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Lafayette L3668a
Neg. Date: 11-08-1902

copyright V&A

Grand Duke Michael Mikhailevich of Russia (1861-1929), grandson of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, and his morganatic wife Sophia Nicholaievna, Countess de Torby (1868-1927), daughter of Prince Nicholas William of Nassau and a granddaughter of the Russian poet Pushkin.

They had three children — a son Michael, whom they called ‘Boy’, and two daughters Anastasia (‘Zia’) and Nadjeda (‘Nadia’). Nadia married in 1916 George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven and thus became an aunt of Prince Philip – the consort of Queen Elizabeth II.

Unable to contract an unequal marriage in Russia, their union in 1891 had brought about their exile, and it was said that Grand Duke Michael’s mother dropped dead from the shock when she read the telegram announcing her son’s marriage. The Grand Duke’s requests from various European courts for a patent of nobility for his wife achieved only an obscure title granted by the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. He used the episode of his morganatic marriage as the basis for a novel Never Say Die, published in England in 1908.

Exile did nothing for the Grand Duke’s famous bad temper and when they mingled in society, people generally felt great sympathy for his wife’s lot.

Nevertheless, Countess de Torby considered herself the doyenne of Russian society in London, and when another Grand Duke, Michael Alexandrovitch, set up exile in London, the Countess refused to meet the latter’s commoner wife and was sorely offended that society would be confused by the Court Circular, as there were now two Grand Duke Michaels in London!

The Grand Duke and Countess lived and entertained for years in beautiful Kenwood House situated on the outskirts of London. They both are buried at nearby Hampstead Cemetery.

Daisy met the couple over the years before World War I at their first British residence, Keele Hall in Staffordshire, as well as in the South of France, at Newlands and in Promnitz in 1908, when they came for the shooting. “I was very sorry to say good-bye to Sophy and M,” Daisy wrote in her diary. “He really behaved beautifully; I never knew him so nice and quiet. He said nothing nasty about anyone, and we did not quarrel once. He was most affectionate! ...”

During this trip the Russian and Pless couples decided to call each other by their first names – an intimacy with which the Prince of Pless felt less than comfortable! When the Grand Duke and Countess departed, Daisy wrote of her husband’s obvious discomfort at this new found intimacy with the Grand Duke: “it was awful at the station to-day when they had to kiss each other on each cheek at parting.” The Grand Duke was quite obviously smitten with Daisy, for he had a few years previously expressed his feelings, in a rather uncharacteristic way, in her visiting book: “If I am fated to be unhappy, I will labour to hide my sorrows in my own bosom and you shall always find me a faithful and affectionate friend.”

The Grand Duke and Countess are seen here in Russian court dress – the costumes they wore to the coronation of King Edward VII two days earlier. Daisy sat with other guests in the King’s private box at Westminster Abbey, but claimed in her autobiography that of all the guests “I can only remember Sophy.” Many memoirs of the period wax ecstatic over Russian court ceremonials. The Crown Princess of Romania, with her usual writing skills, was no exception after her first visit to the Russian court: “A halo-shaped cocoshnic with a veil hanging from beneath it inevitably accompanied [the womens’ costume], so that every woman appeared to have been crowned. This unity of attire made all Russian court gatherings uniquely picturesque, saturating them with colour and brilliance unlike anything else; veritable pictures out of the "Thousand and One Nights," Byzantine in splendour, with all the mysterious gorgeousness of the East.”

This photograph was widely reproduced over the following twelve years in a number of society magazines such as The Car, Madame, The Lady’s Field, and The Gentlewoman.