Maria Alexandrovna (Marie of Hesse)

Maria Alexandrovna
Empress Maria Alexandrovna (Marie of Hesse).jpg
Empress consort of Russia
Tenure2 March 1855 – 3 June 1880
Coronation7 September 1855
Born(1824-08-08)8 August 1824
Darmstadt, Grand Duchy of Hesse, German Confederation
Died3 June 1880(1880-06-03) (aged 55)
Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, Russian Empire
Peter and Paul Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russian Empire
SpouseAlexander II of Russia
Full name
Maximilianne Wilhelmine Auguste Sophie Marie
FatherLouis II, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine
MotherPrincess Wilhelmine of Baden
ReligionRussian Orthodoxy
prev. Lutheranism

Maria Alexandrovna (Russian: Мария Александровна), born Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine (8 August 1824 – 3 June 1880) was Empress of Russia as the first wife of Emperor Alexander II. She was the mother of Emperor Alexander III and paternal grandmother of Nicholas II and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia, one of the murderers of Rasputin.

She was a daughter of Ludwig II, Grand Duke of Hesse, and Princess Wilhelmine of Baden. Marie was raised in austerity but was well educated by her mother, who took personal charge of her education but died when Marie was still very young. She was only fourteen years old when the Tsarevich Alexander Nikolaevich, later Tsar Alexander II of Russia, fell in love with her while he was traveling to Western Europe. She arrived in Russia in September 1840, converted to the Orthodox Church, took the title of Grand Duchess of Russia and traded the name Marie for Maria Alexandrovna. She married Alexander on 16 April 1841. The couple had eight children: two daughters and six sons. For fourteen years (1840–1855), she was Tsarevna, the wife of the heir of the Russian throne. She became the Russian Empress consort after the death of her father-in-law, Tsar Nicholas I.

Maria Alexandrovna learned the Russian language quickly; she was pious and identified with her adopted country. She did not enjoy court life of the duties of representation as she was shy and of a withdrawn nature. As a consequence she was not popular. She took a more focused interest in charitable activities after the death of her mother-in-law the Dowager Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in 1860. Maria Alexandrovna was particularly active in the field of female education, establishing Russia's first all female schools. She organized the Russian Red Cross and expanded its activities during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78.

She was deeply affected by the death of her eldest son the Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich in 1865. By then, her fragile constitution was undermined by her numerous pregnancies and by tuberculosis which afflicted her since 1863. To avoid the harsh Russian winters, she spent long sojourns in the Crimea and in southern Europe. During many summers she visited her family in Jugenheim, where she had spent her childhood. Her marriage to Tsar Alexander II started as a love match and it was happy for some years, but Alexander II had many affairs and in 1866 he fell in love with Catherine Dolgorukova and had four children with his mistress. Maria Alexandrovna was treated with respect by her philanderer husband and she was much loved by her surviving children. After a long illness, she died in 1880. The Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, the city of Mariinsk in Kemerovo Oblast,[1] and the city of Mariehamn in Åland are named after her.

Early life

Marie of Hesse and by Rhine (right) with her family. The statue is Ludwig I. His eldest son, Ludwig II stands in profile to the left center; his second son Georg, is to the left of Ludwig (with a sash). Friderich, the third son, is between them and the youngest, Emil, stands on the extreme right. The portrait on the wall is Wilhelmine, Ludwig II's wife. Their eldest son, Ludwig III, is the very tall man in the center, behind his wife Mathilde. Their second son Karl, is on the extreme left, behind his wife Elisabeth and their children, Ludwig IV and Heinrich. Prince Alexander is standing between his brother and the statue, and Ludwig II's youngest child, Marie, stands to the right of the statue. Her husband Tsarevich Alexander is between her and Prince Emil. 1841.

Empress Maria Alexandrovna was born as Princess Maximiliane Wilhelmine Auguste Sophie Marie of Hesse and by Rhine, on 8 August  [O.S. 27 July] 1824 in Darmstadt.[2][3] She was called Wilhelmine, like her mother, while in Darmstadt, but was known as Marie afterwards.

Marie was the youngest child among the seven children of Ludwig II, Grand Duke of Hesse, and Princess Wilhelmine of Baden, a sister of the Russian Empress consort, Elizabeth Alexeievna. Maria Alexandrovna's parents were first cousins, but they were a mismatched couple.[4] Ludwig, then hereditary Prince, was shy and withdrawn, while Wilhelmine, eleven years his junior, was pretty and charming.[2][4] After the birth of three sons, the couple grew apart during the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Wars while Prince Ludwig was in the battle fields.[4] However, after a gap of eleven years, Princess Wilhelmine went on to have four more children. Court rumors attributed the biological paternity of the second set of children to Baron August von Senarclens de Grancy, the Grand Master of the stables of the Grand Duke of Hesse.[5] Of those four children, Marie and her brother Alexander, who was a year older, lived to adulthood.[2] Ludwig officially recognized the children as his.[2] By 1827, Prince Ludwig of Hesse and his wife became estranged.[4] While Prince Ludwig occupied the Grand Ducal Palace in Darmstadt, in 1828, his wife moved with their two younger children and her household to Heiligenberg, a mountainside estate nestled on a hill overlooking the village of Jugenheim that she purchased that same year[6][5] In 1829, however Wilhelmine and Ludwig celebrated their silver wedding anniversary in apparent harmony.[6][7] In 1830, Marie's paternal grandfather, Ludwig I, Grand Duke of Hesse, died and her father, Ludwig II, became the new reigning Grand Duke.[7] Gradually Marie's parents reconciled. Heiligenberg was used in the summer months by Ludwig II as well as his wife.[7]

Marie was four years old when she moved to Heiligenberg with her mother and her brother Alexander. It was there where she spent most of her childhood.[6] Heiligenberg, originally built in simple German patterns, had been previously a nunnery and it was located some 20 kilometers from Darmstadt.[5][7] Princess Marie grew up under the care of her mother who was responsible for her education. Wilhelmine had a preference for French culture and literature, which was evident in the way she educated her daughter, with a special emphasis on literature and history. When Marie was eleven years old, her mother died of tuberculosis.[7] Marianne Grancy, a lady-in-waiting to Marie's mother, a sister of August von Senarclens de Grancy, took over the responsibility of Marie's education.[6] After her mother's death Marie and her brother Alexander moved permanently to their father's court in Darmstadt.[6] The two siblings would remain very close throughout their lives.[6] Marie also was close to her two elder brothers Ludwig III, Grand Duke of Hesse and Prince Karl of Hesse. The cloud over the legitimacy of their birth continued to be cast upon Alexander and Marie.[7] On his part, their father, Ludwig II, was cold and distant towards his children.

Other Languages
română: Maria de Hessa
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Marija Aleksandrovna