Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Victoria Feodorovna dies in Germany
Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna of Russia died today at Schloss Amorbach near Würzburg. Victoria, who was the wife of Grand Duke Kirill, the head of the Russian Imperial Family, and de jure Emperor of Russia, was born Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh, second daughter and third child of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, and Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia. She was a granddaughter of the late Queen Victoria and the late Emperor Alexander II of all the Russias. Victoria was 59 years old.
At her bedside when she died was her older sister, the Dowager Queen Marie of Roumania. Victoria Melita and Marie, as young princesses, "were the toasts of the courts of Europe for their extraordinary beauty." They were the two eldest of four sisters, all known for their beauty. The oldest child, Hereditary Prince Alfred, died in 1899.
Princess Victoria Melilta was born at Valetta in Malta on November 25, 1876, where her father was serving with the Royal Navy. On April 19, 1894, she was married to her first cousin, Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig IV of Hesse and by Rhine.
Victoria was only 17 years old at the time of the marriage, which took place in the private chapel at the palace in Coburg. It was very grand wedding as the bride was the daughter of the reigning duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and the groom was the Grand Duke of Hesse and By Rhine. The bride was also a Princess of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, something that she and her sisters never forgot.
In the wedding procession to the chapel, the bride's mother, the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, was escorted by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was a first cousin to the bride and groom. They were followed by the Empress Friedrich, the Kaiser's mother, and Queen Victoria's eldest child. She walked alone. Queen Victoria was escorted by her son, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and "was seated in an armchair in the front row of seats semicircling the altar," according to the New York Times' report of the wedding. Other guests in the procession included the Prince of Wales, and the heir to the Russian throne, Tsarevitch Nicholas.
Princess Victoria Melita was "robed in white silk, with orange blossoms," and she "entered the church on the arm of her father. Her train was carried by her youngest sister, Beatrice, and Princess Feodora of Saxe-Meiningen, both of whom were dressed in pink and white. Princess Feodora was the first great-grandchild of Queen Victoria, the only child of the Hereditary Prince and Princess of Saxe-Meiningen.
The wedding was attended by many of Victoria Melita and Ernst Ludwig's families, including the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, the Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Princess Alexandra of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Prince and Princess Henry of Prussia (the princess being the groom's sister), Grand Duke Serge and Grand Duchess Elisabeth of Russia (another of the groom's sister), Princess Alix of Hesse and By Rhine, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Roumania (the bride's older sister), the Hereditary Prince and Princess of Saxe-Meiningen, Prince and Princess Philipp of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Prince George of Greece, Prince and Princess Aribert of Anhalt, and Prince and Princess Henry of Battenberg and Prince Louis of Battenberg.
After the benediction was pronounced, the bride and groom "turned to the Queen and kissed her affectionately." To the strains of Mendelssohn's "Wedding March," the newlyweds marched out of the chapel and to the Great Hall for the wedding breakfast.
Outside, in the streets, great cheers were heard as the "wedding procession moved along."
A civil ceremony, required by law, was "performed in Queen Victoria's room in the palace at noon," before the bridal party departed for the chapel. After the breakfast, Victoria Melita, known to her family as "Ducky," donned "a traveling costume of white and gray-blue cloth." Her "white skirt was embroidered with rose sprays and the bodice with gray electric silk." She returned to the wedding party to "bade everyone good-bye," and then entered, "with her husband, in an open phaeton, trimmed with flowers," in the courtyard. All of the guests had gathered in the courtyard. Victoria Melita, before getting into the carriage, "embraced her mother and sister repeatedly.
The Grand Duke and his new Grand Duchess were cheered as they drove away. Showers of rice fell on them, thrown by the princesses.
As the carriage left the courtyard, "an amusing incident occurred." "Four enterprising photographers saw an opportunity to take a group photo. Their cameras and tripods in place, they frantically signaled to the "Royal party to remain stationary. With this extremely unceremonious demand," the entire group "laughingly complied," according to The Times' report. After four or five negatives were taken, one of the photographers "rushed up to the Prince of Wales," and asked if he would pose with his brothers, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and the Duke of Connaught. The three men gave their consent, and several more photographs were taken before the three men returned to the castle.
The first stop for the newlyweds was Rosenau, the birth place of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband. They were to stay at Rosenau for two days before going to Kranichstein, the Grand Duke's hunting lodge, near Darmstadt, where they were expected to spend several more days before making an entry in Darmstadt "in state."
It was at noon on April 20, when Grand Duke and Grand Duchess entered Darmstadt. The rode "in an open state carriage, and were vociferously cheered by the crowds that filled the streets." Darmstadt was "gayly decorated" with flags, flowers and banners. In Coburg, in the afternoon, the Duke and Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha hosted a party at Schloss Rosenau, for their youngest daughter, Beatrice, who celebrated her tenth birthday. Queen Victoria and Kaiser Wilhelm were present for the party, which also turned into a celebration for the engagement between Tsarevitch Nicholas and Princess Alix of Hesse and By Rhine, which took place earlier in the day.
The marriage, which had been encouraged and engineered by Queen Victoria, was not a happy one. In 1895, Victoria Melita gave birth to a daughter, Elisabeth, and also suffered the stillbirth of a son. Her husband preferred the company of men. They divorced in 1901.
Princess Elisabeth died from typhoid fever in 1903.
On October 8, 1905, against the wishes of the Russian Emperor Nicholas II, Victoria Melita married her first cousin, Grand Duke Kirill, who was the son of Grand Duke Vladimir and Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna. Victoria Melita and Kirill were first cousins to each other and to Nicholas II. Victoria Melita was also Empress Alexandra's first cousin and former-sister-in-law. The original announcement of their engagement was made public by a Bucharest newspaper in October 1903.
Victoria Melita's second marriage took place quietly at the Hotel de Russie in Munich, according to the New York Times. The civil ceremony was performed by a Coburg government official, and the Russian Orthodox service took place in the presence of the bride's mother, the Dowager Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and Grand Duke Alexis, "who came from Paris in an automobile."
Everything was done in great secrecy, and the announcement of the marriage was made several days after the ceremony took place.
The marriage was not originally approved because the couple were first cousins. The Russian Orthodox church prohibited the marriage between first (and second and third) cousins, but the Russian emperor, according to the fundamental laws, can override this rule. Kirill was "disgraced, deprived of certain honorary titles," but in July 1907 was pardoned. His wife, who converted to the Orthodox church in January 1907, became known as Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna.
Victoria and Kirill were the parents of two daughters, Marie and Kira, who were born in 1907 and 1909, respectively. In June 1917, the family left Russia for Finland, where, in August of that year, Victoria Melita gave birth to a son. After the murders of Nicholas II, his son, Alexis, and his brother, Grand Duke Michael, Kirill, as the eldest son of the late Grand Duke Vladimir, younger brother of Alexander III, became the heir to the throne. In 1924, he issued a manifesto where he claimed he was the new emperor.
In their final years, Victoria and Kirill spent most of their time in Coburg, Germany, and at villa near Dinard in Brittany. The Grand Duchess was also a Princess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, as her father, the Duke of Edinburgh, succeeded his uncle, Ernst II, as Duke in 1893.
The villa was the scene of receptions for emigres in "accepted imperial style." Victoria Melita also remained close to her sister, Queen Marie, and Marie's grandson, Crown Prince Michael, often visited his great aunt. The King and Queen of Yugoslavia (Victoria Melita's niece, Marie), Princess Ileana of Roumania, another niece (before her marriage), and her two younger sisters, the Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg and Infanta Beatrice of Spain, were also among the guests.
In 1924, Grand Duchess Victoria Melita visited the United States, where she "was entertained lavishly by members of New York Society."
She is survived by her husband, Grand Duke Kirill, and her three children, Marie, who is married to the Prince of Leiningen, Grand Duchess Kira, and Grand Duke Wladimir, and by her three sisters, Marie, the Dowager Queen of Roumania, Alexandra, the Princess of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, and Infanta Beatrice of Spain.