The princess took the keenest interest in helping forward the various philanthropic societies which her mother had founded in Darmstadt, and which had been named after her. They consisted of a hospital, nursing association, and an orphanage, established by Princess Alice at the terrible period of the Franco-german War, and the "Alice Society for the Education and Employment of Women of all Classes," having for its objects the better education of women generally, and the opening up to them of new fields of labour. Princess Alix was a constant visitor at the hospital and at the orphanage. She also developed a keen interest in all that concerned the position of women, and did her utmost, so far as a young princess could, to further her mother's excellent plans for breaking down the barriers which excluded women from many of the educated professions.
Thus she spent the years following her sojourn in Great Britain, assisting her father, and making herself popular with poor and rich alike by her gracious manner and the keen interest which she took in the welfare of all classes.
Many speculations were rife about this time as to who the husband of Princess Alix would be.. Many alliances were suggested, but apparently the young 'princess had fully determined to bestow her hand where she had given her heart. In one of the letters to Queen Victoria her mother had written, she said: "You say rightly, what a fault it is of parents to bring up their daughters with the main object of marrying them. A marriage for the sake of marriage is surely the greatest mistake a woman can make."
Apparently, Princess Alice had become imbued with her mother's views on this subject, and although several suitors were mentioned whose wealth and rank were far beyond her own, Princess Alix refused to consider their proposals. Was this because there was "someone else" at this period? It would almost seem so.
It was known that the young Tsarewitch, who was four years older than Princess Alix, being born at St. Petersburg on May 18, 1868, was very much attracted by the unmarried daughter of the Grand Duke of Hesse. But marriage between them was thought to be impossible, for, in the first place, his parents had a much more ambitious matrimonial alliance in view for him and in the second place, there was the difference in religion; for when a Protestant princess marries into the Russian Royal Family she is required to enter the Greek Church
It was in 1884 that Princess Alix first met Nicholas II., but ten years elapsed before she became his wife. His parents were disappointed in his choice; while Queen Victoria objected on the score of religion. Seeing how deep their son's attachment was, however, the former at last yielded to the charms of the Princess, while Nicholas's uncle, the Grand Duke Sergius, came to England and pleaded his nephew's cause so eloquently that at last Queen Victoria consented to the wedding.
The Princess, however, fought long against her conversion to the faith of the Greek Orthodox Church, which was essential to the union. "You cannot love him, then," once exclaimed her brother Ernest, after trying in vain to induce her to make this sacrifice of her religion. "But I do," protested the Princess earnestly, with tears pouring down her cheeks, "indeed I do!" She was quite willing to join the Greek Orthodox Church, but refused to utter the formula declaring her old form of faith to be false and wicked. At the suggestion of Alexander III., however, the obnoxious words were omitted.
This incident illustrates the firmness of mind of the Empress, where a matter of conscience is involved, and for some years after her marriage she was unpopular at the Russian Court on account of the courage she displayed when enforcing her opinions. She introduced many reforms at the Russian Court. She refused to allow smoking among her ladies; she set her face against the idle rich who used Court influence for their own purposes, and abolished much of the pomp and ceremony.
The betrothal of Princess Alix to the Tsarewitch was announced on April 20, 1894, and on November 3 following - which was two days after the death of his father Alexander III., and one day after his accession to the throne of "all the Russias" had been publicly announced at St. Petersburg - Nicholas II. announced that the Princess Alix of Hesse, the bride of his choice, had accepted the orthodox faith under the name of Alexandra, and would be henceforth known as the Grand Duchess Alexandra Feodorovna.
Princess Alix had been summoned to the bedside of Alexander III. at Livadia, and for some time it was supposed that the marriage would be celebrated during his lifetime. This was not to be, however, and national mourning was suspended for a day on November 26, 1894, when the marriage took place in the private chapel of the Winter Palace at St. Petersburg.
The manifesto issued by Nicholas II. on the occasion of his marriage explains, to a certain extent, why the ceremony took place so soon after the death of his father.
" Solicitous for the destinies of our new reign," he said, " we have deemed it well not to delay the fulfilment of our heart's wish, the legacy, so sacred to us, of our father, now resting in God; nor to defer the realisation of the joyful expectation of our whole people that our marriage, hallowed by the benediction of our parents, should be blessed by the Sacrament of our Holy Church."
The marriage was made the occasion of much rejoicing. For the first time in recent
Russian history the troops were withdrawn from the line of route, and no restraint placed upon the erection of temporary stands, the climbing of lamp-posts, and the occupation of every coign of vantage, exactly as is done in London on the occasion of a State pageant. The official programme indicated that there would be cavalry escorts with the carriage, and when it appeared without a single mounted soldier, the delight of the people was boundless.
H.I.M. The Empress of Russia, daughter of the Grand Duke of Hesse and grand daughter of Queen Victoria. whose marriage to the Tsar took place in November, 1894. The magnificent national robes and crown are a worthy sctting for the
Tsarina's stately beauty
Thus did the young Tsar show his courage on his marriage day, and further enhanced his popularity by issuing a manifesto granting important alleviation of pains, penalties, fines, debts, and arrears of taxes to the peasantry, pardon for the Polish rebels of 1863, mitigation of punishment to Siberian exiles, and a reduction of one third of the terms of imprisonment to all criminals.
Bad times, however, were in store for the
The eldest, Grand Duchess Olga, was born on November 15, 1895, and then followed the Grand Duchess Tatiana, born June 10, 1897; the Grand Duchess Marie, born June 26, 1899, and the Grand Duchess Anastasia, born June 18, 1901. Not until three years later, on August 12, 1904. was the Grand Duke Alexis, the heir apparent, born. The news of his birth was welcomed with rejoicings all over Russia, and when he was christened three days later in the church of the Peterhof Palace, both the German Emperor and King Edward were represented as godfathers.
At "The Farm," situated in a remote part of the magnificent grounds of Peterhof Palace on the Finnish bay, the Royal children have their pets, and here in the evening they listen to the music rendered by their mother and father. For both the Tsar and Tsarina are very musical. A celebrated violinist once said of the latter that if she were in another sphere of life she would have won great fame. The Tsar, too, plays the violin well, and is very fond of an instrument called the balalaika, which is a kind of guitar with only three strings. He often sings to this instrument, for he possesses a tenor voice of excellent quality. Never are the Tsar and Tsarina so happy as when they have an excuse for staying a few days at "The Farm" in the company of their children. "What a happy family they would be," remarked one who has spent years in their service, "if they were not overshadowed by grim State cares."
Here is a final picture of the Tsarina. The scene is Reval, on the occasion of the historic meeting of the Tsar and King Edward last summer. Tired and ill, she remarks in a burst of confidence to an officer standing by: "I am feeling so weary that I had far rather have stayed at home, but as my absence would certainly have been misunderstood, I have made a great effort to come."
Could anything be more pathetic?