None of the many riddles in the reign of Tsar Alexander I is so intriguing as that of the position of the heir apparent, the Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich. His secret renunciation of his right to the throne cast doubt on Nicholas I's succession and contributed to the opportunity of the Decembrist conspirators. Moreover, as commander of the armed forces in Poland he was the chief figure in its government. The uprising of November 1830 signified the failure of Alexander's Polish plans, but it was also a personal tragedy for Constantine, who had so thoroughly identified himself with the new kingdom. His role in history was important; by his own choice it had not become much greater, but neither his contemporaries nor historians have agreed as to his qualifications to rule an empire.
Accounts differ even as to his capacity to manage the Polish army, or indeed to govern himself. A British historian in the nineteenth century described him as “a savage prince whose conduct and character made him more like a brute than a man.” This opinion was an extreme version of a common view of Constantine in the last century; the attitude is reflected by some writers of our own age, although few have gone so far as one modern author who pictured the Tsesarevich as “that insane hyena.” Polish writers, to further their justification of the 1830 revolt, assigned much of the discontent in that country to Constantine's “despotic” conduct, but even Russian and other historians have agreed that his explosive temperament and dislike for the Polish Constitution contributed to the uprising.