Queen Victoria was not fond of Russia, despite having fallen a little in love with the young Tsarevitch Alexander (later Tsar Alexander II) when he paid a state visit to the young queen’s court in 1838 (they danced a great deal, which must have been a sight with the queen so petite and tsarevitch so tall). But two of her favorite grandchildren would marry Alexander’s son and grandson…with disastrous outcomes.
Elizabeth Alexandra Louise Alice was born on November 1, 1864, the second child and second daughter of Princess Alice, Victoria’s second daughter, and her husband, Prince Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. Princess Alice was a devoted mother to her family, which eventually numbered seven, and little Elizabeth’s (her nickname in the family was “Ella”) life up to her early teens was a happy one…until the unexpected and shocking death of first a younger sister, and then her mother, during a diphtheria outbreak in 1878.
Queen Victoria came to the rescue, and from then on Ella and her remaining brother and sisters spend at least as much time in England living with their grandmother as they did in Hesse, becoming especially close to their uncle Leopold, Victoria’s youngest son and a partial invalid who lived with his mother well into his twenties.
her cousin Wilhelm, who became quite besotted with her but whom Ella politely refused. Instead, she eventually fell for a very different suitor: Grand Duke Sergei Romanov, son of Tsar Alexander II and his wife, a princess from Hesse-Darmstadt. Sergei was an enigmatic figure: educated and cultured, yet stiff and reserved and with a difficult temper. But he seems to have been fond of his young wife (they married in 1884, when Ella was not quite yet twenty), and the marriage, if not a blissfully happy one, was yet a content one.
Ella threw herself into her new country, studying Russian language and history diligently as a young bride and eventually converting to the Russian Orthodox faith, which she embraced wholeheartedly (much to the dismay of most of her staunchly Protestant family. She and Sergei did not have children, though they did semi-adopt the children of one of Sergei’s brothers, who had been exiled.