While preparing for a family group photo in 1899, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia discovers the camera and point it out to her older sister, Queen Alexandra of the United Kingdom. Meanwhile their nephew, Prince George of Greece, is jumping over the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of King Christian IX who are waiting for the photograph to be taken. In the bottom of the gifs are Maria Feodorovna’s three granddaughters: Princess Irina Alexandrovna and the Grand Duchesses Olga (far right) and Tatiana (not in the picture) Nikolaevna, together with the children of Prince Valdemar of Denmark: Prince Aage, Prince Viggo and Princess Margrethe.
Marie was born on 8 August 1824, the youngest of seven children born to the Grand Duchess Wilhelmine of Hesse, who was the youngest sister of the Russian Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna. The younger four were likely the biological children of Baron August von Senarclens de Grancy, but to avoid a scandal, Ludwig II, Grand Duke of Hesse acknowledged Alexander and Marie as his own children; the other two had died young. When in 1838, the Tsarevich Alexander Nikolaevich toured Europe to find a wife, he fell in love with the 14-year-old Marie. He married her on 16 April 1841, even though he was well aware of the “irregularity” of her birth. His mother Empress Alexandra Feodorovna objected, but Alexander insisted. In 1865, the death of her eldest and favourite son, the Tsarevich Nicholas, was a great blow.
As she was very shy, she was regarded as stiff, austere, and with no taste in dress, no conversation, no charm. The damp climate of St. Petersburg did not agree with the delicate chest Marie had inherited from her mother, so that she had a racking cough and recurring fever. Nevertheless, she became the mother of eight children. These pregnancies together with ill health kept her away from many Court festivities, which brought temptations to her husband. Although he always treated her well, Marie knew Alexander was unfaithful and had many lovers. He already had three children with his favourite mistress, Princess Catherine Dolgoruki, when he moved her and their children into the Imperial Palace. They entered into a morganatic marriage on 6 July 1880, less than a month after Marie’s death. In later years Nicholas II’s eldest daughter, the Grand Duchess Olga, claimed to have seen the ghost of her ancestor, the Empress Maria Alexandrovna as a small child, according to her nanny, Miss Margaretta Eagar.
Marie of Hesse-Darmstadt was fourteen with the long, loose hair of childhood when she first met the future Alexander II. She was eating cherries when she was ushered forward and had to spit the stones into her hand before she could speak to him. ‘This was Marie, our beloved Marie, who became Sasha’s happiness’, his sister Olga remembered. ’ From the first word she spoke his feelings were aroused. She was no doll like the others, there was no coyness about her and she expected nothing from their meeting.’ The engagement was approved and they married three years later. [The Camera and the Tsars]
Empress Maria Feodorovna trying to remove the hair from the face of her granddaughter, Princess Irina Alexandrovna of Russia, during the preparations for a family group photo at Fredensborg Palace in 1899. Also in frame are King Christian IX of Denmark; Queen Alexandra and Princess Victoria of the United Kingdom; Prince Aage, Prince Viggo and Princess Margrethe of Denmark; and Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna of Russia.
Empress Maria Alexandrovna & Empress Alexandra Feodorovna
It is very likely that Maria Alexandrovna’s father weren’t Louis II of Hesse but her mother’s lover Baron August von Senarclens de Grancy. The young Hessian Princess nevertheless caught the eyes of the Tsesarevich Alexander future Alexander II. Despite the numerous rumours about her birth he insisted to marry her and she left at the age of 17 her beloved Grand Duchy of Hesse. Her older brother Louis became Grand Duke of Hesse few years after her marriage, although she gave birth to 8 children, her sister-in-law,Princess Mathilde Caroline of Bavaria, remained childless. Her second brother, Prince Charles, was then the heir but he died few months before Louis III and it is his young son Louis, Maria’s nephew, who became Louis IV. The latter married to the second daughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Alice, had seven children, the youngest surviving child of the couple, Princess Alix married in 1894 the Tsesarevich Nicholas, Maria’s grandson.
Surmounted by the Imperial Crown, this diamond pin forms the Cyrillic initials of Czarina Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Czar Alexander II (1855-1881.) This pin was presented by the Czarina to the daughter of the Swedish Ambassador to the court of Alexander II.