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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 Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (neé Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine). Her murder following the Russian Revolution of 1917 resulted in her canonization as a passion bearer by the Russian Orthodox Church.

In this name that follows Eastern Slavic naming conventions, the patronymic is Nikolaevna and the family name is Romanova.

Maria was born on June 26, 1899. She was the third child and daughter of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra. She weighed 4.5 kg at birth. The birth of a third daughter led to widespread disappointment in Russia. Grand Duke Constantin Constantinovich, Nicholas’ cousin, wrote, “And so there’s no Heir. The whole of Russia will be disappointed by this news.” Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom, Alexandra’s grandmother and Maria’s great-grandmother, wrote, “I regret the third girl for the country. I know that an heir would be more welcome than a daughter.” Nicholas insisted that he was happy with Maria’s birth, and he told Alexandra “I dare complain the least, having such happiness on earth, having a treasure like you my beloved Alix, and already the three little cherubs.”

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”.

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 December 6, 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.

Until his own assassination in 1979, her first cousin Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, kept a photograph of Maria beside his bed in memory of the crush he had upon her. In 1910, Louis met the Romanov sisters. He later reflected that “they were lovely, and terribly sweet, far more beautiful than their photographs,” and he said that “I was crackers about Marie, and was determined to marry her. She was absolutely lovely.”

Maria was a noted beauty. She had light brown hair and large blue eyes that were known in the family as “Marie’s saucers.” Maria, Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Maria’s great-aunt, declared that Maria was “a real beauty… with enormous blue eyes.” Her mother’s friend Lili Dehn wrote that she “was exceeding fair, dowered with the classic beauty of the Romanoffs.” A gentleman at the Imperial court said that the infant Maria “had the face of one of Botticelli’s angels.” 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”. Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, her mother’s lady-in-waiting, reflected that “[Maria] was like Olga in colouring and features, but all on a more vivid scale. She had the same charming smile, the same shape of face.” Sophie Buxhoeveden said that her eyes were “magnificent, of a deep blue,” and that “her hair had golden lights in it.”

During her lifetime, Maria, too young to become a Red Cross nurse like her elder sisters during World War I, was patroness of a hospital and instead visited wounded soldiers. Throughout her lifetime she was noted for her interest in the lives of the soldiers. The flirtatious Maria had a number of innocent crushes on the young men she met, beginning in early childhood. She hoped to marry and have a large family.

Maria and her entire family were assassinated on July 17, 1918.

She was an elder sister of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, whose alleged escape from the assassination of the imperial family was rumored for nearly 90 years. However, it was later proven that Anastasia did not escape and that those who claimed to be her were imposters. In the 1990s, it was suggested that Maria might have been the grand duchess whose remains were missing from the Romanov grave that was discovered near Yekaterinburg, Russia and exhumed in 1991. Further remains were discovered in 2007, and DNA analysis subsequently proved that the entire Imperial family had been murdered in 1918. A funeral for the remains of Maria and Alexei to be buried with their family in October 2015 was postponed indefinitely by the Russian Orthodox Church, which took custody of the remains in December and declared without explanation that the case required further study; the 44 partial bone fragments remain stored in a Russian state repository.

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