Maria Feodorovna Biography

Maria Feodorovna, also known as Princess Dagmar of Denmark, was the wife of Emperor Alexander III and Empress of Russia from 1881 to 1894. Known for her beauty and intelligence, she was one of Europe’s most sought-after princesses. After the tragic loss of her first fiancé, she married Alexander and became a key political advisor to her son, Emperor Nicholas II. However, the tumultuous events of Russian history forced her to flee the country in 1917. Despite enduring numerous personal tragedies, Maria Feodorovna’s legacy lives on as a remarkable figure in Russian history.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Princess Marie Sophie Frederikke Dagmar of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, Princess Dagmar of Denmark
  • Died At Age: 80
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Alexander III of Russia, Lawrence D’Orsay, Alexander III of Russia (m. 1866–1894)
    • Father: Christian IX of Denmark
    • Mother: Louise of Hesse-Kassel
    • Siblings: Alexandra of Denmark, Frederick VIII of Denmark, George I of Greece, Prince Valdemar of Denmark, Princess Thyra of Denmark
    • Children: Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia, Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich of Russia, Grand Duke George Alexandrovich of Russia, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia, Nicholas II of Russia, Xenia Alexandrovna
  • Born Country: Denmark
  • Died on: October 13, 1928
  • Place of Death: Hvidøre, Klampenborg, Denmark

Childhood & Early Life

Maria Feodorovna was born as Marie Sophia Frederika Dagmar on November 26, 1847, at Gule Palace, Copenhagen, Denmark. She was the fourth child of her parents, then Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, and his wife Princess Louise of Hesse-Kassel. She was known by the name Dagmar when she was a girl.

Her family was a close-knit one and she was especially close to her elder sister, Alexandra. The two girls shared a room and were trained together in housekeeping, music, painting, languages, gymnastics, swimming, and sports. She was a lively and intelligent girl who grew up to be a smart, astute, and beautiful young woman.

First Engagement

Princess Dagmar’s family was very well-connected and she was coveted for her intelligence and beauty. She received multiple marriage alliances from eligible bachelors, most of which were not acceptable to her parents. Emperor Alexander II of Russia and his wife, Empress Maria Alexandrovna, were looking for a bride for the heir apparent, Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich, Nicholas was sent to meet Dagmar. This alliance was welcomed by Dagmar’s parents, and the young couple also took a liking to each other. Thus, their engagement was announced in 1864.

The couple grew very close over the months and exchanged multiple love letters. Unfortunately, Nicholas started suffering from health issues and died in 1865. His last wish was that his younger brother Alexander should marry Dagmar. United by grief, Alexander and Dagmar agreed to this proposal.

Marriage & Children

Princess Dagmar and Alexander had a lavish wedding on 9 November 1866 in the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. After marriage, she became known as Maria Feodorovna. Even though their marriage was arranged under such tragic circumstances, the couple eventually developed a loving bond and had a very happy marriage. Maria Feodorovna was also much loved by the Russian public as she was a genuine, caring, and considerate woman. She devoted most of her time to her growing family and was also involved with many charities. She rarely interfered in the political matters of the country. Alexander and Maria had four sons and two daughters: Nicholas, Alexander, George, Xenia, Michael, and Olga. Four of these children survived to adulthood, got married, and had issue.

Empress of Russia

Emperor Alexander II of Russia was killed in a bomb blast on 13 March 1881, and Maria’s husband succeeded to the throne as Emperor Alexander III. He was officially crowned in 1883. Maria continued to be popular in her new role. She was active in philanthropic work and managed the patronage of the Marie Institutions, which encompassed 450 charities. She founded many educational establishments for girls and was also the patroness of the Russian Red Cross. She was extremely popular in the social scene as well. She hosted imperial balls and was a talented dancer and musician. She was a brilliant socialite.

Empress Dowager

Emperor Alexander III had been ill for a few years. He breathed his last on 1 November 1894, aged just 49. Nicholas II succeeded his father. Maria Feodorovna was devastated by his death but still, she moved on bravely as the empress dowager and served as her son’s political advisor. The ensuing years were difficult for her. She lost her father and one of her sons. Tensions were also rising between her and Nicholas and his wife, Alexandra. World War I began in 1914, and the queen dowager engaged herself in hospital work and contributed to the Russian war efforts as leader of the Russian Red Cross. She regularly visited hospitals and comforted wounded soldiers. In 1917, revolutions began to take place in Russia, and Nicholas II was forced to abdicate on 15 March. It was a time of great political upheaval in the country and she was made to leave for Crimea along with some other refugees. Shortly after, Nicholas and his family, including the young children, were murdered. Monarchy was overthrown in Russia. For a while, she resisted leaving Russia but was eventually forced to. In 1919, she left behind Russia forever and traveled to England, where she lived with her sister Alexandra. She later moved back to her native Denmark.


In Denmark, Maria Feodorovna lived with her nephew, King Christian X for some time. Then she moved to her holiday villa near Copenhagen. In 1921, she was offered the locum tenens of the Russian throne by the All-Russian Monarchical Assembly, but she declined the offer. In 1925, her favorite sister, Alexandra, died. Already old, ill, and emotionally broken, the queen dowager was completely shattered by her sister’s death. She lived for three more years and died on 13 October 1928. She was 80. She outlived four of her six children. Her daughters, Olga and Xenia, were by her bedside when she took her last breath. Even though she desired to be buried on Russian soil, that didn’t happen, and she was interred at eastern Denmark’s Roskilde Cathedral, in her father’s vault. Owing to the deeply tragic nature of her life, Maria Feodorovna earned the moniker, “Lady of Tears.”

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