The Wedding of Nicholas and Alexandra: A Historiography

So we’ve seen what KCB had to say about witnessing the wedding of Nicholas and Alexandra first hand.

Invitation to the Wedding of Nicholas and Alexandra. For Clifton R. Breckinridge, November 14, 1894.
Clifton Rodes Breckinridge, Correspondence (1865-94), Container 851, Breckinridge Family Papers, Library of Congress.

But what about other written accounts… historians… other eye witnesses… newspapers…

Well let’s start with historians. There are lots of books written about Nicholas and Alexandra… their life and their death.

The most famous of the titles is Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra (The Common Reader Classic Bestseller Edition, 2004). First published in 1967, Massie’s biography of Russia’s last Emperor and Empress has long been considered the starting point for all research about last decades of Imperial Russia. In the 650 plus pages of Massie’s book, there are only three references to the actual wedding. And those references are brief.

  • On page 46, Massie states “Nicholas’s uncles, the four brothers of the dead Tsar [Alexander III], were independent, strong-minded men who carried great weight in the family. Their view, that the wedding of their young nephew was too important a national event to be performed privately at Livadia, prevailed.”
  • On page 48, Massie states “The wedding took place on November 26, one week after the funeral. The day selected was the birthday of Empress Marie, now the Dowager Empress, and for such an occasion protocol permitted a brief relaxation of mourning. Dressed in white, Alexandra and Marie drove together down the Nevsky Prospect to the Winter Palace. Before a famous gold mirror used by every Russian grand duchess on her wedding day, the bride formally dressed by the ladies of the Imperial family. She wore a heavy, old-fashioned Russian court dress of silver brocade and a robe and train of cloth of gold lined ermine. From a red velvet cushion, Marie herself lifted the sparkling diamond nuptial crown and settled it carefully on Alexandra’s head. Together the two women walked through the palace galleries to the chapel where Nicholas waited in the boots and uniform of a Hussar. Each holding a lighted candle, Nicholas and Alexandra faced the Metropolitan. A few minutes before one in the afternoon, they became husband and wife… Because of the mourning, there was no reception after the wedding, and no honeymoon.”
  • On page 66, Massie states “Three of [Nicholas’s uncles] had been present in Darmstadt to steer Nicholas through the proposal to Princess Alix; later it was they who decided that Nicholas should marry publicly in St. Petersburg, not privately at Livadia…”
  • Massie cites Nicholas’s own journal/diary, Journal Intime de Nicholas II, as well as The Life and Tragedy of Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of Russia: A Biography by Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden for all of these passages.

From Splendor to Revolution: The Romanov Women, 1847-1928 by Julia P. Gelardi (2011) has a single mention of the wedding.

  • On page 146-147, Gelardi states “The wedding took place on the Empress Marie Feodorovna’s forty-seventh birthday (November 14/26, 1894) at the chapel of the Winter Palace. The ordeal for the groom’s mother was clearly evident. If it had not been for the solicitous presence of her father, King Christian IX, Marie Feodorovna might easily have found it impossible to watch the whole ceremony. Still, mourning was put aside for the day, and the wedding proceeded with all the pomp for which the Russian court was renowned.” (Taken from a letter from Alexandra to Queen Victoria in Maylunas and Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion).
  • Gelardi quotes Charlotte Knollys, who accompanied the Wales family to Russia, “The poor Empress is so dreading the wedding tomorrow fancy having to take off her [widow’s] weeds & facing the 8000 people who will be invited, in a State dress to say nothing of the Ordeal of seeing herself superseded by a young girl of whom she knows but little & of having to step down into the 2nd place when she has so long held the 1st… One thing is that she is certainly blessed with the best & most devoted son in the world.” (Charlotte Knollys to Mrs. Archibold Knollys, November 25, 1894, MSS21M69/25/2, Knollys Papers, Hampshire Record Office.

In Richard S. Wortman’s Scenarios of Power, Volume II: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy (1995) doesn’t even have an index item for “wedding.” There is an index item for “marriage” under Alexandra’s name and covers about two pages.

  • On page 331, Wortman states “Nicholas II was the only nineteeth-century Russian emperor who came to the throne unwed… [After having met Alix in 1884 and again in 1887], by the time she visited Petersburg at the beginning of 1889 he already felt he was in love.”
  • On page 333, Wortman mentions wedding and states “[Nicholas] and his mother wanted the wedding immediately [after Alexander III’s death]—before Alexander’s body left Livadia. The minister of the court Voronstov-Dashkov earned Nicholas’s lasting enmity by arguing that it should occur only after the period of mourning has elapsed. The grand dukes insisted that it be delayed until after Alexander’s funeral. Their position won out, and the wedding took place during a one-day suspension of mourning on November 14, 1894, a week after the funeral. Nicholas was gloriously happy.”

W. Bruce Lincoln’s The Romanovs: Autocrats of All the Russias (1981), one of the seminal histories of the Romanov dynasty, provides a little more detail about the wedding but cites Massie as the source.

  • On page 617 – 618, Lincoln states “On November 14, only a week after Alexander III had been laid to rest in the Peter-Paul Fortress Cathedral, Nicholas married Aleksandra Feodorvona in a small ceremony. Dressed in a gown of silver brocade and wearing the diamond wedding crown of Imperial Grand Duchess, Alix walked through the long corridors of the Winter Palace to its chapel where her Nicky awaited her. It is perhaps significant that he had donned not the uniform of the Preobrazhenskii Guards, of which he now was the colonel in chief, but that of the Hussar Life Guards, in which he had found such happiness as a junior officer just a scant half-decade before.”
  • Interesting that Lincoln calls it a “small ceremony” when Gelardi in From Splendor to Revolution states that 8000 were invited to the ceremony.

In Simon Sebag Montefiore’s 2016 history The Romanovs, 1613-1918, the words “wedding” or “marriage” aren’t listed in the index under Nicholas or Alexandra’s name. But Montefiore devotes a paragraph in the section entitled “Master of the Land” to the wedding.

  • On page 493, Montefiore states “At 11:30 a.m. on 14 November, Nicky, accompanied by his second brother, sixteen-year-old Misha, left the Anichkov in an open carriage and headed for the Winter Palace, just as his mother departed the same palace in a carriage to collect Alexandra from the Sergeievsky Palace of Sergei and Ella, where the bride had spent her last single night. Alexandra, not yet in her wedding dress but draped in furs, accompanied the dowager empress to the Winter Palace. There, the tsar paced the Arabian Hall smoking while his bride, assisted by her sister Ella and her mother Minny, was dressed in the Malachite Hall, her hair done by a French hairdresser who then fitted the Romanovs Nuptial Crown and a tiara of diamonds set in platinum. She wore Catherine the Great’s Rivière necklace of 475 carats with matching earrings so heavy that they were supported with wires looped round her ears. Her dress—silver brocade, with an underskirt of silver tissue, trimmed with ermine and gold-threaded, with a diamond-studded bodice and a fifteen-foot train—required eight pages and a chamberlain to manoeuvre.”
  • Montefiore uses the following sources to compile his section about Nicky & Alix’s wedding.
    • “Diary of Nicholas II” (ND) from the State Archives of the Russian Federation
    • A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra: Their Own Story edited by A. Maylunas and s. Mironenko
    • The Court of the Last Tsar: Pomp, Power, and Pageantry in the Reign of Nicholas II by Greg King

In Helen Rappaport’s The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra (2014) the words “wedding day” as well as “wedding” are in the index under Alexandra’s name. And “wedding” in the index under Nicholas’s name.

  • On page 22, Rappaport states “As Nicholas was now tsar the marriage was brought forward. But it did not take place as the couple would have wished, in private, at Livadia. The Russian grand dukes objected; court protocol demanded a formal ceremony in the capital. And so in a bitterly cold St. Petersburg, after three weeks of exhausting and excruciatingly protracted court mourning for the late tsar, Nicholas and Alexandra were married on 14 November in front of hundreds of invited guests at the chapel of the Winter Palace. Alix could not have looked more beautiful or serene that day — tall and statuesque in her white-and-silver brocade dress, the train heavily trimmed in ermine and the imperial mantle of cloth of gold across the shoulders, her lovely figure complemented by her limpid blue eyes and her wavy reddish gold hair enhanced by the diamond-encrusted wedding crown.”
  • Rappaport uses primary sources and eyewitness accounts to tell the story of the wedding. She quotes directly from Alexandra and Nicholas’s own letters and diaries as well as Princess Catherine Radziwell’s first hand account It Really Happened: An Autobiography.

In Alexandra: The Last Empress by Carolly Erickson, she devotes a whole chapter (Chapter 8) to the wedding, although the focus is more on the Dowager Empress than the actual wedding ceremony. Her sources are My Empress: Twenty-Three Years of Intimate Life with the Empress of All the Russias from Her Marriage to the Day of Her Exile by Marfa Mouchanow, The Life and Tragedy of Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of Russia: a Biography by Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, Andrei Maylunas and Sergei Mironenko’s A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra: Their Own Story and a coffee-table book entitled Nicholas and Alexandra: The Last Imperial Family of Tsarist Russia.

  • On page 70, Erickson states “Behind the marshal walked Minnie, her pale face nearly as white as her dress, on the arm of her father the king of Denmark. Behind them came Nicky, in the crimson tunic and fur-lined cloak of the colonel in the Life Guard Hussar regiment. On his arm walked Alix, moving, an observer thought, ‘quite simply and with great dignity,’ a magnificent vision in her silver gown and glittering diamonds, her shimmering mantle, held by four chamberlains, flowing out behind her life a river of gold.”

In Greg King’s The Court of the Last Tsar: Pomp, Power, and Pageantry in the Reign of Nicholas II (2006), Chapter 21 is entitled “An Imperial Wedding.” In the index, “wedding of Nicholas II and Alexandra” is indexed under Winter Palace as well as on its own with subindex of “courtship,” “events of,” “marriage,” and “preparations for.” The phase “at wedding of Nicholas II and Alexandra” is indexed under Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich (Misha) and Count Hilarion Vorontzov-Dashkov. There is also an index item for “Romanov Nupital Crown.”

  • On page 348, King cites Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden’s The Life and Tragedy of Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of Russia and Ernest Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hesse und Bei Rhein’s Erinnertes and states “Alexandra’s wedding outfit was the most intricate ensemble she would ever wear. Her stockings were of lace, her shoes embroidered and decorated with seed pearls and lace overlays. Over these, she wore layers of wife, starched petticoats, which added volume to the skirt. The gown was modeled on the traditional Russian court dress. the wide, full overskirt, of silver brocade, was one from the was it to the floor in an inverted V to reveal a second underskirt of silver tissue, edged along the hemline with ermine. The décolletage, also edged with white ermine, was cut low, to reveal her neck and shoulders. The long sleeves, split from just below the waist. The tightly fitted, boned bodice was embroidered iwth a foliate design in gold thread adorned with diamonds, which sparked at every movement.”
  • On page 350, King quotes Count Paul Vassili (pseudonym of Princess Catherine Radziwill), who comments about Alexandra “‘How beautiful she is!’ That expression followed her all along her path, and it is true that her appearance was positively magnificent as she stood there in her bridal array of silver cloth…. Her mouth quivered a little and this relieved her habitual hard expression that was the one defect of an otherwise perfectly beautiful face, the straight classical features of which reminded one of an antique Greek statue. The glow upon her cheeks only added to the loveliness of her countenance and her eyes, modestly lowered, gave to her whole figure a maidenly shyness that made it wonderfully attractive.”

In all this index looking, I noticed something. I was looking for the word WEDDING in the indexes. In the big, general histories of the Romanov, the references to wedding or marriage are under the person’s name. But the interesting thing is that marriage is almost always indexed under the man’s name (i.e. Nicholas II) and wedding is almost always indexed under the woman’s name (i.e. Alexandra). Interesting indeed!


    • I don’t think there are any photographs from the wedding. I’ve just seen paintings. Even though the camera was available to them and as a family they loved candid photographs, my guess is that photograph was seen as beneath the royal court. Also most early photograph was taken outside for good lighting. Or in a studio where the flammable flash bulbs could be used safely.


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