The Engagement and Wedding of Nicholas and Alexandra

nicholas-and-alexandra-engagement-1894

Engagement photograph of Nicholas and Alix, 1894.

Nicholas and Alix first met in June of 1884 at the wedding of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich (Nicholas’s uncle) and Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine (Alix’s sister) at the Winter Palace. In January of 1889, Alix returned to Russia to visit her sister for six weeks. She stayed at the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess’s home, Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace, in St. Petersburg. During the time she was there, Nicholas would often visit, which gave them the opportunity to spend a lot of time together. To no one’s surprise, the young couple fell in love. The Tsarevich knew his family would not approve of the match but his heart was set on the Hessian princess. After Alix’s departure back to Darmstadt, they began to exchange letters.

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Alix and Elizabeth (Ella) in 1889.

Despite the Tsarevich’s insistence, his parents had no intention of giving him permission to marry the bride of his choice. Alexander III and Maria Feodorovna had very strong anti-German feelings and rather different expectations for their son’s future wife. Two princesses were considered by the imperial couple, Princess Hèlene of France and Princess Margeret of Prussia. Nicholas was not attracted to either of them, and both women were also reluctant to accept the arrangement since they would have to give up their faith and convert to the Russian Orthodoxy.

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Tsar Alexander III with his family. Small Palace of Livadia, c. 1892.

The Tsar and Tsarina were not the only ones against the match. Queen Victoria hoped her granddaughter would marry her first cousin, Prince Albert Victor, thus becoming the future Queen of England. She invited them to Balmoral Castle at one occasion, confident that they would like each other, but Alix was sure of her feelings and her cousin did not appeal to her. Albert Victor, or Eddy as he was known by his family, tried to persuade Alix into agreeing with the arrangement, and was devastated when she wrote him a letter making it clear once and for all that she had no intention of being his wife. Queen Victoria was saddened by the refusal as she loved playing matchmaker, but ultimately respected her granddaughter’s wishes.

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Queen Victoria with Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, Princess Alix of Hesse, Princess Beatrice and Princess Irene of Hesse. Balmoral, 1887.

Challenging times fell upon the Romanov family in 1894, when Alexander III fell suddenly ill with nephritis, a kidney disease. The once strong, healthy Tsar was now in a condition that would only worsen as the days passed. Regardless of his feelings on the matter, he finally decided to grant Nicholas permission to marry Alix.
In April of the same year, royals from all over Europe gathered in Coburg for the wedding of Alix’s brother Grand Duke Ernst Louis of Hesse and by Rhine to Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh.

royals-at-coburg-1894

Family gathering for the wedding of Ernst Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse to Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh in Coburg, 1894.

Shortly after arriving in Germany, the Tsarevich, who was representing the Russian Imperial family at the wedding, finally proposed to Alix. But, much to his surprise she refused. Just like the other princesses, Alix too was fearful of leaving her Lutheran faith. Elisabeth, a former Lutheran that married into the Romanov family and converted to the Orthodoxy, came to her sister’s aid and explained to her that changing religions was not going to be as dreadful as she imagined. Queen Victoria also intervened in favor of the match. Encouraged by his relatives to propose again, Nicholas did it and this time Alix said yes.

wedding-guests-of-victoria-melita-and-ernest-louis-of-hesse

Top row: Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich, Princess Alix of Hesse, Princess Victoria and Ernst Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse. Bottow row: Princess Irene of Prussia, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, Princess Victoria Melita and Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich. Neues Palais, Darmstadt in April, 1894.

Plans started being made for the couple’s wedding to occur in the spring of 1895. However, by September of 1894, the health of the Tsar had gotten much worse. Alix was rushed to Livadia Palace in Crimea to meet her future father-in-law. She spent the following weeks by his sickbed along with Alexander III’s family, until his death on November 1, 1894. The next day, Alix converted to the Russian Orthodox Church, changing her name to Alexandra Feodorovna and her title from Princess to Grand Duchess.
Russia was in mourning, completely shocked by the sudden death of their Tsar. Nicholas decided he wanted to get married at once, instead of waiting another year. It was his wish to have the wedding at Livadia, but his uncles were against it, insisting it should take place in St Petersburg and ultimately got their way. If Nicholas wasn’t the heir to the throne, Alexandra would have returned to Germany and the young couple would have waited for the mourning period to pass. But under these circumstances, Nicholas was expected to be married in order to proceed with his coronation.

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Engagement photograph of Nicholas and Alix, 1894.

The wedding took place at the Winter Palace on November 14, 1894. The ceremony started with the procession to the Great Church, where Maria Feodorovna and Alexandra (and Nicholas right behind them) led the rest of the family. Royals, like Nicholas’ maternal grandfather Christian IX of Denmark, the Prince and Princess of Wales, George the Duke of York, and Grand Duke Ernst Louis (Alexandra’s brother) were among the many others present. The service was presided over by Father John Yanishev and lasted two hours. Due to court mourning, no reception followed the wedding.

Wedding_of_Nicholas_II_and_Alexandra_Feodorovna_by_Ilja_Repin_(1894,_Russian_museum)

Wedding of Nicholas II and Grand Duchess Alexandra Feodorovna. Oil painting by Ilya Repin.

Nicholas and Alexandra later moved to the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, where in November of the following year, they would welcome their first child, the Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna.

alexander-palace-in-tsarskoye-selo

Alexander Palace

Sources:
Massie, Robert K. (1967) Nicholas and Alexandra
Vovk, Justin C. (2014) Imperial Requiem: Four Royal Women and the Fall of the Age of Empires
Buxhoeveden, Sophie (1928) The Life and Tragedy of Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of Russia A Briography
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia (2017) Nicholas II of Russia
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia (2017) Alexandra Feodorovna (Alix of Hesse)
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia (2017) Wedding of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna

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