Last week I talked about the royal connections across the generations from the book Queen Victoria’s Family by Charlotte . Today I want to examine similar royal connections from her book The Camera and the Tsars. I will use the British Royal Family as a focal point to show how the Russian Tsars were interconnected to many European royals.
This was not always the case. Russia had been an isolated country and marriage with royals from Western Europe was rare. The practice didn’t begin regularly until the reign of Peter I the Great of Russia. One of the first marriages with a western European dynasty was in 1711 when Peter’s son, Duchess Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich of Russia, married Charlotte-Christine of Brunswick-Lüneburg. In successive years the Russian royal family married into other royal families quite frequently. Although Russia followed Eastern, or Russian, Orthodox Christianity its members often chose brides and grooms from among the many small Protestant German states. A requirement for Russian brides and grooms marrying into the Russian Royal Family is that they convert to the Russian orthodox Church. This was followed very strictly although there were some exceptions. Another requirement, or a prohibition to be exact, was that the Russian Orthodox Church prohibited the marriage between first cousins. There were exceptions to this also as we shall see.
The first relationship I would like to start with is Tsar Alexander II (1818-1881) and Marie of Hesse-Darmstadt (1824-1880). There was not a happy union. She had a temperament to her great-niece, Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt (Hesse and by Rhine) wife of Tsar Nicolas II. Both were shy and socially withdrawn. Alix, however, had a husband devoted to her, while the same cannot be said of Marie, whose husband kept his mistress at the Palace while his wife was sick and dying! Alexander must have had some charms because even Queen Victoria developed a Crush on Alexander in her youth.
Marie and Alexandra had seven children. Two daughters and five sons. Sadly, the first daughter, Alexandra, nicknamed Lina, died of infant meningitis in St. Petersburg at the age of six in 1849. Their eldest son, Tsearevich Nicholas, was frail and not often in good health. He was engaged to be married to Princess Dagmar of Denmark, daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark. However, shortly after the engagement Nicholas developed cerebro-spinal meningitis despite a trip to southern France as a means to improve his health, Nicholas died on April 24, 1865 in Nice, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
Empress Marie was devastated over her son’s death and was said to have never fully recovered from this loss. The imperial couple did realize that in Princess Dagmar she was quite a catch and very beautiful! I agree she was. Here are a couple of pictures of Dagmar….
I have also read that Nicholas himself wanted his brother, Alexander, who became Tsearevich on his brothers death, to marry his fiancée, Princess Dagmar. Alexander was at first reluctant to marry Dagmar (he must have been nuts) but he eventually agreed to do so and the couple were married on November 9, 1865. Dagmar’s sister, Alexandra, was the Princess of Wales, married to Albert Edward, Princes of Wales (future Edward VII) and this relationship would give Russia and Great Britain a connection.
The only surviving daughter of Empress Marie and Emperor Alexander II was Maria born in 1853. Through her sister-in-law Dagmar (now known as Maria Feodorovna) and with the assistance of the Princess of Wales she was introduced to Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, second son of Queen Victoria during a family holiday in Denmark in 1871. At first Queen Victoria was against the match. Despite her crush on Alexander II when she was young the Crimean War in the 1850s against Russia soured her on Russia for quite a bit. After she reluctantly agreed to the match Alfred and Marie were married on January 23, 1874 at the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg. The union was not a happy one for reasons I will get into next week. This marriage gave a genealogical connection between Russia, Britain and Denmark that would also reach into other royal families of Europe.
I have only scratchpad the surface of these connections from the book and I like to keep these posts to a digestible level so please join me here next Monday to continue this series.