Princess Irina Alexandrovna of Russia
|Princess Irina Alexandrovna|
15 July 1895|
The Farm Palace, Petergof, Russian Empire
|Died||26 February 1970
|Burial||Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois Russian Cemetery|
|Spouse||Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov|
|Issue||Princess Irina Felixovna Yusupova|
|Father||Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia|
|Mother||Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia|
Princess Irina Alexandrovna of Russia (Russian: Княжна Ирина Александровна Романова; 15 July (OS: 3 July), 1895, Petergof, Russia – 26 February 1970, Paris, France) was the only daughter and eldest child of Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia and Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia. She was also the only niece of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and the wife of the wealthiest man in Imperial Russia, Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov, one of the men who murdered Grigori Rasputin, holy healer to her cousin, the hemophiliac Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich of Russia, in 1916.
Before her marriage on 22 February 1914, Irina, the eldest child and only daughter in a family of seven children, was considered one of the most eligible women in Imperial Russia. Her family had spent long periods living in the south of France beginning in about 1906 due to her father's political disagreements with the Tsar. Her father was also carrying on an affair with a woman in the south of France and often asked Xenia for a divorce, which she refused to grant him. Xenia also enjoyed extramarital affairs. Irina's parents tried to hide their unhappy marriage from their seven children and Irina, a shy and tongue-tied girl with deep blue eyes and dark hair, had a happy childhood. Irina was often called Irène, the French version of her name, or Irene, the English version. Her mother sometimes nicknamed her "Baby Rina." The Romanovs, heavily influenced by the French and the English, spoke French better than Russian and often used the foreign versions of their first names when referring to one another.
Her husband-to-be, Felix Yussupov, was a man of many contradictions: a man from a very wealthy family who enjoyed dressing in women's clothing and had sexual relationships with both men and women, scandalizing society, yet also genuinely religious and willing to help others even when his own financial circumstances were reduced. At one point, in a fit of enthusiasm, he planned to give all his unimaginable riches to the poor in imitation of his mentor Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. "Felix's ideas are absolutely revolutionary," a disapproving Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna once said. He was persuaded not to give away all his money by his mother, Zenaida, who said he had a duty to marry and continue the family line because he was her only surviving son. The future murderer of Rasputin also had a horror of the bloodshed and violence of war.
Felix, with his leanings toward homosexuality, was not certain if he was "fit for marriage." Still, he was drawn to Irina and her icon-like beauty when he first encountered her. "One day when I was out riding I met a very beautiful girl accompanied by an elderly lady. Our eyes met and she made such an impression on me that I reined in my horse to gaze at her as she walked on," he wrote in his memoirs. One day in 1910, he was paid a visit by Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich and Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna and was happy to discover the girl he had seen on the riding trail was their only daughter, Irina. "This time I had plenty of time to admire the wondrous beauty of the girl who was eventually to become my wife and lifelong companion. She had beautiful features, clear-cut as a cameo, and looked very like her father." He renewed his acquaintance with Irina in 1913 and was even more drawn to her. "She was very shy and reserved, which added a certain mystery to her charm ... Little by little, Irina became less timid. At first her eyes were more eloquent than her conversation but, as she became more expansive, I learned to admire the keenness of her intelligence and her sound judgment. I concealed nothing in my past life from her, and, far from being perturbed by what I told her, she showed great tolerance and comprehension." Yussupov wrote that Irina, perhaps because she had grown up with so many brothers, showed none of the artifice or lack of honesty that had put him off relations with other women.
Although Irina was understanding about Yussupov's wild past, her parents were not. When her parents and maternal grandmother Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna heard the rumors about Felix, they wanted to call off the wedding. Most of the stories they heard had originated from Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia, Irina's first cousin once removed, who had been one of Felix's friends and, it has been speculated, might have been involved in a romantic relationship with Felix. Dmitri told Felix he was also interested in marrying Irina, but Irina said she preferred Felix. Felix was able to persuade Irina's reluctant family to relent and allow the ceremony to go forward. However, neither he nor Irina appear to have objected to the morganatic terms of the marriage, "All members of the dynasty who married someone not of royal blood were obliged to sign a document renouncing their rights to the throne. Although Irina was very distant in the line of succession, she had to comply with this regulation before marrying me; but it did not seem to worry her very much." It was the society wedding of the year and the last such occasion in Russian society before World War I. Irina wore a twentieth-century dress rather than the traditional Court dress that other Romanov brides had married in, as she was a Princess of the Imperial House (not a Grand Duchess). She wore a diamond and rock-crystal tiara that had been commissioned from Cartier and a lace veil that had belonged to Marie Antoinette. Guests at the wedding commented on what an attractive couple Felix and Irina made: "What an amazing couple -- they were so attractive. What bearing! What breeding!" said one guest. Irina was given away by her uncle, the Tsar, and his wedding present to her was a bag of twenty-nine uncut diamonds, ranging from three to seven carats. Irina and Felix also received a large assortment of precious gems from other wedding guests. They later managed to take many of these gems out of the country following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and used them to provide a living in exile.
World War I
The Yusupovs were on their honeymoon in Europe and the Middle East when World War I broke out. They were briefly detained in Berlin after the outbreak of hostilities. Irina asked her first cousin, Crown Princess Cecilie of Prussia to intervene with her father-in-law, the Kaiser. Kaiser Wilhelm II refused to permit them to leave, but offered them a choice of three country estates to live in for the duration of the war. Felix's father appealed to the Spanish ambassador and won permission for them to return to Russia via neutral Denmark to Finland and from there to St. Petersburg
Felix converted a wing of his Moika Palace into a hospital for wounded soldiers, but avoided entering military service himself by taking advantage of a law exempting only-sons from serving in the war. He did enter the Cadet Corps and took an officer's training course, but had no intention of joining a regiment. Irina's first cousin, Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna of Russia, whom she had been close to when they were girls, was disdainful of Felix: "Felix is a 'downright civilian,' dressed all in brown, walked to and fro about the room, searching in some bookcases with magazines and virtually doing nothing; an utterly unpleasant impression he makes—a man idling in such times," Olga wrote to her father, Tsar Nicholas II, on 5 March 1915 after paying a visit to the Yussupovs. Felix and Irina's only daughter, Princess Irina Felixovna Yussupova, nicknamed Bebé, was born on 21 March 1915. "I shall never forget my happiness when I heard the child's first cry," her father wrote. Irina liked her name and wanted to pass it on to her first child. Her mother Xenia was so worried over the delivery that Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna said it was almost like Xenia was giving birth instead of Irina.
Murder of Grigori Rasputin
Both Felix and Irina were aware of salacious rumors regarding Rasputin and his association with the worsening political situation that brought with it rioting, protests and violence. Yusupov and his co-conspirators, Vladimir Purishkevich and Dmitri Pavlovich, decided that Rasputin was destroying the country and must be killed. Felix started paying visits to Rasputin in an attempt to gain his trust. It has been speculated that Felix told the healer that he needed assistance to overcome his homosexual impulses and enjoy a satisfactory marriage to Irina or, alternatively, that it was Irina who needed Rasputin's "cure."
On the night of the murder, 16/17 December 1916, Rasputin was invited to Felix's apartment at the Moika Palace. He was told that Irina would be in residence and Rasputin would have an opportunity to meet her. Rasputin had often expressed interest in meeting the beautiful 21-year-old princess. Irina, however, was on a visit to the Crimea. Irina had been aware that Felix had talked about eliminating Rasputin and it was originally intended that she participate in the murder. "You too must take part in it," Felix wrote to her before the murder. "Dm(itri) Pavl(ovich) knows all about it and is helping. It will all take place in the middle of December, when Dm(itri) comes back." In late November 1916, Irina wrote to Felix: "Thanks for your insane letter. I didn't understand the half of it. I see that you're planning to do something wild. Please take care and do not get mixed up in any shady business. The dirtiest thing is that you have decided to do it all without me. I don't see how I can take part in it now, since it's all arranged.... In a word, be careful. I see from your letter that you're in a state of wild enthusiasm and ready to climb a wall.... I'll be in Petrograd on the 12th or 13th, so don't dare do anything without me, or else I won't come at all."
Felix responded on 27 November 1916: "Your presence by the middle of December is essential. The plan I'm writing you about has been worked out in detail and is three quarters done, and only the finale is left, and for that your arrival is awaited. It (the murder) is the only way of saving a situation that is almost hopeless.... You will serve as the lure.... Of course, not a word to anyone." A frightened Irina suddenly backed out of the plan on 3 December 1916. "I know that if I come, I shall certainly get sick.... You don't know how things are with me. I want to cry all the time. My mood is terrible. I've never had one like it before.... I don't know myself what's happening to me. Don't drag me to Petrograd. Come down here instead. Forgive me, my dear one, for writing such things to you. But I can't go on any more, I don't know what's the matter with me. Neurasthenia, I think. Don't be angry with me, please don't be angry. I love you terribly. I can't live without you. May the Lord protect you."
Irina's pleas were in vain. Her husband and his co-conspirators went forward with the plan without her. Following Rasputin's murder, the Tsar exiled both Yusupov and Dmitri Pavlovich. Felix was exiled to Rakitno(y)e, a remote country estate in the Rakityansky District, owned by the family since 1729. Dmitri was exiled to the Persian front with the Army. Sixteen members of the family signed a letter asking the Tsar to reconsider his decision due to Dmitri's weak health, but Nicholas II refused to consider the petition. "Nobody has the right to kill on his own private judgment," wrote Nicholas II. "I know that there are many others besides Dmitri Pavlovich whose consciences give them no rest, because they are compromised. I am astonished that you should have applied to me." Irina's father, "Sandro" visited the couple at Rakitnoe in February 1917 and found their mood "buoyant, but militant."
Felix still hoped that the Tsar and the Russian government would respond to Rasputin's death by taking steps to address the increasing political unrest. Felix refused to permit Irina to leave Rakitnoe to join her mother in Petrograd because he felt it was too dangerous. The Tsar abdicated on 2 March (O.S.) and he and his family were arrested by the Bolshevik Government. They were eventually murdered at Yekaterinburg on 17 July 1918. His decision to exile Felix and Dmitri meant that they were among the few members of the Romanov family to escape execution during the Bolshevik revolution that followed.
Following the abdication of Tsar Nicolas II, the Yussupovs returned to the Moika Palace before traveling to the Crimea. They later returned to the Palace to retrieve jewellery and two paintings by Rembrandt, the sale proceeds of which helped sustain his family in exile. In the Crimea the family boarded a British warship, HMS Marlborough, which took them from Yalta to Malta. Felix Yussupov enjoyed boasting about the murder of Rasputin while on the ship. One of the British officers noted that Irina "appeared shy and retiring at first, but it was only necessary to take a little notice of her pretty, small daughter to break through her reserve and discover that she was also very charming and spoke fluent English". From there, they traveled to Italy, then by train to Paris. In Italy, lacking a visa, Felix bribed the officials with diamonds. In Paris, they stayed a few days in Hôtel de Vendôme before going on to London.
In 1920, they returned to Paris and bought a house on the Rue Gutenberg in Boulogne-sur-Seine, where they lived most of their lives. The Yussupovs founded a short-lived couture house called Irfé, which was called after the first two letters of the names Irina and Felix. Irina modeled some of the dresses the pair and other designers at the firm created. The Yussupovs became renowned in the Russian émigré community for their financial generosity. This philanthropy, plus continued high living and poor financial management, extinguished what remained of the family fortune. Their daughter was largely raised by her paternal grandparents until she was nine and was badly spoiled by them. Her unstable upbringing caused her to become "capricious," according to Felix. Felix and Irina, raised mainly by nannies themselves, were ill-suited to take on the day to day burdens of child-rearing. Irina's only child adored her father, but had a more distant relationship with her mother.
Later the family lived from the proceeds of a lawsuit they won against MGM for making a 1932 movie called Rasputin and the Empress. In the movie, the lecherous Rasputin seduces the Tsar's only niece, called "Princess Natasha" in the film. In 1934, the Yussupovs won a large judgment against the movie studio.Yussupov also sued the Columbia Broadcasting System in a New York court in 1965 for televising a play based upon the Rasputin assassination. The claim was that some events were fictionalized, and that under a New York statute Felix's commercial rights in his story had been misappropriated. The last reported judicial opinion in the case was a ruling by New York's second highest court that the case could not be resolved upon briefs and affidavits but must go to trial. According to an obituary of CBS's lawyer, CBS eventually won the case. Felix also wrote his memoirs and continued to be both celebrated and infamous as the man who murdered Rasputin. For the rest of his life Yussupov was haunted by Rasputin's murder, and suffered from nightmares. However, he also had a reputation as a faith healer.
Irina and Felix, close to one another as they weren't to their daughter, enjoyed a happy and successful marriage for more than fifty years. When Felix died in 1967, Irina was grief-stricken and died herself three years later.
DNA and descendants
As a matrilineal relative of Nicholas II of Russia, Irina and all her female-line descendants are members of mitochondrial haplogroup T. A DNA sample from Irina's granddaughter Xenia Sfyris was used to identify the remains of Tsar Nicholas II after they were exhumed in 1991.
Descendants of Irina and Felix are:
- Princess Irina Felixovna Yussupova, (21 March 1915, St Petersburg, Russia – 30 August 1983, Cormeilles, France), married Count Nikolai Dmitrievich Sheremetev (28 October 1904, Moscow, Russia – 5 February 1979, Paris, France), son of Count Dmitri Sergeievich Sheremetev and wife Countess Irina Ilarionovna Vorontzova-Dachkova and a descendant of Boris Petrovich Sheremetev; had issue:
- Countess Xenia Nikolaevna Sheremeteva-Sfiris (born 1 March 1942, Rome, Italy), married on 20 June 1965 in Athens, Greece, to Ilias Sfiris (born 20 August 1932, Athens, Greece); had issue:
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