The Dowager Empress Marie of Russia

The Dowager Empress Marie of Russia

A Death-bed Betrothal - "Handsome Papa " - " The Mother-in-law of Europe" - The Bomb-proof Empress - Queen Alexandra and Her Sister - The Stone of Youth - Victims of Nihilists - A Pathetic

End - Malicious Stories and a Denial

"Marry her; "that is my dying wish. And you, my dear bride, your destiny will still be accomplished; you will be Empress of Russia. Marry my brother. He is as true as crystal !"

Fate ofttimes plays a strange and romantic part in the love affairs of nations. Forty-six years ago, on April 25, 1865, the Grand Duke Nicholas, eldest son of Alexander II. of Russia, and consequently heir-apparent to the throne, lay dying at Nice. Consumption had already weakened his constitution, and the end was hastened by a fall from his horse.

A few months previously his betrothal to Princess Marie Dagmar, the fourth child of the late King Christian of Denmark, and sister of Queen Alexandra, had been announced. His fiancee hastened to his bedside, only to learn that her lover's life was despaired of. She remained to the end; and just before the Grand Duke breathed his last he placed the hand of the weeping Princess in that of his brother, and in the presence of the Emperor and Empress expressed his dying wish in the words quoted.

Royal Simplicity

In the annals of courtship there are few more pathetic love stories, although the Princess's matrimonial experience was strangely akin to that of Queen Mary, who, it will be remembered, was betrothed to King George's brother, the unfortunate Duke of Clarence.

The Princess Dagmar was eighteen years of age when this tragic event in her life occurred, and for a time she was inconsolable. She had loved the Tsarevitch with all the fervour of a young and ardent heart, and she returned to Copenhagen tearful and grief-stricken. Her father, however, "good, kindly King Christian," as he was so often termed, did much to mitigate her grief. A devoted father, in the best sense of the term, he was his children's constant companion and confidante. " What I should have done without him in my hour of trial," the Princess ultimately wrote to a personal friend, " I scarcely know. Papa seemed to understand exactly. When I wanted him he was there, and when I wanted solitude my every wish was studied. But he would not allow me to bury myself, and in this he was right. It was he who brought me out of myself."

King Christian was adored by all his children, who were rather fond of calling him behind his back, " Handsome Papa." He was kindly and indulgent, but had theories of his own about bringing up his sons and daughters, and if anyone ventured to hint that he was rather strict at times, he would say, "I will not be so cruel to these little ones as to spoil them ! " His Majesty was an exceedingly homely man; while his wife, Queen Louise, who died in 1898, and who was once described by Bismarck as ' the mother-in-law of Europe " - for the Danish Royal family is connected by marriage with most of the crowned heads of Europe - was a thoroughly practical-minded woman. It was she who taught her daughters to make their own dresses in the days before her husband succeeded to the throne, when the family funds were so low that they were wont to go for a drive all in one carriage. Queen Louise, indeed, was an ideal mother, witty, clever, and possessing a combination of rare qualities. Thus she was able to give her husband valuable judgment in the crises of his life. This was well known to the Danes, who used to say in playful humour, "The King decided this ? Not he. He would never have thought of it if it had not been for the Queen ! "

A United Household

And if the household of King Christian was not always a rich one, it was an extremely happy one, and its members have always been glad to return to the old home in after years. One of the happy results of the connection between the Danish Royal family and other Royal families of Europe has been that family conferences have been held from time to time at which national disputes have been talked over and settled, practically speaking, in a quiet, informal way. It is needless to add that these family conferences have largely tended to preserve peace in Europe.

A deep bond of sympathy and love has always existed between the children of King Christian and Queen Louise, and in the beneficent work and kindly character of the Empress and Queen Alexandra, for instance, we get a striking illustration of the marked manner in which they have inherited those high-minded principles which actuated their parents in ruling the people of Denmark. How Queen Alexandra has endeared herself to the hearts of all Britishers is a story familiar to all of us, and although it cannot be said that demonstrations of loyalty in Russia are always sincere, there can be no doubt that the Empress has gained as much popularity as it is possible for one in her position to gain in that land of despotism, particularly since she became the head of the Russian Red Cross Society.

The Idol Of The Russian Poor

It was a great change for the Princess Dagmar when she became the bride of Alexander III., on November 9, 1866. She so dearly loved the simple life of her home that, before leaving for St. Petersburg, she scratched upon one of the panes at the Palace, ' My beloved Fredensborg, fare-well ! " well knowing that she was going to a Court where rigid etiquette, formality, and ceremony marked every movement of a Royal personage. She readily adapted herself to the change of circumstances, however, and the poor people of St. Petersburg soon began to bless the day when the Danish Princess came into their midst. To-day the Empress is regarded with superstitious reverence by the St. Petersburg poor, to whom she has ever shown herself a most devoted friend and helper. They are firmly convinced that she is surrounded by a host of guardian angels who will not allow any harm to come to her. She is known as "the bomb-proof Empress," it being a curious fact that a bomb, undoubtedly intended to be thrown at her carriage, exploded by accident, and killed the Anarchist who had sworn to destroy her.