Maria Alexandrovna (Marie of Hesse and by Rhine)
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Marie of Hesse and by Rhine (8 August 1824 – 8 June 1880) was, under the name Maria Alexandrovna (Russian: Мария Александровна), Empress of Russia as the wife of Emperor Alexander II. She was born in Darmstadt, the capital of the Grand Duchy, and died in Saint Petersburg. The Mariinsky Theatre and the city Mariehamn in Åland are named after her.
Marie was the youngest of seven children born to the Grand Duchess Wihelmine of Hesse (1788–1836), the youngest sister of the Russian Empress Elizaveta 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 Nikolayevich 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 Fyodorovna objected, but Alexander insisted.
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 1855 Alexander became Emperor, which forced her to attend more State functions whether she was ill or not. Although Alexander II always treated her well, she knew from 1858 onwards that his feelings were for someone else. In 1865, the death of her eldest and favourite son, the Tsarevich Nicholas, was a great blow.
Every now and again she was able to go to her brother Alexander who lived with his morganatic wife in Heiligenberg. There she met Princess Alice, second daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, wife of her nephew Prince Louis. She resented Alice's suggestion of the marriage between her brother Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Marie's daughter, Maria Alexandrovna, but the marriage ultimately went through. When Alice died in 1878, Marie often invited the motherless children for visits to Heiligenberg. It was during these visits that her second youngest son, Grand Duke Sergei, met his future wife, Alice's second daughter, Princess Elisabeth and Maria also met Elisabeth's youngest surviving sister, Princess Alix, who would eventually become the devoted, yet ill-fated, wife of Maria's eldest grandson, Tsar Nicholas II. One legend states that on a visit to Darmstadt, upon meeting Alix, Marie turned to her maid of honor telling her to "kiss her hand. That is your empress to be." In later years Nicholas II’s eldest daughter, the Grand Duchess Olga, claimed to have seen the ghost of her great-grandmother, the Empress Maria Alexandrovna as a small child, according to her nanny, Miss Margaretta Eagar.
|Grand Duchess Alexandra Alexandrovna||30 August 1842||10 July 1849||nicknamed Lina, died of infant meningitis in St. Petersburg at the age of six|
|Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich||20 September 1843||24 April 1865||engaged to Dagmar of Denmark|
|Tsar Alexander III||10 March 1845||1 November 1894||married 1866, Dagmar of Denmark (Maria Feodorovna); had issue|
|Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich||22 April 1847||17 February 1909||married 1874, Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (Maria Pavlovna); had issue|
|Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich||14 January 1850||14 November 1908||married 1867/1870, Alexandra Vasilievna Zhukovskaya; had issue|
|Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna||17 October 1853||20 October 1920||married 1874, Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; had issue|
|Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich||29 April 1857||4 February 1905||married 1884, Elisabeth of Hesse (Elizabeth Feodorovna);|
|Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich||3 October 1860||24 January 1919||married 1889, Alexandra of Greece and Denmark (Alexandra Georgievna); had issue - second marriage 1902, Olga Karnovich; had issue|
Titles and styles
- 8 August 1824 – 8 June 1880 Her Grand Ducal Highness Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine
- 16 April 1841 – 2 March 1855 Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, the Tsesarevna of Russia
- 2 March 1855 – 8 June 1880 Her Imperial Majesty The Empress of all the Russias
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- Profile, Mariagessen.narod.ru (in Russian)
Maria Alexandrovna (Marie of Hesse and by Rhine)
Cadet branch of the House of HesseBorn: 8 August 1824 Died: 8 June 1880
Charlotte of Prussia
|Empress Consort of Russia
Title next held byDagmar of Denmark
- King, Greg The Last Empress: the Life and Times of Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsarina of Russia (Birch Lane Press, 1994) pg. 13
- Banks, ECS. Road to Ekaterinburg: Nicholas and Alexandra’s Daughters 1913–1918. SilverWood Books 2012. ISBN 978-1-78132-035-8