“Heir” to Tsar Nicholas II to marry an Italian

PHOTO: George Mikhailovich with Rebecca Victoria Bettarini

NOTE: this article was updated with additional information on 28th January 2021 – PG

An interesting headline in the Russian media this morning caught my attention: «Наследник царя Николая II женится на итальянке» – which roughly translated reads “The heir to Tsar Nicholas II to marry an Italian”. 

Clearly, whoever wrote the announcement in Rosbalt.ru, needs a history lesson. It is a well known fact that Nicholas II’s only son Alexei Nikolaevich (1904-1918), was the sole heir to the Russian throne. The tsesarevich was brutally murdered along with the rest of his family on 17th July 1918.

The article which caught my attention, was referring to the upcoming nuptials of Grand Duke George Mikhailovich with Rebecca Bettarini, the daughter of Italian Ambassador Roberto Bettarini and Carla Bettarini. The announcement was made on 20th January 2021 by the Head of the Russian Imperial House Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, who lives in Madrid, her son currently lives in Moscow.

Rebecca Bettarini was received into the Orthodox faith on 12 July 2020 in the SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg, taking the name Victoria Romanovna [named after Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna, wife of Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich]. The wedding is expected to take place in Russia in the fall of 2021.

Shortly before the engagement of Rebecca Bettarini with Grand Duke George Mikhailovich, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna awarded the Order of St. Anne 1st Class to the bride-to-be’s father the Italian diplomat Roberto Bettarini. This ceremony thus set the stage for awarding a “false nobility” on both father and daughter. 

The Italian surname Bettarini never had any connection with the nobility. Ms. Bettarini’s pedigree can hardly be traced back to the early 19th century. Thus, despite her conversion to the Orthodox faith, and her upcoming marriage to George Mikhailovich, their union remains a morganatic marriage.

On 23rd January, a group of 6 monarchist and Orthodox organizations in Russia issued a statement denouncing the marriage, two of the main reasons which are noted at the end of this article.

But, let us take a look back to some interesting details about this union and the hypocrisy of the Vladimir branch of the Russian Imperial Family . . . 

In January 2019, the RU_ROYALTY blog reported that Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, had made a formal request to the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, to change the law of the succession to the Russian throne, according to which the children of a representative of the dynasty who entered into an unequal marriage would be deprived of their rights to the throne.

The Russian Imperial House today consists of two people: Maria herself and her son George, and she considers all the other descendants of the Romanovs to be born in morganatic marriages.

PHOTO: Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna and her son Grand Duke
George Mikhailovich pose in front of a portrait of Emperor Nicholas II

Up until recently the 39-year-old Grand Duke George Mikhailovich was still not married and despaired of finding himself a blue-blooded Orthodox princess who would meet the requirements of the law on succession to the throne. To appear in public with his mistresses for the future “Head of the Russian Imperial House” was not comme il faut, so in order to correct this matter, Maria and her son sought the help of Patriarch Kirill.

Of course, Maria Vladimirovna wanted to remove the oath by holding a public event with the participation of the patriarch, and not as a result of some dubious behind-the-scenes negotiations. According to one source: “the Patriarchy, to put it mildly, are not delighted with the idea and are waiting for the Grand Duchess to propose an alternative plan, something which would not jeopardize the reputational risks from Kirill’s participation”.

George Mikhailovich was already is in a relationship with Ms. Bettarini at the time his mother made the request. While her timing was perfect, her request was also somewhat hypocritical. Following the 1917 Revolution, numerous Princes and Princesses of the Russian Imperial House living in exile, were ostracized from the Russian Imperial House, due to the fact that they had entered into morganatic marriages.

The descendants – many of whom make up the Romanov Family Association today – have been treated in the most appalling manner by the Vladimirovichi branch of the dynasty.

For example, according to the late Robert K. Massie, “Following the discovery of the remains of Emperor Nicholas II and most of his immediate family in 1991, Maria Vladimirovna wrote to President Boris Yeltsin regarding the burial of the remains, saying of her Romanov cousins, that they “do not have the slightest right to speak their mind and wishes on this question. They can only go and pray at the grave, as can any other Russian, who so wishes”.

At the behest of the Russian Orthodox Church, Maria did not recognise the authenticity of the remains and declined to attend the reburial ceremony in 1998.

Massie further notes that she also said, regarding some of her Romanov cousins, that “My feeling about them is that now that something important is happening in Russia, they suddenly have awakened and said, ‘Ah ha! There might be something to gain out of this.”

Now, the Grand Duchess has seen it fit to “permit” a morganatic marriage, simply to suit the dynastic position of her family. One source claims that George’s “wife will be a Serene Princess, not a Grand Duchess, and their children will have no dynastic status”. There is no question that once a child is born, that Maria will make yet another change to the laws, simply to ensure that her descendants are at the head of the line – should the monarchy ever be restored in Russia!

The announcement of the marriage of Grand Duke George Mikhailovich with Rebecca Bettarini made media headlines in Russia, as well as Great Britain, France and Italy, among other countries, and generated much attention on social media.

The Director of the Chancellery of the Russian Imperial House Alexander Zakatov enthusiastically reported to journalists about the upcoming marriage, noting: “… This will be the first marriage of a member of the House of Romanov in his homeland after the revolution of 1917”.

Zakatov’s comment, however, is incorrect . . .

Between 1917 and 1920, five marriages among the members of the Russian Imperial House were concluded in their homeland: on 22nd April 1917 Prince Gabriel Konstantinovich (1887-1955) married Antonina Rafailovna Nesterovskaya (1890-1950) in Petrograd. On the same day Prince Alexander Georgievich Romanovsky, Duke of Leichtenberg (1881-1942) married Nadezhda Nikolaevna Karelli (1883-1964) in Petrograd. On 25th April 1917, Princess Nadezhda Petrovna (1898-1988) married Prince Nikolai Orlov (1891-1961). On 18th July 1917 Princess Elena Georgievna Romanovskaya, Duchess of Leichtenberg (1892-1971) married Count Stefan Tyshkevich (1894-1976) in Yalta, Crimea. And the last marriage before emigration took place on 25th November 1918 in Ai-Todor, when Prince Andrey Alexandrovich (1897-1981) married Duchess Elizabeth Sasso-Ruffo (1887-1940).

PHOTO: Grand George Mikhailovich and Rebecca Victoria Bettarini, with their retinue at the Epiphany Cathedral of the Ipatiev Monastery in Kostroma, on 24th January 2021. Russia currently has the 4th highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world: 3.7 million! Despite this, you see NO masks, NO social distancing among those in the photograph. This is nothing short of blatant disrespect for the nearly 69,000 Russians who have died from the disease in the past year.

As a lifelong monarchist myself, one who has lived under monarchy from the day I was born, I of course support the idea of restoring the monarchy in Russia. While many non-Russians also support a restoration, I can not stress enough that no foreigner has the right to force the issue in Russia. The Russian people of today are still trying to come to terms with more than 70 years of Soviet oppression, and struggling with their own form of democracy in a post-Soviet Russia. At the end of the day, it is up the people of Russia “if” they choose to restore the monarchy, no one else’s.

The idea of restoring monarchy in post-Soviet Russia is not popular with most Russians. In the summer of 2019, a poll conducted by REGNUM of some 35,000 Russian citizens showed that only 28% supported the idea of restoring the monarchy, more than half (52%) of which would not support placing a Romanov on the throne!

Further still, many Russians, including many self-proclaimed monarchists do not recognize Maria Vladimirovna and her son George Mikhailovich [many recognize George as a Hohenzollern, NOT a Romanov] as the heirs to the Russian throne. Their detractors cite numerous reasons, the most pressing of which are:

(a) That Maria’s grandfather Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich (1876-1938) entered into an incestuous marriage with his first cousin Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1876-1936). It was common for European royal cousins to marry, however, Kirill married without consent from Nicholas II. Kirill’s marriage was in violation of the house law which forbid the marriage of any member of the Imperial Family without the advance permission of the Emperor. Kirill’s marriage also violated the canon of the Russian Orthodox Church prohibiting marriages between cousins.

(b) That during the February Revolution of 1917, Kirill marched to the Tauride Palace at the head of the Garde Equipage (Marine Guard) to swear allegiance to the Russian Provisional Government, wearing a red band on his uniform. Kirill had authorised the flying of a red flag over his palace on Glinka Street in Petrograd. This act was nothing short of treason! 

While those who support Grand Duchess Maria and her son continue to argue their case, they overlook one simple fact: that the Russian monarchy ceased to exist upon the abdication of the reigning Nicholas II on 15th (O.S. 2nd) March 1917 and the murder of both him and his family on 17th July 1918.

A colleague of mine recently brought to my attention the following: “I met Grand Duchess Leonida in the 1990s. She was a charming, intelligent woman. I asked her “do you think the monarchy will be restored in Russia?” Without hesitation, she replied: “It will never happen!”

© Paul Gilbert. 26 January 2021

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