Grand Duchess Kseniya Aleksandrovna, 6 April 1875–20 April 1960
Grand Duchess Kseniya, usually called Xenia in English literature, was the fourth of Tsar Aleksandr III and Empress Mariya Fyodorovna’s six children. She was born at Anichkov Palace, and moved to Gatchina Palace after her parents assumed power in 1881. In the wake of her grandfather’s brutal assassination, and with the general instability of the Russian throne, Gatchina was felt to be safer than the Winter Palace. Perhaps because she had three surviving brothers and only one sister, Kseniya was a so-called “tomboy.”
Kseniya as a toddler, with her mother
Kseniya had a passionate attachment to her first-cousin once-removed Sandro (Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhaylovich) from a young age, even though he was nine years her senior. By the time Kseniya was 15, they ardently wanted to marry, though her parents didn’t really approve of Sandro. They only came around after Sandro’s father, Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolayevich, intervened in the matter. After the engagement was finally approved, it took a long time for the marriage date to be set, which caused the couple no amount of grief. During their betrothal, they horrified Kseniya’s older brothers with their wanton passion. One time, they almost broke an Ottoman.
Kseniya and her husband Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhaylovich (Sandro)
Kseniya and Sandro married on 6 August 1894, at Peterhof Palace, and had to spend their wedding night at Ropsha Palace. On their way there, the carriage took a nasty spill in mud, and the newlyweds arrived looking quite undignified. In his diary, Sandro recorded how unhappy he was to have to wear a very heavy silver robe and other wedding night clothes dictated by tradition. The Imperial Family’s insistence on kowtowing to rigid, archaic rules even as the 20th century approached was yet another factor keeping Russia centuries behind the modern world.
Kseniya and Sandro at an 1894 ball
The unbridled passion Kseniya and Sandro displayed during their betrothal continued after marriage, in the form of seven children—Irina, Andrey, Fyodor, Nikita, Dmitriy, Rostislav, and Vasiliy. This was quite a thorn in the side of Kseniya’s sister-in-law Aleksandra, who could only wish she’d had six boys in a row, all of them healthy. The two sisters-in-law started out cordially, but over time, their relationship disintegrated.
Kseniya at the 1903 17th century costume ball at the Winter Palace
Kseniya was heavily involved in charities, for causes including poor and working-class children, widows and orphans of Navy men, and tuberculoid patients. In addition to keeping busy with charity work and raising seven children, she also recorded in her diary, with growing concern, the horrifying trajectory her brother’s reign was taking. Sandro was also upset with Nicholas’s inept rule, and fruitlessly tried many times to intervene and get him to show some backbone and common sense.
Kseniya, Sandro, and their seven children
Sandro had an affair during Kseniya’s final pregnancy, and a year later, Kseniya herself had an affair. Each admitted their infidelity, and their marriage began unraveling. They slept in separate rooms, lived separate lives, and spent much time outside of Russia. Kseniya refused to grant a divorce, though they eventually separated physically, not just emotionally. Sandro tried and failed to get Nicholas to relax the ridiculous House Laws forcing equally-ranked marriages on dynasts, though all of Sandro’s children married titled, non-royal Russian aristocrats anyway. All but firstborn Irina married without permission.
During the cataclysm of the Great War, Kseniya became even more concerned over the direction the Russian Empire was taking, her brother’s disastrous rule, and how much influence Empress Aleksandra and Rasputin had. Her father, Aleksandr III, might’ve been extremely reactionary and responsible for many pogroms, but at least he’d kept Russia strong and out of war. Under Nicholas II and his wife, the empire fell into tatters, and the tide of revolution wasn’t nipped in the bud with necessary reforms and an appropriately strong arm.
Kseniya and her surviving brothers as children. Mikhail is the little boy, Georgiy is standing, and Nicholas is on the right.
In 1917, Kseniya’s family fled to her Ai-Todor palace in the Crimea, where her mother and sister Olga already were. On 11 April 1919, minus Olga, they escaped the new Soviet Union on HMS Marlborough, sent by King George V. Olga escaped with her commoner second husband and their two little boys in February 1920. Though Olga and the Dowager Empress settled in Denmark, Kseniya made her home in England. Sandro settled in Paris.
In my alternative history, Kseniya, like the Dowager Empress, isn’t shy about offering her opinions on the late Empress Aleksandra and what contributed to the dynasty’s overthrow. She also strongly disapproves of Aleksey’s unequally-ranked marriage with a morganatic princess, and how he all but throws out the Pauline Laws.