95th Birthday of Leonida Georgievna,
Grand Duchess of Russia

HIH Leonida Georgievna, Grand Duchess of Russia
Photo © Russian Imperial House

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Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna, the widow of Grand Duke Vladimir Cyrillovich, was born on September 23, 1914. Grand Duke Vladimir was Pretender to the Russian Throne and titular Emperor of Russia; as such, Leonida Georgievna is titular Dowager Empress of Russia. She is the mother of the current head of the House of Romanov, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna.

Leonida Georgievna was born in Tiflis (now Tbilisi), Georgia to Prince Georgiy Alexandrovich Bagration of Mukhrani and Princess Elena Sigismundovna (nťe Novina-Zlotnicka). The Bagrations claim their descent from Biblical King David. Bagrations (Bagratids) held the position of King Crowners of the ancient Armenian Kings from 150 BC. The first king of the dynasty was Ashot I, who was recognized by the Arabs as King of the Armenians in 885. The Georgian branch of the Bagrations started with Bagrat, who came to Georgia in 575. The House of Bagration-Mukhrani was established in 1469. Although with the death of King Georgiy XII in 1801 Georgia became part of the Russian Empire, the Bagrations never relinquished their position as Georgian dynasts.

Princess Leonida married Sumner Kirby in 1934. In 1935 they had a daughter Helene, who was later given the title Countess Dvinskaya by her stepfather. Following the coupleís divorce two years later, Princess Leonida settled in Spain: it was there she met her second husband.

In 1946, Grand Duke Vladimir Cyrillovich was approached by Prince Fernando of Bavaria and Bourbon, Infante of Spain, with a question regarding the upcoming marriage of his daughter, Infanta Mercedes to Prince Iraklij, Princess Leonidaís brother: the Infante wanted to know whether their marriage would be considered equal. Grand Duke Vladimir, as Head of the Russian Imperial House, confirmed the Royal Status of the House of Bagration by his Act of 1946. Soon after this, at the wedding of Prince Iraklij and Infanta Mercedes, Grand Duke Vladimir met his future wife, Princess Leonida. They were married in August of 1948 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Their marriage was controversial and considered morganatic by some members of the Romanov Family who were not familiar with the Fundamental Laws. They claimed that Princess Leonida descended from a House that had ruled as Kings in Armenia and Georgia, it was reduced to the status of Russian nobility after 1801.

However, because of the Act of 1946 and since the Grand Duke was Head of the Romanov Imperial House at the time, he was entitled to declare his marriage as equal, which he proceeded to do immediately. Their Imperial Highnesses stayed in Spain, where they made the acquaintance of Generalissimo Franco: it is said that when Franco first met Grand Duke Vladimir and Grand Duchess Leonida, he greeted them on bended knee, according to an old Spanish tradition.

The only child of the couple, Maria, was born in 1953 in Madrid: Maria Vladimirovna succeeded to her fatherís claims following Grand Duke Vladimirís death in 1992.

Grand Duchess Leonida visited Russia for the first time in 70 years in November of 1991. Since that first visit, Her Imperial Highness has visited the country more than 30 times. In 1994, the Grand Duchess oversaw the re-interment of her parents, Prince Georgiy and Princess Elena, in the Burial Chapel of Georgian kings in Mskhetu.

Although she largely withdrew from public eyes following Grand Duke Vladimirís death, she continues her extensive charity work.

In 2000, she published her memoirs Chaque Matin est une Gr‚ce which were published in French.

23 September, 2009