by Scott Mehl
Anastasia Mikhailovna of Russia, Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna of Russia was the wife of Grand Duke Friedrich Franz III of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. She was born at the Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, on July 28, 1860, the second child – and only daughter – of Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolaevich of Russia and Princess Cecilie Auguste of Baden. Anastasia had six brothers:
- Grand Duke Nikolay Mikhailovich (1859) – unmarried
- Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovich (1861) – married Countess Sophie of Merenberg, had issue
- Grand Duke George Mikhailovich (1863) – married Princess Maria of Greece and Denmark, had issue
- Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich (1866) – married Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia, had issue
- Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich (1869) – unmarried
- Grand Duke Alexei Mikhailovich (1875) – unmarried
When Anastasia was just two years old, her father was appointed Viceroy of the Caucasus and the family moved to Georgia where she was raised. The favorite of her father, and doted on by her brothers, Anastasia grew to become a very strong-willed and intelligent young woman. Educated privately at home, she developed a love of languages, becoming fluent in French, German and English at a very young age.
On May 4, 1878, the engagement of Grand Duchess Anastasia and the future Grand Duke Friedrich Franz III of Mecklenburg-Schwerin was announced. The marriage was arranged by Anastasia’s mother and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia, who was Friedrich Franz’s younger sister. Anastasia and her fiancé were second-cousins – both great-grandchildren of King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia. They were married at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg on January 24, 1879, in both Orthodox and Protestant services. Following their marriage, the couple settled in the Marienpalais in Schwerin and had three children:
- Duchess Alexandrine (1879) – married King Christian X of Denmark, had issue
- Grand Duke Friedrich Franz IV (1882) – married Princess Alexandra of Hanover and Cumberland, had issue
- Duchess Cecilie (1886) – married Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, had issue
Due her husband’s health, they traveled frequently to warmer climates. They were staying in Palermo, Italy when her husband became Grand Duke on April 15, 1883. When they eventually returned to Schwerin, they took up residence at Schwerin Castle. The Grand Duke reached an agreement with the government that he would stay in Schwerin for five months each year, but would travel elsewhere the rest of the year due to his health. They spent six months each year at Villa Wenden, their private home in Cannes, and preferred to stay at the Gelbensande hunting lodge when in the Grand Duchy.
The Grand Duchess was an avid tennis player, and had courts built at Villa Wenden where she played quite often. She was also a frequent visitor to the casino in Monte Carlo, often gambling away large amounts of her fortune.
Following her husband’s death in April 1897, Anastasia inherited Villa Wenden and the hunting lodge in Gelbensande, along with most of his personal property. She spent as little time in Schwerin as possible, preferring Gelbensande and Cannes, and traveled often to St. Petersburg, Paris and London.
A scandal erupted in 1902 when the Dowager Grand Duchess became pregnant from an affair with her personal secretary, Vladimir Alexandrovitch Paltov. She gave birth to a son, Alexis Louis de Wenden, in Nice on December 23, 1902. The surname ‘de Wenden’ was granted by King Christian IX of Denmark. Anastasia, who first hid the fact that she was pregnant, raised the child herself. The scandal ripped through the royal houses of Europe, and Anastasia was shunned by several, particularly the Prussian court. When her younger daughter married the daughter of the German Emperor – who was particularly outspoken in his disdain for Anastasia – she was only permitted to come to Berlin twice – for her daughter’s wedding in 1905, and for the birth of their first child the following year.
World War I saw her family divided – her son was a reigning German Grand Duke and her daughter was the daughter-in-law of the German Emperor, while her Russian brothers were on the opposing side. As the Dowager Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Anastasia was unable to remain in France, and as she placed her loyalty with the Russians, she was unable to return to Schwerin. She settled instead in Switzerland, living at the Savoy Hotel in Lausanne. The toll of the war was particularly devastating for Anastasia. She saw her son lose his throne, and the murders of three of her brothers in Russia.
Following the war, she returned to France. Unwelcome as a German, she used her Russian passport to sneak into the country as part of her the entourage of her cousin, Princess Ekatarina Yourievskaya. She settled at Villa Fantasia in Èze, near Cannes, where she returned to her hectic social schedule and frequent trips to the Monte Carlo casinos.
Dowager Grand Duchess Anastasia died in Èze on March 11, 1922 after suffering a stroke. Her remains were returned to Schwerin where she was buried in the Helena Pavlovna Mausoleum (link in German) on the grounds of Ludwigslust Palace. Her funeral would be the first time her three legitimate children were together since the beginning of the war.