A year ago we took a look at the assassination of Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra and their five children in 1917, from the months leading up to it to its impact in Britain after George V and Queen Mary failed to offer refuge. Today we’re going to jump back a couple decades and take a look at their marriage, their rule and how Alexandra – born Alix of Hesse – fared (or rather, didn’t) as Tsarina.
In the middle of World War I, Queen Marie of Romania wrote to her first cousin, King George V of Great Britain: “I never imagined that it would be the lot of our generation, we who are children together, to see this great war and in a way to have to remodel the face of Europe.”
Grandchildren of Queen Victoria alongside the Kaiser of Germany, the Queen of Norway, the Queen of Spain, the Tsarina of Russia, the Queen of Greece, the Crown Princess of Sweden and countless German royals, that is in fact very much with what George and Marie were tasked in the 20th century. For the royal men, they at least had something approaching an education and training to complement such a job, but for Queen Victoria’s granddaughters, born and raised in the height of the Victorian Era, it was by far easier to stumble as they were dropped in the midst of increasingly politicized foreign courts with few tools to leverage.
As for Marie, Bucharest was far from home and her husband a far cry from her first love (George V), but despite a tyrannical father-in-law, an unstable mother-in-law, a series of affairs, illegitimate children, proximity to Russia and a shared heritage with Germany, she established herself as a popular and effective queen consort to the Romanian people.
On January 23, in 1874, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, second son of Queen Victoria, married Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, daughter of Alexander II, Emperor of Russia at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. Queen Victoria didn’t attend the ceremony – indeed, she had been against the match during the marriage negotiations, as was the Russian Emperor -and was instead represented by her eldest son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (“Bertie”) and his wife, Alexandra of Denmark, Princess of Wales.
The couple originally met during a trip to Germany in the summer of 1868, when Alfred was visiting his older sister, Alice, married to Prince Louis of Hesse. They wouldn’t meet again until the summer of 1871, again in Germany, where Marie had accompanied her parents and Alfred had Bertie and Alexandra. There the couple had the opportunity to spend substantial time together and apparently fell in love. They were reported to share a passion for music – Marie played the piano and Alfred the violin – and spent a remarked-upon amount of time in each other’s company.
By the end of the visit, the couple had apparently told their families they wished to marry, but no engagement announcement would be forthcoming. Alexander II was extremely close to his daughter and was loath to lose her, while his wife, the Tsarina, formerly known as Marie of Hesse, thought the British cold and strange. Meanwhile, Queen Victoria’s sentiments weren’t any friendlier: Mutual mistrust of both cultures still existed from the Crimean War, which had ended in Russian defeat in 1856. Added on to those sensitivities was Marie’s Orthodox faith, which would be entirely foreign to the House of Hanover.
Negotiations begun in 1871 stalled in 1872, but were re-started in January 1873. Rumors circulated through Europe that Marie had “compromised herself” with one of her father’s aides-de-camp, though Alfred refused to believe the stories. Instead, he jumped through every hoop the Romanovs put before him, while both mothers worked fruitlessly to distract their children with other suitors.