It was on 26 November (14 November O.S.) 1894 in the Grand Church of the Winter Palace that Tsar Nicholas II of Russia wed his German bride, Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine (whose name was changed to Alexandra Feodorovna upon being received into the Russian Orthodox Church). However, it took some time for the marriage of Nicholas and Alexandra to take place.
The then Tsesarevich Nicholas proposed to Alix (a known favourite granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom) in Coburg in April 1894. He had obtained permission to propose to her from his parents, Tsar Alexander III and Empress Maria Feodorovna, at the wedding of a cousin. Even though his parents were not overly fond of the match initially, Nicholas was determined to marry her.
Although it was not smooth sailing as Alexandra rejected the proposal; she was a devout Lutheran and was not happy with the fact that she would have to convert to Russian Orthodoxy to marry the heir to Russia’s throne. However, eventually love would win, and Alexandra accepted the proposal from Nicholas, who presented her with a pink pearl ring, the second time he asked – thanks to Kaiser Wilhelm II’s insistence that her duty was to wed the future tsar.
As Nicholas’ father, Tsar Alexander had died in November 1894, the ordinary week-long public celebrations and parades planned for the marriage of Nicholas and Alexandra were cancelled. Nicholas had initially intended to have his wedding held at Livadia Palace, but as he was now the Tsar of Russia, his uncles persuaded him to hold his nuptials in a more pompous ceremony to reflect his status. So, the wedding was agreed upon to be held in St. Petersburg with the diplomatic corps invited (again against the initial desire of Nicholas).
Typically, the wedding would have been held after the official mourning for Tsar Alexander had concluded; however, Nicholas did not want to wait the period of time. So, he wed Alexandra on his mother’s birthday which allowed the court mourning to be a bit more relaxed.
On the day of his wedding, Tsar Nicholas wrote in his diary, in part, “The day of my wedding! Everyone had coffee together, and then went off to dress: I put on the Hussar uniform and at 11.30 drove with Misha to the Winter Palace. The whole Nevsky was lined with troops waiting for Mama to drive past with Alix…There were so many people on the streets, it was almost impossible to pass!”
For the ceremony, Alexandra was in a Honiton lace veil that had been designed by her grandfather, Prince Albert and worn by her mother and sisters before her. She was also in a 475-carat necklace and earrings that had been Catherine the Great’s. The star and sash of the Order of St. Andrei were worn on top of her silver wedding gown and across her body while her head held the traditional Romanov wedding crown and a Kokoshnik tiara. She was dressed, as per tradition, by her future mother-in-law. Tragically, the wedding gown would not survive the Russian Revolution.
According to Greg King in his book The Last Empress: The Life and Times of Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsarina of Russia, Alexandra’s outfit was “so intricate that it took nearly an hour for Alexandra to dress. Her stockings were of lace, her shoes embroidered and decorated. Over these, she wore layers of stiff petticoats. The wide, full skirt of silver brocade opened from the waist down to reveal a second underskirt of silver tissue, edged with fur. The décolletage was cut low, to reveal the neck and shoulders, and the gown had short sleeves trailing ermine-edged tippets. The tightly fitted, boned bodice was sewn with diamonds which sparkled with every move. The folds of the overskirt fell back to form a train, and a separate, sweeping court train of cloth-of-gold edged with ermine fell from her shoulders.”
Tsar Nicholas was in his Hussar’s uniform, medals and Order of Hesse und Bei Rhein sash. Guests wore formal attire – including military uniforms, gowns and jewels.
The ceremony began shortly after noon with a procession with Marie Feodorovna leading the procession with the bride. The groom followed behind his mother and soon to be wife. Next came the Russian Grand Dukes and Grand Duchesses and other royal relatives from other countries (King Christian IX of Denmark led the group).
Aside from members of the Romanov family (Nicholas) and British Royal Family (Alexandra), other foreign royals in attendance included several members of various German ruling dynasties. Queen Victoria was unable to attend and wrote that she “felt so sad I could not be with [Alix].” The Queen held a dinner party on the day of the wedding as a way to celebrate.
Father Ioann Yanyshev and other clergymen led the service with Nicholas and Alexandra exchanging rings three times and kneeling to exchange their formal vows while the nuptial crowns were held above their heads by Grand Duke Michael, Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich, Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich and Prince George of Greece.
The couple were lead around the podium before kissing a golden cross before the Father Ioann officially proclaimed them as man and wife. In celebration, church bells rang throughout St. Petersburg and salutes were fired.
As court mourning was still in effect after Tsar Alexander’s death, no reception was held. The couple also did not go on a honeymoon and spent the night of their wedding answering telegraphs.