Romanovs and Windsors

Nicholas (Tsar Nicholas II) and Alexandra (future Empress Alexandra Feodorovna) at the time of engagement in April 1894.

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April 29th this year is a national holiday in Britain on the occasion of the wedding ceremony of Prince William and Kate Middleton. As the event acquires a nationwide importance, it will be attended by dignitaries from all over the world.

Among the invited royalty will be guests with Russian roots as many imperial families in Europe were related to one another just one hundred years ago. Prince William is the great-great-great-great-grandson of Russian Emperor Nicholas I. Nicholas’s granddaughter Olga married King George I of Greece, their grandson Philip married the currently reigning Queen Elizabeth. Now, Philip’s grandson is getting married. Queen Elizabeth II is the great niece of the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II from the side of Queen Victoria, a remarkable figure in British history. The two dynasties were thus kin to one another and this kinship saw a large number of dramatic love tangles.

Queen Victoria, in full Alexandrina Victoria, was named so in honor of Russian Emperor Alexander I, renowned for routing Napoleon’s army and liberating Europe. Queen Victoria had nine children and 34 grandchildren. Two of her granddaughters - Elizabeth and Alice – married Romanovs. Elizabeth married Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, brother of Russian Emperor Alexander III, in 1884. Her younger sister Alice, then 12, arrived in Russia to attend the wedding and fell for Crown Prince Nicholas, Russia’s future emperor. Yelena Artemieva, curator at Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, near St.Petersburg, comments:

"Young Alice was dancing with Nicholas at a ball in the Alexander Palace, where he spent most of his time. That ball marked the start of a romantic feeling between them, even if childish…. Later they met in Europe."

Five years later Alice came to visit Petersburg again on invitation of the Grand Duke. Nicholas was hopelessly infatuated with her.

His parents, Alexander III and Maria Feodorovna, were against this marriage – they expected Nicolas to marry a better match from the French court. During Alice’s third visit Nicholas’ parents did not let him see her. Alice’s sister Elizabeth and her husband acted as intermediaries in maintaining correspondence between the two.

Four years later Nicholas’ parents had to give in. Nicholas insisted on marrying Alice and wouldn’t hear of anyone else. Alice arrived in Russia again, this time as a bride. She was a devout believer and was suffering at the prospect of having to convert to another religion. But she accepted Orthodoxy with all her heart and was earnest about every Orthodox ritual or tradition.

Alice’s new name after adopting Orthodoxy was Alexandra Feodorovna. Their wedding and honeymoon coincided with a time of mourning following the death of Emperor Alexander III. Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich wrote in his memoirs that the prologue for the historical tragedy of the last Russian emperor could not be more dramatic. Alexandra Feodorovna, Queen Victoria’s most loved granddaughter, shared the tragic death of her husband and children 24 years later, in 1918.

Alice did not have a hearty welcome or an easy time in Russia. A wedding on the heels of a burial was regarded a bad omen. In addition, Alice was reserved and shy by nature, which prevented her from making friends. As a result, the young couple steered clear of secular life but enjoyed each other’s company and their love stayed alight throughout their lives.

Numerous presents from Nicholas II to his wife spoke of his tender feelings towards her. Every year the emperor gave Faberge eggs to his wife and mother for Easter.

Sources: The Voice of Russia
25 April, 2011