Montenegrin princesses, Milica and Anastasia, were two sisters who fearlessly broke rules and used their charm and wit to find their way into the European aristocracy. They stirred up the Russian Imperial court and did, in every respect, determine the fate of the Russian Empire.
They became interested in mysticism and occultism which had a great impact on their lives. Across Europe, aristocrats looked at them with cynicism, but also with fear.
Princesses Milica, Anastasia and their niece Elena Petrovna were the only non-Russian women to marry into the Romanov family.
Princess Milica of Montenegro, later Grand Duchess Milica Nikolaevna of Russia, was the second of nine daughters of King Nikola I Petrović Njegoš and Queen Milena Vukotić. She was born in Cetinje in 1866, where she lived until she was sent, with her three sisters, to study at the Smolny Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia. From an early age, the princess became interested in everything mystical and was fond of the writings of Eastern mystics, occult sciences and spiritualism. She even got a diploma in Paris for the title of honorary doctor of alchemy.
At a festive lunch at the Imperial Court in St. Petersburg, organized in honor of King Nikola’s visit to Russia, Princess Milica was proposed to by the Russian Tsar, Alexandar III, on behalf of his nephew, the Grand Duke Peter Nikolaevich of Russia. This marriage was described as the greatest victory of the Montenegrin people without a battle and spilled blood. She was the complete opposite of her husband, who was a closed, shy and quiet person. The Grand Duke and Duchess had four children, three daughters and a son.
As a Great Duchess, Milica lived in St. Petersburg, the Russian imperial capital, as well as in the vicinity of that city. When her husband fell ill, they lived for a long time and after the war began in 1917 in the Crimea, where the Grand Duke had a large estate named Dulber. Later, in 1919, they went to Europe on a British battleship Marlborough with the other Romanovs.
For several years she lived with her husband in France. After his death in 1931, the widowed Grand Duchess moved with her son, Roman, to Italy where King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy was the husband of her younger sister Elena. After the seizure of power by the fascists and the abdication of the throne, the princess went to Egypt where she died in 1951.
Princess Anastasia of Montenegro
Princess Anastasia of Montenegro, later Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia, was born on 4 June 1868 as the third daughter of King Nikola I Petrovic Njegos and Queen Milena Vukotic. To her family and close friends, she was known as Stana. Anastasia and her sisters were invited by Alexander III of Russia to be educated at the Russian Smolny Institute.
On 28 August 1889, she married Georgy Maximilianovich of Leuchtenberg, the future Duke of Leuchtenberg. The Duke had previously been married and widowed, with one son, Alexander Georgievich, from that marriage. Anastasia and Georgy had two children, a son and a daughter. The princess was unhappy in this marriage. The Duke spent most of his time in France, leaving his young wife alone. The problems in their marriage eventually led to them divorcing in 1906.
Their divorce remains one of the biggest enigmas of the Russian court. There is no answer to how the Grand Duchess managed to get a divorce, considering that she had two children in that marriage. Numerous rumours went around, from her husband’s infidelity to her love for the greatest Russian hero, the most desirable man of Imperial Russia, the Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich. The latter was proven to be true.
In 1907, Anastasia married the Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich of Russia, brother of Grand Duke Peter Nikolaevich of Russia. She was 39 at the time, and the marriage remained childless. It is still unclear how this was approved since according to the Russian Orthodox code, two sisters cannot be married to two brothers.
Both Anastasia and her second husband Nicholas were religious Orthodox Christians, with a tendency to Persian mysticism. Since the Montenegrins were fiercely Slavic, Anastasia reinforced the Pan Slav tendencies of Nicholas. Both her husbands were grandsons of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia, the first one through a mixed line, and the second one through a direct male line.
When the revolution began to take shape, Anastasia and Nicolas lived first in the Caucasus and then in the Crimea. They eventually escaped from the Crimea on the British battleship Marlborough. At first, they lived with Anastasia’s sister Elena, who was the Queen of Italy. They later lived in France. Nicolas died on 5 January 1929 and Anastasia followed on 15 November 1935.
Princesses’ influence on the Russian imperial family
Princesses Milica and Anastasia played a prominent role and were close to the imperial family for several years. Elegant and smart, the Montenegrin princesses became acquainted with many important people in St. Petersburg. Their beauty, good manners, education, honesty, pride and frankness were noted.
After their return to Cetinje, from where they often went on trips to Europe, they joined a closed circle of magicians, mystics and sorcerers.
Rich, acknowledged among the aristocracy, adored by their husbands, Milica and Anastasia, instead of attending numerous balls like the rest of St. Petersburg aristocracy, directed all their energy towards their obsession – mysticism.
Unhappy with their already good social status, the sisters wanted to become closer with the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. The Empress, who already had four daughters, struggled to have a son, an heir to the throne. On their knees, the sisters swore to her that they would devote their lives to helping her conceive a boy. Touched by their loyalty and devotion, she trusted them fully. The first of many healers they brought to help the Empress, was Doctor Encausse, a Spanish-born French physician, hypnotist and popularizer of occultism. After he failed in his attempts to help, all the attention went to a certain Monsieur Philippe, whom the Grand Duchess Milica Nikolaevna invited to St. Petersburg and introduced to the Empress. Philippe enjoyed a brief influence over the imperial couple. He was treated as a saint at the Russian court and seemingly succeeded in his mission since Empress Alexandra gave birth to a boy, Prince Alexei, in 1904. After this, sisters Milica and Anastasia became Alexandra’s most trusted friends
The joy at the Imperial court did not last long as it was soon discovered that young Alexei suffered from hemophilia. Milica and Anastasia returned to help Empress Alexandra, claiming that they would find someone who could heal the crown prince. Thus, the imprisoned and praised Grigori Rasputin, a Russian peasant farmer, known as a mystic, healer and visionary, entered the imperial court. He soon became a trusted advisor to Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.
The sisters claimed that he would be the salvation for their sorrow. Indeed, Rasputin, in an inexplicable way, managed to remove the pain and suffering of Alexei. The boy slowly recovered and grew into a restless and lively child who led the scouts and followed his father to the front.
Rasputin’s influence on the court was growing rapidly after the miraculous healing of Alexei. He even became involved in politics.
Anastasia’s husband, the Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, who was also the main commander of the Russian army, was tired of Rasputin’s involvement in the military strategy and his marriage. He didn’t want his wife to spend any more time with this mystic and to attend numerous sessions with him. When she had to choose between her husband and Rasputin, Anastasia made an easy choice and took her husband’s side. Her sister, the Grand Duchess Milica also parted ways with Rasputin shortly thereafter.
Rasputin’s death in 1916, just as he had predicted, brought the revolution. People celebrated his death, unaware of the disaster that would soon follow.
The Russian Revolution and the murder of the Imperial family meant the end of the Romanov dynasty and the end of the Russian empire. The Grand Duchesses Milica and Anastasia, with their families, had already gone west before it all took place. First together in Crimea, then each with their families in Egypt and Paris, the sister spent their last years far from Russia.