13 July 2018

The Last Romanov Ladies Part 2

PART 1  |  PART 3  |  PART 4

With 2018 marking a century since the fall of the Romanov Dynasty, which had ruled Russia for 300 years, we're taking a look at the imperial ladies. Many of them did not survive beyond 1918, while all of the others found themselves as refugees abroad, sometimes in very unfamiliar territory, sometimes as unwanted guests, and often having to survive on their wits and the sale of the jewels that they managed to smuggle out of Russia. In this installment, we explore what happened to the descendants of Alexander III.

Empress Maria and Alexander III
via Wikimedia Commons
Nicholas II's father, Alexander III, had married Dagmar of Denmark, sister of the Danish King Christian IX and sister of Britain's Queen Alexandra. Previously engaged to Alexander's older brother, who died of meningitis before their wedding, she desperately missed Russia and happily accepted the new marriage proposal when it was offered. She became Maria Feodorovna, but rose to the title of Empress under tragic circumstance: her father-in-law had been assassinated by a bomb. She and Alexander had four sons and two daughters. Their second son died of meningitis as a baby and their third son died in Georgia under mysterious circumstances as a young man.

Their youngest son Michael Alexandrovich was a bit wayward. Although he had married morganatically to a commoner named Natalia Brasova, he was offered but declined the throne when his brother Nicholas II abdicated, effectively ending 300 years of Romanov rule. He and his family were placed under house arrest. When their house arrest was lifted, they planned to flee to Finland but were prevented. House arrest was reinstituted and Michael was later imprisoned by the Bolsheviks. Natalia pleaded directly with Lenin for his release. Michael was sent into internal exile in Perm, while Natalia arranged for their only child to be smuggled to Denmark. Natalia visited him in Perm but returned again to Moscow to advocate for him and was eventually arrested amidst rumors that Michael had escaped and was leading a counter revolution. Faking illness, she managed to escape from a nursing home. After a long and circuitous journey, Natalia arrived in London where Maria Feodorovna was living. Michael's whereabouts were still unknown. He was eventually declared dead in 1924. It was later revealed that his alleged escape was a cover story hiding the fact that he had been executed in 1918. Never having been accepted by her in-laws, Natalia and George moved to Paris, where he was later killed in a car accident and she died destitute in 1952.

Empress Maria Feodorovna had recognized the dangers of staying in Russia although far south in the Crimea, where other members of the family had fled after the February Revolution of 1917. However, she refused to leave, praying always for the safety of her son. Refusing to believe rumors of the Tsar's death, she was nonetheless persuaded by her sister Queen Alexandra to go to London in 1919. She later moved back to her native Denmark, where she died in 1928, still publicly denying the death of her son and grandchildren. Her daughter Olga Alexandrovna asserted that the Empress knew the truth in her heart.

Olga Alexandrovna with her niece (and goddaughter)
Anastasia Nikolaievna
from the Beinecke Library via Wikimedia Commons
At 19, Olga had married the probably gay Duke Peter of Oldenburg, which allowed her to stay in Russia. Not surprisingly, the couple had no children leaving her free to spend a lot of time with her brother Nicholas's family. She was particularly close to her nieces, especially Anastasia, who was her goddaughter. Miserable in her marriage, Olga suffered a nervous breakdown. Brother Nicholas allowed her marriage to be annulled and even approved her marriage to a mere soldier, Colonel Nicholas Kulikovsky, by home she had two sons. Her first child was born while under house arrest in Crimea. The family later moved to the Caucasus, where the White Army was making progress, and their second son was born there in 1919. The Red Army soon turned the tide, and the Kulikovskys evacuated, landing in a refugee camp near Istanbul and then moving on to Belgrade. They joined Empress Maria in Copenhagen in 1920. They remained in the country throughout its turbulent Nazi occupation in World War II but sought a safer and more stable existence in Canada after the war. Olga died in Toronto in 1960 having sold off her salvaged jewels to support herself over the years.

Xenia Alexandrovna
from Bain News Service via Wikimedia Commons
Her only sister Xenia Alexandrovna had died earlier in 1960 in London. She had married her cousin, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, a grandson of Nicholas I, at age 19. She and Sandro, as he was known, had one daughter and six sons. Their daughter Irina married Prince Felix Yussupov, who had used Irina as a bait to lure Rasputin to his final party in 1916. Rasputin had been promised that he would meet the beautiful Irina. Instead, he was poisoned, shot, and beaten before being chased into a frozen river where he finally died.

The Yussopovs, Sandro, Xenia and their six princes (who were aged 10 to 20) were with the Empress Maria in Crimea and went with her to London after the Revolution. Strapped for cash like her sister Olga, Xenia remained in Britain, where their cousin King George V granted her a home at Frogmore Cottage in Windsor Great Park and later Wilderness House at Hampton Court Palace. Sandro died in 1933, leaving Xenia a widow for 27 years.

PART 1  |  PART 3  |  PART 4

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