Marie of Hesse and by Rhine (8 August, 1824 - 8 June, 1880) was a princess of the Grand Duchy of Hesse and, as Maria Alexandrovna (in Russian Мария Александровна), Empress consort of Alexander II of Russia. She was born at Darmstadt, the capital of the Grand Duchy, and died at Saint Petersburg. The Mariinsky Theatre and the city Mariehamn in Åland are named after her.
When in 1838, the Tsarevich Alexander Nikolayevich toured Europe to find a wife, he fell in love with the 14-year-old Marie. He married her on April 16, 1841, even though he was well aware of the "irregularity" of her birth. His mother Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna objected, but Alexander insisted.
As she was very shy, she was regarded as stiff, austere, and with no taste in dress, no conversation, no charm. The damp climate of Saint Petersburg did not agree with the delicate chest Marie had inherited from her mother, so that she had a racking cough and recurring fever. Nevertheless, she became the mother of eight children. These pregnancies together with ill health kept her away from many Court festivities, which brought temptations to her husband.
Although he always treated her well, Marie knew Alexander was unfaithful and had many lovers. He already had three children with his favorite mistress, Princess Catherine Dolgoruki, when he moved her and their children into the Imperial Palace. They entered into a morganatic marriage less than a month after Marie's death on July 6, 1880.
In 1855 Alexander became Emperor, which forced her to attend more State functions whether she was ill or not. Although Alexander II always treated her well, she knew from 1858 onwards that his feelings were for someone else. In 1865, the death of her eldest and favourite son, the Tsarevich Nicholas, was a great blow.
Every now and again she was able to go to her brother Alexander who lived with his morganatic wife in Heiligenberg. There she met Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, daughter of Victoria of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, wife of her nephew Prince Ludwig. She resented Alice's suggestion of the marriage between her brother Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and her own daughter, but the marriage ultimately went through. When Alice died in 1878, Marie often invited the motherless children for visits to Heiligenberg. It was during these visits that Marie's son, Grand Duke Serge, first got to know his future wife, Alice's daughter Elisabeth as well as Marie's first encounter with Alix of Hesse, (who was the younger sister of Elisabeth) and would one day marry Marie's eldest grandson Nicholas II.
|Grand Duchess Alexandra Alexandrovna||August 30 1842||July 10 1849||nicknamed Lina, died of infant meningitis in St. Petersburg at the age of six|
|Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich||September 20 1843||April 24 1865||engaged to Dagmar of Denmark|
|Tsar Alexander III||March 10 1845||November 1 1894||married 1866, Dagmar of Denmark (Maria Feodorovna); had issue|
|Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich||April 22 1847||February 17 1909||married 1874, Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (Maria Pavlovna); had issue|
|Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich||January 14 1850||November 14 1908||married 1867/1870, Alexandra Vasilievna Zhukovskaya; had issue|
|Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna||October 17 1853||October 20 1920||married 1874, Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; had issue|
|Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich||April 29 1857||February 4 1905||married 1884, Elisabeth of Hesse (Elizabeth Feodorovna);|
|Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich||October 3 1860||January 24 1919||married 1889, Alexandra of Greece and Denmark (Alexandra Georgievna); had issue - second marriage 1902, Olga Karnovich; had issue|