THE EMPRESS AND QUEEN VICTORIA - NEW FRIENDSHIPS
Left: Alexandra in a 1907 study by Bordarevsky. Painting in the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg.
Her grandmother's death was a real sorrow to the Empress. Queen Victoria had been a special link with the mother she dimly remembered, as well as a very loving grandmother. The Queen had been particularly fond of her Hessian grandchildren, and Princess Alix was considered by the family to be her favourite. The Queen's feelings were probably influenced first of all by sympathy for the little motherless girl. But the Queen and the Empress had many points in common, which Queen Victoria herself was quick to recognize. The Empress Alexandra had the Queen's warm heart, her capacity for great enthusiasms, both for ideas and for people, the same intense sense of duty, the same fidelity in friendship.
Queen Victoria had always given tangible proofs of her interest in her grandchildren. She had kept in touch with their surroundings, and had come herself to take part in important incidents in their lives. When she went to Coburg for the wedding of her grandson, the Grand Duke of Hesse, the idea of the simultaneous engagement of Princess Alix may have been in her mind. In any case, the Queen was there, at that important moment, ready to give the Princess the sympathy and good counsel that she might have sought from her mother at such a time. The Queen, much as she liked the Emperor Nicholas, had many personal regrets that "her darling Alicky " lived too far away to be able to pay her yearly visits to England. "I have a right to her," the Queen used to say pathetically.
The Empress on her side, writing to the Princess Bariatinsky (July 16th, 1900) and speaking of the Queen, said:
My grandmother invites us to come to England, but now is certainly not the moment to be out of the country. How intensely I long to see her dear old face, you can imagine; never have we- been separated so long, 4 whole years, and I have the feeling as tho' I should never see her any more. Were it not so far away, I should have gone off all alone for a few days to see her and left the children and my husband, as she has been as a mother to me, ever since Mama's death 22 years ago.
To-morrow is the Christening. . . M
She, who never left her husband, even thought of going "all alone for a few days to see her," but some childish ailments finally prevented the Empress from putting her plan into execution.
When she heard of the Queen's death, the Empress wanted to start immediately for Windsor with her brother. She was dissuaded, however, as she was pregnant at the time (the fourth Grand Duchess, Anastasia, was born in the early summer). She quite broke down at the funeral service in the English church at St. Petersburg.
How I envy you [she wrote to her sister, the Princess Louis] being able to see beloved Grandmama being taken to her last rest. I cannot believe she is really gone, that we shall never see her any more. It seems impossible. Since one can remember, she was in our life, and a dearer kinder being never was. The whole world sorrows over her. England without the Queen seems impossible. How thankful, that she was spared all physical suffering. Morally, she had too much to bear this year (January 28th, 1901).
"She was in our life" explains the great void that the Queen's death meant for the Empress. There was now no older authority to whom she could turn for counsel. She was thrown on her own judgment and had to travel by her own light. Ever since her marriage, the Empress had corresponded regularly with her grandmother. Queen Victoria had always feared that her great reserve and shyness would hamper the Empress and be misunderstood, and it is probable that in addition to her grandmotherly interest in the Empress's family life, the Queen sometimes gave this favorite grandchild the benefit of her wide experience. All the Queen's letters and the Empress's answers, which were returned to Her Majesty after Queen Victoria's death, were destroyed in March 1917 by the Empress, who did not want things so precious to her to fall into the Bolsheviks' hands.
Her mourning and her state of health obliged the Empress once more to lead a very secluded life that winter. But she had now found congenial friends in the Imperial Family in the Grand Duchess Peter - Militza Nicholaevna and her sister Stana (Anastasia Nicholaevna), then Duchess of Leuchtenberg. These were daughters of King Nicholas of Montenegro. Their sister, Princess Anna, had just married the Empress's cousin, Prince Francis Joseph of Battenberg, and had gone to live in Darmstadt. This was a link between them, and the anxieties caused by the Emperor's illness had drawn them all together. The Grand Duchess Militza was a clever woman, with wide intellectual interests. She had a real knowledge of the East and of Eastern things. She could speak Persian, was an authority on ancient Persian literature, and had read and translated books on the philosophy and religion of Persia, India and China. She had also made a study of theological questions connected with the Orthodox Church. The sisters were devoted to each other and had delightfully warm and attractive manners. The Empress soon became really intimate with them, while the Emperor found a friend in the Grand Duke Peter Nicholaevich, an intellectual and artistic man, an architect of no mean ability, who had never taken any part in public affairs, and who, on account of his health, had lived away from the capital. That year, however, the "Montenegrin Grand Duchesses," as they were called, came to St. Petersburg, and the Empress saw them nearly every day.
The Duchess of Leuchtenberg, after her divorce from the Duke George, married the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaevich, the Grand Duke Peter's brother (in 1901). The Grand Duke Peter spent the summer quite close to Peterhof, so that the Empress could often see her friends. They read together, and talked over books and the abstract subjects that the Empress loved. The Grand Duchesses awakened in the Empress a real interest in theological questions. From the Lutheran creed of her girlhood, the Empress had now come to the most rigid adherence to the Orthodox Church. She held views that were considered unduly strict by many modern Russians, and zealously studied the intricate works of the old Fathers of the Church. Besides these she read many French and English philosophical books.
Her fourth daughter, the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna, was born at Peterhof on June 18th, 1901. However well the Emperor might hide his feelings, the Empress knew how intensely he longed for a son. He never showed any visible regret when the sex of his successive babies was announced. When the Grand Duchess Marie was born, it was noticed that he set off on a long solitary walk, but that he came back as outwardly unruffled as ever. In the upper classes of the country, however, there was much disappointment at the births of so many daughters. It was felt that the Empress was failing to do her duty by the State. The country people, on the other hand, did not care much if it were a Grand Duke or a Grand Duchess who was born. Every Imperial baby meant that amnesties were granted, that jails were opened, that criminals saw their terms of imprisonment cut short. They heard the Grand Duke Michael prayed for in church, and did not trouble their heads much if the heir were the Emperor's brother or his son. It was the Empress herself who longed most of all for a son. Under her new friends' influence, her whole heart went out in prayers that she might give an heir to Russia. just at that time, a monk of the eighteenth century, named Seraphim, was canonised by order of the Russian Holy Synod, and the Emperor and Empress went to the ceremony in the monastery of Sarov (July 1903).
To the Empress this journey was in the light of a pilgrimage. Not only did the religious service impress and inspire her, but, during their whole journey and their stay at Sarov, she was in close contact with the simple country people whom she loved. The Empress was never shy with the peasants. She talked to them like children in her still indifferent Russian, and meeting her as they did without official pomp, the peasants loved her in return.
The Grand Duchess Serge also fell under the spell of Sarov, and she wrote to Princess Louis:
So many beautiful, healthy impressions. We drove six hours before arriving at the convent and in the village the pretty bright red costumes and pretty healthy people looked so picturesque. The convent is lovely, situated in a splendid colossal pine wood. The ceremony and prayers were very fine. Seraphim was a monk, who lived in the 18th century a very pure and holy life, cured many physically and morally, and after death the miracles continue. Thousands and thousands from the whole of Russia came for that day [i.e. the canonization] to pray and brought their sick from Siberia, from the Caucasus. Oh, what misery, what illnesses we saw, and what faith! It seemed as if we were living in Christ's time. . . . Oh how they prayed, how they cried, these poor mothers with their sick children, and thank God, how many were cured! We had the blessing of seeing a little dumb girl speak, but how her mother prayed for her!
These scenes made an immense impression on the Empress. It is difficult for practical Protestant minds to grasp the intensity of religious fervour that seizes an Orthodox or Catholic crowd. Only those people who have been on a pilgrimage to Lourdes or to Jerusalem can realise how when the Russian pilgrims come to the Holy Week services a crowd can be swayed with religious emotion.
It may be noted that in the beautiful church built at Tsarskoe Selo after the heir's birth the upper church was dedicated to the Holy Virgin "Feodorovskaya" - a venerated Romanov ikon, and the lower church to St. Seraphim of Sarov.
Next chapter: Foreign Trips
Website © Bob Atchison 1997, 1998, 1999 | Comments on the website | Search all Alexander Palace sites by Keywords | Website built by Pallasart Web Design.