August 01, 1999

A Widow's Legacy

The word “Borodino” is sacred to every Russian. It was on Borodino field that the Russian army fiercely fought the French, paving the way to the victory over Napoleon (see Russian Life, October 1995). 

Not surprisingly, many places near Borodino were named after the heroes of the Great Patriotic War of 1812. One station on the way to Borodino is Tuchkovo, named after General Alexander Tuchkov, a hero of Borodino—the “Tuchkov battery” was one of the strongest points of resistance to the French. But the most beloved homage to Tuchkov is Spaso-Borodinsky (Borodino’s Savior) Convent. Established eight years after the battle by the general’s widow, Margarita Tuchkova, the convent stands on the site of the Tuchkov battery.

The story of Tuchkova and her convent holds a special place in Russian history. Margarita Tuchkova’s father was of the noble family Naryshkin (Natalya Naryshkina was the mother of Peter the Great). Her mother’s roots were equally esteemed—she was a Volkonsky. At 16, the pretty, well-educated Margarita was married off to a man who turned out to be a scandalous rake. A divorce was arranged and Margarita retreated to her parents’ protection. At about this time, she fell in love with Alexander Tuchkov, a handsome officer of the Revel regiment. At first, Margarita’s parents refused Tuchkov’s proposal of marriage, fearing a repeat scandal. But he persisted and, in 1806, at the age of 25, Margarita married Alexander Tuchkov. She was utterly devoted to him and he to her. She even accompanied him on his long campaigns, acting as nursemaid to the wounded. In 1811, during a long march, Margarita gave birth to a son, Nikolai.

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