What is it about that magic age?
I barely remember twenty-five years later, but society for the last two or three centuries has decried 40 as the beginning of the end, the beginning of life worth living, and middle age.
40 is different things to different people.
My eyes got better at 40, but not much else did!!
Felix Yussopof, the man who killed Rasputin and Princess Irina of Russia’s husband, when speaking of her Aunt, Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna said, “Although she was well over forty, she had lost none of her high spirits; she was kind and affectionate, but her eccentric and despotic nature made her rather formidable.”
That she was.
But in Felix’s mind 40 must have been a death sentence for women.
The strong willed, independent, and unconventional granddaughter of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, grew UP in Georgia’s Caucasus mountains as her father was the Viceroy of the Caucasus.
The only girl in a family of seven siblings, she was her father’s favorite and spoiled by her brothers.
Mummy was a tougher nut; strict, minimally affectionate, and lacking tenderness, she ruled her brood with an iron hand.
Stassie was reared separately from her brothers, seeing them only on Sundays.
Side note: not a good idea.
Before she turned 18, she was engaged to the son of one of Mummy’s friends, one Friedrich Franz. The Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, a province in Germany, he was a distant cousin as their grandmothers were sisters.
Really, it’s no big deal even though it makes their children more inbred than I.
The new husband was rich, sickly, detested by her brothers, and had an appalling skin condition as he was subject to occasional attacks of eczema which were so bad he had to be confined!
The marriage was arranged, she had no choice, and the wedding went on, and was held at the Winter Palace on January 24, 1879 in a dual ceremony, one Russian Orthodox and one Lutheran.
In royal circles, it was a “good match.”
And most of European Royalty was represented at the wedding.
When she arrived in her new home of Schwerin, she found it less than pleasing, her father-in-law a familial martinet, and the atmosphere “oppressive.”
She wasn’t allowed to re-decorate her own apartments, royal though they be.
Apparently, Freddy’s skin cleared UP long enough for her to get naked with him, and their eldest child, Alexandrine was born that December.
But, health was not long for the young father, and the couple was “forced” to find a warmer clime.
In 1880, the couple headed to Russia to attend the funeral of her Uncle, Tsar Alexander II, while there, Freddy suffered an asthma attack, and Stassie booked a trip to Italy so he could “take a cure.”
His bad health allowed the Grand Duchess to spend as little time as possible back in stuffy old Schwerin, which she detested.
Their second child was born in Palermo, which is where they were when they received the news that daddy had died and Freddy had ascended the throne.
Sadly, Freddy was too ill to make the funeral, but as soon as he recovered, they headed back to Schwerin, kids in tow, and took charge.
Stassie actually liked being the wife of a reigning Grand Duke, moved into Schwerin Castle, redecorated, and bossed everyone around.
But she still hated the place, and begged to go back to Palermo.
The citizenry of Mecklenburg-Schwerin were none too pleased with the idea of the HRHs not living at home, and that along with her bossiness – you know how those Russians can be – caused her to become “unpopular.”
Pitching a hissy and stomping her foot, she conned Freddy into a deal where she could live in Italy or France for five months a year, but had to be home for the lederhosen holidays like Oktoberfest and Christmas.
In the cold German Winter – is there any other kind? – of 1886, the Grand Duke’s health was deteriorating, so in the Spring, Stassie took him to Grasse hoping the change would buck him UP.
It did not.
While at dinner on the evening of April 10, a coachman found the Grand Duke unconscious at the bottom of the Villa’s retaining wall. Freddy was so miserable, he had jumped in an attempt to end his life. Still alive, they carried him back to his rooms where he died later that evening.
The official report was that he went out onto the balcony for air, and gasping for breath fell over the edge.
Back home in Schwerin, the little people were sure the Duchess had done him in. But in reality, the Duchess at 36 a widow was heartbroken.
Nobody bought it, after all, she was now a very wealthy woman as she had inherited, if not his power, all his property and money.
See, royal women were a scoouch luckier. They could own property and inherit.
So, this is where the story gets good.
After a period of mourning, Stassie and the kids headed to Cannes for the wedding of her daughter, Alexandrine to the Crown Prince of Sweden.
As the Dowager Grand Duchess, she spent almost no time in Schwerin or Russia, preferring the sunny coast of France that has called so many to its playgrounds.
Her “spirit of independence” caused talk, her gambling at Monte Carlo was a scandal even though the croupiers did all they could to increase her chances of winning, and her new hobbies of driving a motor car and skeet shooting – well, the Krauts back home went crazy!
But, that was nothing compared to the fact that in early 1900, Anastasia started an affair with her personal secretary, Vladimir Alexandrovitch Paltov and was promptly knocked UP!
Word on the street was she had a tumor; a tumor which after “a bout of chicken pox” which caused her to be quarantined, was named Alexis Louis de Wenden.
She brought him UP as her nephew, eventually sent him to boarding school, but wrote to him ever day.
As to her eldest son, Fredrich Franz IV, they weren’t close as she found him “willful and humorless.”
Well, he was German.
She encouraged him to marry, which he did; a German princess from Hanover. Anastasia wasn’t popular anywhere in Germany as her sympathies were with the French, and when her youngest daughter won the heart of Kaiser Wilhelm’s son, Wilhelm, Willy (the dad) had a fit.
But the couple married anyway.
Anastasia was allowed to come to that wedding and one other, her grandson’s. She was advised to not live near her daughter.
Anastasia went back to France unbowed, unbeaten, and ready for roulette. She was characterized as eccentric and completely indifferent to anything other than her own desires.
Yussopof went on to say, “. When she heard that I was going to marry her niece, she took me in hand. From that day my life was no longer my own. ..I had to lunch, dine, go to the theater and supper with her almost every day. She usually slept through the first act of a play, and then woke up with a start to declare that the performance was stupid and that she wished to go somewhere else. We often changed theaters two or three times in one evening. As she felt the cold, she made her footman sit on a chair at the door of her box, holding a small traveling bag filled with shawls, scarves and furs. All these objects were numbered. If by chance, she was awake and felt a draft, she would ask me to bring her such or such a number. I could have put up with all this but unfortunately she had a passion for dancing. At midnight, now wide awake, she would drag me to a night club where she danced till dawn.”
At the age of 53, she took another lover, an Argentinean, scandalizing Paris further.
Prior to WW I, in the summer of 1914, she visited her brother, Grand Duke Michael and his family in England. The war split her family; her son was a reigning prince of Germany, her younger daughter the Kaiser’s daughter-in-law, and her Russian brothers vowed to defeat the Central Powers.
Never a German anyway, she sided with her Russian homeland, but as a German princess, she could not remain in France which was at war with Germany, nor could she return to Schewerin; she chose Switzerland, moved into the Savoy in Lausanne, donated her villa in Cannes as a hospital, and waited for news of the war, which she received from her daughter, Alexandrine, Denmark’s queen.
The Bolsheviks killed three of her brothers, Germany’s defeat brought on the loss of her son’s duchy as well as that of her son-in-law’s empire.
The war over, she headed to France, but as a princess of Germany, she was denied entry, eventually sneaking in with the entourage of her cousin, Russian Princess Catherine, a refugee.
Once in France, she created a charity for Russian exiles.
In 1922, she became ill, suffered a stroke as her father had done, and died at the age of 61.
A friend eulogized her with this statement…”… she was always an Imperial highness who knew how to carry her rank but, no least, a woman who loved and who lived…”
Her funeral was the first time since the war her children were able to reunite, her tumor, Alexis, stayed on in France after her death.
Alas, she was well over 40, having been born on July 28, 1860.