Grand Duke George Alexandrovich of Russia

Grand Duke George Alexandrovich of Russia (9 May [O.S. 27 April] 1871 – 10 July [O.S. 28 June] 1899) was the third son of Emperor Alexander III and Empress Maria of Russia. At times he was referred to by his relatives as "weeping willow"[1] and was a much beloved member of the imperial family.

Grand Duke George Alexandrovich
George Alexandrovich of Russia by V.P.Mischenko (1892).jpg
Born(1871-05-09)9 May 1871
Alexander Palace, Tsarskoye Selo, St. Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died10 July 1899(1899-07-10) (aged 28)
Abastumani, Georgia, Russian Empire
FatherAlexander III of Russia
MotherDagmar of Denmark


Grand Duke George as a child with his parents, brother Nicholas and sister Xenia.

George was named after his mother's elder brother, King George I of Greece.[2] As an infant, he was stronger and healthier than his brother Nicholas. He could be described as a typical Romanov. George was tall, unlike his elder brother Nicholas, handsome and full of fun. He was always getting into mischief, and because his mother had a great weakness for him, getting away with it.[3] Like his siblings, he was brought up in a spartan fashion in the English manner. They slept on camp beds, rose at six and took a cold bath, although occasionally they were allowed to take a warm bath in their mother's bathroom. Breakfast was usually porridge and black bread; mutton cutlets or roast beef with peas and baked potatoes were served for lunch; bread, butter and jam at tea-time. Cake was a special treat. Nicholas and George had a sitting-room, dining-room, play-room and bedroom, all simply furnished. The only trace of ostentation was an icon surrounded by pearls and precious stones.[4] George's mother taught him that family life was important. Because of his parents' happy marriage, he was brought up in an atmosphere of love and security missing in many royal households.[4] On 27 May 1883, George's parents were crowned in a magnificent ceremony in the Uspensky Cathedral in the Kremlin in Moscow. The Emperor and Empress received the homage of the Imperial Family, including their sons, Nicholas and George, both in uniform. It was a major occasion in the life of the young Grand Duke.[5] The family lived mostly in the security of the palace at Gatchina.

Education, career and healthEdit

George was considered to be the cleverest of the Imperial children. He was also outgoing, like his mother.[6] George and Nicholas shared the same tutors, but studied in adjoining rooms. They followed the course of the Academy of the Russian General Staff. Their tutors were distinguished professors. Their English teacher, Charles Heath, had once been tutor to their uncles, Grand Dukes Sergei and Pavel. Both brothers spoke and wrote faultless English. From Mr. Heath they acquired a love of sport, particularly shooting and fly-fishing. They also spoke fluent French and passable German and Danish.[6] George displayed signs of a promising career in the Navy before falling ill with tuberculosis in 1890.[7]

The Emperor and Empress both decided to send Nicholas and George on a nine-month-long trip to Japan in 1890. George would go as a naval cadet and Nicholas to complete his education by seeing something of the world. Their mother hoped the warm sun and the sea air would improve George's health. They left Gatchina on 4 November 1890. The Empress had never been separated from her sons for such a long time and she missed them terribly. "You cannot imagine how sad and hard it is to be without you, my angel, and how dreadfully it hurts to think of this long separation", she wrote sadly.[8] Nicholas and George first went by warship to Athens where they were joined by their cousin, Prince George of Greece, known as "Greek Georgie". From there, they traveled to Egypt. From Bombay in India, Nicholas telegraphed that his brother George had to remain on ship because he had trouble with his leg. Although George assured his parents that he was perfectly well, they were suddenly informed he had a fever and would have to return home. The Empress was alarmed. "You can't imagine in what anguish I have passed these last few days", she wrote. "In spite of all the reasoning ... I had to take things calmly, and to tell myself that it ... is only this horrible malaria that will pass with a change of air ..."[9] George, in fact, had acute bronchitis and was sent back to Athens where he could be examined by the Imperial doctors. The Empress was distressed for both brothers: George, whose disappointment she felt deeply and Nicholas, who was now deprived of his brother's company.[9]


Grand Duke George Alexandrovitch.

In November 1894, Alexander III died and Nicholas mounted the throne as Emperor. At the time, Nicholas had no children, thus according to the laws of succession of the Russian Empire, the Grand Duke George became Tsesarevich, the heir presumptive to the throne.[10][11] George's ill-health had forced him to relocate to Likani. It was impossible for him to return to St. Petersburg for the funeral of his father, Alexander III. The doctors had forbidden it.[12] Nicholas wrote to his brother, "... constantly pray to God to send you a full and speedy recovery, and to comfort you, because it is so much more difficult to be alone after such great sorrow than it is for us who are at least together!" [13] George also missed the christenings of Nicholas' elder daughters, Olga and Tatiana. Shortly after the birth of Nicholas' third daughter, Maria, in June 1899, George wrote to his brother, "I am terribly sad that I have not yet been able to see your daughters and get to know them; but what can I do! It means it's not my fate, and everything is the will of God."[14]

Visits from his mother to Likani were greatly enjoyable. In 1895, George and his mother visited Denmark. They had not seen their Danish relatives for four years. It was sad as it was the first time for both of them without the late Tsar. Then suddenly, his health deteriorated, "Yesterday, in the garden, he expectorated some blood...that frightened me more than I can tell - the surprise of it was shocking, because he had been so well of late...I am quite desperate that this should have happened here" [15] As a result, George was forbidden to smoke and confined to bed until he was fit enough to return to Likani. Writing to Nicholas back home once again, George said about his trip to Denmark, "Of course it was good to see the family after 4 years, but it did not really do me any good, as I lost more than 5 pounds which I had put on with such difficulty in May and June. I also get out of breath more easily. So these are the results of my trip. Very annoying."[16]


Grand Duke George Alexandrovich in 1889

George died suddenly in Abastumani, on 10 July 1899, at the age of 28. He had been out alone on his motorcycle and some hours later, when he failed to return, his worried staff sent out a search party. By the time they found him it was too late. A peasant woman had discovered him collapsed at the side of the road, blood oozing from his mouth as he struggled to breathe. She supported him in her arms until he died.[17]

George and brother Nicholas
Deathplace of George Alexandrovich in Abastumani, Georgia

The news reached Nicholas by telegram and he had the difficult task of telling his mother. She broke down and wept. He had seldom been out of her thoughts for the last few years and his death came as a terrible shock. His family were completely devastated. Nicholas was especially grief-stricken at losing his younger brother and childhood playmate.[17] Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich wrote, "Everyone was struck, as if by lightning, by this sad and unexpected news.[18] Queen Victoria wrote to Nicholas II, "Pray accept the expression of my sincerest sympathy in this great sorrow, for I know the affection you had for your poor brother Georgy, whose life was so sad and lonely."[18] The Dowager Empress telegraphed Queen Victoria, "Thank you so much for kind sympathy in this terrible sudden bereavement... My poor dearest son died quite alone. Am heartbroken."[17]

On 14 July 1899, he was laid to rest in the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, not far from his late father, Alexander III. During the service, his mother stood without tears, only deep suffering was imprinted on her face. When the coffin was put down into the tomb, Maria Feodorovna stood next to Xenia, holding her arm-in-arm and suddenly, looking at her daughter with widely open, unseeing eyes, she loudly said, "Let's go home. Let's go home, I cannot stand it anymore!" and she rushed out. When a board was laid down for leaving the tomb, she went away so quickly that it was difficult for others to keep pace with her. Nobody even had enough time to throw flowers on to the tomb. In the carriage she sobbed for a long time, pressing to her breast George's hat that she took off the coffin's cover.[19]


Nicholas II always remembered George and his wonderful sense of humour. He would tell great jokes that amused his brother very much. Nicholas would dutifully write out the best jokes on pieces of paper and save them in a box. Years later, the Tsar would be heard laughing by himself in his room, looking through his old box of George's jokes. George's title as Heir Presumptive was passed to his younger brother, Michael, until the birth, in 1904, of Nicholas' son, Alexei. In 1910, Michael named his newborn son, George, after his late brother. This George would also die young; he was killed in a car crash in 1931 at the age of 20.

DNA evidenceEdit

Decades later his body was disinterred from the grave in the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg so that a sample of DNA could be taken from the remains to see whether skeletal remains allegedly belonging to his older brother, the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, were legitimate or not. The DNA sample obtained from the Grand Duke's remains indicated that he was closely related to the DNA sample from the presumed remains of Nicholas II, confirming their identity. After the completion of DNA testing, the remains of Grand Duke George Alexandrovich were once again laid to rest not far from those of his older brother and family.[20]




  1. ^ Maylunas, Mironenko, p.12
  2. ^ Lerche, Mandal, p.174
  3. ^ Hall, p.93
  4. ^ a b Hall, p.61
  5. ^ Hall, p.103
  6. ^ a b Hall, p.94
  7. ^ Lerche, Mandal, p.181
  8. ^ Hall, p.144
  9. ^ a b Hall, p.145
  10. ^ Sometimes the non-Russian world rendered this as Tsarevich. This was an older title commonly used in Russia before Peter the Great's 1721 reforms for any son of a Tsar, including non-Russian Tsars. After 1721, sons of the Russian Tsar were titled Grand Duke.
  11. ^ Barkovets, Tenikhina, p.97
  12. ^ Hall, p.165
  13. ^ Maylunas, Mironenko, p.108
  14. ^ Maylunas, Mironenko, p.172
  15. ^ Maylunas, Mironenko, p.176
  16. ^ Maylunas, Mironenko, p.119
  17. ^ a b c Hall, p.186
  18. ^ a b Hall, p.173
  19. ^ Diary of Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna for 1899, State Archives of the Russian Federation f.662, op.1, d.13, 1,97-97v
  20. ^ Hall, p.356
  21. ^ Justus Perthes, Almanach de Gotha 1899 (1899) p. 94
  22. ^ "A Szent István Rend tagjai" Archived 22 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Bille-Hansen, A. C.; Holck, Harald, eds. (1894) [1st pub.:1801]. Statshaandbog for Kongeriget Danmark for Aaret 1894 [State Manual of the Kingdom of Denmark for the Year 1894] (PDF). Kongelig Dansk Hof- og Statskalender (in Danish). Copenhagen: J.H. Schultz A.-S. Universitetsbogtrykkeri. p. 5. Retrieved 16 September 2019 – via da:DIS Danmark.
  24. ^ 刑部芳則 (2017). 明治時代の勲章外交儀礼 (PDF) (in Japanese). 明治聖徳記念学会紀要. p. 149.
  25. ^ "Schwarzer Adler-orden", Königlich Preussische Ordensliste (in German), 1, Berlin, 1886, p. 9
  26. ^ "Ludewigs-orden", Großherzoglich Hessische Ordensliste (in German), Darmstadt: Staatsverlag, 1898, p. 8 – via
  27. ^ "Caballeros de la insigne orden del toisón de oro". Guía Oficial de España (in Spanish). 1898. p. 160. Retrieved 21 March 2019.