Friday, June 3, 2016

From Royal to Monastic: Grand Duchess Alexandra Petrovna of Russia

Alexandra of Oldenburg,
Grand Duchess Alexandra Petrovna of Russia
Another member of the Romanov family that I am writing about today is the Grand Duchess Alexandra Petrovna, wife of Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaievitch, third son of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. The Grand Duchess Alexandra was a scion of the German princely family of Oldenburg, who were descended from Tsar Paul I thru his daughter, Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna. The Grand Duchess Catherine married Duke George of Oldenburg and they had two sons. The youngest one, Peter, was Alexandra's father.

Prince Peter, despite his Oldenburg title, was born and raised in Russia. He married Princess Therese of Nassau-Weilburg in 1837 and together they had eight children; Alexandra was their eldest child.


Alexandra was born in June 2, 1838 in St. Petersburg in the Mansion of Ivan Betskoy, the residence of Alexandra's parents. At the time of her birth, her father was serving in the Russian Army as Lieutenant General. The Prince had a promising career in the Russian Army but soon retired and took a post in the Russian government. He became a philanthropist and a scholar. Princess Therese, on the other hand, was highly-educated and artistic, and was very much involved in her husband's philanthropic works. With such a happy family life and exemplary parents, Alexandra grew up to be a simple and down-to-earth young girl who inherited her parents' love for charitable works and scholarly pursuits. She had a budding interest in medicine, and she was a talented painter like her mother. Her grandson Prince Roman Petrovich later recalled how her paintings were hung on frames on Znamenka Palace.

A miniature of a young Princess
Alexandra of Oldenburg by Vladmir Hau.
At 14 years old, Alexandra was described as possessing a sweet and gentle face and an apparent seriousness on her expression. She first met her future husband, Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich during a ball in St, Petersburg. He was a soldier most of his life and was then serving in the Life Guards Regiment. He also had a special interest in military engineering which earned him a place at the State Council. With his tall and attractive looks, he was able to enchant the young princess Alexandra. He proposed to her at the Red Drawing Room of the Anichkov Palace when she was 17 years old.

Alexandra converted from Lutheranism to the Orthodox faith on before her marriage and received the name and title Alexandra Petrovna, Grand Duchess of Russia. During the ceremony, Alexandra demonstrated her conviction to her new faith by reciting the prayers loudly and falling on her knees for many times. At the betrothal reception, Alexandra wore a luxurious blue velvet dress decorated with diamonds and among the presents she received was an emerald and diamond tiara from Emperor Alexander II and Empress Maria Alexandrovna. She and Nicholas married on 6 February 1856 in Peterhof and were given apartments at the Winter Palace for their use during the first few years of their marriage.

Nine months after the wedding, Alexandra gave birth to her first son, Nicholas, and a few years later the couple moved to their newly-built palace in St. Petersburg, the Nicholas Palace, where Alexandra gave birth to her second son, Peter, in 1864. They were also given a summer residence near Peterhof, the Znamenka Palace.

Nicholas and Alexandra's marriage was well-received by their respective families. For Alexander II, his brother's marriage was a way to anchor him for Nicholas was known to be frivolous and delights in the company of women. Alexander II was hoping that Alexandra would have a good effect on his brother. As young wife and mother, Alexandra was a hospitable and accommodating hostess to members of the imperial family. Although not particularly beautiful and was rather plain and unsophisticated, her kindness and gentle manners endeared her to her husband's family as well as to her sisters-in-law.

Alexandra's husband,
Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich
Despite the beginning of a prosperous family life, Alexandra's marriage to Nicholas was not destined to be happy. The court life in St. Petersburg held no appeal to her and she avoided court balls as much as possible and only appeared in receptions when absolutely necessary. She dressed modestly and the endless array of jewelries donned by court ladies held no appeal to her as well. This often caused displeasure to her husband who often admired his sister-in-law, the glamorous Alexandra Iosifovna, because of her love of society and fine dresses, and envisaged in her of what a grand duchess should be. Alexandra on the other hand, was brought up in a family with deep Christian spirit, and she professed very different ideals which may seem strange to society. Initially, her husband respected and admired her interest in charities and medicine as well as her being extremely religious. He supported her causes like founding a nursing institute in St. Petersburg and a hospital in Znamenka. Despite her good works, not everyone in society admired her actions. Some members of the aristocracy started making fun of her piousness and passion for social work and even calling her an eccentric. Eventually, her husband grew tired of her increasing preoccupation with religion and began complaining of his wife's lack of glamour and distaste for society. He got a mistress, a ballerina named Catherine Chislova, to whom he subsequently had five children, and avoided seeing Alexandra.

With her husband's unfaithfulness and neglect, Alexandra's health became affected and her legs were paralyzed. Following the doctor's advice, she moved to Kiev and settled in Maryinsky Palace in the hope that she could recover. She completely rely on religion for solace and comfort. However, she was now bound to a wheelchair and decided to stay in Kiev for good. Of course, this means breaking her marital duties, but this was more than convenient for her husband, who wanted to divorce her so he could marry his mistress. Alexandra vehemently refused to grant a divorce and Nicholas hoped that he could be a widower so he could remarry, but this was not to happen; Alexandra survived him for several years and his mistress. 

She then became a nun under the name "Sister Anastasia" and she founded a convent of nursing nuns dedicated in helping the poor and the sick. Alexandra died in 25 April 1900 in Kiev due to stomach cancer. She was buried in the grounds of Kievo Pechersky Monastery and on the cross of her tomb was inscribed: "There lies the remains of the servant of God: Alexandra".

Grand Duchess Alexandra as Sister Anastasia

1 comments:

charliee warmer said...

It was excellent but Alexandra petrovna married Tsar Nicolas won not his grandson

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