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Today is the 145th anniversary of the birth of Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia, (April 6, 1875 – April 20, 1960) elder daughter and fourth child of Emperor Alexander III of Russia and Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia (née Princess Dagmar of Denmark) and the sister of Emperor Nicholas II. She married a cousin, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia, with whom she had seven children. She was the mother-in-law of Felix Yusupov and a cousin of Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia who, together, killed Grigori Rasputin, holy healer to her nephew, the haemophiliac Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich of Russia.

During her brother’s reign she recorded in her diary and letters increasing concern about his rule. After the fall of the monarchy in February 1917, she fled Russia, eventually settling in the United Kingdom.

Young Xenia with her mother Maria Feodorovna

Xenia and her paternal first cousin once removed Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia, her eventual husband, played together as friends in the 1880s. He was the son of Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevich of Russia, the youngest son of Nicholas I of Russia, and Grand Duchess Olga Feodorovna (Cecily of Baden). He was mostly known as “Sandro” and was also a friend of her brother, Nicholas. In 1886, 20-year-old Alexander was serving in the navy. Eleven-year-old Xenia sent him a card when his ship was in Brazil, “Best wishes and speedy return! Your sailor Xenia”. In 1889, Alexander wrote of Xenia, “She is fourteen. I think she likes me.”

At age 15, though Xenia and Alexander wanted to marry, her parents were reluctant because Xenia was too young and they were unsure of Alexander’s character. The Empress Maria Feodorovna had complained of Alexander’s arrogance and rudeness. It was not until January 12, 1894 that Xenia’s parents accepted the engagement, after Alexander’s father, Grand Duke Michael Nikolaievich of Russia, intervened.

Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia

The couple finally wed on August 6, 1894, when Xenia was 19, in the SS Peter & Paul Chapel of the Peterhof Palace. Xenia’s younger sister, Olga, wrote about the joy of the wedding, “The Emperor was so happy. It was the last time I ever saw him like that.” They spent their wedding night at Ropsha Palace, and their honeymoon at Ai-Todor (Alexander’s estate in Crimea). During the honeymoon, Xenia’s father, Alexander III, became ill and died on November 1, 1894. After his death, Xenia’s eldest brother inherited the Crown and became the new Emperor Nicholas II.

In 1918, while in Crimea, Xenia learnt that her brother Nicholas II, his wife, and their children had been murdered by the Bolsheviks. Her last surviving brother, Michael, was also murdered (by shooting) in 1918 outside Perm.

While the Red Army was coming closer to the Crimea, Xenia and her mother, the Dowager Empress Maria, escaped from Russia on April 11, 1919 with the help of Queen Alexandra of the United Kingdom (née Princess Alexandra of Denmark), Dowager Empress Maria’s sister. King George V of the United Kingdom sent the British warship HMS Marlborough which brought them and sixteen other Romanovs (including five of her sons) from the Crimea through the Black Sea to Malta, and then to England. Xenia remained in Great Britain, while Dowager Empress Maria, after a stay in England, was joined by Olga at Villa Hvidore outside Copenhagen in Denmark.

Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia And Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia

On February 6, 1933, Xenia’s husband Sandro died. Xenia and her sons attended his funeral on 1 March, in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in the south of France. By March 1937, Xenia had moved from Frogmore Cottage in Windsor Great Park to Wilderness House in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. She lived there until her death on April 20, 1960. Despite reduced circumstances during her lifetime, Xenia left a small estate to her remaining relatives.