Maria Alexandrovna (Marie of Hesse and by Rhine)

Maria Alexandrovna
Empress consort of Russia
Tenure 2 March 1855 – 3 June 1880
Coronation 7 September 1855
Born (1824-08-08)8 August 1824
Darmstadt, Grand Duchy of Hesse, German Confederation
Died 3 June 1880(1880-06-03) (aged 55)
Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, Russian Empire
Burial Peter and Paul Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russian Empire
Spouse Alexander II of Russia
Issue Grand Duchess Alexandra Alexandrovna
Nicholas Alexandrovich, Tsarevich of Russia
Emperor Alexander III
Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich
Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich
Maria, Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich
Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich
Full name
Maximilienne Wilhelmine Marie
House Hesse-Darmstadt
Father Louis II, Grand Duke of Hesse
Mother Wilhelmine of Baden
Religion Russian Orthodoxy
prev. Lutheranism

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.

Early life

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.[1] 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.

Empress Maria Alexandrovna


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,[2] 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.[2]

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.

Empress Maria Alexandrovna with her husband Tsar Alexander II, and son, the future Tsar Alexander III


In 1855 Alexander became emperor,[2] which required Maria Alexandrovna to attend more state functions, her health notwithstanding.

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.[2] 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.[2]

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.[2]

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."[3] 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.[4]

Maria Alexandrovna knew Alexander was unfaithful and had many lovers. The Tsar had three children with his mistress, Princess Catherine Dolgoruki,[2] 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.[2][5]


Grand Duchess Alexandra Alexandrovna30 August 184210 July 1849nicknamed Lina, died of infant meningitis in St. Petersburg at the age of six
Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich20 September 184324 April 1865engaged to Dagmar of Denmark (Maria Feodorovna)
Emperor Alexander III10 March 18451 November 1894married 1866, Dagmar of Denmark (Maria Feodorovna); had issue
Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich22 April 184717 February 1909married 1874, Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (Maria Pavlovna); had issue
Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich14 January 185014 November 1908
Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna17 October 185320 October 1920married 1874, Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; had issue
Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich11 May 185717 February 1905married 1884, Elisabeth of Hesse (Elizabeth Feodorovna);  
Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich3 October 186024 January 1919married 1889, Alexandra of Greece and Denmark (Alexandra Georgievna); had issue - second marriage 1902, Olga Karnovich; had issue
Sash of the Order of Maria Louisa, belonging to the Empress Maria Alexandrovna of Russia.

Titles and styles


Lesser arms of Empress Maria Alexandrovna



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Maria Alexandrovna (Marie of Hesse and by Rhine)
Cadet branch of the House of Hesse
Born: 8 August 1824 Died: 3 June 1880
Russian royalty
Preceded by
Charlotte of Prussia
Empress consort of Russia
Title next held by
Dagmar of Denmark


  1. 1 2 Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh. "Burke’s Royal Families of the World: Volume I Europe & Latin America, 1977, pp. 212-215, 474-476. ISBN 0-85011-023-8
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Huberty, Michel; Giraud, Alain; Magdelaine, F. and B. (1994). L'Allemagne Dynastique, Tome VII -- Oldenbourg. France: Laballery. pp. 73, 232, 244, 258–260, 274. ISBN 2-901138-07-1.
  3. King, Greg The Last Empress: the Life and Times of Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsarina of Russia (Birch Lane Press, 1994) pg. 13
  4. Banks, ECS. Road to Ekaterinburg: Nicholas and Alexandra’s Daughters 1913–1918. SilverWood Books 2012. ISBN 978-1-78132-035-8
  5. Толмачев Е. П. Александр III и его время. М.: Терра, 2007. — ISBN 978-5-275-01507-2 (in Russian)
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