Maria Alexandrovna (Marie of Hesse and by Rhine)

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Maria Alexandrovna
Empress Maria Alexandrovna (Marie of Hesse).jpg
Empress consort of All the Russias
Tenure 2 March 1855 – 3 June 1880
Coronation 7 September 1855
Born (1824-08-08)8 August 1824
Darmstadt, Grand Duchy of Hesse, German Confederation
Died 3 June 1880(1880-06-03) (aged 55)
Winter Palace, Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Burial Peter and Paul Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russian Empire
Spouse Alexander II
Issue Grand Duchess Alexandra Alexandrovna
Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich
Alexander III
Maria, Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich
Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich
Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich
Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich
Full name
Maximilienne Wilhelmine Marie
House Hesse-Darmstadt
Father Louis II, Grand Duke of Hesse
Mother Wilhelmine of Baden
Religion Eastern Orthodox
prev. Lutheranism

Marie of Hesse and by Rhine (8 August 1824 – 3 June [O.S. 22 May] 1880) was, under the name Maria Alexandrovna (Russian: Мария Александровна), Empress of Russia as the wife of Emperor Alexander II. She was born in Darmstadt, the capital of the Grand Duchy, and died in Saint Petersburg. The Mariinsky Theatre and the city of Mariehamn in Åland are named after her.

Early life

Marie was the youngest of seven children born to the Grand Duchess Wihelmine of Hesse (1788–1836), the youngest sister of the Russian Empress-Consort Elizaveta Alexeievna. The younger four were probably the biological children of Baron August von Senarclens de Grancy, but to avoid a scandal, Ludwig II, Grand Duke of Hesse acknowledged Alexander and Marie as his own children; the other two had died young.

Empress Maria Alexandrovna


When in 1838, the Tsarevich Alexander Nikolayevich toured Europe to find a wife, he fell in love with the 14-year-old Marie. He married her on 16 April 1841, even though he was well aware of the "irregularity" of her birth. His mother Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna objected, but Alexander insisted.

She was very shy. The damp climate of St. Petersburg did not agree with the delicate chest Marie had inherited from her mother, so that she had a racking cough and recurring fever. Nevertheless, she became the mother of eight children. These pregnancies together with ill health kept her away from many Court festivities, which brought temptations to her husband.

Marie knew Alexander was unfaithful and had many lovers. He already had three children with his favourite mistress, Princess Catherine Dolgoruki, and he moved her and their children into the Imperial Palace during Marie's final illness, and entered into a morganatic marriage with Princess Catherine Dolgoruki, on 18 July [O.S. 6 July] 1880.[1]

Empress Maria Alexandrovna with her husband Tsar Alexander II, and son, the future Tsar Alexander III

Russian Empress

In 1855 Alexander became Emperor, which forced her to attend more State functions whether she was ill or not. Although In 1865, the death of her eldest and favourite son, the Tsarevich Nicholas, was a great blow.

Every now and again she was able to go to her brother Alexander who lived with his morganatic wife in Heiligenberg. There she met Princess Alice, second daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, wife of her nephew Prince Louis. She resented Alice's suggestion that her brother Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Marie's daughter, Maria Alexandrovna marry, but the marriage ultimately went through. When Alice died in 1878, Marie often invited the motherless children for visits to Heiligenberg. It was during these visits that her second youngest son, Grand Duke Sergei, met his future wife, Alice's second daughter, Princess Elisabeth and Maria also met Elisabeth's youngest surviving sister, Princess Alix, who would eventually become the devoted, yet ill-fated, wife of Maria's eldest grandson, Tsar Nicholas II. One legend states that on a visit to Darmstadt, upon meeting Alix, Marie turned to her maid of honor telling her to "kiss her hand. That is your empress to be."[2] In later years Nicholas II’s eldest daughter, the Grand Duchess Olga, claimed to have seen the ghost of her great-grandmother, the Empress Maria Alexandrovna as a small child, according to her nanny, Miss Margaretta Eagar.[3]


Name Birth Death Notes
Grand Duchess Alexandra Alexandrovna 30 August 1842 10 July 1849 nicknamed Lina, died of infant meningitis in St. Petersburg at the age of six
Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich 20 September 1843 24 April 1865 engaged to Dagmar of Denmark
Tsar Alexander III 10 March 1845 1 November 1894 married 1866, Dagmar of Denmark (Maria Feodorovna); had issue
Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich 22 April 1847 17 February 1909 married 1874, Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (Maria Pavlovna); had issue
Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich 14 January 1850 14 November 1908 married 1867/1870, Alexandra Vasilievna Zhukovskaya; had issue
Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna 17 October 1853 20 October 1920 married 1874, Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; had issue
Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich 29 April 1857 4 February 1905 married 1884, Elisabeth of Hesse (Elizabeth Feodorovna);  
Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich 3 October 1860 24 January 1919 married 1889, Alexandra of Greece and Denmark (Alexandra Georgievna); had issue - second marriage 1902, Olga Karnovich; had issue
Sash of the Order of Maria Louisa, belonging to the Empress Maria Alexandrovna of Russia.

Titles and styles

  • 8 August 1824 – 3 June 1880 Her Grand Ducal Highness Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine
  • 16 April 1841 – 2 March 1855 Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, the Tsesarevna of Russia, Princess of Hesse and by Rhine
  • 2 March 1855 – 3 June 1880 Her Imperial Majesty The Empress of all the Russias



External links

Maria Alexandrovna (Marie of Hesse and by Rhine)
Cadet branch of the House of Hesse
Born: 8 August 1824 Died: 3 June 1880
Russian royalty
Preceded by
Charlotte of Prussia
Empress consort of Russia
Title next held by
Dagmar of Denmark


  1. Толмачев Е. П. Александр III и его время. М.: Терра, 2007. — ISBN 978-5-275-01507-2 (in Russian)
  2. King, Greg The Last Empress: the Life and Times of Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsarina of Russia (Birch Lane Press, 1994) pg. 13
  3. Banks, ECS. Road to Ekaterinburg: Nicholas and Alexandra’s Daughters 1913–1918. SilverWood Books 2012. ISBN 978-1-78132-035-8