Yesterday, a rather remarkable event took place in Russia: the marriage of a member of the House of Romanov. Today, we’ve got a closer look at the first big Romanov wedding to take place in Russia for more than a century.
On Friday, October 1, the eyes of the royal world were on St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg. There, Victoria Romanovna Bettarini arrived on the arm of her diplomat father, Roberto, for her wedding to George Mikhailovich Romanov, a descendant of Emperor Alexander II of Russia. Victoria was born Rebecca Virginia Bettarini in Italy, but she took the name Victoria Romanovna when she converted to her new husband’s Russian Orthodox faith back in 2020.
The groom, 40-year-old George Mikhailovich Romanov, often uses the title of Grand Duke of Russia. He’s the son of Maria Vladimirovna Romanovna, one of the claimants to the headship of the House of Romanov. She’s often seen as a particularly legitimate claimant, as she was recognized as the head of the imperial house by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2013. There hasn’t been an imperial family reigning in Russia since the revolution in February 1917, more than a century ago. However, there are multiple Romanov family organizations, with various claimants and heads, continuing the monarchist cause. Even so, there appears to be no serious push for the reinstatement of the monarchy in Russia, so it’s all a little bit academic. Anyway!
Here’s how George is descended from the imperial line. He’s the son of Maria Vladimirovna Romanovna and her former husband, Prince Franz Wilhelm of Prussia. Maria Vladimirovna is the daughter of Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich of Russia and Princess Leonida Bagration. Grand Duke Vladimir was the son of Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich of Russia and Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Grand Duke Kirill’s parents were Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia (uncle of the last tsar, Emperor Nicholas II) and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna (owner of the Vladimir Tiara). Grand Duke Vladimir’s father was Emperor Alexander II of Russia. (Hopefully the family tree chart above makes it even clearer!)
George, who is considered by many to be the heir to his mother as the head of the House of Romanov, has known Victoria since they were teenagers. They announced their engagement in January 2021, with the official betrothal ceremony held on January 24. Theirs is the first Romanov wedding to be held in St. Petersburg in more than a century. The most recent family wedding in the city, I believe, was that of Princess Irina Alexandrovna of Russia, niece of Emperor Nicholas II, and Prince Felix Yusupov, who were married at the Anichkov Palace in February 1914.
The present-day Romanovs, like their ancestors, apply serious scrutiny to the class background of each person who marries into the family. Because Victoria does not come from a royal or imperial line, the marriage is considered to be “unequal” by those who monitor the succession and the house laws of the family. Maria Vladimirovna has given her permission to the marriage, but it’s clear that she also doesn’t consider it to be a dynastic marriage. She’s offered her new daughter-in-law the style and title of HSH Princess Victoria Romanovna Romanoff. (Her son goes by the style and title of HIH Grand Duke George Mikhailovich of Russia. But, again: there are no official titles in Russia. This is all “House of Romanov” business.)
The grand Russian Orthodox wedding ceremony was attended by other royals (mainly those who have also lost their thrones) and a significant media presence. Here, you get a good view of the bride’s Reem Acra gown (who worked with Russian designer Elina Samarina on the dress) and veil. Note that the coat of arms of the Romanovs is embroidered in gold at the end of the train.
We knew in advance that Victoria would be wearing a tiara on her wedding day. This is the Chaumet Lacis Tiara, which is made of white gold and set with diamonds. Victoria announced that she would wear the tiara back in March. It’s not clear whether the tiara was acquired from Chaumet or loaned by the jewelry firm for the event.
Victoria paired the tiara with diamond pendant earrings for the religious wedding ceremony.
The couple exchanged wedding bands made by Fabergé, the firm that served as the official jeweler of the imperial family from 1885 until the revolution.
The religious wedding was a traditional Russian Orthodox ceremony, with some familiar traditions depicted in the images from the event (candles, the kissing of the cross, etc.).
And, of course, the crowning ceremony was included in the wedding as well.
After the wedding ceremony was finished, George and Victoria waved at those gathered outside the cathedral as they passed underneath a guard of honor. (A couple of things you’ll also note in the photograph: bridesmaids and attendants wearing velvet kokoshniks, and royal journalist Stephane Bern of Point de Vue, wearing a blue necktie.)
The couple obliged the crowd with a kiss under the sword arch of the honor guard.
Several members of other royal families (mostly those also from defunct monarchies) attended the religious wedding ceremony. Here, you’ll spot several of them, including the Duke and Duchess of Braganza (the Portuguese pretenders), the Duke and Duchess of Anjou (claimants of the throne of France), Princess Elia of Albania (wife of the Albanian pretender), the Duke and Duchess of Aosta (claimants of the Italian throne), and Prince Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy (son of another Italian pretender).
Maria Vladimirovna, who wore a fur-trimmed kokoshnik and pearl drop earrings for the ceremony, sat beside her elder half-sister, Helen Kirby.
Here’s another view of the Albanian couple, Prince Leka and Princess Elia. (You’ll remember them from the wedding with the ram-themed tiara!) She wore pearl earrings and a necklace with a cross pendant for the event.
And here’s Dom Duarte Pio, Duke of Braganza (on the left) with the Duke and Duchess of Anjou. Louis-Alphonse is an interesting royal figure; he’s the Legitimist claimant of the French throne, but he’s also a member of the extended Spanish royal family (he’s a great-grandson of King Alfonso XIII and Queen Ena, making him a second cousin of King Felipe VI). And, on top of all of that, he’s also a great-grandson of General Francisco Franco, the former Spanish dictator. He’ll one day inherited the title of Duke of Franco from his mother. His wife, Marie Marguerite, is a Venezuelan heiress.
And here’s a member of an extended reigning family: Princess Léa, the widow of Prince Alexandre of Belgium. Alexandre was the youngest son of King Leopold III and an uncle of the current monarch, King Philippe. Léa wore a gold brooch set with multi-colored gems for the wedding, with a pair of matching earrings.
On Friday evening, a wedding reception was held for the couple at the Russian Museum of Ethnography. The bride again arrived on her father’s arm. She changed into a second dress for the dinner, but she wore the same Chaumet tiara (with a different hairstyle).
The groom arrived in different clothes for the evening reception as well.
So did Maria Vladimirovna. She wore an embroidered yellow gown with a fur stole for the dinner, accessorizing with a suite of jewels set with diamonds, pearls, and blueish-purple gems (tanzanites, perhaps?). She stuck with her usual kokoshnik-style tiara for the event.
We also saw a few more royal faces arriving for the dinner. This is Simeon II of Bulgaria, who was the country’s last king, reigning from 1943-1946. (Interestingly, he was later elected as Bulgaria’s prime minister, serving from 2001-2005.) He arrived with his Spanish-born wife, Margarita, for the reception.
And Leka and Elia of Albania made an appearance at the dinner, too—but sadly, she left the Sapphire Ram Tiara at home!