Princess Dagmar of Denmark was born in Denmark in 1847, daughter of Christian, then King Christian IX since 1863, and sister of Alexandra, wife of the future Edward VII. In 1864 she got engaged with Nicholas Alexandrovich, Tsesarevich of Russia, but the man died of meningitis in 1865. The Russian Imperial family had grown fond of Dagmar, and well as her towards the family, and the Tsar Alexander II had expressed the desire of having the girl remaining in the Romanov family. The desire became true when the tsarevich Alexander, in June 1866 asked for her hand. She accepted and in September they moved to St. Petersburg.

After the conversion to the Orthodox faith, she became Tsarevna Maria Fedorovna. The wedding, celebrated in November 1866, was a happy union. It is sweet the memory of the wedding night written by the groom Alexander in his diary:

I remove my slippers and my garment, embroidered in silver, and I felt the body of my beloved next to mine… the way I felt, I don’t want to describe it here. After we talked for a long time

The spouses lived in St. Petersburg in the Aničkov Palace and in the Livadia Palace in Crimea for 15 years up until the murder of her father in law, the Tsar Alexander II. After the coronation of Marian and Alexander III, considering the tumultuous moment in the capital and the risk of new attacks, the couple moved to the Gatčina Palace.

Below: illustration of the coronation of Alexander III and Marija Fedorovna

The relocation did not turn them into hermits as it later on happened to Tsar Nicholas II and the family in the Tsarskoye Selo; instead the Tsar were often going to St.Petersburg for meetings and feats, sometimes held in Gatčina.

Maria used to love feasts and dances, she was very popular in the court and she had learnt the Russian language immediately. Amongst other things she was dealing with charity and the family, but she did not interfere much with the politics of her husband. Only many years later, when the son Nicholas became tsar, she tried to advise him in order to subtract him form the influence of the tsarina Alexandra.

The relationship between Maria and Alexandra was never good. Maria despised Germans since the war for the Schleswig Holstein, which was given to the Prussians in 1864, and so she never liked her daughter in law. Her and the Tsar had accepted the offer reluctantly, and Maria considered the tsarina as hysterical and unbalanced, and at court she was not the only one believing so.

Below: the Tsar Alexander III and Tsarina Maria Fedorovna with their 5 children

Since Alexander did not like the tasks of the Russian Court, sinful in his bigot eyes, the ex tsarina kept on performing them on his behalf, appearing as still the tsarina for the observing population.

In reality Maria was tsarina until 1894 when Alexander III died of nephritis and liver complications. Her place was taken by the first child Nicholas, who got married shortly after the death of his father. In the Russian Court there was a particular habit

The tsarina mother had the priority to the one in charge: who had delivered a tsar was still more important of someone who  had only married one

According to the tradition, Nicholas was supposed to enter the receptions in his mother’s arm and Alexandra would have followed behind them. This habit did not satisfy the German spouse, so Nicholas entered with both them women at once, one each arm.

Below: tsar Nicholas II and the empress mother Maria Fedorovna in 1896

When the October Revolution was starting to approach, in 1917, Maria Fedorovna understood to not be wanted anymore by her country, so she took shelter in Crimea with her daughter Olga and other Romanov. The daughter Ksenjawas already settled in Crimea.

With these words she said goodbye to Russia:

I leave because I cannot stand any longer the evil spirit of Rasputin. He lives at court, threatens my daughter in law, forced Nicholas to command the army. Our enemies will believe that who is ruling is instead Rasputin

At that point they received the news of the killing of the son Mikhail and Nicholas’ family on the 12th June and 17th July 1918. But she believed it to be Bolshevik propaganda and never abandoned the idea that her children were still alive.

Maria refused to leave Russia but, with the Bolshevik advance she was forced to escape on board of a British boat, sent on purpose by her nephew  George V. After one first period in London, she came back to Denmark and settled in Hvidøre Palace, where she lived until her death with her daughter Olga and her family.

Below: empress Maria Fedorovna with her husband the tsar Alexander III on holiday in Copenaghen in 1893

In that period of changes and revolutions, many Russian refugees considered Maria still as the empress and wanted her to perform the official matters needed. The tsarina did not give up on the fact that her son was still alive, and she kept on stating that Nicholas were held prisoners somewhere, especially since no body of him and the family had been found.

In an extreme attempt to discover where her relatives were, she had sent Nikolaj Sokolov, officer of the White Army, looking for news. Maria and Sokolov were supposed to meet up in Paris, but last minute the old sovereign cancelled it.

Perhaps she was not brave enough to hear about the proofs of their death

Therefore the report of Sokolov was closed until 1990 in a vault of a bank in Paris. Throughout her life Maria had lost a son of meningitis, a son of 18 years due to tuberculosis, her husband when he was 49 and then in 1918 two sons, 5 nephews and the (even though unpleasant) daughter in law.

The pain she had to endure was too much for just a woman

After the death of her sister Alexandra in 1925, Maria was waiting only for the end. Her world and almost all her family did not exist any longer. The Princess Dagmar of Denmark and later on Maria Fedorovna died in 1928, in her 80’s. She was buried in the Cathedral of Roskilde.

Below: representation of Alexandra and Dagmar of Denmark

In 2005 Putin and Queen Margrethe of Denmark made a deal to transfer the body back to St.Petersburg. From September 2006 the remains of the ex tsarina rest beside her husband, as she wished in the Peter and Paul Cathedral where Nicholas and his family was buried too, as well as most of tsars.

Curiosity for romantic films lovers: in the film “Anastasia”, Maria encounters the suitor Anna Anderson and she recognises her as her niece. False, Maria refused to meet the woman who believed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasija Nikolaevna Romanova.

Rachele Goracci


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