Thursday, 28 March 2019

Letters Between Nicholas & Alexandra During Their Engagement in 1894

The following excerpts from all the letters between Nicholas [N] and Alexandra [A] while apart after their Coburg engagement in 1894 reveal fascinating details about life in Darmstadt, Windsor, Wolfsgarten, Peterhof, Spala, Livadia, Matilda Kshesinskaya and Queen Victoria’s journals.

Aerial view (below) of the Neues Palais in Darmstadt
A to N: Darmstadt May 2nd 1894 My priceless treasure, I lie in bed … I’m glad you visited here and got to know my rooms a little … We leave tomorrow at 11:16 ... It is unfortunate that Madeleine has mistakenly packed eggs and cookies just when you might need them on the road..

A to N: Windsor May 4th Now I’m sitting all alone inserting four of your photos alas in a not very elegant red leather frame I bought here… The terrible earthquakes in Greece it seems are not over yet and poor little [Crown Princess]Sophie scared to death.

A to N: Windsor May 6th Yesterday I forgot to say that stupid Georgie says that I need to insist that you wear high heels but I need to wear very low. He says that May does not and he wears heels much higher. At first it was uncomfortable but now he just does not notice. Imagine your face when you read this. Really, what nonsense! It’s as if growth plays any role, and a well-bred man in high heels looks so absurd that I’m sure you will never do that.

A to N: Buckingham Palace May 9th Finally here again. I almost suffocated, swallowing hot tea after I had overcome 38 steps, breathing heavily… it’s really deadly that I live at the very top of this huge palace.

A to N: Buckingham Palace May 10th Sergey telegraphed that Fraulein Schneider went to Darmstadt yesterday, so I suppose she will appear on Sunday or Monday.

A to N: Windsor May 14th Fraulein Schneider arrived ... This cute little woman insists that we speak only Russian, and I stand and smile at her, unable to understand anything. I have such a bad memory. She tried to drive something into me. In a few minutes she will go downstairs and if she asks me again, oh my God! ... Wilhelm Grancy sent me beautiful lilies of the valley, which they gathered in the forest near Darmstadt… I received my first wedding gift, a little silver lamp, from a certain gentleman.

A to N: Harrogate May 26th It seems that I suffer from gout. I take sulfur baths for 15 minutes, then I stand for 3 minutes, and then something like a needle-shaped shower out of thousands of holes, water streams splash on me, first hot and then cooler. The feeling is not very pleasant.

A to N: Harrogate May 30th I don’t have heating in my bedroom but I must confess I have a hot water bottle because I suffer so much when my legs are cold!... Last night when I got into bed I was in for a big disappointment. My hot water bottle leaked and wet the bed, and I had to wrap my ice-cold legs in a shawl… The ladies went shopping, so I was left in quiet solitude writing letters. I prefer to be alone and in silence, usually around me all the time someone is spinning. As you can see, I am an unsociable person.

A to N: Harrogate June 6th I received many lovely gifts: from Ernie and Ducky - a pretty umbrella, from my grandmother - a basket for tea, from Irene - a small oil painting, a picture of my father's living room, from Victoria - a basket for needlework, from Aunt Alix pretty frames for your photos, as well as one from Schneiderlein. I was also presented with a photo of my favorite horse - not really mine, but the one I usually ride. H.V. Ridezel will not allow anyone else to sit on it ... then, a lot of flowers from Gretchen… Then one person brought me a small drawing of dear Mama, made from a photo belonging to an old poor woman, she made it herself. I gave her something.

N to A: Polar Star July 12/24 It was so nice of you to write your name on the window and on the drawer of my desk.

A to N: Osborne July 26th This afternoon grandmother [Queen Victoria] dictated her diary to me, she wants me to do it again, and she stopped when the duke left so she is in a hurry to catch up. She takes notes every day, but so unintelligible that she can barely make them out.

A to N: Osborne July 28th I rewrite the diary for my grandmother for two days, and instead of July 1 in a new notebook I put a non-existent June 31, so I had to tear out the pages and rewrite them. On one page in my grandmother's diary, I saw: “Nicky is always so gentle and attentive to me.

Photograph c1890s (below) of Nicholas Dacha in the Alexandria Park, Peterhof
N to A: Peterhof July 20th Misha and Baby [Mikhail Alexandrovich and Olga Alexandrovna] came to my home. They live below but his room is adjacent to mine. They gave their former rooms in the cottage for Aunt Alix and cousins who come tomorrow and are going to live with Papa and Mama.

Aerial view (below) of Wolfsgarten near Darmstadt
A to N: Wolfsgarten August 4th From Darmstadt we drove a foursome horses on which dear Papa usually drove here in the park … Ducky sat and read to me while I lay on the sofa with work. But the reading did not last long because we began to chat. She is so sweet, and the frankness with which she speaks to me about everything deeply touched me. Since I am much older, she can talk with me about things that I know and younger girls do not and I think such a conversation is useful for her. I cannot express how adult I sometimes feel - as a child I knew what others would know only when they grow up and get married. I do not know how it happened. I lived with the Papa so privately, I went everywhere with him and to the theater too and this made me grow up early.

A to N: Wolfsgarten August 10th I feel sad when I think that you are so often left alone in your house. But this is better than the behavior of a naughty little artillery officer, about which you told me, eh? [about Matilda Kshesinskaya]. Don't you think so? I need to tease my boy sometimes, can I?

N to A: Krasnoe Selo July 27th /August 8th How good it is for Ducky that she has you who can give advice… You say that you have become an adult for a long time and learned what others do not know before your marriage. I must say that, in my opinion, this is correct, and it is always better to get to know the world earlier in order to be ready for everything! If only I knew life more ... Who knows, maybe then the whole artillery officer’s whole story wouldn’t have happened… it still hurts me to remember that day when I told you about it, making you suffer! If only you knew what torment of shame your angelic forgiveness caused in me. It would be much easier for me if you told me off as it should... I asked one of the officers to photograph my house from all sides, as well as the rooms, so that you at least know how they look.

A to N: Wolfsgarten August 11th Poor Schneiderlein went to Darmstadt to the dentist again this morning, and he filled several teeth, but they hurt so badly that she didn’t come to dinner. When I came to her, I found her, poor thing, crying… Do not worry about the artillery officer, such things happen, and then you were young and felt lonely. It was a small episode, which, thank God, ended well and will never happen again. My darling should not be sad about this.

A to N: Wolfsgarten August 18th Fraulein Schneider behaves awful today! Do you know what this nasty woman said today? She believes that it would be better if you didn’t come, so that you don’t get upset at parting. She likes to tease me ... She was terrified to learn that I wrote it.

N to A: Peterhof August 9th/21st Today I asked Mama about Schneiderlein - she agreed that for you to improve your Russian language, the best thing would be to keep her with you for a few years when you come here. I am so glad that this can be arranged, because you wanted this for her!

N to A: Peterhof August 12th/24th Yesterday I baptized the child of the daughter of Leuchtenberg …The ceremony at their villa was very emotional, but was hampered by a terrible heat. The sweat fell from me on the poor child who shouted without ceasing from the beginning to the end of the ceremony. I always feel so embarrassed when I hold a baby in my hands and I seem so awkward, not knowing what to do - I just fear little children!

N to A: Bialowieza September 1st/13th What a thought, my love, to have my idiotic bust in infancy. I just don't know where to get it. We have two of them in Anichkov: one belongs to Papa, the other to Mama. I cannot understand why they made my bust - it looks like a frog!

N to A: Spala September 4th/16th I again live in my old sweet room, where I used to be three times - in 1888, 1890 and 1892! On the walls are charming prints and paintings. They have tickets with my numbers on the hunt when I shot some game. On each one I wrote a date and which animal I killed. “Neat, like an old maid,” - you think, mocker, but this is so - I really love order!

A to N: Wolfsgarten September 17th Orchi sat with me, and I asked about her family, which is in such a difficult position.

A to N: Wolfsgarten September 29th You have no idea how grandmother [Queen Victoria] was touched by the fact that you sent her an album about Peterhof with photos, and especially what you yourself signed to them.

N to A: Spala September 17th/29th It is impossible to express, my dear, what a sad impression I had when I entered the bedroom with Papa and Mama to be with them, and they sat opposite each other and did not say a word. I had a lump in my throat, and I quickly said something nonsense trying to make them laugh.

Photograph c1890s (below) of Livadia
N to A: Livadia September 25th/October 7th Today is Sunday, and we went to the beautiful little church… Papa was in the next room through which you can go to the altar so that opening the door, he heard the whole service unnoticed. Also arranged for grandmother [Empress Maria Alexandrovna] when she was sick. She was wheeled into a chair straight from her rooms. Our rooms are very bright - on both sides of the house there is a large balcony with a beautiful view of the sea.

N to A: Livadia September 28th/October 10th Forgive me, my girl, for what I say, but yesterday quickly devouring your letter I must confess that I felt a little disappointment and at that moment wished that all the monasteries in the world “fell” through the earth. Because when you are so far away from me and I receive a letter from Sunny, I want it to be full of only love and descriptions of what my bride is doing! Do you understand me, my precious, and you will not be offended by what I said?

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Nicholas II’s 39th Birthday Celebration in the Catherine Palace, Tsarskoe Selo

Today I turned 39! In the morning were telegrams, peoples’ congratulations, embraces and the gardeners. At 11am there was a long Mass, again congratulations and a big lunch. We returned home at 2:30’. [Nicholas Diary Sunday May 6th 1907]

Aerial View (below) of the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo [note the Alexander Palace in the upper right]
The on-duty adjutant left further details of the day in his diary. ‘Count Hendrikov opened the door to the Grand Church in the palace for the entrance of the first ranks of the court including Count S. Sheremetev and the Chief Marshal Prince Dolguruky who preceded the Sovereign. The emperor in the Life Hussars uniform went with Empress Maria Feodorovna followed by Baron Fredericks the Minister of the Court, Major General Dediulin the Palace Commandant, adjutant General Dubasov, Major General Prince Obolensky and I. Empress Alexandra went with Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich, next Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich with Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna and others of the imperial house, followed by pages, ladies-in-waiting and military officials. After Mass the procession proceeded in the same order to the inner chambers where the ceremonial lunch took place in the Great Hall and two adjacent halls’.

Photograph c1911 (below) of a dinner in the Great Hall of the Catherine Palace
‘There were round tables with ten placings for more than four hundred people. All the tables were decorated with flowers, very solemn and elegant with the court symphony orchestra playing during lunch. After dinner I returned to the duty room of the Alexander Palace’.

The adjutant was invited to dine that evening at 8:00pm with their majesties in Alexandra’s drawing room at a small table for three. ‘Since it was the emperor’s birthday, the dinner was somewhat more ceremonial than usual. There were a few more snacks, five dishes instead of four and champagne. The waiters who served were in white stockings and ceremonial red with gold braid livery. After, we went to the Empress’ mauve room for coffee. At the eleventh hour they graciously said goodbye to me.’

Photographs c1917 and today (below) of the Great Hall

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Grand Duchess Olga and Tatiana’s Bedroom in the Winter Palace and Wardrobe

The rooms of Grand Duchess Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia were located on the 1st floor of the Winter Palace directly under the apartment of Nicholas II and Alexandra. Their wardrobe was behind the bedroom in an inner room facing the small courtyard.

Photographs (below) of the Grand Duchess Olga and Tatiana's Bedroom today
Photographs c1917 (below) of the Grand Duchess Olga and Tatiana's Bedroom (#15 on the plan)

Eduard Hau’s c1868 watercolor (below) of the Bedroom – note the alcove and columns were retained by the architect Krasovsky during the 1895 reconstruction
Wool Booties (below)
Baby shirt made of batiste and Valencia lace (below) – one of two dozen for Anastasia in 1901
Bib (below) made of batiste and lace
Embroidered Satin Shoes (below)
Satin Parasol (below)