Grand Russia
Russian Grand Duchess
Grand Russia
Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia was a daughter of Alexander II of Russia and Empress Maria Alexandrovna. Maria became the wife of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the second son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
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  • 1920
    Age 66
    In July 1920, she wrote: "I am too utterly disgusted with the present state of the world and mankind in general...
    More Details Hide Details They have destroyed and ruined my beloved Russia, my much-loved Germany". She was a broken woman, her figure, always plump, became thin and her hands trembling. Although she had been affected by gastric troubles, her death came unexpectedly.
  • 1917
    Age 63
    In August 1917 she wrote: "At the age of 63, I am very fresh in mind, if not in body, and I can support with patience and resignation a sad and perhaps miserable end of life which is in store for my old age...
    More Details Hide Details Sometimes I also seem to despair, but not about myself, but about the state of things in general." Many of the Grand Duchess' relatives were killed during the Russian revolution, including her only surviving brother Grand Duke Paul and her nephew Tsar Nicholas II with his immediate family. In the aftermath of the war, the Dowager Duchess lost her large fortune as the bulk of it was held in trust in Russia. Her British income was small, and as she never saw a penny of it, she was forced to sell great part of her jewellery collection. Living under reduced circumstances in Zürich, Maria Alexandrovna was reunited with her two eldest daughters Marie, Queen of Romania, and Victoria Melita, Grand Duchess of Russia who had been on the opposite side during the war.
  • 1914
    Age 60
    The last one of her trips took place in May 1914.
    More Details Hide Details At the outbreak of World War I, Maria Alexandrovna was in Coburg after returning from a visit to George V in Buckingham Palace. Her sympathies were divided, but she sided with Germany against her native Russia. The Coburg family faced intense hostility during the war for their British and Russian connections. The Dowager Duchess' position in Coburg became untenable as Russophobia took over the German Empire. To avoid complications, Maria Alexandrovna stayed away from Coburg retiring to Tegernsee in Bavaria. At one point, while she was returning home with her two younger daughters, their car was stopped by an angry mob who recognised her and harassed her for her Russian heritage. It took the police over an hour to extricate them from the situation. After that incident Maria Alexandrovna went to live in exile in Switzerland at the Walhaus, an annex of the Dolder Grand Hotel in Zürich.
  • 1909
    Age 55
    Relations with the new Duke were initially tense, but improved when Charles Edward provided his full support to the marriage of Maria Alexandrovna's youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice to Alfonso de Orleans y Borbón, Infante of Spain on 15 July 1909.
    More Details Hide Details In the following years, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna continued to make frequent trips to her native Russia in order to stay with her daughter, Victoria Melita, Grand Duchess of Russia.
  • 1905
    Age 51
    On 25 September 1905, Victoria Melita married her maternal first cousin, Grand Duke Kiril Vladimirovich of Russia.
    More Details Hide Details The Dowager Duchess's relationship with her nephew, Tsar Nicholas II, deteriorated as he opposed Victoria Melita's second marriage and doomed the romance between Princess Beatrice and his younger brother, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, because they were first cousins.
    Maria Alexandrovna lamented that, after working hard for the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg, and clearing its finances, the duchy passed to Charles Edward who took control of the Duchy at his majority in July 1905.
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  • 1901
    Age 47
    Although she was critical of her daughters, she supported them during their personal crisis. In 1901, her second daughter Victoria Melita divorced her husband and came to live with her.
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  • 1899
    Age 45
    On 23 January 1899 Maria Alexandrovna and her husband celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary at Schloss Friedestein, the Duke's official residence in Gotha.
    More Details Hide Details Absent from the festivities was their only son, who was gravely ill. Young Alfred was a junior officer in Potsdam, where his chief hobbies were gambling, drinking and womanizing. He had contracted syphilis in 1892, and by 1898, his health deteriorated rapidly. He died at the age of twenty-four on 6 February 1899 in Meran after reportedly shooting himself at Gotha during his parents' wedding anniversary celebrations. The Duke was heartbroken at young Alfred’s death. This tragedy drove the parents farther apart as Alfred blamed his wife, who had been responsible for young Alfred's education. In her grief, the Duchess sank to her knees sobbing uncontrollably during her son's funeral. With the death of Young Alfred, the heir to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was Alfred's nephew, Charles Edward, Duke of Albany, who came to Germany to be educated there. The succession to the Duchy was complicated by the news that Alfred himself had cancer of the throat, too advanced for any treatment. By May 1900, he was unable to swallow and could only be fed by a tube. The Duchess and their youngest daughter, Beatrice, who were in England visiting Queen Victoria, returned on 17 July, unaware of the seriousness of the Duke's condition. On 30 July 1900, he died in his sleep at Schloss Rosenau in Coburg. Maria Alexandrovna was at his bedside with their daughters Victoria Melita, Alexandra, and Beatrice.
  • 1897
    Age 43
    In June 1897, the Duchess and her husband went back to London to take part in Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.
    More Details Hide Details By then, the couple's relationship had deteriorated further. Maria Alexandrovna despaired in finding a topic of conversation with her difficult husband as he hated her interest in literature and the theater, while she found his fondness for politics and hunting "dull". The Duchess was relieved when her husband was away. She wrote to her eldest daughter "if only you knew how easy and comfortable life is without him." By 1898, the Duke's health had deteriorated, exacerbated by his heavy drinking.
  • 1896
    Age 42
    Alexandra's wedding took place in Coburg in April 1896, and the following month, Maria Alexandrovna travelled to Russia with her husband and their other four children for Tsar Nicholas II's coronation in Moscow.
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  • 1895
    Age 41
    Over her husband's objections, the Duchess arranged the marriage of her third daughter, Alexandra, in September 1895, to Prince Ernest of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, a grandson of Queen Victoria's half-sister Feodora.
    More Details Hide Details He was an attaché at the German Embassy in London and his family was not a reigning royal family. The Duchess's main concern was her wayward only son, Young Alfred, who had a checkered career in the German army. On 15 October 1895, he reached his majority, but he was already suffering from bad health.
  • 1894
    Age 40
    Alfred and Maria’s second daughter, Victoria Melita, married Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse on 19 April 1894.
    More Details Hide Details The Duchess was initially against this match as Ernest was close to his British grandmother, Queen Victoria, who arrived at Coburg with many other royals for the wedding. In November 1894, Marie's eldest brother, Tsar Alexander III, died of nephritis, aged forty-nine, leaving his twenty-six-year-old son as Tsar Nicholas II. Alfred and Maria went to Russia, arriving just before Alexander III's death. They stayed on in Saint Petersburg for the wedding of Nicholas to his fiancée, Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, the youngest surviving daughter of Alfred's deceased sister, Princess Alice.
  • 1893
    Age 39
    The Duchess, however, was determined that her daughter should avoid her mistake, and married her instead to Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania on 10 January 1893.
    More Details Hide Details On the death of his uncle, Ernst II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, on 22 August 1893, the Duke of Edinburgh inherited the vacant duchy (his elder brother the Prince of Wales had renounced his right to the succession). Upon her husband's ascension to the Ducal throne, Maria Alexandrovna became Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, in addition of being Duchess of Edinburgh. Unlike her husband, disgruntled to leave his career in the navy, Maria Alexandrovna thoroughly enjoyed her new role. She found the country "charming" and the prospect of "a new fine position, with plenty to do" a "real God-send". Known for its hunting forest and picturesque castles, the ducal estate was small, compromising separate lands in Coburg, Gotha, Upper Austria, and Tyrol, but there she could live according to her desires in a domain of her own. The family moved to Schloss Ehrenburg, the Duke's official residence, but they all preferred their summer house, Schloss Rosenau, a gingerbread-yellow villa on a hill with views of the surrounding countryside. They also had two residences in Gotha, where they had to live part of the year: Schloss Friedenstein and Schloss Reinhardsbrunn, which the Duke enjoyed for its hunting grounds. The Duchess took on updating the badly furnished castles, and also charitable works, opening an establishment for the mentally challenged that bore her name. Her passions were the opera and the theater, which she supported both in Coburg and in Gotha.
    From 1893 until her death, she had the distinction of being a Russian grand duchess (by birth), a British princess and royal duchess (by marriage), and the consort (and later widow) of a German sovereign duke.
    More Details Hide Details After World War I, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the grand duchy her husband and nephew had ruled, ceased to exist in November 1918. Maria Alexandrovna died two years later while living under reduced circumstances in exile in Switzerland.
  • 1884
    Age 30
    In July 1884, they traveled to Ilinskoe, outside Moscow, to visit Maria’s younger brother Grand Duke Sergei, who had married Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Elisabeth of Hesse.
    More Details Hide Details Alfred was heir to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Expecting to be the Duchess there, Maria Alexandrovna had a palace built for her family in Coburg. The building, known as the Edinburgh Palais, was built across the central square from the Schloss Ehrenburg, the official residence of the reigning duke, and next to the town's opera hall. The royal couple's rooms were on the second floor, while the bedrooms of the four young princesses were on the third floor. Both the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh were avid collectors. In the Edinburgh Palais, there were many objects that reminded Maria Alexandrovna of her homeland. As a reminder of Russia, Maria Alexandrovna organised entertainment in the Russian fashion. In January 1886, the Duke was appointed commander-in-chief of the British Mediterranean Fleet, based in Malta. In October 1886, the family settled there. For the next three years, the family spent every winter at the San Anton Palace in Malta. Life in the island was unexciting for the Duchess of Edinburgh, but it was a welcome respite from living in England. While in Malta, the Duchess proved to be an excellent hostess, entertaining naval officers and their wives. In 1887, the couple returned briefly to London to take part in Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. Her husband's career in the British navy and their many relations in the European courts allowed Maria Alexandrovna to travel extensively, something that she truly enjoyed.
  • 1883
    Age 29
    The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh were present at the coronation of her brother, Tsar Alexander III, in Moscow in May 1883. Their family was completed with the birth of a fourth daughter, Princess Beatrice, born at Eastwell on 20 April 1884.
    More Details Hide Details Years later, the Duchess lamented her failure to have more children: "The only real heavenly moment is the birth of the child. This cannot be compared to anything else. I think if I had even a dozen children I would have kept the same feeling."
  • 1881
    Age 27
    Maria Alexandrovna had to rush back to Russia to attend her father's funeral in Saint Petersburg in March 1881.
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  • 1880
    Age 26
    Maria Alexandrovna returned to Russia again in June 1880, to be with her dying mother.
    More Details Hide Details She was back in England at Clarence House when her father was killed by a terrorist bomb.
    On 17 February 1880, Maria was back in Russia, during the 25th anniversary celebration of her father's coronation.
    More Details Hide Details That day, radicals attempted to assassinate the Tsar and the entire Imperial family. A terrorist bomb demolished the dining room and the guard room at the Winter Palace.
  • 1877
    Age 23
    After the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, for a long while, Maria Alexandrovna resided in Coburg, as her husband was expected to succeed his aging uncle. While in Germany, a third daughter, Alexandra, was born on 1 September 1878 at Rosenau Castle, in Coburg. On 13 October 1879 the Duchess gave birth prematurely to a stillborn son at Eastwell Park.
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  • 1876
    Age 22
    While the Duchess was in Malta accompanied her husband, who was stationed there as an officer in the Royal Navy, Maria Alexandrovna gave birth to a second daughter, Victoria Melita, on 25 November 1876.
    More Details Hide Details After their return to their sojourn in Malta, in 1877, Russia went to war with Turkey in an attempt to gain control of the Balkans. Queen Victoria sent Tsar Alexander II a series of aggressive telegrams that almost led to a state of war between the two countries. The Duchess was deeply shocked at her mother-in-law's hostility towards her country and her own father in particular. The relationship between the Duchess of Edinburgh and her mother-in law deteriorated. Maria Alexandrovna became an Anglophobe. The Duke of Edinburgh was the heir of his childless uncle Ernest II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg, the eldest brother of Prince Albert.
  • 1874
    Age 20
    The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh quickly started a family. Just nine months after their marriage, the Duchess gave birth to a son, young Alfred, born in Buckingham Palace on 15 October 1874.
    More Details Hide Details The Tsarina came to London to visit her daughter during her confinement and to meet her grandson. In the following years, the family kept growing. A daughter was born on 29 October 1875 at Eastwell Park. She was named Marie, after her mother and grandmother. Maria shocked English society by nursing the children herself. The family's main residence in England was Clarence House, in London. Autumns, Christmas and new year were spent at Eastwell Park, a country estate they leased in Kent. On summer holidays, the family went to Osborne Cottage on the Isle of Wight.
    On 4 January 1874, Alfred arrived in St Petersburg for the wedding and stayed in the Winter Palace. The other British guests arrived on 18 January. The wedding was celebrated in great splendour, at the Grand Church of the Winter Palace on 23 January 1874.
    More Details Hide Details Queen Victoria was represented by her eldest son Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and his wife Alexandra, Princess of Wales, sister of Tsarevna Maria Feodorovna of Russia. The Queen's eldest daughter, Victoria, and her husband Frederick, Crown Prince of Germany, were present as well. The marriage ceremony consisted of two parts. The Orthodox service took place first and was performed by the Metropolitans of St Petersburg, Moscow, and Kiev in the Imperial Chapel. Grand Dukes Vladimir, Alexis, and Serge and the groom's brother Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, relieved each other taking turns holding the golden crowns over the head of the bride and groom. Maria wore a glittering coronet and a mantle of crimson velvet trimmed with ermine and a sprig of myrtle, specially sent by Queen Victoria. Alfred wore the uniform of the Royal Navy. The Tsar looked pale throughout the entire ceremony and said afterwards: "It is for her happiness, but the light of my life has gone out." After this, the bride and groom each drank thrice from a goblet of wine. The service concluded with the couple joining hands under the priest’s stole. Then they all proceeded to the Alexander Hall, where Arthur Stanley, Dean of Westminster, made Prince Alfred and Maria Alexandrovna man and wife according to the rites of the Church of England.
    In 1874, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna married Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the second son of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; she was the first and only Romanov to marry into the British royal family.
    More Details Hide Details The couple had five children: a son, Alfred, and four daughters: Marie, Victoria Melita, Alexandra, and Beatrice. For the first years of her marriage, Maria Alexandrovna lived in England. She neither adapted to the British court nor overcame her dislike for her adopted country. She accompanied her husband on his postings as an Admiral of the Royal Navy at Malta (1886 -1889) and Devonport (1890–1893). The Duchess of Edinburgh travelled extensively through Europe. She visited her family in Russia frequently and stayed for long periods in England and Germany attending social and family events. In August 1893, Maria Alexandrovna became Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha when her husband inherited the duchy on the death of his childless uncle, Ernest II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. She enjoyed life in Germany where she was active in cultural endeavours and charitable work. To her daughters, she gave all her support, but she was critical of her wayward son who died young in 1899. Her husband died the following year.
  • 1873
    Age 19
    The Queen sent her congratulations, but confined her misgivings to her diary on 11 July 1873: "Not knowing Marie, and realizing that there may still be many difficulties, my thoughts and feelings are rather mixed."
    More Details Hide Details When breaking the news to her eldest daughter, Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, Queen Victoria simply said: "The murder is out." Tsar Alexander II granted his daughter the then staggering sum of £100,000 as a dowry, plus an annual allowance of £32,000. He also bestowed upon on his only daughter some of the best jewels owned by the Romanovs, including the sapphires he had inherited from his mother Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, as well as a parure that had belonged to Catherine the Great. As a wedding present, the Tsar commissioned a complete parure of diamonds and Burmese rubies from the court jeweler Bolin. Her other pieces of jewelry included a tiara russe made of diamonds, which could also be worn as a necklace. On his part, Alfred, was made honorary chief of a Russian guards regiment and even had a Russian battleship named after him – the Herzog Edinburgsky.
    As the Tsarina failed to find a German prince acceptable for her daughter, a meeting among Alfred, the Tsarina and her daughter took place in Sorrento, Italy in mid April 1873.
    More Details Hide Details That year, there was an Anglo-Russian dispute over the Afghan border. The Queen’s ministers thought that a marriage might help to ease the tension between the two countries, if only by putting the monarchs into closer contact with one another. In July 1873, Alfred went to Jugenheim to meet the Tsar. On 11 July, he asked for Maria Alexandrovna's hand and she accepted him. He was nearly twenty-nine; she was nineteen. He sent a telegram from Germany back to his mother: "Maria and I were engaged this morning. Cannot say how happy I am. Hope your blessing rests on us."
    The Queen was dismayed, therefore, when she heard that official negotiations had restarted in January 1873.
    More Details Hide Details There were rumours going about St Petersburg that Maria Alexandrovna had compromised herself with Prince Golitsyn, the Tsar's aide-de-camp, and her family were anxious to see her settled. Alfred refused to believe those rumours and he was prepared to fight to marry the person he loved. Queen Victoria therefore swallowed her pride and said nothing. Both mothers continued to look for other partners for their children, but Alfred and Maria would not have anyone else.
  • 1871
    Age 17
    However, marriage negotiation began in July 1871, only to be stalled in 1872.
    More Details Hide Details Queen Victoria was also against the match. No British prince had ever married a Romanov, and she foresaw problems with Maria's Orthodox religion and Russian upbringing. The Queen considered that Russia was generally "unfriendly" towards Britain. Victoria was also suspicious about Russian moves in the direction of India.
    Maria and Prince Alfred saw each other again in the summer 1871, when Alexander II and his wife visited relatives at Schloss Heiligenberg.
    More Details Hide Details The Tsar and his wife were accompanied by seventeen-year-old Maria and her two elder brothers. Alfred also happened to be there, along with the Prince and Princess of Wales. During that summer, Maria and Alfred felt attracted to each other, spending their days walking and talking together. They had a common love of music; Alfred was an enthusiastic amateur violinist, while Maria played the piano. Although they wished to marry, no engagement was announced, and Alfred returned to England. Their parents were against the match. Alexander II did not want to lose his daughter, to whom he was deeply attached. The Tsar also objected to a British son-in-law, due to the general anti-English feeling in Russia following the Crimean War. The Tsarina regarded the British customs as peculiar and the English people as cold and unfriendly. She was convinced that her daughter would not be happy there.
  • 1868
    Age 14
    During a visit to her maternal relatives at Jugenheim in the summer of 1868, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, then fifteen years old, met Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh.
    More Details Hide Details Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria's second son, was a shy and handsome young man, with a career in the British navy. He was visiting his sister, Princess Alice, who was married to Maria Alexandrovna's first cousin. Alfred's voyage around the world with the Royal Navy kept him away, traveling for the next two years.
  • 1867
    Age 13
    In August 1867, while the Imperial family was at Livadia Palace, in Crimea, Mark Twain met Maria Alexandrovna and her parents.
    More Details Hide Details The famous American writer described her as "blue-eyed, unassuming, and pretty". As many contemporaries did, Twain noticed the influence that the young grand duchess had over her father. "She is absolutely genuine and never changes in front of strangers," observed her maiden of honor Anna Tyutcheva (1829–1889), a daughter of the celebrated poet Fyodor Tyutchev, adding that: "She is accustomed to be the center of the world and that everyone yields to her." Tyutcheva described her pupil as "stubborn and uncompromising" commenting that "one cannot treat her roughly or reason with her a lot".
  • 1855
    Age 1
    In 1855, when Maria Alexandrovna was seventeen months old, Nicholas I died and her father became the new Russian Emperor.
    More Details Hide Details The grand duchess grew up as the only girl with four older brothers and two younger ones. She did not know her only sister, Grand Duchess Alexandra Alexandrovna of Russia, who had died before she was born. Maria Alexandrovna herself almost died from a throat disease at the age of seven. Her childhood was spent in luxury and splendor in the large palaces and country estates owned by the Romanovs. The family's main residence was the sixteen-hundred-room Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, with another residence at Gatchina, forty miles south. In the summer, the family stayed in Peterhof, a large complex with farms, cottages, and various pavilions on the Gulf of Finland. From the end of the summer until winter, the Imperial family moved to Tsarskoye Selo, the royal village, where the Romanovs had the Catherine Palace and Alexander Palace. In the children's island, located in a pond in the park of the Alexander Palace, Maria Alexandrovna had her own private little house, off limit to adults, which she used with her brothers as a playhouse. Her father added a farm, built for her enjoyment when she was eight years old. Both parents doted on her; for Tsar Alexander II, she was her favourite child and he enjoyed spending time with her. The Empress was a loving mother, but physically cold towards her children. The Tsarina suffered from weak lungs and had to travel constantly to Germany and southern Europe to escape the harsh Russian winters.
  • 1853
    Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna was born 17 October 1853 at the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo.
    More Details Hide Details She was the sixth child and only surviving daughter among the eight children of Emperor Alexander II of Russia and his wife Empress Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, née Duchess Maximilienne Wilhelmine of Hesse-Darmstadt. At the time of her birth, her grandfather, Emperor Nicholas I of Russia, was on the throne and her father was Tsarevich.
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