06 September 2020

2020-09-06 The 100th Anniversary of the Death of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna the Elder

September 6, 2020, marks the 100th anniversary of the death of H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, the great-grandmother of the current Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. The Grand Duchess Maria of Russia.


Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna the Elder (born in Ludwigslust, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, on 2/14(15) May 1854; died in Contrexéville, France, on 24 August/6 September 1920), was born Duchess Marie Alexandrine Elisabeth Eleonore of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, the daughter of Grand Duke Friedrich Franz II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1823-1883) and Grand Duchess Augusta of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (née Princess of Reuss-Köstritz).


Duchess Marie married Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich in St. Petersburg on August 16/29, 1874, and the couple had five children: Grand Duke Alexander (1875-1877), Emperor-in-exile Kirill I (1876-1938), Grand Duke Boris (1877-1943), Grand Duke Andrew (1879-1956), and Grand Duchess Elena, Princess Nicholas of Greece and Denmark (1882-1957).


Maria Pavlovna was appointed the honorary colonel-in-chief of the 137th Nezhin Infantry Division, and she was well known for her philanthropy and generous support of charities.


She converted to Holy Orthodoxy on her husband’s birthday on April 10/23, 1908. After his death (in 1909), she inherited his duties as honorary colonel of the Life Guard Dragoons Regiment, and as President of the Imperial Academy of Arts.


During the Russo-Japanese War and World War I, Maria Pavlovna was an active supporter of the troops. She helped organize a network of military ambulances. In Petrograd, she founded the St. Vladimir Officers’ Infirmary, as well as infirmaries for soldiers; she organized the dispatch of hospital trains to move the wounded from the front lines, emergency ambulances for on-site medical care (a program led by her daughter-in-law, Grand Duchess [and future Empress-in-Exile] Victoria Feodorovna), warehouses for the collection and distribution of bandages and other medical supplies, and meal stations for those in need. Through the International Red Cross she helped to locate prisoners of war, she used her familial connections with royal relatives abroad to help improve the conditions of Russian prisoners of war, and she supported the founding of allied military cemeteries. In 1916, she created the Committee for the Care of Soldiers Discharged from Infirmaries and Hospitals in Petrograd.


While she was critical of some aspects of official government policy, Maria Pavlovna always remained loyal and faithful to the Holy Passion-Bearers Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. She was the victim of slanderous accusations from members of the Court, who sought only to sow discord among the members of the Romanoff Imperial Family.


In February 1917 she went to Kislovodsk, in the northern Caucasus, for the waters and she also lived in Anapa on the Black Sea. In 1920 she emigrated from Novorossiysk to Constantinople. She later lived for a time in Switzerland, and then in France. She died in Contrexéville (Vosges department, France). She was buried in the Orthodox chapel of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Mary Magdalene and Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Vladimir, in Contrexéville, which she founded.




In blessed repose, grant, O Lord, eternal rest to Thy servant, the Right-Believing Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, and may her memory be eternal!






Dynastic decree concerning the marriage of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, August 16, 1874


[fol. 1] Having given permission to my son, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, to marry Her Grand-Ducal Highness Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin; and indicating my agreement that Her Highness Duchess Marie, by a special familial arrangement, was not to be required before the betrothal and marriage to convert to Orthodoxy, I have deemed it good to establish in this Familial Act, for permanent observance in the future, the following rules in relation // [fol. 1v] to this marriage.


  • If, by the inscrutable will of God, the succession to the Throne should pass to my son Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, and should his wife at that time still be a Lutheran, then my son, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, according to the provisions of Art. 142 of the Fundamental Laws, may succeed to the Throne only if his spouse converts to the Orthodox faith;


  • If, upon the passage to Him of the rights of succession to the Throne, the Spouse of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich does not convert to the // [fol. 2] Orthodox faith, then he must be deemed to have voluntarily renounced the aforementioned rights, in strict compliance with the provisions contained in Articles 15 and 16 of the Fundamental Laws;


  • If, by the inscrutable will of God, the Spouse of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, having not converted to the Orthodox faith, should die before the transfer of the right of succession to Him, then, after the end of His marriage with his non-Orthodox spouse, He retains his right to inherit the Throne;


  • In the context of Point 2 above, concerning the renunciation of Grand Duke Vladimir // [fol. 2v] Alexandrovich: if, by the inscrutable will of God, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich should die before his wife has converted to the Orthodox faith, then the children born of this marriage shall retain all their rights of succession to the Throne, which belong to Members of the Imperial House, according to the order of succession established in the Fundamental Laws.


Alexander. Tsesarevich Alexander. Vladimir.


St. Petersburg, 16 August 1874


Notes to this Dynastic Act:


A separate article (article séparé) of the marriage contract signed by representatives of Emperor Alexander II (the father of the groom) and Grand Duke Friedrich Franz II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (the father of the bride) in St. Petersburg on July 30 (August 12 new style), 1874, guaranteed that “Son Altesse Grand-Ducale Madame la Duchesse Marie, devenue par Son mariage Grande Duchesse de Russie, ne sera gênée en rien dans l’exercice du culte Evangélique-Luthérien, dans lequel Elle est née et a été élevée” (“Her Grand-Ducal Highness Duchess Marie, having become, as a result of her marriage, a Grand Duchess of Russia, shall not be troubled by any obstacles to practicing the Evangelical Lutheran religion, in which she was born and raised”).


Moreover, it had been agreed that Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna would attend Orthodox services together with her husband, and that the children of this marriage would be raised in the Orthodox faith, in accordance with the laws of the Russian Empire (“ils seront élevés dans la réligion orthodoxe, conformément aux lois de l’Empire de Russie”).


The following indisputable conclusions follow from the Dynastic Act of August 16, 1874:


  • An abdication (final or conditional and anticipatory) by a member of the Russian Imperial House of the right, belonging to him by birth, to inherit the throne can only be voluntary and cannot be, for whatever reason, “automatic.”


  • The right to determine to whom Article 185 applies, and to whom it does not apply, belongs exclusively to the reigning emperor as the Head of the Imperial House of Russia.


  • By giving permission to a member of the Imperial House of Russia who is not the direct Heir to the throne to marry a person of another Christian faith, the Head of the Imperial House may require of him a written pledge to meet certain conditions in the event that he should inherit the rights and duties of the Head of the Imperial House.


  • The purpose of Article 185 is to ensure that the Empress-Consort is Orthodox. In this regard, the reigning emperor may impose the following requirements on a member of the Imperial House of Russia: should the succession to the throne pass to a member of the Imperial House after he has entered into marriage with a non-Orthodox wife who did not convert to the Orthodox faith, either he must make immediate arrangements for the conversion of his spouse or he must confirm his own voluntary abdication, which abdication would in no way affect the dynastic rights of his children and descendants, born and raised in the Orthodox faith.


  • A marriage with a non-Orthodox royal princess does not in and of itself deprive a member of the Imperial House of Russia of the right to succeed to the throne, nor does it require him to abdicate that right voluntarily. In the event that a spouse accepts Orthodoxy after marriage or if the non-Orthodox spouse dies before the throne passes to her husband, the question of the spouse’s religion becomes irrelevant, and the dynast becomes the Head of the Imperial House without any conditions and curtailments.


  • Article 185 in no way and under no circumstances affects the rights of succession to the throne of the issue of marriages between members of the Russian Imperial House and non-Orthodox princesses: “children born of this marriage shall retain all their rights of succession to the Throne, which belong to Members of the Imperial House, according to the order of succession established in Fundamental Laws.


With regard to the Vladimirovich line, the situation unfolded in the following way. If the succession to the throne had passed to Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, either he would have had to convince his wife, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, to convert to the Orthodox faith or he would have had to affirm his voluntary guaranty to abdicate completely and irrevocably. In that event, his son, Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, would have become the Emperor.


In 1905, when, on instructions from Emperor Nicholas II, a secret meeting was convened to discuss the question of what sanctions could be applied to Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich in connection with the marriage he had contracted without the approval of the Emperor, no one questioned Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich’s or Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich’s rights of succession to the throne. 


After Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna converted to Orthodoxy on April 10, 1908, the Family Act of August 16, 1874, in relation to the Vladimirovich line, became irrelevant and never came into force. But it remains important for understanding correctly the marriage regulations of the Imperial House of Russia in general and, in particular, the procedure for applying Article 185.




Manifesto of Emperor Nicholas II concerning the conversion to Orthodoxy of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, April 10, 1908.


We wish to make this known to all Our loyal subjects.


Our Beloved Aunt, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, having come to know and experience the truth of Orthodoxy, in harmony with Her Spouse, has desired, out of Her own conviction, to unite with Us in Faith and in unity of prayer and the Holy Sacraments.


Today, to Our great joy, She has converted to Our Orthodox Faith through Holy Chrismation.


Making known this happy and much desired event to all Our subjects, We declare that henceforth She shall be known as Her Imperial Highness the Right-Believing [blagovernaia, an element of the title of an Orthodox dynast—trans.] Grand Duchess.  


Issued at Tsarskoe Selo, on the tenth day of April, in the year of the Lord one thousand nine hundred eight, in the fourteenth year of OUR reign.


The original is signed in His Imperial Majesty’s own hand:






From the Diary of Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich. A description of a meeting of the Holy Royal Passion-Bearer Empress Alexandra and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, September 3, 1915.


“The other day Alix stopped by Mama’s at Tsarskoe Selo with her two daughters for tea. It should be noted that this was the first time in twenty years that Alix visited Mama without Nicky. But the most interesting thing is the conversation they had.


“Alix bitterly complained that, no matter what she did, everyone always criticized her, especially in Moscow and Petrograd. Everyone has risen up against her and has tied her hands. ‘Some nurses have just come from Germany, and for the good of the cause I should have received them, but I could not do so, because it would just be another thing against me.’


“Mama asked her if it was true that she and the entire Court were moving to Moscow? ‘Oh, so that rumour has reached you too. No, I am not moving, and I will not move, but they wanted it so that they could move here themselves (here she gave a clear hint who they are: Nikolai Nikolaevich and the Montenegrins), but, fortunately, we found out about it in time and took measures. He [Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich—ed.] is now going to the Caucasus. I can’t stand it any more. Nicky did not know anything about what was happening in the war; he didn’t write to him and didn’t tell him anything.’


“‘Nicky's power has been torn from him from every side. They snatched everything they could. This is unacceptable at a time when a firm and unflinching hand is needed amid this crisis. I begged Nicky not to dismiss Goremykin at such a time. He is a loyal and devoted person, of strong convictions and principles. You can't drive away the people who are devoted to you. Who then will be left?’


“In relaying this conversation to me, Mama said that Alix left the deepest impression of her sincere sorrow about current events. She was most impressed by her indignation at the ‘Montenegrins’ and their intrigues; she did not convey what the specific issue was, but it was clear that she had learned something important, which threatened not only her personally, but also Nicky himself. This gives a clue to her mysterious, as it seemed then, behavior toward Aunt Minny [the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna—ed.] when she spoke with Xenia.


“Mama several times repeated that Alix made the deepest impression on her. There was genuine despair; Alix looked at things exactly the way we did, and everything she said was clear, positive, true….


“This episode in our family life is important because it gave us the opportunity to understand Alix. Almost all her life with us was shrouded in a kind of fog of an incomprehensible atmosphere. Through this fog, Alix's character appeared completely enigmatic. No one really knew or understood her, and therefore people fabricated an image and made assumptions, which subsequently transformed themselves into a number of legends of the most diverse nature. What the truth was about her was difficult to decide. It was terribly sad. The figure of an Empress must shine all over Russia; it must be visible and understandable, otherwise her role recedes into the background and her figure loses the necessary popularity. Of course, the conversation recounted above cannot make up for everything that has been lost over 20 years, but for us personally, of course, I repeat, this conversation was very important. We saw her in a new light; we saw that many of the legends about her were not true, and that she was on the right path. If she did not say more than she did, then, one must think, she had reasons enough not to. But even so, she had a lot on her chest, and her need to pour out at least some of it prompted her to come to Mama.”




An Excerpt from an article by S. Popovskii: “Svetloi pamiati Ee Imperatorskogo Vysochestva Velikoi Kniagini Marii Pavlovny,” in the émigré journal Dvuglavyi Orel, no. 14, August 15, 1921


“These days, every Russian heart that loves the Motherland remembers the deceased GRAND DUCHESS, whose name is closely connected with all the good things that the Tsar’s Family did for the Russian people….


“Rest in peace, O much-suffering Royal Exile, lying, though only temporarily, in that foreign land that offered you shelter! The Resurrected Russia, having come to her senses, will remember You with gratitude and, kneeling penitently before Your humble grave, will transfer Your remains to the banks of the Neva, which are so sacred for us, under the dome of the cathedral, the guardian of the glory and greatness of that Russia that You and we loved so much; the death of which You so deeply mourned, and the collapse of which brought You to Your grave. Peace be unto Your suffering soul!”

Please publish modules in offcanvas position.