Moura Budberg, by Allan Warren

Maria Ignatievna Budberg (Russian: Мария (Мура) Игнатьевна Закревская-Бенкендорф-Будберг, Maria (Moura) Ignatievna Zakrevskaya-Benckendorff-Budberg), also known variously as Countess Benckendorff, Baroness Budberg (February 1893 – November 1974), born in Poltava, was the daughter of Ignaty Platonovitch Zakrevsky (1839-1906), a Russian nobleman and diplomat.[1] She was an adventuress and suspected double agent of OGPU and British Intelligence Service.[2]


Early lifeEdit

She first married in 1911, Johann (Ivan) Alexandrovitch Benckendorff, 2nd Secretary at the Russian Embassy in Berlin and Gentleman of the Court, born in 1882. They had two children: Paul born in 1913, and Tatiana, born in 1915 who married Bernard Alexander and was the mother of the businesswoman Helen Alexander. They owned the mansion Jendel Jäneda, in Estonia where he was shot dead, 19 April 1919, by a local peasant.[3]


Before the October Revolution Moura worked in the Russian Embassy in Berlin where she became acquainted with British diplomat R. H. Bruce Lockhart. Upon the assassination of her husband in 1919, she was arrested on suspicion of spying for the United Kingdom and transferred to the Lubyanka prison. Lockhart, who mentions her under her given name in his book Memoirs of a British Agent[4], tried to vouch for her; however, he was detained as well for a couple of weeks. They had been lovers[5][6] and she became pregnant by him, but the pregnancy miscarried[7].

After Lockhart was released and expelled from Russia soon after, in connection with the "Ambassadorial Conspiracy" affair (also known as the "Lockhart conspiracy"), Budberg was released as well under the condition that she would cooperate with the intelligence service if the need should arise in the future. Budberg got a job publishing "World Literature", where she met the writer Maxim Gorky with the help of Korney Chukovsky. She became a secretary and common law wife of Gorky, living in his house with a few interruptions from 1920 to 1933 (when the writer lived in Italy before returning to the USSR). He dedicated his last major work, the novel The Life of Klim Samgin to her.

H. G. WellsEdit

In 1920 Budberg met British author H. G. Wells[8] and they became lovers. She was briefly married, on 13 November 1921, to Baron Nikolai (Rotger Emil Arthur Friedrich) von Budberg-Bönningshausen (born 1896).[9] Her relationship with Wells was renewed, however, in 1933 in London, where she had emigrated after parting with Gorky. This close relationship continued until Wells' death in 1946; he had asked her to marry him, but Budberg strongly rejected the proposal.

Budberg visited the Soviet Union twice: first in 1936 for the funeral of Gorky (which made people call her an agent of the NKVD) and again at the end of 1950, with a daughter of Alexander Guchkov.

Double agent?Edit

She was widely suspected of being a double agent for both the Soviet Union and British intelligence and has been called the "Mata Hari of Russia", after the famous Dutch exotic dancer and accused spy.

An MI5 informant said of her, "she can drink an amazing quantity, mostly gin".[10]


Among many other activities, Budberg wrote books and was the script writer for at least two films: Three Sisters (1970), directed by Laurence Olivier and John Sichel, and The Sea Gull (1968), directed by Sidney Lumet.[11][12] She translated Gorky's novel The Life of a Useless Man (1908) into English in 1971.


Moura Budberg's older half-sister, Alexandra 'Alla' Ignatievna Zakrevskaya (1887–1960), who married Baron Arthur von Engelhardt in 1908 but was divorced in 1909 [13], was the great-grandmother of Nick Clegg, leader of the British Liberal Democratic Party between December 2007 and May 2015, and Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the 2010–2015 parliament.


In May 2008 a television film My Secret Agent Auntie directed by Dimitri Collingridge was released in England.[14] Her biography was written by Nina Berberova, chronicler of the emigres.


  1. ^ Nicolas Ikonnikov, La noblesse de Russie (2nd edition, Paris, 1962) Tome T.2, 299-301.
  2. ^ Biography at
  3. ^ Nicolas Ikonnikov, La Noblesse de Russie (2nd edition, Paris, 1962) Tome T.2, 301.
  4. ^ Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, Memoirs of a British Agent (1932); 384 pp; Reprinted Macmillan (January 1975) ISBN 0-333-17329-5 ISBN 978-0-333-17329-9
  5. ^ The sexy Russian spy in Lib Dem leader hopeful Nick Clegg's past. Web Archive 2009 Daily Mail.
  6. ^ Mystery of Nick Clegg's 'Mata Hari' aunt and a plot to kill Lenin Archived 2015-09-19 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Epilogue" by Robin Bruce Lockhart (2003) in Memoirs of a British Agent by R. H. Bruce Lockhart (2003 edition by the Folio Society), pg 267.
  8. ^ Burris, Charles (2007-08-01) Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal: An Annotated Bibliographic Guide,
  9. ^ Nicolas Ikonnikov, La noblesse de Russie (2nd edition, Paris, 1962), Tome T.2, 301-2
  10. ^ "Mosley was tracked by MI5". BBC News. 2002-11-28. Retrieved 2010-05-13.
  11. ^ Internet Movie Database
  12. ^ Filmography – Retrieved on 2006-10-23
  13. ^ Nicolas Ikonnikov, La noblesse de Russie (2nd edition, Paris, 1962) Tome T.2, 301
  14. ^ My Secret Agent Auntie (2008). IMDB

Further readingEdit

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