The University of St. Petersburg had asked me to record as much of Marie Feodorovna as I could. A sticky wicket since Maria is the Empress of the Russian Empire. Her husband Tsar Alexander III is very protective of her, so getting anywhere near her is next to impossible. All the vid I could capture was from a distance, using the zoom on my camera glasses. Even those are fleeting images. The University was happy with what I could bring back--Maria at the high point of a life wrought with triumph and tragedy.
Marie Sophie Frederikke Dagmar was born in 1847, the daughter of Christian, the fourth son of Duke Frederick of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg. Never heard of it? That’s because it will be swallowed up by the Prussian Empire. As the second daughter of the fourth son of a doomed dukedom, Maria would be lucky to bag a count or a wealthy industrialist.
However the King Frederick VII of Denmark was childless and his closest relative was his cousin, Louise of Hesse-Cassel. She is married to the above Christian. When Marie was five her father was made Prince of Denmark, and eventually became King Christian IX in 1863. Marie was elevated to Princess Dagmar of Denmark, although her family called her Minnie.
Her oldest brother, Christian, would become King of Denmark. Her next eldest brother, George, would become King of Greece. (Very long story. Apparently they didn‘t like the king they had and went shopping.) Her older sister, Alexandria, married Edward, Prince of Wales and would become Queen of the United Kingdom. Princess Dagmar become engaged to the heir of the next biggest empire, Russia.
|Princess Dagmar and Prince Nicholas|
|Maria and Tsar Alexander III|
Maria looked happy the few times I glimpsed her in carriages sitting next to her husband. She has no idea that in 1894 Alexander will die of kidney disease at the age of 49. Maria will be so devastated her brother-in-law, Edward, Price of Wales, will plan the funeral. She will then become the Dowager Empress of Russia as her son Nicholas II becomes Tsar. She will devote her life to helping him anyway she can.
|Back, left to right: Michael, Maria, |
Nicholas, Xenia and George.
In front: Tsar Alexander with Olga
The Bolsheviks never came for Maria. Perhaps because she was so loved by the public, or perhaps because she was 70 and no threat. She refused to leave Russia, waiting for her sons she refused to believe were dead. Only in 1919 did her sister, Dowager Queen Alexander, get her to accept an invitation to England. While she loved her sister, Maria couldn’t bear to live in her shadow. She returned to Denmark, where many Russian nobility had fled. There she was treated as their Empress. She died in 1928 at the age of 80, still waiting for her sons, Michael and Nicholas. She was entombed in Roskilde Cathedral in Copenhagen.
In 2005 the governments of Denmark and Russia decided to carry out Empress Maria’s final wish. She was interred in Peter and Paul Cathedral next to her beloved husband, Alexander III with a funeral attended by dignitaries from both countries. Nearby is the tiny tomb holding what remains of her son Tsar Nicholas, his wife Alix and their five children and four loyal servants.
|Tomb of Nicholas II and family|
|Tsar Nicholas II and his cousin King George V|
(or is that George on the left? No that's Nicholas)
|Still Life by Marie Feodorovna|
If she hadn't been an Empress she could
easily have made a living as an artist
Tribute to Princess Dagmar/Empress Maria