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Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna of Russia, (June 26, 1899 – July 17, 1918) was the third daughter of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia and Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna (Princess Alix of Hesse and By Rhine).

Grand Duchess Maria | Великая княжна Мария

Contemporaries sources described Maria as a pretty, flirtatious girl, broadly built woman with light brown hair and large blue eyes that were known in the family as “Marie’s saucers”. Her French tutor Pierre Gilliard said Maria was tall and well-built, with rosy cheeks. Tatiana Botkina thought the expression in Maria’s eyes was “soft and gentle.” As an infant and toddler, her physical appearance was compared to one of Botticelli’s angels. Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia nicknamed her “The Amiable Baby” because of her good nature.

Maria’s siblings were Grand Duchess Olga of Russia, Grand Duchess Tatiana of Russia, Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia, and Tsarevich Alexei of Russia. Maria’s Russian title (Velikaya Knyazhna Великая Княжна) is most precisely translated as “Grand Princess”, meaning that Maria, as an “Imperial Highness” was higher in rank than other Princesses in Europe who were “Royal Highnesses”. “Grand Duchess” is the most widely used English translation of the title.


However, in keeping with her parents’ desire to raise Maria and her siblings simply, even servants addressed the Grand Duchess by her first name and patronym, Maria Nikolaevna. She was also called by the French version of her name, “Marie,” or by the Russian nicknames “Masha” or “Mashka”.

Maria had a talent for drawing and sketched well, always using her left hand, but was generally uninterested in her schoolwork. She was surprisingly strong and sometimes amused herself by demonstrating how she could lift her tutors off the ground. Though usually sweet-natured, Maria could also be stubborn. Her mother complained in one letter that Maria was grumpy and “bellowed” at the people who irritated her. Maria’s moodiness coincided with her menstrual period, which the Empress and her daughters referred to as a visit from “Madame Becker.”

Lord Louis Mountbatten and Grand Duchess Maria

Young Maria enjoyed innocent flirtations with the young soldiers she encountered at the palace and on family holidays. She particularly loved children and, had she not been a Grand Duchess, would have loved nothing more than to marry a Russian soldier and raise a large family. Until his own assassination in 1979, her first cousin, Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, (born a Prince of the House of Battenberg) kept a photograph of Maria beside his bed in memory of the crush he had upon her. However, because the Russian Orthodox Church has a rule against first cousins marrying, it is highly improbable that approval for the match would have been obtained.

Alexandra’s letters reveal that Maria, the middle child of the family, sometimes felt insecure and left out by her older sisters and feared she wasn’t loved as much as the other children. Alexandra reassured her that she was as dearly loved as her siblings. At age eleven, Maria apparently developed a painful crush on one of the young men she had met. “Try not to let your thoughts dwell too much on him, that’s what our Friend said,” Alexandra wrote to her on 6 December 1910. Alexandra advised her third daughter to keep her feelings hidden because others might say unkind things to her about her crush. “One must not let others see what one feels inside, when one knows it’s considered not proper. I know he likes you as a little sister and would like to help you not to care too much, because he knows you, a little Grand Duchess, must not care for him so.”