Friday, September 16, 2011

Exclusive: Descendants of Grand Duchess Vladimir Gather to Honor Her

A group of descendants of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna Senior and Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia gathered at Contrexeville.

The Grand Duchess spent long visits in this French resort, where she went to partake in cures.

Contrexeville is located in a beautiful region near the famed town of Vittel, France. Famed for the purity of its waters, it served as a destination for those, who like the Grand Duchess Vladimir, believe in the restorative and curing power of natural spring waters.

Grand Duchess Vladimir was born a Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. She married Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, third son of Alexander II and Empress Maria Alexandrovna. In St Petersburg, the Grand Duchess Vladimir became one of the leading luminaries of the social whirlwind, if not herself the most radiant sun in the dying twilight of the Romanov dynasty. Beloved by many, mistrusted by some, admired by her indomitable nature and ambition, Grand Duchess Vladimir was a force to be reckoned with. Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra Feodorovna were both awed by her presence and fearful of her influence.

Maria Pavlovna Senior became a widow in 1909 after the untimely death of her husband, who had not yet reached his sixty-second year. In widowhood she continued her incessant traveling schedule around Europe, while also continuing to lead a second (and rival) court in St Petersburg.

During the Great War she organized a chain of hospitals and did amazing work to save the lives of countless thousands of wretched wounded soldiers.

Revolution caught her away from St Petersburg. Also trying to escape the Bolshevik menace, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna recalled running into her aunt. Olga encountered Maria Pavlovna at the port of Novorossik in early 1920: "Disregarding peril and hardship, she stubbornly kept to all the trimmings of bygone splendour and glory. And somehow she carried it off... When even generals found themselves lucky to find a horse cart and an old nag to bring them to safety, Aunt Miechen made a long journey in her own train. It was battered all right--but it was hers. For the first time in my life I found it a pleasure to kiss her..."

Maria Pavlovna eventually made it to the Black Sea and there boarded a steamer and headed to exile. Soon after landing in Italy, Maria Pavlovna made her way through Switzerland to Contrexeville, where illness and deteriorating health, due in no small measure to the privations suffered between 1917-1920, finally took a deadly toll. She died at Contrexeville on 6 September 1920. Her children surrounded her death bed.

One of her most lasting legacies to her descendants was the Grand Duchess's magnificent jewel collection, most of it making it out of Russia. In fact, some of her jewels were eventually purchased by the English royal family, most importantly, a Russian-style tiara still owned and used by The Queen.

A few years ago the Swedish government found a bag of precious objets d'art. These were long-forgotten jewels owned by the Grand Duchess. One of her devoted friends had handed the bag to the Swedish legation in St Petersburg, from where it was sent in the diplomatic mail to Stockholm. Astonishingly, everyone forgot about the treasure until the Swedish Foreign Ministry inventoried its archive and found the parcel. The jewels were auctioned off in 2010 and the proceeds, which ascended to several million dollars, were divided among the descendants of the Grand Duchess Vladimir's grandchildren: Fürstin Maria of Leiningen, Princess Kira of Prussia, Grand Duke Vladimir of Russia, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia, Countess Elisabeth of Toerring-Jettenbach and Princess Marina, Dowager Duchess of Kent.

Part of the proceeds were destined to restore the Contrexeville's Russian Orthodox chapel and the tomb of the Grand Duchess Vladimir. This September the Mayor of Contrexeville sponsored an exhibition on the Grand Duchess Vladimir's years at Contrexeville. Curated by French auctioneer Cyrille Boulay, the exhibition's opening was attended by a small group of Grand Duchess Vladimir descendants, among them: Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna of Russia and her son Grand Duke George Michaelovich, Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia and his wife Princess Barbara, Prince Karl Vladimir of Yugoslavia and his wife Princess Brigitte, and Archduchess Helen of Austria and her brother Count Hans Veit of Toerring-Jettenbach, Head of House.

 The Grand Duchess Vladimir

Top: Archduchess Helen at her great-grandmother's tomb; Above: the iconostasis inside
the Russian Orthodox Chapel at Contrexeville.

 The Grand Duchess Vladimir's former palace in Contrexeville.

The Russian Orthodox Chapel at Contrexeville.

Top: Count Hans Veit Toerring-Jettenbach, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna
and Grand Duke George of Russia. Above: Prince Alexander and Princess Barbara
 of Yugoslavia.

Archduchess Helen of Austria, Cyrille Boulay, Prince Alexander and
Princess Barbara of Yugoslavia.

Princess Brigitte of Yugoslavia and Princess Barbara of Yugoslavia.

Prince Karl Vladimir of Yugoslavia.

Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia and Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna of Russia.

Archduchess Helen of Austria and Princess Brigitte of Yugoslavia.

Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia and Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna of Russia. 

Archduchess Helen of Austria and Baron Sambucy de Sorgue, a grandson of the
late Count of Paris.


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