As I mentioned in a previous post, there was little love lost between the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia and her first cousin* and soon-to-be-former sister-in-law, Grand Duchess Victoria Melita of Hesse. But in the early days of their respective marriages, before the ill-considered union of "Ducky" and the Empress' beloved brother Ernie ended in all-but-inevitable divorce, the Russian couple and Hessian couple spent some happy days together in the Empress' "old home", Darmstadt, together with their children and other members of the extended family.
They were all young adults in October and November of 1899 - Andrei was just 20, Boris 21, Ducky and Kirill 23, Alix and Greek Nicky were 27, Ernie 30, with Nicky the oldest at 31 - and most were living lives that were heavy with responsibility and rigid protocol. But staying at Schloss Wolfsgarten, the Grand Ducal country estate north of Darmstadt, the differences between the two young women which would soon harden into enmity, and the pressures of public life that the group often struggled with, were forgotten in unseasonably sunny and warm, lighthearted days spent with their children and surrounded by family.
|There are photographs propped up in front of Nicky; I'd love to know of whom they are.|
|Kirill, Nicky, Greek Nicky.|
|Ernie and Nicky. (That's probably Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna, the Tsar's second daughter, in the foreground.)|
|Ernie and Greek Nicky.|
|Same as above.|
|Nicky and Greek Nicky.|
|Nicky, Greek Nicky, Boris.|
|Alix. (Quite a different - rather appalling, actually - image of the famously stiff and unsmiling Empress Alexandra.)|
|Boris, Ernie, Andrei, on top Greek Nicky and Kirill.|
|Alix taking a photograph of Nicky, Ernie, and Greek Nicky. (The man in the middle of the image is unknown.)|
|Greek Nicky with Tatiana.|
|Ernie with Tatiana.|
|Nicky and Alix's two eldest daughters, Grand Duchesses Tatiana and Olga.|
|Tatiana and Greek Nicky.|
|Ernie and Nicky with their daughters, Princess Elisabeth - who would die at the age of eight - and Grand Duchess Olga.|
|Boris. At left, Nicky and Greek Nicky.|
|Ducky and Kirill. (Her future second husband.) This decorative - dry - well seemed to inspire a lot of silliness.|
|Greek Nicky, Boris, Kirill. Princess Elisabeth is in the background.|
* Alexandra and Ernst Ludwig (by their mother) and Victoria Melita (by her father) were first cousins. (And grandchildren of Queen Victoria.) Victoria Melita (by her mother), Nicholas II (by his father), and the three Vladimir bothers (by their father), were all first cousins. Nicholas II (by his mother) and Nicholas of Greece (by his father) were first cousins; they were also second cousins via the former's father and the latter's mother, born a Russian Grand Duchess. Nicholas of Greece (by his mother) was second cousins with the Vladimir brothers (by their father). Got all that?
Of course, famously, Victoria Melita divorced one first cousin, Ernst Ludwig, and married another, Kirill. Though unions between first cousins weren't always so frowned upon at the time - as they certainly are today - the Orthodox church did not permit such marriages. This is one of many factors that have always troubled Russian monarchists in respect to the current pretender to the Imperial throne, the granddaughter of Kirill and Victoria Melita.