Return of the Empress

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Ten years ago, Empress Maria Feodorovna found her final resting place in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The golden standard of the Russian Empresses covered her coffin on its journey from Denmark where she died in exile almost 78 years earlier.

Empress Maria Feodorovna died far from her beloved Russia in her villa north of Copenhagen, Denmark, on 13 October 1928, 80 years old. She was the widow of Alexander III, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias. In 1919 she was forced to leave Russia following the Communist revolution.

Maria Feodorovna first set foot on Russian soil in September 1866 at the age of 18. She arrived in Saint Petersburg on board a Danish warship as the bride-to-be of the young Tsarevich Alexander Alexandrovich who later became Emperor Alexander III. She had already converted to the Russian Orthodox Church and very early on she came to regard Russia as her home.

Following the assassination in 1881 of Emperor Alexander II, Alexander III ascended the thrown. He and Maria Feodorovna were crowned in 1883 at the Kremlin, Moscow. The couple had six children. Their happy marriage ended in 1894 when Alexander III died at the age of 49.

Maria Feodorovna became much loved in Russia and played the role of Empress Dowager to perfection. Her eldest son became Nicholas II, the last Russian Emperor.

Before marrying in Russia the Empress was known as Princess Dagmar of Denmark. She came from a large and close-knit family. King Christian IX of Denmark was her father. King George I of Greece was her brother. King Christian X of Denmark and Iceland and King Haakon VII of Norway were her nephews. Her sister Alexandra was the wife of Edward VII, King of Great Britain and Ireland, Emperor of India.

It was thanks to a British warship that Maria Feodorovna was able to get out of revolutionary Russia alive. During her stay in Crimea she had received the news of the murders of her sons, Nicholas and Michael, and of her daughter-in-law and her five grandchildren. For the rest of her life she refused to accept that they had been brutally killed by the Communists.

In 2006 after many years of planning it was finally possible to transfer the body of Empress Maria Feodorovna to Russia. She had been temporarily interred in the Cathedral of Roskilde, the main burial site for the Danish royal family. On 23 September 2006 a service there marked the beginning of the Empress’ last journey. Again, a Danish warship sailed her to Saint Petersburg.

On 28 September 2006 Maria Feodorovna was interred in the Peter and Paul Fortress on the River Neva in the former capital of the Russian Empire, next to the grave of her husband and in close proximity to the graves of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

Fittingly, the Empress of Russia’s Standard covered the coffin on her last sea voyage. This flag is a swallow-tailed version of the Imperial Russian Naval Standard adopted by Emperor Peter the Great and changed very little over the years:

On a background of gold, a black double-headed eagle, crowned with three Imperial crowns, on its chest an inescutcheon, red with the mounted Saint George slaying a black dragon, surrounded by the collar of the Order of Saint Andrew. In its beaks and and claws the eagle holds four nautical charts showing the “four seas of Russia” – the Baltic Sea, the White Sea, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

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