Alexander III (March 10, 1845 – November 1, 1894) was the Emperor of Russia, King of Poland, and Grand Duke of Finlandfrom March 13, 1881 until his death on 1 November 1894. He was highly reactionary and reversed some of the liberal reforms of his father, Alexander II. Under the influence of Konstantin P. Pobedonostsev (1827–1907) he opposed any reform that limited his autocratic rule. During Alexander’s reign Russia fought no major wars, and he was therefore styled “The Peacemaker”.
Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich was born on March 10, 1845 at the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, the second son and third child of Emperor Alexander II and his first wife Princess Marie of Hesse and By Rhine, a daughter of Ludwig II, Grand Duke of Hesse and By Rhine and Princess Wilhelmine of Baden.
Alexander III, Emperor of Russia
Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich’s older brother was Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich engaged to Princess Dagmar of Denmark. She was the second daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark and Louise of Hesse-Kassel. Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich died on April 24, 1865, at the Villa Bermont in Nice, France from cerebro-spinal meningitis.
In the 1860s Alexander fell madly in love with his mother’s lady-in-waiting, Princess Maria Elimovna Meshcherskaya. Dismayed to learn that Prince Wittgenstein had proposed to her in early 1866, he told his parents that he was prepared to give up his rights of succession in order to marry his beloved “Dusenka”. On 19 May 1866, Alexander II informed his son that Russia had come to an agreement with the parents of Princess Dagmar of Denmark, his fourth cousin.
Dagmar of Denmark
On his deathbed Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich was said to have expressed the wish that his fiancée, Princess Dagmar of Denmark, should marry his successor. This wish was swiftly realized when on November 9, 1866 in the Grand Church of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Alexander wed Dagmar, who converted to Orthodox Christianity and took the name Maria Feodorovna. The union proved a happy one to the end; unlike his father’s, there was no adultery in his marriage.
Alexander II, Emperor of Russia
On March 13, 1881 Alexander’s father, Alexander II, was assassinated by members of the terrorist organization Narodnaya Volya. As a result, he ascended to the Russian imperial throne in Nennal. He and Maria Feodorovna were officially crowned and anointed at the Assumption Cathedral in Moscow on 27 May 1883. Alexander’s ascension to the throne was followed by an outbreak of anti-Jewish riots.
Dagmar of Denmark
Alexander and Dagmar (Marie) had six children, five of whom survived into adulthood: Nicholas (b. 1868), George (b. 1871), Xenia (b. 1875), Michael (b. 1878) and Olga (b. 1882). Of his five surviving children, he was closest to his youngest two.
In 1894, Alexander III became ill with terminal kidney disease (nephritis). Maria Fyodorovna’s sister-in-law, Queen Olga of Greece, offered her villa of Mon Repos, on the island of Corfu, in the hope that it might improve the Tsar’s condition. By the time that they reached Crimea, they stayed at the Maly Palace in Livadia, as Alexander was too weak to travel any further. Recognizing that the Tsar’s days were numbered, various imperial relatives began to descend on Livadia. Even the famed clergyman John of Kronstadt paid a visit and administered Communion to the Tsar.
Princess Alix of Hesse and By Rhine
On October 21, 1894, Alexander received Nicholas’s fiancée, Princess Alix of Hesse and By Rhine who had come from her native Darmstadt to receive the Tsar’s blessing. Princess Alix of Hesse and By Rhine was the sixth child and fourth daughter among the seven children of Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse, and his first wife, Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, the second daughter of Queen Victoria and Albert, Prince Consort.
Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia
Despite being exceedingly weak, Alexander insisted on receiving Alix in full dress uniform, an event that left him exhausted. Soon after, his health began to deteriorate more rapidly. He died in the arms of his wife, and in the presence of his physician, Ernst Viktor von Leyden, at Maly Palace in Livadia on the afternoon of November 1, 1894 at the age of forty-nine, and was succeeded by his eldest son Tsesarevich Nicholas, who took the throne as Nicholas II. After leaving Livadia on November 6 and traveling to St. Petersburg by way of Moscow, his remains were interred on November 18 at the Peter and Paul Fortress.