Chapter Six is the first of 20 Romanov Period Chapters interwoven throughout Living Banner’s contemporary story to provide insight on the historical characters.
“My own precious Sima, Your letters are so full of love and affection for me that it even frightens me sometimes to think that you can care for me in such a way. There is no doubt I love you in just the same way….”1 Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich Romanov, October 2, 1902
Clarence House, London
Mansion adjacent to St. James Palace
30 November 1903
Princess Beatrice had to admit the intimate rendezvous she had planned for tonight was not off to a good start. As a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, she was well-acquainted with the importance of creating the perfect setting for each event. But in spite of the fireplace’s romantic glow and the flickering candles reflecting off the elegant drawing room’s many gilded mirrors, nothing could offset the chill of the words she had just heard her lover speak. In fact, her initial annoyance was quickly turning to heightened dismay.
She stopped tapping her foot impatiently and turned to face the tall, regal Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich Romanov, heir to the Russian throne. Her heart never ceased to skip a beat merely at the sight of him, so dignified in his officer’s smart dress uniform.
“Oh, Darling Misha,” she cooed as she forced a warm smile. “Don’t be so stuffy. I have arranged a delightful dinner for the two of us, and we will not be disturbed. I have something very special to tell you.”
But Michael turned away, walked over to the fireplace, and stared into the flames. He frowned in frustration before asking, “Dearest, have you not heard anything I’ve been saying?”
Determined to overcome his unenthusiastic response, Princess Beatrice pushed aside her mounting unease and, with her long silk skirts rustling delicately, moved provocatively across the room. She placed her hand gently on his arm, but Michael continued to be unresponsive to her overtures. The enamored princess suddenly recalled her mother’s warning: “When it comes to a love match, there is always one who invests more than the other.”
Pushing aside the repugnant thought, Princess Beatrice decided to attack the situation straight on. “Look at me, Misha,” she said. “Please.”
Cautiously, he turned to face the woman he had sworn to love for the rest of his life, his pained expression clearly evident.
Beatrice sensed his vacillation and said, “Surely you cannot take your brother’s threats seriously. You and I have pledged marriage vows. We belong only to each other now. And you know Mother2 has suitably prepared me to embrace the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church by insisting I complete the catechism. I have done this all for you . . . so I can take my place at your side.”
“Sima, I understand your sacrifices,” he replied with anguish. “You can’t know how sorry I am for the situation we are facing. The sticky point is Church Law and its refusal to allow marriage between first cousins.” He paused before adding, “Nicky is adamant in enforcing it. And now Mother has taken his side too. It was only this afternoon I received their telegram.”
“This is not fair!” the princess complained. “Your brother should not have the power to dictate who can and cannot marry, even if he is the Tsar.”
Michael forged ahead in a clumsy attempt to clarify his position. “Darling, we must face the truth. A future for us . . . together . . . seems impossible . . . at least for the moment.” And noticing her tears glistening in the candlelight he added, “Perhaps circumstances will change if Nicky and Alix have a son and I am not in direct line to inherit the throne. Until that time, it is imperative I follow the requirements for succession completely.” He reached up to gently stroke his darling’s face. “You and I knew from the very beginning there might be opposition.”
“But you said Nicky would overlook the first cousin restriction,” Beatrice whined.
“Dearest Sima, please don’t . . . This is terribly difficult for me too.”
“Have you told your family we have already taken our marriage vows?” she said in desperation as if her wishes could alter the decision of Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias. “Must I remind you we were legally married in the sight of God and the Russian Orthodox Church right here in Mama’s own Orthodox chapel?”
Michael reached out to enclose her in a fond embrace. “I told Nicky how much we love each other, and I assure you he wants the best for me . . . for us. But I fear we have no other choice for the present. We must allow the shock to settle down a bit and bide our time until my brother considers everything. However, I want you to know I have not yet given up hope.”
Beatrice’s body stiffened and her eyes flashed. “I will not accept your brother’s decision,” she said as she roughly pushed her lover away. “He has no jurisdiction over me.”
The Grand Duke’s voice wavered as he said gently, “But my Love, he does over me. He is not only my brother, he is God’s own anointed one. As a loyal Russian subject, I must bow to his authority.” He faltered before plunging into the most hurtful part of his message. “Unfortunately, I’m afraid there is more. Nicky is making plans to annul the marriage.”
The princess quickly turned her back. She did not want Michael to see her lips beginning to tremble uncontrollably. Even though they had not yet announced their commitment publicly, Beatrice had not anticipated this terrible twist of fate. Without warning, her elaborate planning and naïve vision of ascending to the throne as Michael’s empress was being cruelly snatched away. She could think of no recourse.
Unable to ease his embarrassment for causing Beatrice’s extreme distress, Michael looked at his feet and muttered, “Nicky will be sending someone over here for the certificate of marriage tomorrow.”
“Well, I shan’t give it to him,” Beatrice declared firmly stamping her dainty slipper on the plush carpet.
“Please, Dearest. You must . . .”
They were interrupted by a light knock as Beatrice’s lady-in-waiting announced, “Your Royal Highness, the Grand Duke’s carriage has arrived.”
Princess Beatrice stared at her court attendant with disbelief. Surely, her beloved Misha was not planning to leave so soon. But Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich was already striding toward the door, visibly relieved to escape the awkward situation he had been forced to initiate this evening.
Breaking out of her stupor, Beatrice called out, “Wait, Misha! Please wait.”
Without the slightest hesitation, Michael hurriedly slipped into the heavy coat being held for him and with only a slight glance toward his declared lover, said vaguely, “I will contact you as soon as the situation eases.”
“You mustn’t . . . ,” Beatrice cried as she reached out toward her rapidly vanishing suitor. “I have something important to tell you! It will change everything,”
But the twenty-five-year-old heir to the Romanov throne had already fled into the chill of the London night leaving behind a ruined love affair, a sullied certificate of marriage, and a hysterical British Royal who, without Michael’s knowledge, carried the seed of a future tsar.
¹ Rosemary and Donald Crawford, Michael and Natasha (New York: Avon Books, Inc., 1997), p. 8
2 Princess Beatrice’s mother was the Grand Duchess Marie Aleksandrovna of Russia, the only daughter of Alexander II and the sister of Michael’s father, Tsar Alexander III.