Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich of Russia was son of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, the third son of Czar Alexander II and Maria Alexandrovna of Hesse-Darmstadt, and his wife, Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. In the summer of 1922 Grand Duke Cyril declared himself “Curator of the Russian Throne,” a made up title to represent his claim to the Russian throne. In 1924 Cyril finally assumed the title Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias. Though he was the heir by primogeniture his claim to the throne was met with opposition because at his birth his mother was a Lutheran and not yet a member of the Russian Orthodox Church and this was a violation of the Pauline House Laws which stated all those in order of succession had to marry members of the Russian Orthodox Church. Since Russia followed suit of nearly every European royal family during the 18th and 19th centuries of selecting brides from the vast array of German royalty and upper nobility this issue was usually resolved with the perspective bride converting to Russian Orthodoxy prior to their marriage.
The controversy and the actions that questioned Cyril’s right to claim the throne came with his controversial marriage in 1905 to his first cousin, HRH Princes Victoria Melita of Edinburgh, Princess of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Duchess of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. She was a grand daughter of Queen Victoria through her second son, HRH Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1892-1900) and his wife HIH Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, daughter of Czar Alexander II and Maria Alexandrovna of Hesse-Darmstadt.
One of the primary issues with the marriage was that Cyril and Victoria Melita were first cousins and the Russian Orthodox Church forbade marriages between first cousins. But what made the marriage more controversial is that prior to her marriage to Grand Duke Cyril, Victoria Melita was married, and then divorced, from HRH Grand Duke Ernst August of Hesse and by Rhine, who also was the brother of Czarina Alexandra of Russia, wife of Czar Nicholas II. The Czarina did not like her former sister-in-law and first cousin and she greatly disapproved of the marriage. For his behavior Czar Nicholas II had his cousin Cyril stripped of his title of Grand Duke and his style His Imperial Highness and all other royal orders and his position in the Russian Navy and was banished from Russia.
Cyril’s position changed in 1908 when his uncle, Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia died and he became third in line to the Russian throne behind the Czarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, eldest son of Nicholas II, and Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, the Czar’s brother. Cyril was restored to all his former titles and styles and welcomed back to Russia. His wife was given the title Grand Duchess of Russia and was styled as Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Viktoria Feodorovna. Those that did not recognize the marriage as legal, although the Czar eventually did, accepted another of the Czar’s cousins, Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, as the true claimant to the throne after the downfall of the monarchy.
Grand Duke Cyril and his wife had three children: Grand Duchess Maria Kirillovna of Russia (1907-1951) who married, Prince Friedrich Karl of Leiningen, Grand Duchess Kira Kirillovna (1909-1967) who married, HIH Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, heir to the thrones of Imperial Germany and Prussia. Their last child was Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich of Russia (1917-1992). In 1938 Grand Duke Cyril died at the age of 62 and his son took over the claims to the throne of Russia.
Part III will discuss the challenges to Grand Duke Vladimir claims to the throne and the emergence of other pretenders.