119. Holy Matrimony
“Marriage, to tell the truth, is evil, but it is a necessary evil.”
1750. Moscow and elsewhere.
“Get married no matter what. If you come across a good wife, you'll be an exception, if a bad one, you'll be a philosopher.”
Grand Duke Peter Petrovich was 22 years old  and both his parents and his, now widowed, grandfather faced a task of picking a wife for him. Both Swedish and Danish royal houses had been too close relatives to supply a bride without causing some complications with the Orthodox Church and looking for a bride in the major royal houses in Europe would mean unnecessary close relations and potential obligations. The minor German royal houses looked as the most promised market of the brides but it also mean that Frederick of Prussia, being an uncle to the young Grand Duke, will be involved. Emperor Alexey was not quite happy with such a perspective but it was impossible to exclude Frederick (who after all had a better knowledge of the German royalties than anybody in Moscow except for his own sister) without making it looking as an offensive and causing unnecessary tensions with Prussia.
The only thing that Alexey could do is to have a private talk with his grandson to warn him about the dangers of marrying his mother’s equivalent. After which it was announced that Grand Duke Peter Petrovich is going on a trip abroad to visit his Swedish, Danish, and Prussian relatives and Frederick of Prussia was discretely asked to have a potential bride (or brides) in Berlin ready for … er … review.
Of course Frederick would not be himself if he did not try to outsmart everybody else. His first step in this direction was quite reasonable: to provide a choice of one.
Sophie Marie Dorothea Auguste Luise was born on 25 October 1729 in Kolberg  where her father served as a garrison commander. She was the eldest daughter of the eight children born from Frederick II Eugene, Duke of Württemberg
, and Princess Friederike of Brandenburg-Schwedt
, niece of King Frederick II of Prussia
. In 1739, her family took up residence in the ancestral castle at Montbéliard
, then an exclave of the Duchy of Württemberg
. The family's summer residence was situated at Étupes
Montbéliard not only was the seat of the junior branch of the House of Württemberg
, but a cultural center frequented by many intellectual and political figures. Sophie Dorothea's education was better than average, to the point that she cultivated her skills with great enthusiasm. By the age of 16, she was well-versed in mathematics
, as well as fluent in German
. She was brought up according to French etiquette
as custom of that era, but with German bourgeois
simplicity. She was known to be thoughtful, organized, strong-willed, constant, and tender. To Frederick she looked as a close to the ideal ambitious candidate capable and, with some guidance, willing to become one more useful agent of influence at the Russian court.
What he was not aware of was her “philosophy”. The young princess early assimilated the views expressed in "Philosophie des femmes" - a poem listed in the notebook of the future empress: "It is not good, for many reasons, for a woman to acquire too extensive knowledge. To raise children in good morals, to run a household, to observe servants, to keep frugality in expenses - that's what her teaching and philosophy should consist of
Sophie and Peter met for the first time at a state dinner given in honor of his arrival in Berlin
. Having learned that her fiancé's tastes were serious, she spoke about geometry
during their first interview. The next day, she wrote a glowing letter to a friend in which she declared that "I am more than content. The Grand Duke could not be more kind. I pride myself on the fact that my dear bridegroom loves me a great deal, and this makes me very, very fortunate." Peter was as happy with the young princess as she was with him and wrote to his mother that: "I found my intended to be such as I could have dreamed of. She is shapely, intelligent, quick-witted, and not at all shy." Within few weeks after the engagement, Sofia Dorothea sent Peter a letter in Russian.
In her youth, Maria Feodorovna was described as "a short-sighted, stately, fresh blonde, very tall, but prone to premature fullness". From morning to evening, she wore an official ceremonial dress. "Even during pregnancy, she does not take off her ceremonial dress, and between lunch and ball, when other women put on the house dress and relax, she, invariably tightened in a corset, is engaged in correspondence, embroidery and sometimes works even with medalist Lamprecht.”
Soon after arriving at Moscow, she converted to the Russian Orthodox Church
, took the name "Maria Feodorovna," and was granted the title Grand Duchess of Russia, with the style Imperial Highness. The wedding took place on 26 September 1752. On portrait below she is wearing a red ribbon of the Russian female Order of St. Catherine.
At the beginning, Grand Duchess Sophia was enchanted with her daughter-in-law, about whom she wrote to a friend: "I confess to you that I am infatuated with this charming Princess, but literally infatuated. She is precisely what one would have wished: the figure of a nymph, a lily and rose complexion, the loveliest skin in the world, tall and well built; she is grateful; sweetness, kindnesses and innocence are reflected in her face." Eventually, their relations somewhat cooled down due to an adamant refusal of the Young Grand Duchess to get involved in politics. Maria Fyodorovna devoted her everyday life to the arrangement of her favorite residence where she organized Russia's first literary salon.
To the delight of both her husband and grandfather-in-law she was producing children on almost annual basis thus removing a persistent fear regarding maintaining succession of the Petrian line.
An additional source of delight for her husband was the fact that she got along quite well with his official mistress, Nelidova who was one of her ladies-in-waiting. Together they formed "a real friendly alliance for the benefit of the loved one of both"
 Born in 1728, as OTL Peter III
 In OTL in 1759 in Stettin, which ITTL is Swedish. The rest is reasonably close to OTL.