Countess Sophie Nikolaievna of Merenberg


Countess Sophie Nikolaievna of Merenberg or Countess of Torby (Geneva, Switzerland; June 1, 1868 - London, United Kingdom; September 14, 1927) was the elder daughter of Prince Nikolaus Wilhelm of Nassau and Natalia Alexandrovna Pushkina (who had been granted the title of Countess of Merenberg). 


Sophie Nikolaievna inherited the beauty of her grandmother Natalya Goncharova-Pushkina, a native of St. Petersburg in Russia. 

She was born in the city of Geneva, Switzerland and since her parents' marriage was considered morganatic, she was not eligible to carry her father's title or rank.His sister Countess Alexandrine Von Merenberg contracted Marriage with the Argentine Máximo de Elía and Ramos Mexía (Brother-in-law of Isabel Foster). His paternal grandparents were William, Duke of Nassau and Princess Paulina of Württemberg.

His maternal grandparents were Alexander Pushkin, the famous Russian poet, and his wife, Natalia Pushkina. He married the Grand Duke of Russia Mikhail Mikhailovich, grandson of Emperor Nicholas I in 1891.


He married morgamatically, on Thursday, February 26, 1891, with Grand Duke Miguel Mikhailovich Romanov of Russia, grandson of Nicholas I of Russia, secretly in San Remo, Italy. 

The Grand Duke and Sophie met in the Italian City of Nice and instantly fell in love. When his mother found out about the secret marriage with a girlfriend of unequal status, he collapsed and became ill, then died of a heart attack in Kharkov. He was blamed for his death and forbidden to attend the funeral.The Grand Duke Michael was denied his military rank and was sent into exile. Sophie Nikolaievna was appointed Countess of Torby in 1891 by her Uncle, Adolphe, Grand Duke of Luxembourg and the title was extended to her three children.They had two daughters and one son:

  1. Countess Anastasia Mikhailovna de Torby (September 9, 1892 - December 7, 1977) married Major Harold Augustus Wernher in 1917 (later Major General Sir Harold Wernher, third baronet).
  2. Countess Nadejda Mikhailovna de Torby (March 28, 1896 - January, 1963) married in 1916 with Prince George of Battenberg (Then 2nd Marquis of Milford Haven).
  3. Count Michael Mikhailovich of Torby (October 8, 1898 - May 8, 1959) an artist who was not married.

Conflicting relationship with his mother-in-law Duchess Olga Fedorovna

Grand Duchess Olga Fiódorovna of Russia, who was deeply religious, suffered a severe blow when her second son, Grand Duke Miguel Mikhailovich, married in San Remo on Thursday, February 26, 1891 with Countess Sophie Nikolaievna of Merenberg.

The marriage was not only morganatic, but also illegal under the laws of the Imperial Family, and caused a great scandal in the Russian court.Grand Duke Miguel Mikhailovich was deprived of his military rank and his position as an assistant in the Imperial Court, and was forbidden to return to Russia for life.It's said that when Olga Fiódorovna received the telegram communicating the news, she suffered a great shock and fell ill and a few days later, at the insistence of her doctors, the Grand Duchess traveled to Ai-todor, her estate in Crimea, to recover.On Thursday, April 9, 1891, the train in which Olga Fiódorovna was traveling crossed Kharkiv, in southern Ukraine. During the afternoon, the Grand Duchess suffered a heart attack and feared for her health.

As Kharkiv was the nearest large city, the train returned there at night and several doctors were called to his train compartment, and he was diagnosed with inflammation of the lungs.From there she was taken to the waiting room of the station, where she remained for three days, without her husband and children (traveling alone), surrounded only by her entourage and doctors. Finally, seeing that his end was approaching, a priest was called and administered the corresponding orthodox rites.A little later, on Sunday, April 12, 1891, Olga Fiódorovna died at the age of 51 and was buried in the fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul, in the City of St. Petersburg, Russia.
Emperor Alexander III of Russia was so outraged by the stubbornness of his cousin, Grand Duke Miguel Mikhailovich that forbade him to stay in Russia, virtually eliminated him from his family's lists, deprived him of maintenance and dismissed him from service.

The duke did not hesitate to answer: "I condemn to the highest degree the behavior of my brother (the prince accepted his daughter's marriage) and I fully share his Majesty's opinion."

He telegraphed the uncle of the bride, Duke Adolf Nassausky: "This marriage, contrary to the laws of our country, which requires my prior consent, will be considered invalid in Russia and has no place."

The Life That Still Advances

The fact that Emperor Alexander III did not recognize the marriage of Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovich and Countess Sophie of Merenberg forced the spouses to stay abroad.
The young people settled in southern France and for many years lived in Cannes in a village with the Caucasian name "Kazbek".
Mikhail Mikhailovich was the head of the Russian church.

In 1901, marriage was recognized by Nicholas II of Rusia:


Having expressed our consent to his imperial highness the marriage of Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovich and Countess Sophia Merenberg, we decreed the following data to the Governing Senate:
Provide the wife of Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovich with the title of Countess Torbi wearable today, extending the same title and surname to descendants descending from this marriage.
At the same time, taking into account that the spouse of Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovich and offspring descending from a real marriage do not have any right to belong to the owner house our own and to any our position exclusive to the Court, we have recognized for the benefit of subordinating them to all conditions the provisions of private persons and the operation of the general rules for the latter, according to their official position, decided.
We challenge you to accept leadership in the necessary cases, trusting you to supervise the implementation of the rules we specify.The same Decree must be kept in our Cabinet together with other acts located there, until they belong to the Imperial Last Name, after having notified a copy of this to the Secretary of State for making this Decree, in due time, in the complete collection of laws.

NIKOLAI II, August 17, 1901.

In 1908, Mikhail Mikhailovich published an autobiographical novel in the City of London dedicated to his wife Sophie: "Never say Die" (English proverb "Cheer up").
In it, he severely condemned the legalized rules for the marriage of dignitaries, who practically excluded marriage for love.
The novel was banned in Russia.
In 1910, the couple moved to England and settled in Kenwood - a manor surrounded by a magnificent park. Representatives of the English aristocracy began to visit their house often. They lived in Kenwood until 1917.


The Countess of Torby and her children never visited Russia.
Sophie Nikolaevna died on Wednesday, September 14, 1927 at the age of 60 and was buried in the City of London in Hamstead Cemetery (with her husband).
On Saturday, September 17, 1927, the Death of Countess Torbi obituary (No. 244) was published in the Berliner Zeitung am Mittag newspaper.
Its author, Dr. A. Von Wilke, described Pushkin's granddaughter, called her "one of the most beautiful women of her time."
On August 4, 1892, Sophie Nikolaevna received the title of Countess of Torby for her and her offspring from the Duke of Nassau.
It was invented by Mikhail Mikhailovich himself in memory of the village of Tory on his father's Borjomi estate, Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolaevich.