Nikolas Dadiani Mingrelski (1847-1903)
Nikolas (Niko) Dadiani Mingrelski (1847-1903) was nominally Samegrelo’s last Principal before the province was absorbed into the Russian Empire, although he never actually exercised executive power. His father was David Dadiani (1813-1853), the last of the House of Dadiani to actually rule the province, and his mother was Ekaterine Chavchavadze (1816-1882).
The End of the Dadiani Principals
Niko was barely seven years old when his father died and he became Principal of the last remaining independent principality in Georgia. But because he was too young to assume the responsibilities of governance, his mother Ekaterine ruled as regent in his stead, appointing Platon Ioseliani as her chief advisor.
The years of Ekaterine’s regency were marked by violence and turmoil. In 1854 during the Crimean War, Ottoman forces invaded Samegrelo and captured Zugdidi for a time. After the Turks were driven from Samegrelo in 1856 with Russian assistance, the province was wracked by a popular uprising against the Dadianis’ rule. Under pressure from Russia Tsar Alexander II, Ekaterine stepped down and the Russian Empire took over the governance of Samegrelo in 1857.
For the next decade, Niko and his family lived first in St. Petersburg and then, after the tragic death of Niko’s sister Tamar, in Western Europe. In 1866, the Tsar called Niko back to St. Petersburg for an audience, at which he urged the young heir to renounce his claim to Samegrelo in return for a place within the aristocracy of the Empire with the title of His Highest Prince Mingrelski. No doubt seeing this as the best offer he was likely to receive, Niko formally abdicated. In early 1867, Samegrelo was officially abolished as independent province, and incorporated into the Russian Empire. The reign of the House of Dadiani was at an end.
After the Abdication
However, for the young Niko, much still lay ahead. In 1874, he married Mary Alderberg, daughter of the Russian State Minister. Their marriage touched off a wave of public celebration in Georgia. After a wedding in Europe, the couple traveled to Georgia, where they were greeted by cheering crowds and feasts at every stop.
In 1877-1878, Niko participated as a Russian army officer in yet another of Russia’s wars with Ottoman Turkey. In the central Bulgarian theater of the war, Nicolas fought in the battles that wrested the strategically important Shipka Pass from the Turks, and in the campaigns that captured Sofia. For his bravery at Shipka, Niko received several military honors and was promoted to major general. The great Austrian composer Johann Strauss even wrote a work, “Niko-Polka” (op. 228), in honor of Niko’s heroic service.
In 1882, Ekaterine died and Niko inherited her estate, at a stroke becoming the richest landowner in the Caucasus. Around this time, he also began to take an interest in philanthropy. In 1885, he donated his private library collection to the Society for Increasing Knowledge Among Georgians; later, this collection was transferred to the Georgian Public Library (which is today known as the Parliamentary Library). He opened several schools and clinics to serve the poor of Samegrelo, and supported efforts to preserve the Georgian language in the face of the growing dominance of Russian as the lingua franca of the region and policies that aimed to culturally integrate Georgia into Russia.
In 1886, the ruling Prince of Bulgaria, Alexander von Battenberg, abdicated under external pressure from Russian Tsar Alexander III and internal pressure from pro-Russian factions, and Niko was known to be the Tsar’s choice to succeed Battenberg. This made him a much-discussed political figure across Europe, and sparked unprecedented interest in his Mingrelian roots. However, Niko was but one of several candidates put forward to take Battenberg’s place, and other European powers did not want a Russian protégé on the Bulgarian throne—which eventually went to Ferdinand I, a prince of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
Niko died in 1903 in St. Petersburg. His remains were transferred to Martvili Church, where they rest today. His passing was met with great sorrow in Samegrelo, where he remained a popular figure among the people throughout his life, and many towns held memorial ceremonies in his honor.
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