Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin

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Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia
Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.png
Maria Pavlovna wearing her original sapphire tiara with the 137 carat centre stone
Born(1854-05-14)14 May 1854
Ludwigslust Palace, Ludwigslust, Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, German Confederation
Died6 September 1920(1920-09-06) (aged 66)
Hotel La Souveraine,[1] Contrexéville, France
IssueGrand Duke Alexander Vladimirovich
Kirill Vladimirovich, Grand Duke of Russia
Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich
Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich
Elena Vladimirovna, Princess Nicholas of Greece and Denmark
Full name
Marie Alexandrine Elisabeth Eleonore
FatherFriedrich Franz II, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
MotherPrincess Augusta Reuss of Köstritz
ReligionRussian Orthodox
prev. Lutheranism

Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (later Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia, known as "Miechen" or "Maria Pavlovna the Elder"; 14 May 1854 – 6 September 1920) was born Marie Alexandrine Elisabeth Eleonore of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, daughter of Grand Duke Frederick Francis II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Princess Augusta Reuss of Köstritz. A prominent hostess in St Petersburg following her marriage to the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia, she was known as the grandest of the grand duchesses[2] and had an open rivalry with her sister-in-law the Empress Maria Feodorovna.

Early life[edit]

Marie Alexandrine Elisabeth Eleonore was born a duchess of the Grand Ducal House of Mecklenburg to Frederick Francis II, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin - the then Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and his first wife, Princess Augusta Reuss of Köstritz (1822–1862) - in the Schloss Ludwigslust. She was eight years old when her mother died in 1862. Her father married twice more.


Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna the Elder of Russia, late 1880s

She married the third son of Alexander II of Russia, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia (22 April 1847 – 17 February 1909), her second cousin, on 28 August 1874, being one of the very few Royals with Slavic patriline to ever marry a male dynast of the House of Romanov. She had been engaged to George Albert I, Prince of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, but broke it off as soon as she met Vladimir. It took three more years before they were permitted to marry as she had been raised a Lutheran and refused to convert to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Emperor Alexander II finally agreed to let Vladimir marry her without insisting on her conversion to Orthodoxy.[3] Upon her marriage she took the Russian name of Maria Pavlovna - the name she is best known by. Maria remained Lutheran throughout most of her marriage, but converted to Orthodoxy later in her marriage, some said to give her son Kirill a better chance at the throne. As a result of marrying the son of a Russian Emperor, she took on a new style Her Imperial Highness; the couple had four sons and one daughter.

Life in Russia[edit]

In Russia, she lived at the Vladimir Palace situated on the Palace Embankment on the Neva River. Socially ambitious, it was there that she established her reputation as being one of the best hostesses in the capital. An addiction to gambling, which saw her defy a prohibition by Nicholas II on the playing on roulette and baccarat in private homes, resulted in her temporarily being banned from Court.[4]

In 1909, her husband died and she succeeded him as president of the Academy of Fine Arts.[5]

Her Grand Ducal court, was in the later years of the reign of her nephew, Emperor Nicholas II[6] the most cosmopolitan and popular in the capital.[7] The Grand Duchess was personally at odds with the Emperor and Empress Consort. She wasn't the only Romanov who feared the Empress would "be the sole ruler of Russia" after Nicholas took supreme command of the Russian armies on 23 August 1915 (O.S.), hoping this would lift morale. It was widely speculated that along with her sons, she contemplated a coup against the Emperor in the winter of 1916–17, that would force the Tsar's abdication and replacement by his son Tsesarevich Alexei, and her son, Grand Duke Kirill or Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, as regent.[8] There is no documentary evidence to support this, though the Duma president Mikhail Rodzianko famously reported that she said that the Empress must be "annihilated".[9]

Escape from Russia[edit]

The Grand Duchess held the distinction to be the last of the Romanovs to escape Revolutionary Russia, as well as the first to die in exile. She remained in the war-torn Caucasus with her two younger sons throughout 1917 and 1918, still hoping to make her eldest son Kirill Vladimirovich the Tsar. As the Bolsheviks approached, the group finally escaped aboard a fishing boat to Anapa in 1918. Maria spent fourteen months in Anapa, refusing to join her son Boris in leaving Russia. When opportunities for escape via Constantinople presented themselves she refused to leave for fear she would be subjected to the indignity of delousing. She finally agreed to leave when the general of the White Army warned her that his side was losing the civil war. Maria, her son Andrei, Andrei's mistress Mathilde Kschessinska, and Andrei and Mathilde's son Vladimir, boarded an Italian ship headed to Venice on 13 February 1920.[10]

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia encountered Maria at the port of Novorossiysk in early 1920: "Disregarding peril and hardship, she stubbornly kept to all the trimmings of bygone splendour and glory. And somehow she carried it off... When even generals found themselves lucky to find a horse cart and an old nag to bring them to safety, Aunt Miechen made a long journey in her own train. It was battered all right--but it was hers. For the first time in my life I found it a pleasure to kiss her..."[11]

She made her way from Venice to Switzerland and then to France, where her health failed. Staying at her villa (now the Hotel La Souveraine), she died on 6 September 1920, aged 66, surrounded by her family at Contrexéville.[12]


Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna in middle age, wearing the Vladimir Tiara

The Grand Duchess had a passion for jewels, and her collection was renowned. It included a 100 carat emerald once owned by her great-great-great-grandmother, Empress Catherine the Great and the 5 carat ruby of Josephine de Beauharnais. Following the Revolution, a family friend Albert Stopford, rescued the jewels from her Palace safe and smuggled them out of Russia. After the Duchess's death, they were sold by her children to support their lives in exile. Queen Mary, Queen Consort of the United Kingdom purchased a Bolin tiara of diamond loops with pearl drops, now worn by Queen Elizabeth II, although the original gold frame has been replaced by Garrad with one of platinum; Her niece by marriage, Queen Marie, Queen Consort of Romania purchased a sapphire kokoshnik-style tiara by Cartier and Nancy Leeds (later Princess Christopher of Greece), the ruby parure. Some of her emeralds were purchased by Barbara Hutton, and later by actress Elizabeth Taylor, who had them recut.

In 2008 a collection of cufflinks, cigarette cases and other small jewellery items belonging to the Vladimir family were discovered in the archives of the Swedish foreign ministry, having presumably been deposited at the Swedish Embassy in St Petersburg following the Revolution. They were sold on behalf of the Vladimir heirs; some of the proceeds were used to restore the Grand Duchess's tomb in Contrexéville.[13]


Her eldest surviving son, Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich, of Russia married, in 1905, his first cousin Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, daughter of Vladimir's sister the Duchess of Edinburgh and of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Other than the fact that first cousin marriages were not allowed, she was also the former wife of Ernst Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse, the brother of the Empress. This marriage was not approved by Nicholas II and Cyril was stripped of his imperial titles. The treatment of her son created a strife between her husband and the Emperor. However, after several deaths in the family put Cyril third in the line of succession to the Imperial Throne, Nicholas agreed to reinstate Cyril's Imperial titles, and the latter's wife was acknowledged as HIH Grand Duchess Viktoria Fedorovna.[15]

Titles and styles[edit]

  • 14 May 1854 – 28 August 1874: Her Highness Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
  • 28 August 1874 – 6 September 1920: Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia



  1. ^ http://www.souveraine-hotel.com/. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ "Profile at www.angelfire.com". Archived from the original on 25 March 2009. Retrieved 23 October 2008.
  3. ^ Charlotte Zeepvat, The Camera and the Tsars: A Romanov Family Album, Sutton Publishing, 2004, p. 45
  4. ^ Morgan, Diane (2007). From Satan's Crown to the Holy Grail: Emeralds in Myth, Magic and History. Westport, Ct: Praeger. p. 134.
  5. ^ 1913; An End and a Beginning, Virginia Cowles
  6. ^ Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra, 1967, p. 388
  7. ^ Gelardi, Julia (24 April 2012). The Romanov Women: From Spendour to Revolution from 1847-1918 (Reprint ed.). St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 175–177. ISBN 978-1250001610.
  8. ^ Massie, pp. 388-90; Nelipa (2010) The Murder of Grigorii Rasputin. A Conspiracy That Brought Down the Russian Empire, p. 493.
  9. ^ Massie, p. 389
  10. ^ John Curtis Perry and Constantine Pleshakov, The Flight of the Romanovs, Perseus Books Group, 1999, pp. 228-32.
  11. ^ Vorres, Ian (1965). The Last Grand Duchess. Scribner. ASIN B-0007-E0JK-0.
  12. ^ Perry and Pleshakov, pp. 263-4.
  13. ^ "Sotheby's Sells Tsar Family Jewelry Found in Swedish Archive". Bloomberg News. 28 August 2009. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
  14. ^ Paul Theroff (2007). "Russia". An Online Gotha. Archived from the original on 31 December 2006. Retrieved 5 January 2007.
  15. ^ "Decree of Emperor Nicholas II Concerning the Recognition of the Wedding of Grand Duke Kirill Wladimirovich and Granting to His Wife and Descendants Those Rights Belonging to Members of the Russian Imperial Family". Russian Imperial House. Russian Imperial House. Archived from the original on 13 January 2014. Retrieved 3 August 2014.


  • Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra, 1967, Dell Publishing Co., ISBN 0-440-16358-7
  • John Curtis Perry and Constantine Pleshakov, The Flight of the Romanovs, Basic Books, 1999, ISBN 0-465-02462-9