Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia
|Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich|
Photo by Sergei Lvovich Levitsky
22 April 1847|
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
|Died||17 February 1909
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
|Burial||Grand Ducal Mausoleum|
|Spouse||Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin|
|Issue||Grand Duke Alexander Vladimirovich
Cyril Vladimirovich, Grand Duke of Russia
Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich
Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich
Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna
|Father||Alexander II of Russia|
|Mother||Marie of Hesse and by Rhine|
Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia (Влади́мир Александрович) ) (22 April 1847 – 17 February 1909) was a son of Emperor Alexander II of Russia, a brother of Tsar Alexander III of Russia and the Senior Grand Duke of the House of Romanov during the reign of his nephew, Tsar Nicholas II.
Grand Duke Vladimir followed a military career and occupied important military positions during the reigns of the last three Russian Emperors. Interested in artistic and intellectual pursuits; he was appointed President of the Academy of Fine Arts. He functioned as a patron of many artists and as a sponsor of the Imperial ballet.
During the reign of his father, Tsar Alexander II, he was made Adjutant-General, senator in 1868 and a member of the Council of State in 1872. His brother, Alexander III, also promoted his career. He became a member of the Council of Ministers, Commander of the Imperial Guards Corps  and Military Governor of Saint Petersburg. He tried to exert some influence over his nephew Tsar Nicholas II, but had to content himself with holding a rival court with his wife Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna at his palace in Saint Petersburg. The events of Bloody Sunday in 1905, while he was Military Governor of St Petersburg, tarnished his reputation. During the last years of his life, the rift between his family and that of Nicholas II widened. He died after a stroke in 1909.
Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich was born on April 22, 1847 at Tsarskoye Selo, some twenty miles (32 km) outside Saint Petersburg. He was the fourth child and third son among the eight children of Alexander II of Russia and his wife Maria Alexandrovna, born Duchess Marie of Hesse-Darmstadt.
He was eight years old when at the death of his grand father Nicholas I, his father became Russian Tsar. Grand Duke Vladimir was well educated and through his life he was interested in literature and the arts. However, as all male members of the Romanov family he had to follow a military career. As only the third son in a numerous family, he was far from the succession to the Russian throne. Nevertheless, in 1865, the early death of his eldest brother, the Tsarevich Nicholas, left Vladimir unexpectedly close to the throne as heir presumptive after his second brother Alexander. Unlike Alexander, the new heir, Vladimir was witty and ambitious. Rumors circulated at the time, that Alexander II would have his eldest surviving son removed from the succession placing Vladimir as his heir. Alexander himself would have preferred to step aside from the succession hoping to marry morganatically, but eventually he yielded to family pressure and married a suitable bride. Relations between the two brothers, although cordial, were never warm.
A Russian Grand Duke
In 1867 Grand Duke Vladimir was named honorary president of the Russian ethnographic society, the same year he accompanied his father and his brother Alexander to the World Fair in Paris, where his father was shot by a Polish nationalist. In 1871 he visited the Caucasus region, Georgia, Chechnya and Dagestan with his father and his brothers. In 1872 he accompanied his father to Vienna at the reunion of the three emperors: Russia, Germany and Austria.
In his youth Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich led a restless life of partying and drinking. A member of the European jet set of his time, he made frequent trips to Paris. At the French capital, he was nicknamed "The Grand Duke, bon vivant". His love for the good life let him to be portly at a young age, although later he slimmed down. He had a wide range of interest. He loved the arts; was a skillful painter himself and gathered an important book collection. Not as tall as his brothers, he was handsome with an imposing personality but could not stand public criticism. He was known for his thunderous voice; was a keen hunter, and a well known gourmet. He gathered a collection of menus copied after meals with adding notations with his impressions about the food.
While traveling through Germany with his family in June 1871, Grand Duke Vladimir met Duchess Marie Alexandrine of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (14 May 1854 – 6 September 1920), daughter of Friedrich Franz II, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Augusta of Reuss-Köstritz. She was seventeen years old and was already engage to a distant relative, Prince George of Schwarzburg. Grand Duke Vladimir was then twenty four. They were smitten with each other. Maria was a great-granddaughter of Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna of Russia, herself a daughter of Emperor Paul I of Russia. Therefore, Vladimir was a second cousin of Maria's father Friedrich Franz II, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. However, in descent from Frederick William III of Prussia, the couple were second cousins. In order to marry Vladimir, Maria broke off her previous engagement, but she refused to yield to the necessary conversion to the Orthodox religion. This delayed the couple's engagement for almost two years. Finally, Tsar Alexander II consented the marriage allowing Marie to keep her Lutheran faith and Vladimir would not lose his rights to the Russian throne. The engagement was announced in April 1874.
The wedding took place in Saint Petersburg on 28 August 1874 at the Winter palace. Vladimir's wife adopted the patronymic Pavlovna upon her marriage and was known as Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia. Only decades later, after Vladimir's death, she converted to the Russian Orthodox confession, then, Emperor Nicholas II bestowed her the title "the Orthodox Grand Duchess". Grand Duke Vladimir and his wife were both witty and ambitious. They enjoy entertaining and their residence in St. Petersburg became the heart of the Imperial capital social life. Well suited to each other, they had a long and happy marriage.
By the time of his marriage, construction has already been completed in Vladimir's own residence and he moved there with his wife. Named the Vladimir Palace, it was the last imperial palace to be constructed in Saint Petersburg. Grand Duke Vladimir appointed architect Aleksandr Rezanov responsible for the project because of his knowledge of ancient Russian architecture. Rezanov was assisted by a team of architects: Vasily Kenel, Andrei Huhn, Ieronim Kitner and Vladimir Shreter. The foundation stone was laid on July 15, 1867. Construction work lasted five years, from 1867 to 1872. The furniture was designed by architect Victor Shroeter.
The site chosen for the palace was the Embankment near the Winter Palace in the center of St Petersburg. It had been previously been occupied by the house of Count Vorontsov Dashkov which had been bought by the treasury. The lot was enlarge by purchasing the neighboring house of Madame Karatinga. The total construction and furnishing cost of Vladimir palace was 820.00 rubles, a much modest amount than the one spent building previous palaces for other grand dukes a decade earlier.
The Vladimir palace stands, like the Winter Palace and the Marble Palace, on the Neva at Dvorstsovaya Embankment. The façade, richly ornamented with stucco rustication, was patterned after Leon Battista Alberti's palazzi in Florence. The main porch is built of Bremen sandstone and adorned with griffins, coats-of-arms, and cast-iron lanterns. Other details are cast in portland cement.
The palace and its outbuildings contain some 360 rooms, all decorated in eclectic historic styles: Neo-Renaissance (reception room, parlor), Gothic Revival (dining room), Russian Revival (Oak Hall), Rococo (White Hall), Byzantine style (study), Louis XIV, various oriental styles, and so on. This interior ornamentation, further augmented by Maximilian Messmacher in 1881-1891, is considered a major monument to the 19th-century passion for historicism. Grand Duke Vladimir decorated his apartments with his collection of Russian painting by the best artist of his time such as: Ilya Repin, Ivan Aivazovsky, Feodor Bruni, Vasili Vereshchagin, Ivan Kramskoy, Mikhail Vrubel, Nicholas Sverchkov and Rudoplh Frenz.
Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich and his wife Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna had five children:
- Grand Duke Alexander Vladimirovich of Russia (31 August 1875 – 16 March 1877). He died in infancy
- Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich of Russia (12 October (N.S.), 1876 – 12 October 1938). He married his first cousin Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. They had three children.
- Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich of Russia (1877–1943). He married his mistress Zinaida Rashevskaya. He did not leave legitimate descendants.
- Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich of Russia (1879–1956). He married his mistress Matilda Kchessinska. He did not leave legitimate descendants.
- Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna of Russia (1882–1957). She married Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark, third son of George I of Greece and Grand Duchess Olga Constantinovna of Russia. They had three daughters.
During three reigns
Grand Duke Vladimir occupied important military positions during three reigns. He experienced the battle fields in the Russo-Turkish War of (1877–1878) attending the war's campaign with his father and brothers Alexander and Sergei. He fought against the Turkish troops as the commanding officer of the XII Corps of the Russian army. However his military career interested him less than art and literature. In 1880, his father appointed him President of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. He was also a member of the Academy of Science and agent of the Rumyantsev Museum. Grand Duke Vladimir was in the Imperial capital when his father was killed and was succeeded by Alexander III in 1881. It fell upon Vladimir, who regained his composure more quickly than his brother, to announce their father's death to the public. Vladimir inherited his father's personal library which the grand duke added to his large book collection that was arranged in three libraries at the Vladimir Palace. After the Russian revolution these books were sold off randomly by weight and currently form part of several American university collections.
Although Alexander III was not close to Vladimir and there was a rivalry between their wives, he promoted his brother's career. The day after their father's death he appointed Vladimir Military Governor of St Petersburg, a post that was previously held by their uncle Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich. Vladimir served on the state council and chaired the official commission that supervised the building of the Cathedral of St. Saviour, built between 1883 and 1907 on the site of the assassination of his father, Tsar Alexander II of Russia.
Grand Duke Vladimir, was a keen philanthropist. A talented painter himself, he became a famous patron of the arts. He frequented many artists and gathered a valuable collection of paintings and old icons. He later took a great interest in ballet. He financed the tour of Diaghilev Ballets Russes.
Emperor Alexander III had three sons which pushed Vladimir and his own three sons farther away from the succession to the Russian throne. Nevertheless he was unexpectedly close to become Emperor in 1888 when Alexander III with his wife and all of their children were involved in a train accident at Borki. Vladimir and his wife were at the time in Paris and did not bother to come back to Russia. This annoyed Alexander III who commented that if he would have died with his children, Vladimir would have rushed to return to Russia to become Emperor. At Alexander III's death in 1894 there were unfounded rumors that the army intended to proclaim Grand Duke Vladimir emperor in place of his nephew Nicholas II. over which Vladimir tried to have an influence, particularly at the beginning of Nicholas II’s reign.
Although the grand duke was conservative in his political views, he did not believe in human virtues. A little bit of a rascal himself, he preferred the company of amusing witty people regardless of their ideology or background. The more liberal member of Russian society were invited to lavish parties at his residence. He look with contempt to people less intelligent that himself and considered that he would have made a better emperor than his less gifted brother Alexander III or his ineffectual nephew Nicholas II. Grand Duke Vladimir traveled extensively. Paris was a favorite destination. He became well known in the French capital for his boisterous personality and tremendous voice. He often intimidated people with his coarseness, rudeness and hot temper. He usually complained about the food making a fuss about everything that he disliked, but ended tipping generously. Vladimir Alexandrovich was also a devoted family man. He was close to his children.
In January 1905 a wave of strikes broke out in St. Petersburg. On January 9(O.S.)/22(N.S.) a peaceful procession of workers led by a priest, Father Georgy Gapon, marched towards the Winter Palace from different points in the city hoping to present request for reforms directly to Emperor Nicholas II. The Tsar, however, was not in the capital. General Fullon, St Petersburg Governor, tried to stop the march. When a large group of workers reached Winter Palace Square, troops acting on direct orders from Guards Commander Prince Vasilchikov opened fire upon the demonstrators. More than 100 marchers were killed and several hundred were wounded. Although Grand Duke Vladimir claimed no direct responsibility about that tragedy, since he was also away from the city, his reputation was tarnished. The massacre, known as Bloody Sunday, was followed by a series of strikes in other cities, peasant uprisings in the country, and mutinies in the armed forces, which seriously threatened the tsarist regime and became known as the Revolution of 1905. A month after Bloody Sunday, Vladimir's brother Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich was killed by a terrorist bomb in Moscow.
In October that same year, Vladimir's eldest son and heir Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich of Russia married his first cousin Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, daughter of Vladimir's sister Maria. This marriage was disapproved by Nicholas II and Kirill was stripped of his imperial titles and sent to exile. Vladimir protested the treatment given to his son and resigned from all his posts in a strife with the Emperor. Although eventually Nicholas II relented and forgave his cousins for marrying without his consent, he did not allow them to return to Russia. The full pardon came only after several deaths in the family, including Vladimir's own, put Kirill third in the line of succession to the Imperial Throne.
Grand Duke Vladimir died suddenly on 4(O.S.)/17(N.S.) February 1909 after suffering a major cerebral hemorrhage. Vladimir's widow and their four children survived the Russian Revolution of 1917. In 1924 in exile, Kirill proclaimed himself Emperor. Vladimir's line has thus received the headship of the Imperial House. Vladimir was the paternal grandfather and namesake of the future pretender claimant Grand Duke Vladimir of Russia, born 1917. Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich's great granddaughter, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, is the current claimant.
- Gregorian calendar date. The Russian (Julian) calendar date is 10 April. See Comte Paul Vasili, La Sainte Russie : la cour, l'armée, le clergé, la bourgeoisie et le peuple, Libraire de Firmin-Didot et Cie, Paris, 1890
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