Author Topic: The "suitability" of royal wives  (Read 462 times)

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Offline Phoenix

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The "suitability" of royal wives
« on: February 10, 2018, 11:34:38 PM »
To me, "suitability" means the ability to fulfil the obligations required of the royal wife's station.

From everything I've read on royal families, "suitability" means rank and almost nothing more. Apart from chronic ill health, a deformity of some kind, or sometimes being first cousins, a prince could marry any woman of sufficient rank.

Nicholas and Alix were passionately in love and Nicholas was determined to marry her. I know that Queen Victoria and Nicholas's parents were initially against the match but the reasons had nothing to do with Alix's suitability.

No one seemed to even consider that Alix may not be suitable because she was ill at ease with strangers and preferred to be surrounded only by her family, albeit an extended one. She was reserved rather than outgoing, etc., all the things she was criticized and hated for after she married Nicholas and moved to Russia.

Also, no one seemed to feel the need to educate the chosen one for the duties she would be required to fulfil.

Princess Diana is a perfect example. In her case, it seemed as though she was just thrown into the royal soup and was expected to sink or swim on her own.

I find this astonishing.

Offline Превед

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Re: The "suitability" of royal wives
« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2018, 04:47:48 AM »
You can see it as an extension of the hereditary principle: Why should the criteria for a monarch's spouse and monarch's mother be qualifications-based when the office of monarch itself wasn't?

And the reality of a media monarchy where PR played an important role was relatively new in AF's time. Direct, personal relationships with the court nobility had always played an important role, also for the consorts. But consorts who were too adept at this (e.g. Catherine the Great) were seen as a potential threat to their husbands (often in favour of their sons, though) and the whole patriarchical order of society.

Active Christian faith and piety was perhaps the staple universal criterion of suitability in a wider context of Christian Europe, because it ensured:
- selflessness and self-sacrifice
- loyalty to the status quo
- pre-marital chastity and marital fidelity
- charitability that would endear the spouse and the monarchy to the population
- focus on the welfare of subjects of all estates and classes and not just the narrow court circles
« Last Edit: February 12, 2018, 05:15:22 AM by Превед »
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Их грустный, опущённый вид,
Как речь безмолвная могилы,
Горячку сердца холодит.

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Offline Kalafrana

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Re: The "suitability" of royal wives
« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2018, 08:15:54 AM »
While Alexandra was 'suitable' in terms of lineage, Nicholas's parents were clearly concerned about her character and ability to carry out the role of an Empress, perhaps also about the risk of haemophilia. They sought other brides for Nicholas - Margaret of Prussia and Helene of Bourbon-Orleans, and only accepted Alexandra very shortly before Alexander's death.

Ann

Offline CountessKate

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Re: The "suitability" of royal wives
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2018, 11:04:45 PM »
While Alexandra was 'suitable' in terms of lineage, Nicholas's parents were clearly concerned about her character and ability to carry out the role of an Empress, perhaps also about the risk of haemophilia. They sought other brides for Nicholas - Margaret of Prussia and Helene of Bourbon-Orleans, and only accepted Alexandra very shortly before Alexander's death.
 Ann

I'm not entirely sure that is correct.  While these do seem factors from our perspective in time, neither of these reasons were articulated by anyone then.  After all, nobody questioned Alexandra's suitability to be Queen of Great Britain and Empress of India before Nicholas was allowed to propose and it was entirely her own decision not to accept the proposals of the Duke of Clarence.  No one seemed to worry about haemophilia - Alexandra had a nephew with the condition well before she married Nicholas but not a word seems to have been said about it in either the British or the Russian context.  Indeed, Alfonso of Spain was warned and married Victoria Eugenie of Battenburg regardless (rather meanly blaming her for it afterwards).  The Prussian marriage had a good political European connections and useful links with Great Britain as well, while the Orleans connected with France (sort of) and with other European monarchies, although the religion was to prove too big an obstacle in the British case and presumably would have done so if it had reached that stage with the Russians also, and I think these were bigger factors.  What might have resonated a little more with regard to a Hesse-Darmstadt marriage was the fact that at the time, Alexandra's older sister Elizabeth had no children with Sergei, Irene had only one 'sickly' (i.e. haemophiliac) son after several years of marriage, Ernst Ludwig only had one daughter, and only Victoria of Battenburg had three healthy children, including a son.  Not, comparatively speaking, a very good haul dynastically.

Offline Kalafrana

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Re: The "suitability" of royal wives
« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2018, 02:54:35 AM »
The irony is that Margaret of Prussia subsequently had no fewer than six healthy sons, including two sets of twins.

Helene also had two healthy sons, though the elder died at 44, apparently from a combination of TB and malaria.

Ann

Offline Maria Sisi

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Re: The "suitability" of royal wives
« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2018, 08:12:01 PM »
Wasn't their main objection to Alexandra based on what they saw of her during her previous visits to Russia? Maybe it was people, and historians, writing in hindsight, after all the disasters, but it seems according to them she made a poor impression on the aristocracy and the Tsar and Tsarina during the 1889(?) visit. They found her pretty but cold, a disappointment compared to the lovely Ella who won everybody over the moment she arrived.

Many books and documentaries say during the visit she appeared very shy and quiet with those outside the family circle (sound familiar?), and kept everybody at arms length even when sharing the same room, and Maria Feodorovna, being the social butterfly she was, believed Alexandra's character was the antithesis of what a Russian Empress should be. The 1889 visit was basically a prologue, a preview of things to come and that the Tsar and Tsarina saw it or at least that's what they all claim.

That combined with the Tsar and Tsarina aiming far higher. They wanted more prestige (Margaret of Prussia) or potential political benefits (Helene of Orleans). A princess from a mere German Dutchy wasn't good enough for the heir to the Russian throne (never mind the fact that Alexander's own mother came from that Dutchy, although his anti-German feeling was coloring his thoughts by that time). They had bigger things in mind and Alexandra of Hesse-Darmstadt wasn't considered to fit the criteria even if her grandmother was Queen Victoria.

If the 1889 visit did play a huge part in their objections to Alexandra then I'm willing to believe that if Alexandra had Ella's personality there would have been no strong objections by Alexander and Maria. The only thing prolonging it would have been the question of religion.

Offline CountessKate

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Re: The "suitability" of royal wives
« Reply #6 on: February 14, 2018, 03:02:44 AM »
The only direct information about other parental intentions that I have been able to find comes from an entry in Nicholas's diary of 29 January 1894 where he wrote "While I was talking to Mama this morning she made several hints about Hélène, the daughter of the Comte de Paris, which puts me in an awkward position.  I am at the crossing of two paths; I myself want to go in the other direction, while Mama obviously wants me to take this one!  What will happen?"  His father is not mentioned, nor indeed is Alexandra.  Margaret of Prussia of course had been off the scene since 1892 when she got engaged to Friedrich of Hesse-Cassel, and in any case she had a crush on Max of Baden before that so would herself not have been particularly keen.  I can well see that Nicholas's imperial parents would have liked to review a few other candidates, but the impression of Alexandra being perceived at the time as having an unsuitable personality for an Empress seems to be entirely derived from hindsight.  I think a princess of 17 would be unlikely to be considered unsuitable for an Imperial position simply because she was shy and reserved; this was thoroughly in keeping with the proper behaviour of young ladies of 1889 and she seemed to enjoy sledding and tea dances with Nicholas in a perfectly normal way, and I hardly think he would have been so keen as to start a correspondence if she had gone about in a glum and gloomy manner.  I wouldn't have thought, either, that at her age she would have been going about in Russian high society in the way the married royal and imperial women did, and was far more likely to have been kept within a highly chaperoned and much quieter social scene.  I do think her background, so highly influenced by Queen Victoria, would certainly have made her suspicious of the 'immoral' Russian high society, but it would hardly have been proper for her, an unmarried princess of 17, to have shone there in 1889.  So I can't see why Maria Feodorovna would have taken against her for being an entirely proper princess in 1889 even if she didn't have much enthusiasm for her.

Offline CountessKate

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Re: The "suitability" of royal wives
« Reply #7 on: February 16, 2018, 09:38:43 PM »
Actually, the more I look at it, the odder Maria Feodorovna's nudging Nicholas towards Hélène becomes, at least at that date. She would have been fully informed by her sister Alexandra of the debacle of the Hélène and Albert Victor romance four years before, and have known perfectly well from her own experience the requirement of the wife of the Tsarevich to be, or convert to, the orthodox faith.  It hardly seems likely that the comte de Paris, or the pope, would have permitted to the Russian heir to the throne something they had refused to the British.  Additionally, the French government would hardly have been pleased at a Russian alliance with the deposed and exiled house of Orléans; it might even have imperiled the Franco-Russian alliance.  Edward W. Hanson, in 'The Wandering Princess: Princess Helene of France, Duchess of Aosta 1871-1951', suggests that Maria Feodorovna was interested in Hélène because of Alexandra of Wales's friendship for her, rather a strange way to identify a prospective bride for an imperial heir.  One wonders what Alexander III thought of it, though he may have just considered the religious problems would ensure the project came to nothing, especially since Nicholas himself seemed uninterested.

Offline Ortino

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Re: The "suitability" of royal wives
« Reply #8 on: February 18, 2018, 01:17:21 PM »
Wasn't their main objection to Alexandra based on what they saw of her during her previous visits to Russia? Maybe it was people, and historians, writing in hindsight, after all the disasters, but it seems according to them she made a poor impression on the aristocracy and the Tsar and Tsarina during the 1889(?) visit. They found her pretty but cold, a disappointment compared to the lovely Ella who won everybody over the moment she arrived.

Many books and documentaries say during the visit she appeared very shy and quiet with those outside the family circle (sound familiar?), and kept everybody at arms length even when sharing the same room, and Maria Feodorovna, being the social butterfly she was, believed Alexandra's character was the antithesis of what a Russian Empress should be. The 1889 visit was basically a prologue, a preview of things to come and that the Tsar and Tsarina saw it or at least that's what they all claim.

That combined with the Tsar and Tsarina aiming far higher. They wanted more prestige (Margaret of Prussia) or potential political benefits (Helene of Orleans). A princess from a mere German Dutchy wasn't good enough for the heir to the Russian throne (never mind the fact that Alexander's own mother came from that Dutchy, although his anti-German feeling was coloring his thoughts by that time). They had bigger things in mind and Alexandra of Hesse-Darmstadt wasn't considered to fit the criteria even if her grandmother was Queen Victoria.

If the 1889 visit did play a huge part in their objections to Alexandra then I'm willing to believe that if Alexandra had Ella's personality there would have been no strong objections by Alexander and Maria. The only thing prolonging it would have been the question of religion.

I agree with this. While of royal blood, Alix came from a small duchy and lived a rather sheltered, bourgeois existence prior to her marriage. This upbringing, while perhaps suitable for the British or German courts, would have left her overwhelmed and unprepared for the lavishness, grandeur, and exuberance of the Russian court. I wonder if Maria's own modest upbringing also led her to desire someone of higher 'status' for her son.

Moreover, Alix was not just demure; she was socially awkward and serious. These characteristics would have collectively made her appear standoffish, if not downright haughty. A Russian empress needed to be able to employ charm and wit and recognize--if not embrace--the vivacity of the court. I think Maria knew that Alix could not deliver in these areas and therefore discouraged the match. 

Offline CountessKate

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Re: The "suitability" of royal wives
« Reply #9 on: February 19, 2018, 11:22:04 PM »
Quote
I agree with this. While of royal blood, Alix came from a small duchy and lived a rather sheltered, bourgeois existence prior to her marriage. This upbringing, while perhaps suitable for the British or German courts, would have left her overwhelmed and unprepared for the lavishness, grandeur, and exuberance of the Russian court. I wonder if Maria's own modest upbringing also led her to desire someone of higher 'status' for her son.

Moreover, Alix was not just demure; she was socially awkward and serious. These characteristics would have collectively made her appear standoffish, if not downright haughty. A Russian empress needed to be able to employ charm and wit and recognize--if not embrace--the vivacity of the court. I think Maria knew that Alix could not deliver in these areas and therefore discouraged the match.

I'm not aware of any evidence which suggests that Alexandra had any more sheltered upbringing than her contemporaries among royal spouses such as Marie of Edinburgh, Mary of Teck, Victoria Eugenia of Battenberg, or Margaret of Connaught, or Margaret of Prussia.  Indeed, she had a lot of exposure to the highly sophisticated British court and the Russian Imperial court, at the level any unmarried princess in that environment would have had, and more than many (the former Princess Dagmar of Denmark included).   Any social awkwardness was completely of the kind expected of a sheltered young woman and was not the subject of any remark prior to her marriage that I have discovered, and indeed not really called into question for some time after her marriage, when her pregnancies made it quite appropriate for her not to interact more in society.  Royal suitors and their parents were not looking in the first instance for consorts who could employ charm and wit and recognise the vivacity of the court, whether in Russia or elsewhere.  The parents at least wanted royal bloodlines, as Phoenix first suggested, virginity (which meant that absolutely they should not have been running around in compromising sophisticated court circles, modesty, and the ability to bear healthy heirs, preferably male.  Both Mary of Teck and Augusta Victoria of Schleswig Holstein had little social wit, or charm, and pretty well zero tolerance for any 'vivacity of the court', but both made very good consorts and quite popular ones, if not with the more sophisticated members of their respective courts, or the more raffish high society.  Criticism of Alexandra seems to come from contemporary writers after her marriage, and after her first few pregnancies when it would have appeared quite normal for her not to go about very much for fear of failing to become pregnant or miscarriages.  Her real problems came when she withdrew so much from all society that nobody knew what she was up to and could imagine any terrible thing, especially once Rasputin came on the scene.  If she had been going about like Queen Mary or the Empress Augusta Victoria to open bazaars, churches or foundries, with decorous visits to concerts or operas or stately court balls, high society would just have had to put up with the fact that they had an Empress who was not into them.  Instead, however, she withdrew from both society of all kinds and from the wider imperial family which was certainly not appropriate for her position. But I don't see how either Maria Feodorovna or Alexander III would have been able to predict that from Alexandra's behaviour before her marriage or find it in other princesses many of who would hmave appeared just as shy and demure.

Offline Ortino

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Re: The "suitability" of royal wives
« Reply #10 on: February 20, 2018, 07:59:11 PM »
Quote
I'm not aware of any evidence which suggests that Alexandra had any more sheltered upbringing than her contemporaries among royal spouses such as Marie of Edinburgh, Mary of Teck, Victoria Eugenia of Battenberg, or Margaret of Connaught, or Margaret of Prussia.

And all of the women you've listed were part of the British and German courts, either by birth or marriage. As I said, what was appropriate at one, was not necessarily appropriate at all.

Quote
Indeed, she had a lot of exposure to the highly sophisticated British court and the Russian Imperial court, at the level any unmarried princess in that environment would have had, and more than many (the former Princess Dagmar of Denmark included).

Bertie and Alexandra's court might be termed "sophisticated," but the Queen's court was insular, if not downright dreary. I'm not aware of Alix spending much time with her aunt and uncle's set, and I can't imagine what advantages she would really have acquired amidst the freezing halls of Balmoral.

I also don't put much stock into her two (I'm only aware of two) visits to Russia. It's true that that was more than other prospective Russian brides had managed. Yet as a 12 year old, in 1884, Alix wouldn't have seen or done much of anything. In 1889, she would have been all of 17--hardly capable of assessing what life was really like in Russia and fully comprehending what was expected of the Emperor's consort.

Quote
Any social awkwardness was completely of the kind expected of a sheltered young woman and was not the subject of any remark prior to her marriage that I have discovered, and indeed not really called into question for some time after her marriage, when her pregnancies made it quite appropriate for her not to interact more in society.

If that's the case, why was Ella described as charming and amiable by comparison? Were they not raised in the same environment? Again, this is where personality factors in. Regarding pregnancy, Alix would have only been expected to sequester herself during the last few months of her pregnancy and for a time after giving birth.

Quote
But I don't see how either Maria Feodorovna or Alexander III would have been able to predict that from Alexandra's behaviour before her marriage or find it in other princesses many of who would hmave appeared just as shy and demure.

You've never formed an opinion of someone after knowing them only a short while?


« Last Edit: February 20, 2018, 08:08:46 PM by Ortino »

Offline DNAgenie

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Re: The "suitability" of royal wives
« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2018, 06:52:39 PM »
This thread represents a very blinkered view of 'suitability' in a royal bride.  It has come down to a critique, in hindsight, of why Alexandra's personality made her unsuitable for the position of Tsarina. In my view the reason why she was unsuitable was not because of her personality, but because she was extremely unlucky.

Two major factors determined why Alexandra did not appear to be suitable, and they are evident only in hindsight. Firstly she did not produce a male heir early in her marriage. It took ten years of her time as Tsarina, giving birth to four girls in succession before Alexei was born. Secondly when she did have a boy, the child was unlucky enough to inherit her haemophilia gene, and that was only a 50-50 chance. Those two factors put an enormous emotional strain on the Tsarina, as they would have done to any royal bride.

Just think what her life would have been like if her first-born child had been Alexei, born healthy. In all aspects except his illness he was a son to be proud of, so she would have had the chance to become the darling of Russian society, and with no need to produce a child every two years until she had born a boy. She would probably have had two more children (allowing for 'the heir and the spare' and perhaps one other) and they might have been Olga and Tatiana, but the pressure to produce a boy would have been removed, and she would have had no need to rely on Rasputin for more than casual religious guidance. No problem.

Actually there was a third reason why she was unlucky, which was to follow in the footsteps of her socially outgoing,extremely popular and comparatively young mother-in-law. If Maria Feodorovna had been other than what she was, Alexandra would have had a much easier time of it in Russian society.