Holy Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna Romanova (1899–1918)

June 14/27 was the 125th anniversary of the birth of the third daughter of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna—Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna Romanova.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8).

Holy Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna Romanova Holy Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna Romanova The charming Russian princess, Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna Romanova, was the third daughter in the family of the holy Emperor Nicholas II and his wife, the holy Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. She was born on June 14/27, 1899 at the lower dacha in Peterhof, the Royal Family’s summer residence. On that memorable day 101 cannon shots announced to people that a daughter had just been born in the Imperial Family. The Tsar wrote in his diary:

“It’s a happy day: The Lord has given us a third daughter, Maria, who was born safely at 12:10!”

The girl was born strong and healthy. The family had been waiting for the heir to the throne, and therefore the family members, and with them the whole of Russia, were disappointed by the birth of a girl. Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna (1875–1960) described the event as follows:

“It’s a pity that it is not a son. Poor Alix!”

And Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom wrote to her grandchildren:

“I regret the third girl for the country. I know that an heir would be more welcome than a daughter.”

Two weeks later, on June 27 according to the old calendar, the royal princess was baptized at the church of the Grand Palace in Peterhof. In Baptism the newborn was named Maria in honor of Equal-to-the-Apostles St. Mary Magdalene, and her grandmother, Empress Dowager Maria Feodorovna, became her godmother. During the Baptism a strand of her hair was cut off, rolled up in wax and thrown into the font—the wax ball sank, which was considered a good sign. One of the guests, admiring the girl, compared her to an angel, and thenceforth her family would call her affectionately, “our little angel”.

Maria at the age of about four Maria at the age of about four Mashenka1 grew up cheerful and lively, and she was very kind. Margaretta Eagar, who served as a nanny to the royal daughters, recalled that the girl had a merry character from infancy and constantly smiled at others. In early childhood, Masha, who was a lover of animals, obtained a Siamese cat, and later a white mouse. Contemporaries described Maria as a girl who was too big for her age, with light brown hair and large dark blue eyes, which were referred to in the family as “Masha’s saucers”. At home she was called “Mashenka”, “Marie”, “Mary”, “Mashka”, “our kind plump Tyutya” and “Dumpling Tutu”. She was especially beloved by her aunt, the Emperor’s sister Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna (1882–º1960).

The princess was very lovely and charming; she was an artless and sweet creature with an easy temper, but not strong-willed. She was completely subjected to the will of her younger sister Anastasia. Maria was always involved in pranks invented by her younger sister. The naughty girls loved to turn on the gramophone at full volume and have fun to the fullest: jumping, dancing and laughing. The Tsarina was not pleased with this behavior, since her reception room was below the room of the “younger pair” (as Maria and Anastasia were nicknamed), and loud music distracted her from work, so she would send a lady in waithing to calm the mischievous girls down.

In her reminiscences, Margaretta Eagar described an incident when Maria stole several vanilla buns (which she adored) from her parents’ tea table. Her mother wanted to punish the “little imp” by ordering her to go to bed earlier than usual, but the Tsar objected, saying, “I feared she would soon have wings, like an angel! I am very relieved to see that she is a human child.”

The courtiers noted that Maria took after Emperor Alexander III. Like her grandfather, the girl was physically very strong. At the request of her brother Alexei, when he could not move on his own due to illness, she would carry him from the bed to the sofa in her arms. At the age of eighteen she easily lifted their English teacher Charles Gibbes (later Archimandrite Nicholas) off the floor for a joke.

Maria was always happy to be of service to her siblings. Sometimes it seemed to her that her sisters did not love her, and she complained to her mother about it. The Tsarina would write back to her:

“My dear Mashenka! Your letter has saddened me very much. Dear child, you must promise me never again to think that no one loves you. How could this thought come into your mind, darling? Get it out of your head quickly! We all love you dearly… Remember that you are just as dear to us as the other four, and that we love you with all our hearts.”

Maria spoke to her mother about faith and the Church more often than the other children and shared her religious experiences with her:

“After the prayer I had a feeling as if I had come from confession—such a pleasant, Heavenly feeling.”

Maria had a flair for drawing, was good at sketching, but had no interest in school subjects. The Grand Duchess’s success in studies was so-so. She also had a bent for languages, but she was fluent only in English and Russian; she spoke French fairly well, but her German remained poor. By the way, the French tutor Pierre Gilliard wrote of Maria:

“Maria Nikolaevna was a real beauty, perhaps too big for her age. She shone with bright colors and good health, and she had large, wonderful eyes. Her tastes were very modest, and she was the epitome of cordiality and kindness; her sisters probably took advantage of it a little.”

Roses. Grand Duchess Maria’s drawing Roses. Grand Duchess Maria’s drawing Princess Maria was very approachable. General M.K. Diterikhs wrote:

“Maria was capable and loved to talk to everyone, especially to simple folk. While walking in the park, she used to start conversations with soldiers of the guard, asking them questions and remembering perfectly well the names of their wives, how many children and how much land each of them had, etc. She always had a lot of common topics to talk about with them.”

Maria was passionate about their family’s summer trips on the yacht Standart, and knew all the sailors by name, along with their wives and children.

The princess loved children very much. One day she confessed to their nanny Miss Eagar that she dreamed of marrying an ordinary soldier and having twenty children.

“In the family she was the simplest, most affectionate and friendly,” the investigator N.A. Sokolov wrote. “By nature she was a typical mother. Her sphere was small children. Most of all she loved to care for and fuss over them.”

According to contemporaries’ reminiscences, Mashenka Romanova was the Emperor’s most beautiful daughter. Her physical beauty seemed to come from the beauty of her soul. The Empress’ lady-in-waiting Sophia Yakovlevna Ofrosimova wrote about Princess Maria:

“She can safely be called a Russian beauty. Tall, plump, with bushy and silky eyebrows and with bright red cheeks on her open Russian face, she is especially dear to the Russian heart. As you look at her you involuntarily imagine her dressed in a Russian boyar sleeveless summer dress; snow–white muslin sleeves are seen around her arms, with semiprecious stones on her breast that rises as she breathes, and a kokoshnik with rolling pearls above her high white forehead. Her eyes light up her whole face with a special, radiant luster; At times they… seem black, long eyelashes cast a shadow over the bright red of her delicate cheeks. She is cheerful and brisk, but has not yet awakened for life; she must have the immense energy of a true Russian woman hidden inside her.”

The Tsarina’s friend Yulia Dehn used to say that Maria was not as lively as her sisters, but she had a developed worldview and always knew what she wanted and why. Like her sisters, Maria was never haughty in her high rank and always rushed to help her neighbors. She felt someone else’s sorrows keenly and always tried to reconcile everyone.

Her cousin, Louis Mountbatten, fell in love with Maria when the Russian Imperial Family paid an official visit to England in 1909. And until his death in 1979, although already married, he always kept a portrait of the murdered Russian princess on his desk.

At the age of fourteen, young Maria met the naval officer Nikolai Dmitrievich Demenkov. He was from a noble family in which the men had always devoted their lives to the Navy. At the age of twenty-five he graduated from the Marine Corps and in 1913 arrived in Livadia to guard the Royal Family. After one summer vacation, Demenkov was sent to a Consolidated Regiment to guard the royal children further. The amiability between the young man and the princess was mutual, and everybody in their close circles knew about it. St. Nicholas II encouraged Maria’s friendship with Demenkov, but did not consider the young man as his future son-in-law. In his view, Maria was still a child, and it was too early to speak about her possible marriage. The girl signed her letters to her father as “Mrs. Demenkova”. Her father would reply: “I am glad for you that N.D. stayed in Tsarskoye Selo...” Maria’s close association with Demenkov ended in 1916 when the officer went to the front. Before he left, Maria had sewn him a shirt. They did not see each other again, although they corresponded. The girl continued to write to him even from Tobolsk. In her last postcard to him Maria wrote:

“My warmest greetings to you on your name day and I wish you all the best in life. It’s very sad that we haven’t heard from you for so long. How are you?.. We remember the time of fun, games and Ivan. What are you doing? Give my regards to everyone who remembers us. Sending you our love. May God keep you. M. November 22, 1917.”

Princess Maria’s farewell card. Photo: Saltkrakan.livejournal.com Princess Maria’s farewell card. Photo: Saltkrakan.livejournal.com     

Nikolai Demenkov lived a long life in exile, but never married. He died in Paris in 1950. Nikolai gave the shirt sewn by Maria to a museum.

In 1914, the Romanian heir to the throne, Carol, fell in love with the Grand Duchess. A year later he asked Nicholas II for her hand in marriage, but he refused decisively, saying that Maria was too young.

She was fifteen when the First World War broke out. During the war Maria and Anastasia visited wounded soldiers in the hospitals, which, according to a custom, were named after both Grand Duchesses. They sewed linen for soldiers and their families, prepared bandaging material and were very sorry that they could not, due to their young age, become army nurses, like Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana. The younger sisters’ duty was to entertain wounded soldiers; they read aloud to them, played cards with them, and held small concerts. Maria wrote to her father at the front:

“The concert in our hospital was a great success… My Demenkov was a perfect dear and introduced us to all the actors...”

Nikolai Demenkov (far left) greets the Grand Duchesses at the entrance to the hospital Nikolai Demenkov (far left) greets the Grand Duchesses at the entrance to the hospital     

Many of the soldiers who were treated at Maria Hospital had fond memories of that time.

“Dear Maria!” the Tsarina wrote to her daughter. “Please distribute these icons to all the officers at the Grand Palace from me. Unwrap them... if there are too many of them, give me back the extra ones. I am also sending bread: blessed prosphora and unconsecrated bread—they should heat it up and eat it… I hope you will send me a letter. May God bless and protect you. Thousands of kisses from your old Mom, who is missing you very much.”

It was very hard for Empress Alexandra Feodorovna during the days of the February Revolution in 1917. The children, except Maria, had come down with measles and were lying with a fever, her husband had not yet returned from the Headquarters, and the rebel troops were approaching Peterhof. At that time, Grand Duchess Maria was her Mother’s only support. From Maria Nikolaevna’s letter to the Emperor:

“March 3rd. Our dearest and most beloved Father! I am with you mentally and in prayer all the time... Now I am with Maman almost all day long, because I am the only one who is still well and able to walk. I also sleep together with her to be closer in case I need to say something or someone wants to see her...”

From left to right: Grand Duchesses Maria, Olga, Anastasia and Tatiana during house arrest in Tsarskoye Selo. Spring of 1917 From left to right: Grand Duchesses Maria, Olga, Anastasia and Tatiana during house arrest in Tsarskoye Selo. Spring of 1917     

Alexandra Feodorovna wrote to her husband:

“Our four children are still ill—only Maria is on her feet. She is calm, but my ‘helper’ is losing weight without showing everything she feels.”

“I will never forget the night when the few loyal regiments (the Consolidated, His Majesty’s Convoy, the Guards Crew and the Artillery) surrounded the palace, as rioting soldiers with machine guns, threatening to smash everything into smithereens, were marching in droves through the streets towards the palace,” Anna Vyrubova testified. “The Tsarina with Maria Nikolaevna came out to the regiments that were about to leave the palace. And they would probably have left that night if it hadn’t been for the Empress and her brave daughter, who walked calmly around the soldiers until twelve o’clock, cheering them up with kind words and forgetting the mortal danger to which they were exposed.”

Maria walked and smiled at the soldiers, especially the sailors, without betraying her fear. The young princess would show exactly the same courage in the trials that awaited her soon. A few days after that terrible night, having caught a cold, Maria herself came down with double pneumonia and a temperature over forty. Her illness took a serious turn, and Dr. Botkin feared for her life. But the Grand Duchess’ naturally strong body overcame the serious illness.

Then the Provisional Government exiled the Royal Family to Tobolsk. And here Maria Nikolaevna charmed everyone she met. She even managed to win over the prison officers. She was admired by the Commissioner of the Provisional Government V.S. Pankratov... All of Maria Nikolaevna’s letters from prison are imbued with love and compassion for her loved ones, sorrow, and memories of the past.

“We are always happy when we are allowed to go inside the church,” she wrote to her friend in the spring of 1918. “But it is a great shame that we have never been able to venerate the relics of St. John of Tobolsk.”

It was Maria, the strongest of the sisters, who accompanied her parents during the move from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg. The other princesses could not immediately join them owing to the Tsarevich’s illness.

This gentle girl never gave in to danger and did not tolerate rudeness. While her sisters Olga and Tatiana almost fainted from the insults of the Red Army soldiers guarding the Ipatiev house, she would rebuke the offenders harshly, and her courage earned their respect.

Maria was martyred at the age of nineteen with her whole family on the night of July 16–17, 1918. She was standing behind her mother at the time of the execution. Together with her parents, sisters and brother, Maria was canonized among the New Martyrs of Russia at the Jubilee Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in August 2000. Earlier, in 1981, they were canonized by ROCOR. In 2010, the cruise ferry acquired by the Russian St. Peter Line shipping company was named in honor of Maria Romanova—Princess Maria.

Today Christians pray to the Royal Passion-Bearers, seeking their help in strengthening the family and raising children in the faith and piety; many seek their help in studying. Their names are also invoked for the prosperity of Russia.

Maria Tobolova
Translation by Dmitry Lapa



1 A diminutive and affectionate form of the name Maria.—Trans.

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