Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin

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For other people named Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, see Grand Duchess Maria of Russia (disambiguation).
Duchess Marie
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia
Maria Pavlovna of Russia.jpg
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna wearing the Vladimir Tiara
Born (1854-05-14)14 May 1854
Schloss Ludwigslust, Ludwigslust, Germany
Died 6 September 1920(1920-09-06) (aged 66)
Hotel La Souveraine [1], Contrexéville, France
Spouse Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia
Issue Grand Duke Alexander Vladimirovich
Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich
Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich
Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich
Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna
Full name
Marie Alexandrine Elisabeth Eleonore
House House of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Father Frederick Francis II, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Mother Princess Augusta Reuss-Köstritz
Religion Lutheran, later Russian Orthodoxy

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 of Reuss-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[1] and had an open rivalry with the Empress Maria Feodorovna. Her niece Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia (1890–1958) also known as "Maria Pavlovna the Younger" was named after her.


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 of Reuss-Köstritz (1822–1862) - in the Schloss Ludwigslust. She was eight years old when her mother died in 1862. Her father married twice more.


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 princesses with Slavic patriline to ever marry a male dynast of the Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov. She had been engaged to someone else, 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.

Tsar Alexander II finally agreed to let Vladimir marry her without insisting on her conversion to Orthodoxy.[2] Upon her marriage she took the Russian name of Maria Pavlovna of Russia - 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 a son of an Emperor of Russia, she took on a new style Her Imperial Highness; the couple had four sons and one daughter.

During her life in Russia, she lived at her husband's beloved Vladimir Palace situated on the famously aristocratic Palace Embankment on the Neva River. It was there that she established her reputation as being one of best hostesses in the capital. It was often joked that she would deliberately try to outdo the Imperial Court at the nearby Winter Palace.[citation needed]

In 1909, her husband died and she succeeded him as president of the Academy of Fine Arts.[3]

Her Grand Ducal court, was in the later years of the reign of her nephew, Nicholas II[4] the most cosmopolitan and popular in the capital.[5] The Grand Duchess was personally at odds with the Tsar and Tsarina. 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. Robert Massie maintains that along with her sons, she contemplated a coup against the Tsar 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 Nicholas Nikolayevich, as regent.[6] There is no documentary evidence to support this, though she famously told the Duma president Mikhail Rodzianko that the Empress must be "annihilated".[7]

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.[8]

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..."[9]

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), where she died on 6 September 1920, aged 66, surrounded by her family at Contrexéville.[10] With the help of Albert Stopford, a family friend, her renowned jewel collection was smuggled out of Russia in a diplomatic bag. At her death her famous collection of jewels were divided up between her children; Grand Duke Boris gained the emeralds, Grand Duke Cyril gained her pearls, Andrei got her rubies and her only daughter Elena received her diamonds. This was one of most fabulous collections to have ever been assembled. It consisted out of a suite of emeralds which later came in possession of Barbara Hutton and Elizabeth Taylor (set in the Bulgari necklace and auctioned in December 2011) alike. There was a 100 carat emerald she got from her father in law upon her marriage and which was once part of the collection of Catherine the Great and another emerald drop of 23 carats. Her pearl tiara with open framework and free hanging drop pearls is today owned by Queen Elizabeth II. It is worn in the photograph above together with the rest of her pearl parure. The tiara was of Russian origin and particularly important in the development of the garland style. The ruby parure contained the 5 carat Beauharnais ruby, bought from descendants of Josephine de Beauharnais, set in a Cartier tiara. that piece was later sold to Nancy Leeds, the later Anastasia of Greece. Yet another piece de légende for was the sapphire kokoshnik tiara made by Cartier in 1909 together with the rest of her sapphire parure. The head ornament was acquired by queen Marie of Romania who wore it to her coronation in 1922. The grand duchess made many purchases at Cartier (including a diamond briolette aigrette, a pearl choker with imperial eagles,...) and was thus one of its major clients. She even persuaded the firm to open a St Petersburg shop during the holiday season every winter from 1909 until just before the first World War. A batch of cufflinks and cigarette cases were found in 2008 in the archives of the Swedish foreign ministry. She had deposited them at the Swedish Embassy in St Petersburg before she fled.[11]


All of Maria's children were born at the Catherine Palace, Tsarskoye Selo. 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. 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.[13]

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. ^ Profile at www.angelfire.com
  2. ^ Charlotte Zeepvat, The Camera and the Tsars: A Romanov Family Album, Sutton Publishing, 2004, p. 45
  3. ^ 1913; An End and a Beginning, Virginia Cowles
  4. ^ Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra, 1967, p. 388
  5. ^ Gelardi, Julia (April 24, 2012). The Romanov Women: From Spendour to Revolution from 1847-1918 (Reprint ed.). St. Martin's Griffin. p. 528. ISBN 1250001617. 
  6. ^ Massie, pp. 388-90; Nelipa (2010) The Murder of Grigorii Rasputin. A Conspiracy That Brought Down the Russian Empire, p. 493.
  7. ^ Massie, p. 389
  8. ^ John Curtis Perry and Constantine Pleshakov, The Flight of the Romanovs, Perseus Books Group, 1999, pp. 228-32
  9. ^ Vorres, Ian (1965). The Last Grand Duchess. Scribner. ASIN B-0007-E0JK-0
  10. ^ Perry and Pleshakov, pp. 263-4
  11. ^ "Sotheby’s Sells Tsar Family Jewelry Found in Swedish Archive". Bloomberg News. 28 August 2009. Retrieved 9 September 2009. 
  12. ^ Paul Theroff (2007). "Russia". An Online Gotha. Archived from the original on 31 December 2006. Retrieved 5 January 2007. 
  13. ^ Romanov, Nicholas II. "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. 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