Victoria Melita was already planning a new future with Grand Duke Cyril, who was also her first cousin. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia was the head of the family, and he was firmly against the match. Not only was a marriage between first cousins against the rules of the Russian Orthodox Church, but Victoria Melita was also a divorcee. For now, even the notion of marriage seemed out of the question as Cyril was also a possible heir to the Russian throne. When Alexandra Feodorovna gave birth to a son in 1904, his succession seemed less likely. Cyril and Victoria Melita spent most of that summer together, and Cyril was assured by the confessor of the Imperial Family that, according to canon law, there was no obstacle if he wished to marry his divorced cousin.
And so, on 8 October 1905 – without the permission of Tsar Nicholas II – Cyril and Victoria Melita were married near Munch with only a few guests present. A few days later, Cyril left for St. Petersburg to inform the family of the wedding. When he arrived, the Tsar had already been informed, and he was deprived of his honours and income, and he was told to leave Russia within 48 hours. He had not expected such a harsh punishment. A life in exile now awaited the newlyweds, and Victoria Melita was denied the title of Grand Duchess. Nevertheless, she was happy.
They divided their time between Nice and Tegernsee, and soon Victoria Melita found that she was pregnant again. On 20 January 1907, she gave birth to a daughter named Marie. Shortly after they received the news that Cyril’s uncle Alexis had died and that only Cyril was invited to the funeral. He went and found that the Tsar had finally relented and had decided to give back his title. With the death of his father and other circumstances, Cyril now found himself third in the line of succession. In July 1907, Victoria Melita was formally acknowledged as Grand Duchess.
On 26 April 1909, she gave birth to a second daughter named Kira and the following year, they were finally allowed to live in Russia. They were soon favoured members of the Russian society, and Victoria Melita loved her new life. Alexandra Feodorovna was never much of a hostess, and the close-knit family life of the Tsar and Tsarina was overshadowed by the haemophilia-stricken Alexei. Alexandra – whose brother Ernest had been Victoria Melita’s first husband – had been very much against the marriage with Cyril and the two women never got along.
The outbreak of the First World War divided the family. Victoria Melita visited her sister in Romania several times to ask for provisions and help. The Russian Revolution also began taking shape and on 16 March 1917, Tsar Nicholas abdicated the throne. A desperate Victoria Melita wrote to her sister, “Neither pride, nor hope, nor money, nor future and the dear past blotted out by the frightful present; nothing is left, nothing!”1 To add to her worries, she had found herself pregnant for the first time in eight years. They decided to settle in Finland for the time being, and they left St. Petersburg in June 1917. On 30 August 1917, she gave birth to a son named Vladimir. They would remain in Finland for a lot longer than planned – three years in total. During these years, they were often short of food, and Victoria Melita was forced to ask the Crown Princess of Sweden – born Princess Margaret of Connaught – for baby food. As news of the murders of the Tsar, Tsarina and other family members began to come in, they were all horrified.
In the autumn of 1919, the family left Finland and headed for Germany before travelling on to Zurich where Victoria Melita’s mother was staying. She was in terrible health and died in October 1920 of heart failure. Victoria Melita wrote, “I feel quite as if life were over, my own life I mean, so much have we lived for & in Mama ever since I can remember. I sometimes hardly know how to bear the void now. All these years have been one long straining to reach her again & hardly had I found her only to be separated forever. Nothing matters to me any more now, only to live for the children.”2 The family began to divide their time between Nice and Coburg.
In 1924, Cyril proclaimed himself the guardian of the Imperial throne even though the Tsar’s mother Maria Feodorovna refused to publically accept that the death of her son and his family. He also elevated his three children to Grand Duke/Duchess. However, very few exiled Russian actually recognised him as Tsar. Victoria Melita went to visit the United States, hoping to have her husband recognised as Tsar.
On 24 November 1925, their eldest daughter Marie married Charles, Hereditary Prince of Leiningen and their first grandson was born the following year. Soon afterwards, Victoria Melita and her husband moved to France, where the weather was warmer and better for their health. However, she lived in constant that something would happen to her son. In October 1930, they celebrated their silver wedding anniversary, but just three years, she found out that Cyril had an affair and their relationship was never the same again. Her sister later wrote, “Her strength has run out, a sort of grey despair sets in, a feeling that only death could liberate her from the intolerable, crushing, overwhelming burden.”3
In early 1936, she contracted a chill but still went ahead with a visit to her daughter to attend the christening of her newest granddaughter Matilda. Afterwards, she suffered a stroke which left one side of her body paralysed, and she was left unable to speak properly. There was little the doctors could do. On 1 March, her pulse began to slow and just after midnight on 2 March, she died. Her sister later wrote, “The whole thing was tragic beyond imagination, a tragic end to a tragic life. She carried tragedy within her – she had tragic eyes – always – even as a little girl – But we loved her enormously, there was something mighty about her -she was our Conscience. But when he betrayed her, she did not know how to forgive, so she allowed him to murder her soul. From then onwards, her strength became her weakness, her undoing – she was too absolute, she could not overcome herself.”4
Her body was wrapped in a long white robe, and her sister placed white lilacs around her as she lay in her coffin. She was buried in Coburg in the family vault beside her parents and brother. In 1995, her body was moved to the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg where she was finally laid to rest beside her husband and son.