she married a judge and two years later gave birth to a son. When her son was 4 years of age (and probably cared for by maids), she disguised herself as a boy, deserted her son and husband, and bringing her horse Alkid, enlisted in a Polish Uhlan regiment under the name of Alexander Sokolov.
Heroic Military Career
In two battles during the 1806-7 of the Prussian campaign, Nad saved the lives of two Russian soldiers.
The first was an enlisted man who fell off his horse on the battlefield and suffered a concussion. She gave him first aid under heavy fire and brought him to safety as the army retreated around them.
The second was an officer, unhorsed but uninjured. Three French dragoons were closing on him. Dragoons were mounted soldiers. Nad rode with her lance and scattered three male soldiers – butch!
Then, against regulations, she let the officer borrow her own horse to hasten his retreat, which left her more vulnerable to attack.
She was just an enlisted or private solider and she honoured the officer.
News of Her Bravery Reaches the Tsar
During this time, Nad wrote a letter to her considerable affluent family and they used their connections to locate her.
The rumor of an amazon in the army reached Tsar Alexander I, who took a personal interest. The commanders over Nad reported to the Tsar that her courage was incredible. He summoned her to the palace at St. Petersburg. Nad impressed the Tsar to the point that he awarded her the Cross of St. George. He went further, promoting her to Lieutenant in a Hussar unit. This promotion lifted her from the rank of regular soldier to that of an officer. It was known to the Tsar, and the army, that a heroine (woman) was serving under the name of a male – Alexander Sokolov. The Tsar gave her a new life or privacy by giving her a new pseudonym, Alexandrov, based on his own name. This was indeed a great honour.
The Colonel’s Daughter Falls in Love With Nad.
It is not clear whether the Colonel’s daughter knew that Nad was a female. Perhaps, to avoid scandal and dismissal from the military, Nad transferred to the Hussars Lithuania Ulan Regiment.
Nad saw action in 1812 when Napoleon invaded Russia. She was 29 years of age. During the Battle of Borodino, she received a cannonball injury to her leg. She refused to leave the battle and served for several days until a higher ranking officer ordered her away to recuperate
At age 33. she retired from the military in 1816 with the rank of Captain.
Twenty Years Later (1836)
It was a chance meeting that introduced Nad to the famous Russian poet and playwright, Aleksandr Pushkin. He urged Nad to publish her war journal. She added her background and early childhood. She did not mention her marriage. “The Cavalry Maiden was published in 1836. She wrote five novels and died in Yelabuga in 1866 at 83 years of age. She was buried with full military honors.
Recent Discovery of Nadezhda Andreyevna Durova
Mary Fleming Zirin’s translation of The Cavalry Maiden occurred in 1988. Nadezhda Andreyevna Durova is now a subject of university syllabi and scholarly publications in comparative literature and Russian history.