The Romanovs
HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna
Head of the Russian Imperial House

Compiled and Edited by Paul Gilbert

Portrait of HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna
Artist: Alexander Osipov, 2007

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Interview with Her Imperial Highness the Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, Head of the Russian Imperial House.
Source: Russia Today. Language: English. Duration: 26 minutes, 14 seconds. Date: 19 July, 2008

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Her Imperial Highness, the Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna (de jure Her Imperial Majesty the Empress of all Russias) as Head of the Russian Imperial House. When H.I.H. Grand Duke Vladimir III Kirillovich died on 21 April 1992, she succeeded him as head of the Russian Imperial House.

Grand Duchess of Russia Maria Vladimirovna, (Russian: Мария Владимировна) was born 23rd December 1953 in Madrid, Spain. She is the only daughter of the late Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. Grand Duke Vladimir III Kirillovich, and His Most August Spouse H.I.H. Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna (born H.R.H. Princess Bagration-Muhkrani of Georgia).

HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna is the only daughter of
H.I.H. Grand Duke Vladimir III Kirillovich, and H.I.H. Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna.

Her paternal grandparents were Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich of Russia and Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna (née Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha). Her paternal great-grandparents were Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna (née Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Her paternal great-great-grandparents were Emperor Alexander II of Russia and Empress Maria Alexandrovna (née Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine).

HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna is the great-great-granddaughter of Emperor Alexander II of Russia.

Following the tradition of the Imperial Family, the Grand Duchess was brought up in the spirit of the Orthodox Faith and devotion to the interests of Russia. Maria was educated in Madrid and Paris, before spending a few terms at Oxford University, where she studied Russian history and literature.

Because Her Father was the only male dynast of the Imperial House to contract an equal marriage after 1917, it became highly likely that the young Grand Duchess would in due course become the heiress to the Russian throne. Because of this, Her Father the Grand Duke Vladimir III Kirillovich determined that She had reached Her dynastic majority at the age of 16 (Article 40 Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire), and on December 23, 1969, the Grand Duchess swore the prescribed dynastic oath of allegiance of loyalty to Her Fatherland and Her August Father. The same day the Head of the Russian Imperial House issued a Decree ordaining that, should He die prior to the deaths of the several then living Princes of the Imperial Blood who have entered into morganatic marriages, the Grand Duchess Maria would become the Curatrix of the Imperial Throne.

In any event, the Decree of 1969 did not need to come into force. In 1989, Prince of the Imperial Blood Vassily Alexandrovich (Prince Vassily of Russia) died, leaving the Head of the Imperial House, the Grand Duke Vladimir III Kirillovich, as the only surviving male dynast of the male line of the dynasty. From that point, the Grand Duchess became first in line after Her Father.

The Grand Duke Vladimir III Kirillovich was the last male dynast in the male line of the Romanoff Dynasty. At His death 21 April 1992, and in accordance with Article 30 of the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire, the succession passed to the female line in the person of His Daughter. The Grand Duchess thus became the Head of the Russian Imperial Dynasty (de jureEmpress of all Russias) Maria I.

In Madrid on 22 September 1976, Maria contracted an equal marriage with H.R.H. Prince Franz Wilhelm of Prussia(born 3 September, 1943), a Hohenzollern great-grandson of Germany's last emperor, Wilhelm II and, like his bride, a great-great grandchild of Victoria, Queen of the British Empire. Since the Grand Duchess would eventually be the head of the Romanoff Dynasty, a dynastic agreement was entered into and legally formulated between the Russian Imperial House and the Prussian Royal House prior to the wedding, in which Prince Franz-Wilhelm converted to the Orthodox Faith and became a member of the Russian Imperial House with the name Mikhail Pavlovich and the title of Grand Duke. He also promised that any issue from this marriage would be brought up in the Orthodox Faith. The status of the Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich was determined by the provisions of Article 6 of the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire.

HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna and Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich were married on 22 September 1976.

The couple separated in 1982, a year after the birth of their only child George Mikhailovich (born 13 March, 1981), who had been granted the title Grand Duke of Russia at birth by his grandfather Vladimir. Following the divorce on 19 June 1985, Franz Wilhelm reverted to his Prussian name and style.

Her first visit to Russia was in April 1992 to attend the funeral of her father, the Grand Duke Vladimir III Kirillovich in the Grand Ducal Mausoleum of the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. Since that time, Her Imperial Highess has repeatedly been to the Fatherland, carrying on the duties of Her Father and attempting to help Her compatriots in a difficult transitional period. In Her speeches She constantly emphasizes that She is ready to respond to a call from the people, but that under no circumstances does She wish Monarchy to be imposed on the Russian people against their will.

Following the discovery of the remains of Emperor Nicholas II and most of his immediate family in 1991, Maria Vladimirovna wrote to President Boris Yeltsin, regarding the burial of the remains, saying of her Romanov cousins, that they "do not have the slightest right to speak their mind and wishes on this question. They can only go and pray at the grave, as can any other Russian, who so wishes". At the behest of the Russian Orthodox Church Maria did not recognize the authenticity of the remains and declined to attend the reburial ceremony in 1998.

Maria's claim as Head of the Russian Imperial House is still disputed by other descendants of the Romanov dynasty alive today, whom she does not recognize as members of the Imperial family (including the grandchildren of Nicholas II's sister Grand Duchess Xenia). When questioned about the ongoing rift in the Romanov family, Maria said;

“Attempts to disparage my rights have originated with people who, firstly, do not belong to the Imperial Family, and, secondly, either do not themselves know the relevant laws or think that others do not know these laws. In either case, there is unscrupulousness at work. The only thing that causes me regret is that some of our relatives waste their time and energy on little intrigues instead of striving to be of some use to their country. I have never quarreled with anyone about these matters and I remain open to a discussion and cooperation with all, including, of course, my relatives. But there can be no foundation for cooperation without respect for our dynastic laws, fulfilling these laws, and following our family traditions.”

In 2002, Maria became frustrated with the internal strife within the Russian monarchist movement. When representatives of the Union of Descendants of Noble Families, one of two rival nobility associations (the other, older one being the Russian Nobility Association) were discovered to be distributing chivalric titles and awards of the Order of St Nicholas the Wonderworker, without her approval, she published a relatively strongly worded disclaimer.

Wherever she goes, HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna is treated as an Empress.

At present, Maria Vladimirovna lives in France and Spain. She is fluent in Russian, English, French and Spanish, and also speaks and reads German, Italian and Arabic.

HIH Grand Duchess Maria hopes one day to take up residence in Russia. A statement issued by her Chancellor in 2009 notes: “The Imperial House intends to return to Russia. We don’t know when the time will be right, but we are certain that it will happen in near future, as it has already happened in many civilized countries, like Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania and Hungary. The former Royal Houses that returned to their countries of origin now actively take part in their respective countries’ social lives, and so far, no harm has come out of it.

On the contrary, it is only beneficial, because it helps to unite the people, develop national awareness and helps strengthening the position of those countries on the international level. It is too soon to discuss the possibility of return: the Imperial Family must live up to certain expectations and arrangements must be made for it. We are currently in talks with the Russian Government concerning the issue.”

Like Her Father and Grandfather, the Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna loyally and steadfastly discharges the service entrusted to Her by God, completely dedicating Her life to Her beloved Fatherland. From her home in Madrid, the Grand Duchess has spent the last two decades doing what her father was unable to do - return to Russia again and again to promote the cause of monarchy but also to meet the Russian people and to represent them where possible. With the restored Russian Orthodox Church on her side, her cause has significant support and she is no stranger to the courts of Europe. She attended the wedding of the Prince of Asturias, in 2006 she represented the Romanov family at the reburial of Empress Maria Feodorovna and she has conducted official tours (sanctioned by the Kremlin) to Brazil, Australia, the United States of America and of course, Russia. Wherever she goes, she is treated as an Empress.

On January 5, 2010, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna went to Istanbul, where she met with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and Mustafa Cagrici, Grand Mufti of Istanbul. On 14 December of the same year, with the blessing of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, she made a pilgrimage to Bari, Italy, and visited Pope Benedict XVI and Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal-Camerlengo Tarcisio Bertone in the Vatican.

On numerous occasions HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna has been warmly received by three successive President's of the Russian Federation: Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. She has also been warmly received by two successive Patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church: Alexei II and Kirill I.

She has worked tirelessly over the years to clear the names of her ancestors, even seeking rehabilitation in the courts. The last Russian emperor, Nicholas II, his immediate family, and other members of the Russian Imperial family were persecuted and brutally murdered by the Bolsheviks, while others were driven from their homeland into exile. Thanks to her efforts, Russia's Supreme Court in 2008 ruled that the last tsar and his family were victims of political repression, formally restoring the Romanov name and furthering a Kremlin effort to encourage patriotism by celebrating the country's tsarist past.

The Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna makes frequent visits to Russia throughout the year. She is welcomed by Orthodox Christians, monarchists, politicians, and families in towns and cities across Russia. Her warmth and kindness endear her to all who meet her. There is no doubt that Her Imperial Highness works very hard to be a part of Russian life.

HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna works very hard to be a part of Russian life.

Paul Gilbert is the Founder and Web-Site Administrator of Royal Russia. He is also the Publisher and Editor of Royal Russia Annual.