Emperor Alexander of Russia was the uncle of Queen Olga of Greece. Pushed by his brother Constantine, the Tsar sought to liberalize Russia, with the goal of producing a constitution. It was a race against time; the Tsar knew anarchists and terrorists were targeting him. There had already been one bombing attempt in the dining room of the Winter Palace, just before the imperial family arrived. Believing he had won, with a draft of the constitution in his pocket, the Tsar was assassinated during a coordinated bombing in Saint Petersburg.
While on a matrimonial voyage through Europe in search of a wife, the future Alexander II fell madly in love with Princess Maria of Hesse. His parents were opposed, as the princess’ lineage was unclear. Alexander was undeterred and his love for her persisted and grew until he defied his parents’ wishes and finally wed the young princess. Maria became Empress Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, and spent the rest of her life being cheated on by the Tsar who had fought so hard to marry her. Overcome with grief, her body ravaged by tuberculoses, Maria’s beauty quickly faded. Growing weaker by the day, she was unable to perform her duties as empress. She died hopeless, and still madly in love with her husband.
While Empress Maria fell ill with tuberculoses, Tsar Alexander II would replace her during formal ceremonies. This is how it came to pass that the Emperor rather than the Empress visited the institute of young noble women, where a young girl of 18, Catherine Dolgorouki, caught the eye of the Tsar. He wrote her many letters, and the two traveled together incognito. He quickly fell in love and made her his mistress. A few weeks after the death of Maria Alexandrovna the two wed, causing a scandal in his family and the Court. Following the assassination of Alexander, she lived in exile, maintaining her beauty until her last day. Catherine was a great beauty, and showed a pride commensurate with her destiny. For Catherine Dolgorouki there had only been one empress, herself.
Like the Princess Dolgorouki, Empress Maria Alexandrovna also had many children with the Tsar. This child here, is it legitimate from the first marriage? Or illegitimate, from the ex-mistress turned wife? In any event, the child was raised in the Winter Palace just above the apartment of the sick Empress, who heard the scampering feet above her day and night. Naturally, she was quite aware of what was going on with her husband.
Grand Duchess Maria Nicolaievna was the sister of Alexander II and Grand Duke Nicholas, and therefore the aunt of Queen Olga of Greece. She was the favorite daughter of her father, Emperor Nicholas I. He wouldn’t let her leave Russia to marry, so she married a German prince who the Tsar brought to Russia and had Russified. She had been secretly in love with Count Cheremetiev. When the German prince died, the Grand Duchess secretly wed Count Cheremetiev, but knew her father would never allow such a marriage. The Grand Duchess kept this secret from her father for the rest of his life. In fact, he was the only one in the Court who was unaware of this union. Imperious, proud, and very intelligent, Tsar Nicholas had the Maria Palace build for her in Saint Petersburg. It is now city hall.