24 May 2010

Eternal Memory! The Most August Mother of the Head of the House of Romanoff, H.I.H. Dowager Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna (1914-2010)

Eternal Memory! The Most August Mother of the Head of the House of Romanoff, H.I.H. Dowager Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna (1914-2010)

H.I.H. Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna, the most august mother of the Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna, was born into the family of the Head of the Georgian Royal House, His Royal Highness Prince Georgii Aleksandrovich Bagration of Mukhrani, and Her Royal Highness Princess Elena Sigizmundovna Bagration of Mukhrani (née Novina-Zlotnitskaia).

One of the most ancient of European dynasties, the Bagrations claim descent from biblical King David the Psalmist. His descendant Bagrat was given the right by the Parthian King Valarzij to the crown of ancient Armenia in 150 BC. In 298 AD, a descendant of Bagrat, King Tiridat, took the Christian Faith and became an avid proselytizer of Christianity. The Georgian branch of the Bagrations started with King Bagrat, who came to Georgia in 575. The ruling house of Mukhrani was formed in 1469. Close ties between the Bagrations and Russia were established in 1564, when King Leo of Kahkety turned for protection to Ivan IV the Terrible. This process was finalized in 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Georgievsk, according to which the Georgian Kingdom, while keeping its autonomy and its ancient monarchy, came under the suzerainty of the Emperors of Russia. However, during the reign of Emperor Alexander I, this “eternal” treaty was broken. With the death of King Georgii XII, Georgia became a part of the Russian Empire, and the Bagration dynasty was left without a throne (1801). However, the Bagrations never relinquished their royal position as the Georgian royal dynasty.

When the elder branch of the House of Bagration died out at the end of the 19th century, the dynastic succession to the Georgian throne passed to the line of the Princes Bagration of Mukhrani. However, the practical reality of the times was not conducive to declarations of Georgian monarchism. The grandfather and father of Grand Duchess Leonida were faithful in their service to the Russian Empire, but at the same time never relinquished their inherited position as Georgian dynasts and their hope that eventually the violations of the Treaty of Georgievsk perpetrated in 1801 would be made right.

The grandfather of the Grand Duchess, H.R.H. Alexander Iraklijevich Bagration of Mukhrani (de-jure King of Georgia), was assassinated along with a group of hostages in 1918 by the Bolsheviks in Pyatigorsk. In 1921, when the Georgian Menshevik government headed by N. Dzhordani was overturned by the Georgian Bolsheviks, the family of the Princes Bagration of Mukhrani went abroad; but, in 1923, their longing for their homeland was so great that they returned to Tiflis. At first they were even allowed to live in their ancestral home, but very soon the harassment and arrests began. They were forced to leave Soviet Russia again; and this time their departure was possible only through the help of the writer Maxim Gorky, who himself, at one time, was the recipient of the patronage of the Princes Bagration of Mukhrani.

In Nice, France, on November 6, 1934, H.R.H. Princesss Leonida Georgiievna was married to Sumner Kirby, whose English ancestors had established themselves in North America. In 1935 a daughter was born to them, Helene. However, in 1937 the couple divorced. At the beginning of the Second World War, friends helped the Princess settle in Spain. Soon she made the acquaintance of the Head of State of Spain, Generalissimo Franco. He was always extremely respectful of the former ruling houses of Russia and Georgia, and, when he saw the imperial couple for the first time after their wedding, that is to say, the Grand Duke Wladimir III Kirillovich and the Grand Duchess Leonida Georgiievna, he greeted them on bended knee, according to the old Spanish tradition.

In 1946 Grand Duke Wladimir III Kirillovich was approached by H.R.H. Prince Fernando of Bavaria y Borbon, Infante of Spain, regarding the upcoming wedding of his daughter the Infanta Mercedes of Spain to the brother of Grand Duchess Leonida Georgiievna, Prince Iraklij. The Infante asked the Grand Duke whether the marriage should be considered an equal marriage. In answer to this request, the Head of the Russian Imperial House corrected the historical record and by his decree of December 5, 1946, confirmed the Royal Status of the House of Bagration. Soon after this, by the will of God, the grand duke met his future wife. They were married on August 13, 1948, in Lausanne (Switzerland).

When Grand Duke Andrej Wladimirovich came to make the acquaintance of the wife of his Imperial Nephew, he told her: “Nothing can compare to the filth that was told about the Empress (Alexandra Feodorovna, wife of Nicholas II). Whatever people do to you, or whatever they say, pay them no mind. Fulfill your destiny. Help Wladimir.” These words became the guiding light for the Grand Duchess for the rest of her life. The Royal Passion-Bearer, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, had to bear much slander and hatred from those who abhorred historical Russia, but she never despaired, never surrendered. For 44 years the Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna shared the toils and labor of her husband, and after that continued with all her strength to help her daughter.

In 1957, the father of Grand Duchess Leonida Georgiievna, Prince Georgii Aleksandrovich, died, and the position of Head of the Georgian Royal House passed to Her Brother, Prince Iraklij. At the present time the Head of the Georgian Royal House is the son of her nephew, Prince Georgii Iraklijevich.

For the first time since the second departure from her homeland, Grand Duchess Leonida Georgiievna visited Russia together with her husband, Grand Duke Wladimir III Kirillovich, in November 1991. Since then, she visited Russia more than 30 times.

The death of her husband was a great shock to the Grand Duchess. However, she did not lose her zeal or her commitment to serving her homeland. She never ceased to work for a renewal of Russia. She oversaw the formation of many charitable organizations, supported thousands of orphans, invalids, the elderly, and been the patron of artists, performers and other representatives of Russian culture. In 1994, through her tireless efforts, the remains of her parents, Prince Georgii Alexandrovich and Princess Elena Sigizmundovna, were transferred and reburied in the ancestral burial vault of the Georgian Kings in Mskhetu. In 1995, again through her efforts, the remains of Emperor Kirill I and Empress Victoria Feodorovna were transferred from Coburg and re-interred in the Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

The Grand Duchess Leonida Georgiievna was loved by all who have had the privilege of making Her acquaintance. Her deep faith, her royal simplicity, her sincerity, compassion and sensitivity drew Her to the hearts of all, from kings and presidents to workers and farm laborers. The grand duchess liked to say that she loved Georgia with all her soul, but that from the time she became the wife of the Head of the Russian Imperial House, the interests of Russia became all important to Her. For her countrymen, she will always be the epitome of the ideal Russian Tsaritsa, the companion and loyal supporter of the Tsar, whom Russian people from time immemorial have always called “Matushka”–Mother.

When His Holiness Patriarch Aleksei II of Moscow and all Russia offered his congratulations to the Dowager Grand Duchess on her 90th birthday, he noted what for him was most important about her fate, her service, and her character: “…You were born in Tiflis, in the most ancient family in Europe, the Bagration Dynasty, which, according to legend, descends from the biblical king, prophet, and psalmist David. While always manifesting your love for Georgia, you have at the same time adopted as your own the interests of Russia. With time, when it became possible, you traveled to our Fatherland dozens of times, not only to make pilgrimages to historic and holy sites in Russia, but also to help the country, a responsibility that you see to be your duty before God. You have earned the love and respect of all who know you, and serve as an example of royal dignity, joined with simplicity and sensitivity toward those around you in need…May the All-Mighty Lord bestow upon you His abundant mercy.”

In 2008, Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna was awarded the Church’s Order of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles St. Olga, first class.

The departed grand duchess was the last member of the Russian Imperial House to have been born before the Revolution of 1917. She was the guardian of the foundations of the Dynasty and ensured the preservation of the immutable family laws and traditions for the generations in the House of Romanoff that followed and descended from her.

Her Imperial Highness’s health began to deteriorate last week. On 10/23 May, on the Feast Day of the Holy Trinity, the rector of the Church of the Nativity of Christ in Madrid, a Russian Orthodox parish of the Moscow Patriarchate, Fr. Andrei Kordochkin, visited the grand duchess and gave her Holy Communion. That evening, Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna was taken to hospital. Her most august daughter, H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna, was constantly at her side. At 11:55pm local time, H.I.H. Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna departed this life for the Lord.

Her Imperial Highness Dowager Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna (Tiflis, 23 September/6 October 1914 – Madrid, 10/23 May 2010

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