Romanov grand duchess dies aged 95

24th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna, a senior member of Russia's Romanov dynasty, died Monday aged 95 after a life that saw her marry a US industrialist and then the claimant to the Russian throne.

Born in 1914 three years before the Russian Revolution that ousted the Romanov imperial family, she was the last surviving member of the dynasty to be born in the Russian Empire, a spokesman for the family said.

Leonida, known to some of her supporters as the Dowager Empress of Russia, was the widow of Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, who until his death in 1992 was head of the Romanov dynasty and pretender to the Russian throne.

Grand Duke Vladimir was the great-grandson of Alexander II, the third-to-last Tsar of Russia.

The couple's daughter, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, is the current head of the Romanov dynasty.

"Leonida died overnight Sunday to Monday in Madrid. She will be buried, as she requested, next to her husband Vladimir Kirillovich in Saint Petersburg," Alexander Zakatov, the director of the Romanov dynasty's office, told AFP.

Born in 1914 in Tbilisi in modern-day Georgia, Leonida was the last surviving representative of the Romanov family to have been born on the territory of the Russian Empire before the 1917 Revolution, he added.

Her father, Prince Georgy Alexandrovich, was a member of Georgia's ancient Bagration dynasty, which claims its descent from biblical times.

Her first husband was an American magnate of Scottish origin, Sumner Moore Kirby, whom she married in the French city of Nice in 1934. The pair had one daughter, Helen, but divorced in 1937.

After moving to Spain, she then in 1948 married Grand Duke Vladimir, who recognised Helen and gave her the title of Countess Dvinskaya.

She will be buried in the Peter and Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg, the final resting place of her husband and where the remains of the Romanov Tsars including Nicholas II are interred.

"Her life was an eventful one. She lived in Tbilisi until the 1920s and left briefly for Germany," said Zakatov.

"She returned to Georgia in the Soviet era where she only managed to survive thanks to the Soviet writer Maxim Gorky, who protected many well-known figures at loggerheads with the new authorities."

It was Gorky, one of the few pre-Revolutionary writers who prospered in the Soviet Union, who helped Leonida flee the country for Spain. She and her husband would later divide their lives between Madrid and a small village in Brittany.

Vsevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, said the Grand Duchess had "never forgotten about Russia, and followed the country all her life," Russia's RIA Novosti news agency reported.

David Bagration y Mukhrani of the Georgian Royal House meanwhile described her as a "very strong, very clever and very active woman".

The Romanov dynasty was ousted in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and many of its leading members, including the last Tsar Nicholas II, were subsequently murdered by the Bolsheviks.

However, after the fall of Communism, recent years have seen cautious official moves to restore their reputation.

The Russian Supreme Court in October 2008 formally rehabilitated Tsar Nicholas II, declaring that he and his family were unlawfully killed by Soviet authorities.

But Russia has rejected calls from the dynasty to reopen a criminal probe into the execution of Nicholas II and his family.

© 2010 AFP

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