Polman, Påhlman, von Pohlmann family
Reinhold Wilhelm von Pohlmann, born in Estonia in 1727, had a distinguished career in the service of the Russian Empire. He held various positions of rank and was involved in the founding of the imperial Free Economic Society. He was also known for his management of the construction of Gatchina Palace and was summoned by Catherine the Great to become the guardian of Princess Augusta of Württemberg.
Reinhold Wilhelm von Pohlmann1Also known as Romanovich Vilim in Russia, sometimes known only by the name Wilhelm, descended from nobility in Westphalia.2He primarily spoke German, which was also the administrative language of Estonia. He was also fluent in French and Russian. He was born on 9 April 1727 at Ereda, Võrnu in Estonia to Reinhold Wilhelm I von Pohlmann and Charlotte von Brackel.3“Pohlman, Reinhold Wilhelm v. (1727-1795)”, BBLd – Baltisches Biografisches Lexikon digital, Baltische Historische Komission (BHK), https://bbld.de/GND1183553870 In 1751, at the age of 27, he married Dorothea Johanna von Wrangell, also a noblewoman, with whom he had six known children – Reinhold Wilhelm, Peter, Gregor, Otto Heinrich, Margarethe and Catherine.4Otto Magnus von Stackelberg, Genealogisches Handbuch der baltischen Ritterschaft [Genealogical Handbook of the Baltic Knighthood] (Görlitz: Verlag EU Starke, 1930), 250
Estonia in the 18th century was ruled by imperial Russia, and Wilhelm was in the service of the Empire. He was a lieutenant in 1752, then a district captain or Kreishauptman (1754), colonel or Oberst (1759), gentleman of the bedchamber (1761), general major and chamberlain (1765), lieutenant general, and finally Jägermeister (1768). He retired from this position eleven years later, aged 52.5“Erik-Amburger-Datenbank: Ausländer im vorrevolutionären Russland”, Leibniz-Institut für Ost- und Südost-Europaforschung, https://amburger.ios-regensburg.de/index.php?id=74772&mode=1
Wihelm was also involved in various other endeavours. He was held in high regard by Russian empress Catherine the Great, and was a founder and one of 15 members of the imperial Free Economic Society established under the empress in September 1765. The goal of the society was to promote economy as well as modernised and scientific agricultural practices, but its members gathered in St. Petersburg to debate various pertinent issues. Wilhelm went on to become the Society’s president in 1770. He was also the director of the German colony in St. Petersburg.6Riëtha Kühle, Princess Auguste: On a Tightrope Between Love and Abuse (Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, 2021), chapter 11
The construction of the famous Gatchina Palace in Russia commenced in 1766, supervised by Wilhelm for his friend Grigory Orlov – another founder of the Free Economic Society as well as Catherine’s close advisor and lover7Orlov was one of the leaders of the conspiracy to overthrow Peter III, and was made a Count following Catherine’s ascent to the throne.; she presented him with the estate.8“аничтаГ дорог »йиĸцемеН«” (German City of Gatchina)”, 1 December 2016, https://gtn-pravda.ru/2016/12/01/nemetskiy-gorod-gatchina.html
“The man she entrusted with this massive project was none other than her and Orlov’s reliable and talented friend, Reinhold Wilhelm von Pohlmann. As supervisor of building works, he would be occupied from 1766 until 1777. His responsibilities included close co-operation with the architect Antonio Rinaldi, appointing workmen, handling the finances, ordering building materials, approving workmanship, and controlling the schedule.”9Kühle, chapter 11
In 1767, Wilhelm was elected a deputy from among the nobles of the Garsky kreis (district) to the commission for the composition of Catherine’s new legal code based on humanitarian and liberal politics.10“Instruction of Catherine the Great: Russian Political Doctrine”, Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/event/Instruction-of-Catherine-the-Great, accessed: 11 May 2023 In May 1768, he was introduced by Marshal Bibikov of the commission (and was elected) as a member of a special commission “on mining, saving and planting forests and on trade in general”. In 1771, Wilhelm was the Chief Administrator of Tsarskoye Selo, the Empress’ summer palace.
In 1754, Wilhelm successfully presented evidence of the family’s noble origin to the Matrikul Commission of Estonia. Along with his brothers Otto, a cornet, and Gustav, a lieutenant colonel in Russian service, Wilhelm was included in the Estonian nobility.
On 9 June 1762, during the short reign of Peter III (who would be overthrown exactly a month later in a coup d’état by his wife Catherine), Wilhelm was awarded the Order of St. Anna, first class, an order of chivalry typically bestowed by the sovereign. It was not a common honour, commending individuals for achievements in civil or military service. Recipients of the first class received hereditary nobility. Wilhelm had been close to Peter, and possibly aided Catherine’s coup, after which he was promoted and remained in her service.
Additionally, in Moscow in 1767, Wilhelm was received into Estonian Knighthood – a fiefdom comprising Baltic German nobles that remained powerful even during centuries of Swedish and Russian rule.11These privileges came to an end with Estonian independence in 1920. In 1769, he was awarded the Order of St. George (fourth class) by Catherine. He was also a Freemason.12Kühle, chapter 11
After Wilhelm’s retirement as Jägermeister in 1779, he focused on his family13His four eldest children were in their twenties, while the two younger sons were twelve and nine. and managing his various manors. He inherited Oethel from his father, and acquired the Wrangell family’s manor Sicklecht through his marriage. In 1772, he also bought Kodila for 40,000 roubles.14“Kodila Manor”, Estonian Manors, http://www.mois.ee/english/harju/kodila.shtml; Kühle, chapter 11 In addition to these, in 1786, he was asked to take charge of Lohde Castle, now better known as Koluvere, which was the property of Catherine the Great. Lohde was formerly presented to and owned by Orlov – a signing ceremony was held in St. Petersburg in 1771 with Wilhelm as a witness.
Letters by the empress to Baron Melchior von Grimm indicate that she thought of Wilhelm as a careful and prudent man.15Catherine II to Friedrich Melchior Grimm, 13 September 1787, in Iakov Grot, ed., Sbornik imperatorskago russkago istoricheskago obshchestva, 148 vols (St. Petersburg: Tipografiia imperatorskoi akademii nauk, 1867-1916), v. 23, 1878, p. 416, translated from French, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=inu.30000108539531&view=1up&seq=432&skin=2021, accessed: 1 August 2023 Perhaps this was why she entrusted the now-retired Wilhelm with an unusual assignment. In December 1786, after the death of his wife, he was summoned to St. Petersburg by a personal imperial decree. Catherine asked him to become the guardian of Princess Auguste of Brunswick, who resided in St. Petersburg and was unhappily married to the abusive Prince Frederick of Württemberg.
To facilitate this arrangement, Lohde was transferred to Wilhelm, who would manage the income and expenses of the estate. While Catherine handled the larger ramifications of Auguste’s separation from her husband, the princess would reside at Lohde, and Wilhelm was asked to accompany and remain with her, alongside her maid Miss Sander, a Mrs. Wilde, and Wilhelm’s two daughters. Between 1787-88, Catherine wrote many letters to him enquiring after the princess, whom she called Zelmira. Wilhelm is said to have cared for his little household protectively like a father.
However, on 16 September 1788 (29 September in the Gregorian calendar), Auguste died suddenly at the age of 24 of incessant vaginal bleeding, the exact cause of which is unknown. She was buried in a church in nearby Kullamaa. Due to the mystery surrounding the event, rumours about Wilhelm being one of her lovers and covering up her death began to be whispered until they became firmly rooted, and persist to this day despite being disproved in an enquiry conducted in 1819.16Kühle, chapter 14
Wilhelm, disturbed by Auguste’s death, wrote to Catherine three days later, followed by a medical report.17Irina Voropaeva, “Princess Zelmira’s Ball”, Proza.ru, https://proza.ru/2015/04/15/1174 He was still living at Lohde in 1789, completing the tasks entrusted to him and clearing up debts and finances. He then returned to Kodila, shrouded in his newfound, questionable reputation, where he died on 22 January 1795.