Marie of Hesse – The saintly Empress (Part two)

marie hesse
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Read part one here.

On 2 March 1855, Marie’s husband became Emperor upon the death of his father. Both Marie and Alexander were by his side when he died. Their coronation took place on 17 August 1856, with Alexander placing a crown on Marie’s head as she knelt before him. When she arose, it clattered to the floor, but Alexander calmly placed it on her head again.

During the summer of 1864, as their eldest son courted Dagmar of Denmark, a swelling was discovered on his spine. He deteriorated slowly and in April 1865, he was diagnosed with cerebrospinal meningitis, and he suffered a stroke in France. Dagmar was informed with a telegram, “Nicholas has received the Last Rites. Pray for us and come if you can.”1 The family and Dagmar hurried to his side and were there when he died on 24 April 1865 at the age of 21.

Alexander had never been a stranger to mistresses and Marie turned a blind eye. She asked him,” I ask you to respect the woman in me, even if you won’t be able to respect the empress.”2 Despite the many mistresses, Alexander remained devoted to his family. In 1866, he became involved with Princess Ekaterina Dolgorukova and that same spring; he survived an attack. They would go on to have four children together, and they contracted a morganatic marriage after Marie’s death. As Alexander went through his mistresses, the Russian court considered Marie a saint for enduring it all.

In October 1866, Dagmar – once engaged to their son Nicholas – married the new heir Alexander, the future Alexander III. Marie could only feel for Dagmar and wrote, “It’s so sad to think what might have been, and one’s heart bleeds for poor Minny (Dagmar) who must feel it so, stepping over the threshold of a home she’d planned so delightfully with another.”3 A son was born to the couple on 18 May 1868 – the future Nicholas II. Marie was present during the birth, which bothered Dagmar “intensely!”4

In early 1880, it became clear that Marie was dying. Marie was in Cannes, and Alexander ordered her home. Marie wrote, “No one asked my opinion. This is a cruel decision. They’d treat a sick housemaid better.”5 Her ladies-in-waiting feared that she would die on her way to Russia, but she made it to the Winter Palace. Fears that Alexander would marry his mistress as soon as she was dead arose. Ladies-in-waiting prayed, “Lord protect our empress, because as soon as her eyes are closed, the tsar will marry the odalisque!”6 Marie was beginning to put her affairs in order and spent her days in bed. Alexander must have realised that Marie knew what would happen after her death, and he told his brother, “For God’s sake, don’t mention the empress to me, it hurts.”7 Marie wrote in her will that she wished to be buried in a simple white dress without a royal crown. She also requested that no autopsy be done. She began having hallucinations and started talking to them.

On the early morning of 3 June 1880, Marie was found dead at the Winter Palace, consumed by tuberculosis. Alexander wrote, “My God, welcome her soul and forgive me my sins. My double life ends today. I am sorry, but she (Ekaterina) doesn’t hide her joy. She talks immediately about legalising our situation; this mistrust kills me. I’ll do it all for her but not against the national interest.”8 A lady-in-waiting wrote, “It was during the night that the angel of death came for her very quietly, while the palace slept. A solitary death was the final chord in a life so far from vanity and earthly fame.”9

Marie was buried on 9 June, and Alexander married Ekaterina just 40 days after Marie’s death. Alexander was killed by a terrorist bomb the following year.

  1. The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore p.403
  2. The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore p.417
  3. The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore p.410
  4. The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore p.410
  5. Alexander II: the last great tsar by Edvard Radzinsky p.272
  6. Alexander II: the last great tsar by Edvard Radzinsky p.299
  7. Alexander II: the last great tsar by Edvard Radzinsky p.272
  8. The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore p.440
  9. Alexander II: the last great tsar by Edvard Radzinsky p.272

About Moniek Bloks 2740 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

1 Comment

  1. I wonder how likely it is that Marie’s eldest son Nicholas (Nixa) died from tubercular meningitis. The swelling on his back could be due to a Psoas abscess secondary to tuberculosis. Marie died from TB and at that time it was rampant.In photographs his rather frail appearance is a marked contrast to that of his more robust brothers Alexander, Vladimir and Alexis. His untimely death is one of many historical “what ifs”

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