Monday, January 19, 2015
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna
Charles Bainbridge, manager of the London branch of the House of Faberge, described Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna as "the most outstanding and amazing lady in Europe."
This is a high compliment for a Russian grand duchess by marriage, the wife of Grand Duke Vladimir, brother of Alexander III.
Marie was the daughter of Grand Duke Friedrich Franz II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and his first wife. She was well-educated and astute, even to the point of breaking off an engagement with George, Prince of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt after learning he had a drinking problem.
Not long after this breakup, Marie was introduced to Grand Duke Vladimir. There was a mutual attraction between them. Negotiations began to arrange a marriage between the young people.
Grand Duke described his future wife as having a "rich character that can develop well."
Russian historians Galina Korneva and Tatiana Cheboksarova have brought to life Marie's rich character in Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna (Eurohistory.com), the first real biography of this fascinating woman. (The book was published first in Russian before being translated into English.)
Galina and Tatiana have made excellent use of the volumes of personal documents and correspondence that allow them to offer readers an unbiased, informative portrayal of a formidable woman.
Marie was a devout Lutheran, and she was not required to convert to the Orthodox church because her husband was neither the Emperor nor the heir. She converted in 1908, when it became apparent that Tsarevitch Alexis was ill, and Nicholas II's only brother, Grand Duke Michael, who had no interest in an equal marriage or statesmanship. This meant that there was a distinct possibility that Marie's eldest son, Kirill, could become heir to the throne.
Marie and Vladimir were the parents of five children, Alexander, who died at age 18 months, Kirill, Boris, Andrey and Helen (Elena). The authors include chapters on each of the four children. At first, Marie was not supportive of Kirill's relationship with his first cousin, Victoria Melita, a divorced woman. But she came around when she realize that this was a love match.
With their unsuitable women, illegitimate children, and roué lifestyles, Boris and Andrey were more of disappointment to their parents, and the youngest child, Grand Duchess Elena, was a headstrong woman, who thwarted her mother's ambitious plans for a grand marriage, perhaps a throne. She had a brief engagement with Prince Max of Baden, but soon fell in love with Prince Nicholas of Greece, a younger son of King George I of the Hellenes and Grand Duchess Olga Constantinova of Russia. Nicholas' two sisters, Alexandra, and Marie, both married back into the Russian Imperial Family.
Vladimir and Marie presided over the most influential court in St. Petersburg. They were rich, very rich, supported numerous charities, were patron of the arts. Marie was a social animal, popular, respected in society. Her position as the first lady of society solidified when her nephew, Nicholas II, married the socially gauche Alix of Hesse and By Rhine.
It was Marie, in Coburg for the wedding of Alix's brother, Ernie, who convinced Alix to convert to Orthodoxy (The Fundamental laws required the wives of the heir and emperor to be Orthodox.) Alix was not blest with social acumen, and could not compete with her mother-in-law, the Dowager Empress, who oozed charm, or with Marie Pavlovna, acknowledged as the socially brilliant leader of society.
The relationship between the two families began to deteriorate with Kirill's marriage to Victoria Melita. Nicholas's reaction and Vladimir's response, followed by Kirill's exile, lead to a schism between the two families, a breach that never healed. Marie was caught in the middle, she loved her son, but could not bring herself to love Ducky.
Marie, known as Miechen to her family, was an inveterate traveler, and she had a well-known passion for jewels. She had an impressive, nay, stunning collection of jewels, worth millions.
The final chapters focused on Marie's final years, the first world war, arrest, the secret rescue of many of her jewels by Albert Stopford, eventually escaping in March 1920 on board an Italian ship. She used some of her surviving jewels to pay for the journey.
Grand Duchess Marie's final years were spent in France, where she died on September 1920.
The final chapter of this excellent book brings the story up-to-date with information on Miechen's children and their families.
Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna fills a much-needed void in Imperial Russian literature. Much of what we know about Marie comes from others. Now, thanks to the intrepid Galina and Tatiana, we hear Marie's own voice. She was a wonderfully complex woman, truly imperial. She lived a grandiose life, but she and Grand Duke Vladimir used their immense wealth not only to build palaces, add to her jewels coffers, but also to help the less fortunate.
The breach between Miechen's family and Nicholas and Alexandra only exacerbated the political tensions that led to the Russian revolution and the fall of the Imperial family. Marie was politically aware, and the acknowledged leader of St. Petersburg's society.
One of Alexandra's failures was to embrace Miechen's social power and ability to shine. Unfortunately, the shy, socially-inept Empress could never compete with Miechen. Alix was the empress. Miechen was a true star.
Memo to Galina and Tatiana: how about a book of Marie's letters? Please?
Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna is a book to be treasured, not merely for the research and insight into Miechen's life, but also for the impressive array of photographs that dazzle throughout the book.
I do have a few caveats, The translation, at times, is a bit stilted. I also think it is imperative that Eurohistory hire professional proofreaders and editors as there are far too many typos and other issues.
Posted by Marlene Eilers Koenig at 12:23 AM