9.1.13

Empress of Russia

9th January 2660 - St. Petersburg, Russia

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
Dagmar and Prince Nicholas really seemed to like each other. Tsar Alexander II and the rest of the family liked her, too. Then came the first great tragedy of Dagmar’s life--Nicholas died of meningitis before they were wed. Nicholas’s last wish was that Dagmar still be wed to the heir to the Russian throne, his little brother, Alexander. Dagmar returned to Denmark broken-hearted. The Imperial family tried to console her. She and Alexander became closer in their shared grief and she accepted his proposal.

Maria and Tsar Alexander III
In 1866 Dagmar converted from Lutheran to Russian Orthodox and took the name Princess Maria. In 1881 she would become Empress Maria. Her husband Tsar Alexander III was on the throne while I was there in 1890. Traumatized by his father’s assassination, he is not the soft-hearted ruler Alexander II was. He is gruff, ruthless and as conservative as his father was liberal. And yet he is tender and devoted to Maria. While most Tsars had mistresses, there is no evidence Alexander III ever did. Every Easter he has the House of Faberge make her a jeweled egg.

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
Maria already lost her second son, Alexander, to meningitis in 1870. He was only 11 months old. Her third son, George, died in 1899 to lung disease at the age of 28. Her youngest son Michael and her eldest son, Tsar Nicholas II and his family will die in 1917, murdered by the Bolsheviks during the Revolution. Her two daughters, Xenia and Olga will escape. They at least will both outlive their mother by 32 years.

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
I visited Maria’s tomb at Peter and Paul Cathedral and left a bouquet of white lilies. In the Victorian language of flowers they symbolize purity, elegance, sweetness and beauty.

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


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