Russia’s first ‘royal’ wedding in a century evokes imperial memories good and bad

For the 40-year-old George Mikhailovich Romanov, the decision to wed his Italian fiancee in a lavish ceremony at St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg — in Russia’s first “royal” wedding in over a century — carried a complicated history.

On the one hand, St. Petersburg, once the capital of the Russian Empire, was built from scratch when the House of Romanov ruled from 1613 and 1917. Just across the imperial residences, St. Isaac’s church is among its most grand buildings.

On the other, it is where the Romanovs’ rule over Russia came to a bloody halt after revolutions in 1917. Nicholas II was the last czar and was held in prison at Alexander Palace. Nicholas Romanov was a distant relative of the groom. He was also the last member of the Russian royal family to marry in Russia.

Still, Friday’s party went on.

Roughly 1,500 people attended Romanov’s wedding to Rebecca Virginia Bettarini, 39, who now goes by the new name Victoria Romanovna Bettarini, with aristocrats and dignitaries from across Europe. According to Russian website, roughly 50 royals from European countries attended. Romanov is self-described grand duke.

Among the crowd was Maria Vladimirovna of Russia, the groom’s mother and the self-proclaimed heir to the imperial throne. His father is Prince Franz Wilhelm, the groom’s great-grandson. He calls himself Prince Franz Wilhelm, and is the grandson of Wilhelm II (the German emperor who was notorious for being unpredictable in his leadership during World War I).

Bettarini’s bridal gown featured Imperial Russia’s coat of arms embroidered in gold.

In interviews before the wedding day, the groom had acknowledged that his family’s historical ties to St. Petersburg prompted the couple to get married there.

“It is very, very close to our family,” Romanov told of St. Petersburg, adding that the city was “the history of Russia” and “the history of the Romanov dynasty.”

The couple also said that their wedding would help promote modern Russia. Fontanka was told by Romanov that he believed the wedding would be a chance to promote modern Russia after months of pandemic.

Not all Russian officials welcomed the opportunity. Dmitry Peskov (spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin) told reporters that it was not in the Kremlin’s plans to felicitate the happy couple. Peskov stated that “this marriage doesn’t belong on our agenda” in any way.

Though Putin has often co-opted Russia’s grand history to bolster his own legitimacy, the Romanovs’ legacy remains controversial within Russia. Some historians believe that as many as 30,000 people died during the construction of St. Petersburg, which was made at the behest of Peter the Great’s ambition for a European-facing capital.

Nicholas II and his family were canonized by the Orthodox Church in 2000 after their bodies, buried in secret by Soviet authorities, were transferred to St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg two years before.

Polls suggest that Russians have mixed feelings about the end of the empire. In a 2017 report by pollsters Levada, roughly 42 percent said the loss of the imperial status was “very great,” though a slightly greater said it was not. In a survey ranking historical figures, Nicholas II was ranked below Soviet leaders such as Vladimir Lenin or Joseph Stalin.

Born in Madrid, Romanov lived most of his life in France, but met his future wife in Brussels while he was working for the European Parliament. He first visited Russia in 1992, when he visited St. Petersburg, and moved to Moscow in 2019, where he and Bettarini were wed in a civil ceremony Sept. 24.

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