Born 1847, died 1928. Born Marie Sophie Frederikke Dagmar of Schleswig-Holstein-Sondersburg-Glücksburg, later princess of Denmark, daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark and Queen Louise of Denmark. Wife of Emperor Alexander III of Russia and Dowager Empress after his death in 1894. Mother of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, Grand Duke Alexander of Russia, Grand Duke Georg of Russia, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia, Grand Duke Michael of Russia, and Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia.

As a young woman, Princess Dagmar was engaged to be married to Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich of Russia, the heir to Emperor Alexander II of Russia. Unfortunately, young Nicholas became suddenly ill and died, in 1865. Young Dagmar's mother, Queen Louise, immediately took steps to arrange Dagmar's betrothal to the new Russian heir, the later Emperor Alexander III of Russia. Soon after, Dagmar was baptised into the Russian Orthodox Church as Maria Fyodorovna, in accordance with the customs of the Romanov dynasty.

Over a period of fifteen years, Dagmar/Maria bore her imperial husband six children. Of those six, Alexander did not survive infancy, Georg fell ill with tuberculosis and died in 1898, and Nicholas and Michael were murdered during the Russian Revolution.

When Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, outside the Winter Palace, Alexander III became the new Emperor, and Maria Fyodorovna became his Empress. It was a rôle she took extremely seriously, bringing new elegance and style to a court otherwise infamous for wasteful decadence. She also influenced imperial attitudes to the recently-united Germany negatively, out of (Danish) bitterness over the Second War for Schleswig-Holstein.

With the death of her husband from nephritis in 1894, and the succession of their son as Nicholas II, Maria Fyodorovna became Dowager Empress. Spending much time on charities and social events, she took her rôle as Dowager Empress as seriously as she had taken her rôle as Empress. During the years of the Great War, she headed the Russian Red Cross, and often visited hospitals, seeing to wounded soldiers.

With the shocking events of the Revolution, and the abdication of Nicholas II, Maria Fyodorovna took refuge in an imperial residence in the Crimea, where she was joined by numerous family members. In 1919, they made their way (abord the British ship HMS Marlborough) to London. The Dowager Empress spent some time there, with her sister, Queen Alexandra of Britain and her nephew King George V of Britain, before moving home to her native Denmark, settling in Copenhagen. There, she lived out the remainder of her life, much diminished in spirit by adversity.


Addendum:

The Danish daily newspaper, Politiken today reports that the body of the dowager empress will soon be relocated from its current resting-place at Roskilde Cathedral (in the crypt with the rest of her family) to a new location next to her husband, in the Peter-Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

The reinterment in St. Petersburg is slated to take place on September 16, 2002 - the 136th anniversary of her arrival in Russia as a young bride-to-be.

The situation is not wholly unprecedented. In 1413, Margrete I was moved from Sorø Church to Roskilde Cathedral, and in 1883, Queen Elisabeth, the wife of King Christian II (who had been laid to rest in Ghent in Belgium in 1526) was reinterred in Odense Cathedral.

The current Danish royal family is being exceedingly reticent on the subject - their official stance is that this is a private matter for the exiled Russian royal family. The Danish and Russian governments are also being very sotto-voce about the matter.

Source: Politiken, July 28, 2001: "Kejserinden i kiste 11"

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