Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna

Born: 1819, Pavlovsk
Died: 1876, St Petersburg

Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna was the second child and first daughter of Nicholas I and Alexandra Fyodorovna. She was born in Pavlovsk Palace in 1819. Maria was known in the family by the more English name of “Mary.” Educated by the poet Vasily Zhukovsky, she allegedly wept when she heard of the death of Alexander Pushkin in 1837.

Maria was known for her beauty, grace, charm, fine manners and strong character. Her sister Olga wrote: “She combined a strict classical face with lively facial expressions. Her forehead, nose and mouth were completely regular, her shoulders and chest were perfectly developed, and her waist was so slender that the band from her Greek coiffure could fit around it.”

Maria married Maximilian Eugene Joseph August Napoleon de Beauharnais, duke of Leuchtenberg and one of the cleverest and most handsome princes in Europe. The wedding was held at the Winter Palace on 2 July 1839, when Nicholas I officially presented them with the Mariinsky Palace on St Isaac’s Square in St Petersburg. The wedding celebrations continued for two weeks.

Although they had seven children, Maria and Maximilian did not have a happy marriage. Their first daughter, Alexandra, died at the age of three. Their eldest son, Nikolai, was often ill and underwent four serious operations as a child.

In 1853, Maria concluded a morganatic marriage with Count Grigory Stroganov. As the couple were unable to appear together in Russian society, they spent most of their time abroad, living at the Villa di Quarto outside Florence.

Maria died in St Petersburg on 9 February 1876 after a long and heavy illness and was buried in the St Peter and St Paul Cathedral.

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