Maria Alexandrovna (Marie of Hesse and by Rhine)
Marie of Hesse and by Rhine (8 August 1824 – 3 June 1880) was, under the name Maria Alexandrovna (Russian: Мария Александровна), Empress of Russia as the first wife of Emperor Alexander II, having been born a German princess. The Mariinsky Theatre and the city of Mariehamn in Åland are named after her.
Marie was the youngest of seven children born in Darmstadt to the marriage of Ludwig II, Grand Duke of Hesse and his first cousin, Princess Wilhelmine of Baden (1788–1836), a sister of the Russian Empress consort, Elizaveta Alexeievna. The four youngest of Grand Duchess Wilhelmine's children are purported to have been the biological children of Baron August von Senarclens de Grancy, although even after their mother's death Grand Duke Ludwig acknowledged as his own children the two who lived to adulthood; Alexander (1823-1888) and Marie, whose marriage to the future Russian emperor he approved.
When in 1838, the Tsarevich Alexander Nikolayevich toured Europe to find a wife, he fell in love with the 14-year-old Marie. She was escorted to Russia by her brother Alexander and was married to the Tsarevich on 16 April 1841, even though the latter was well aware of the allegations concerning her parentage. Alexander Nikolaevich's mother, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, objected but her son insisted. Upon Marie's conversion to the Eastern Orthodox Church prior to the wedding, she was given the Russian name Maria Alexandrovna.
Adjustment to life at the Russian court proved a difficult challenge for Maria Alexandrovna, prompting her, in later years, to take extended journeys abroad. She was very shy. The damp climate of St. Petersburg did not prove healthy for her, and she developed a persistent cough and recurring fever. Nevertheless, she became the mother of eight children. These pregnancies, together with ill health, often kept her away from activities at the Imperial court, which brought temptations to her husband.
From the early 1860s through the 1870s, she began to pay long visits to her homeland, usually bringing her husband, children and a Russian entourage with her, and stopping at Schloss Heiligenberg, the small castle of her brother Alexander, who lived with his morganatic wife and their children at Jugenheim, outside Darmstadt. There she met Princess Alice, second daughter of Queen Victoria and wife of her nephew, Prince Louis of Hesse. She resisted Alice's suggestion that her brother Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Marie's only daughter, Maria marry, but the couple would wed in 1874. It was there that Marie's eldest son, the Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich had become betrothed to Princess Dagmar of Denmark, although he died in 1865 during the couple's engagement and Dagmar would wed Marie's next oldest son, the future Tsar Alexander III, in the following year.
After Alice died in 1878, Marie invited the motherless children to visit during the holidays she spent with Alexander's family at Heiligenberg. It was also during Maria Alexandrovna's visits to Heiligenberg that her second youngest son, Grand Duke Sergei, met his future wife, Alice's second daughter, Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine. There, too, Maria also met Elisabeth's youngest surviving sister, Princess Alix, who would eventually become the devoted, though ill-fated, wife of Maria Alexandrovna's eldest grandson, Tsar Nicholas II.
A legend alleges that on a visit to Darmstadt, upon meeting Alix, Marie turned to her maid of honour with the words, "kiss her hand. That is your empress to be." In later years Nicholas II’s eldest daughter, Grand Duchess Olga, claimed that as a small child she saw the ghost of her great-grandmother, Maria Alexandrovna, according to her nanny, Margaretta Eagar.
Maria Alexandrovna knew Alexander was unfaithful and had many lovers. The Tsar had three children with his mistress, Princess Catherine Dolgoruki, whom he moved, along with their children, into the Imperial Palace during Marie's final illness, entering into a morganatic marriage with the princess on 18 July [O.S. 6 July] 1880.
Titles and styles
- 8 August 1824 – 3 June 1880 Her Grand Ducal Highness Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine
- 16 April 1841 – 2 March 1855 Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, Tsesarevna of Russia
- 2 March 1855 – 3 June 1880 Her Imperial Majesty The Empress of all the Russias
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- Profile, Mariagessen.narod.ru (in Russian)
- Манифестъ. — О кончинѣ Ея Императорскаго Величества Государыни Императрицы Маріи Александровны. (in Russian)
Maria Alexandrovna (Marie of Hesse and by Rhine)
Cadet branch of the House of HesseBorn: 8 August 1824 Died: 3 June 1880
Charlotte of Prussia
|Empress consort of Russia
Title next held byDagmar of Denmark
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