L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Two sisters, two portraits by de László - their mother - the war

Nina and Xenia, the two daughters of Grand Duke George Mikhailovich and Grand Duchess George née Princess Marie of Greece and Denmark, painted in London in 1915.

The brushwork of the hair, especially, is exquisite.


Princess Marie and Grand Duke George, probably at the time of their engagement.

Princess Marie of Greece and Denmark (3 March 1876, Athens - 14 December 1940, Athens), was the fifth child and second daughter of George I, King of the Hellenes, and Queen Olga, née Grand Duchess of Russia; through her mother she was related to the Romanovs, through her father many of the other royal families of Europe. Though she had not a drop of Greek blood, she was always fiercely attached to the country of her birth and was resistant to making a dynastic marriage which would mean she would have to live elsewhere. But one of her Russian cousins, Grand Duke George Mikhailovich, fell in love with her and, though she made it clear that the feelings were not reciprocal, he persisted. He first asked for her hand in 1896, but it was not until four years later that they were married. They took up residence in an apartment in the Mikhailovskoe Palace, the home of the Grand Duke's father outside of St. Petersburg. They would have two daughters, Princess Nina Georgievna (20 June 1901, Mikhailovskoe - 27 February 1974, Wellfleet, Massachusetts), and Princess Xenia Georgievna (22 August 1903, Mikhailovskoe - 17 September 1965, Glen Cove, New York). In 1905, the family moved to a small, newly built palace in the Crimea. It was called "Harax"and designed to the Grand Duchess' taste - and as close to Greece as she could make it. George was a devoted father, but his wife never grew to love him as he had hoped she would. Increasing estranged from her husband, unhappy in Russia, she began to spend more time abroad with her daughters, ostensibly for the girl's health but perhaps more to distance herself from her husband and her life in Russia. The three of them were in England, in the spa town of Harrogate, at the beginning of World War I. They would never see their husband and father again.

Marie and George on their wedding day in Corfu, 30 April 1900.
With baby Nina at Mikhailovskoe.
The family at Harax.
Circa 1914.
Circa 1914 and later inscribed, "1915 Harrogate".



At first choosing not to return to Russia and eventually unable to, the Grand Duchess did what so many royal ladies did in time of war: she established a hospital for the wounded. She opened the first one, but soon found it too small and acquired another, larger building. Eventually, she founded and ran five hospitals in Harrogate which, by the end of the war, had treated upwards of 100,000 soldiers. The no-nonsense, very hands-on Grand Duchess - she actively nursed as well - was immensely popular with the soldiers and is still remembered in the town in North Yorkshire.

The last year of the war coincided with the Bolshevik takeover in Russia. By the summer of 1918, the murders of the Tsar and his family and other Romanovs had begun, and Grand Duke George, along with a brother and a cousin, were arrested. They endured very poor conditions for several months, but George was able to smuggle out frequent letters to his wife; she tried to buy his freedom from the authorities, but was unsuccessful. At the end of January - a little over two months after the Armistice - in the dead of night and with temperatures almost twenty degrees below zero, the three grand dukes were taken to St. Petersburg's Peter and Paul Fortress. Joined by another cousin, Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich - so ill he to be carried on a stretcher - all four were placed before an open trench - already containing thirteen bodies - and shot. 

At left, the Grand Duchess and her daughters.


The Grand Duchess' nickname was Minny, her daughter Xenia's was Tommy.
Princess Nina on her wedding day.
Princess Nina and Prince Paul Chavchavadze after their wedding.

Princess Nina married Prince Paul Alexandrovich Chavchavadze - a descendant of the last king of Georgia - in London in 1922. They had one child, Prince David Chavchavadze, born there two years later. In 1927 the family of three moved to the United States and settled in New York. In 1939 they bought a home in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Princess Nina was an artist, her husband worked as an author; he wrote five books and translated several others. Their son, Prince David Chavchavadze, served with the U.S. Army during World War II and, thanks in part to his knowledge of Russian, eventually became a CIA officer. After his retirement, he wrote his memoirs and published those of his grandmother, Grand Duchess George, as well as a book about the grand dukes of Russia.

Xenia married William Bateman Leeds in Paris in 1921; the bride was eighteen, the groom just turned nineteen. Leeds was the son and heir of the fabulously wealthy widow, Mrs. Nancy Leeds, who had married Prince Christopher of Greece - the bride's uncle - the year before. The couple went on to be a popular mainstay of New York's Long Island high society; their estate, Kenwood, was in Oyster Bay. Their only child, a daughter, Nancy, was born in 1925. Two years later Xenia became very involved with Anna Anderson, the Polish woman we now know was posing as - or truly believed she was - the Grand Duchess Anastasia, the daughter of the last Tsar. She came to live at Kenwood, though she caused such turmoil in the household that she would eventually be asked to leave. Disagreements about Anderson were a contributing factor to the breakup of her marriage to Leeds; they divorced in 1930. Xenia remarried in 1946 to Herman Jud.

Princess Xenia on her wedding day.
Princess Xenia and William Leeds after their wedding.

Their mother, herself, remarried in 1922, three years after her husband's murder. Her second husband was Periklis Ioannidis, a Greek admiral. According to her grandson, they had met two years previously when the Grand Duchess traveled back to Greece on board a destroyer that Ioannidis was commanding. Though certainly not an "equal" marriage, it appears that the union was accepted in the royal family. And it must have been gratifying to her that she had married a citizen of her beloved Greece. They were still married when she died at the age of sixty-four in Athens.

The Grand Duchess and her husband Periklis Ioannidis, circa 1930s.

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