Thursday, 29 September 2016

Unwanted Guests (creepy-crawlies) in the Winter Palace

When reading about the Winter Palace, we envision a magical world of Imperial balls and hundreds of servants. The reality of their domestic life in the palace, as revealed in the archive documents, is an eye-opener.

From Nicholas I to Nicholas II, the Winter Palace had problems with periodic invasions of fleas, bedbugs, mosquitoes, etc. in their private apartments.

In June 1839, Nicholas I’s valet Grimm was paid 50 rubles to buy a powder from Tiflis to exterminate bedbugs. In 1853, the valet had ordered five pounds of the powder.

In 1841, the rooms prepared for Marie Alexandrovna, the wife of Alexander II, had to be disinfected as fleas and bedbugs were brought in by the workmen completing the renovations. The Empress’ maid told Kleinmichel that they had ‘literally been eaten by them’.

In June 1850, there was a scandal when the Chamberlain of the Dutch Royals ‘could not sleep at all because of the bugs’. The Minister of the Court, Prince Volkonsky, ordered Prince Gagarin ‘to examine carefully the bed and all the furniture, as well as in other rooms of the Winter Palace’.

By the late 1800s, Vasily Lebedev had a permanent contract with the Court for the extermination of insects in the Winter Palace and Anichkov Palace.

In 1904, the Court spent 1,830 rubles for the extermination of insects in the Winter Palace.

Mosquitoes, mice and bats were also nuisances. To deal with mosquitoes, footmen would open the windows and light a juniper branch over a bowl of water to fill the room with smoke.

In Gatchina on December 21st, 1884 Nicholas II wrote “… While cleaning out the birds, we heard a noise in the next room so we went in with a candle and started to search about. Suddenly a mouse jumped out from under the cupboard and ran into a hole in the corner …”

Aerial (below) of Gatchina Palace

Arsenal wing of Gatchina Palace (below) c1890

In Gatchina on April 24th, 1884 Nicholas wrote to Alix “… sleep had been disturbed at 3 AM by an insolent bat. My man, my dog and myself hunted the beast for nearly half an hour before we at last managed to catch the brute in a corner …”

Bedroom of Nicholas and George in Gatchina Palace c1939 (below)

Study of Nicholas and George in Gatchina Palace c1939 (below)

I hesitated on how to illustrate this post. It was impossible to use pics of bugs. I would scare myself silly!


  1. We're being invaded by hornets here in North Devon - they are basically giant wasps which appear at night attracted by the house lights. Its a very firm keep the windows closed! (these things are about 3 inches long!) They crawl up the windows staring in at me as I sit at my desk... LOL I caught one that was in my bedroom the other night. Didn't know what to do with it (couldn't open the window because of its mates outside!) so I tipped it down the loo, Took three flushes to get rid of it - but come the morning I was reluctant to open the loo lid in case it was clinging there! Yuk. Horrid things. I must, however, admit that four years of living in the country has (sort of) cured me of not liking spiders. One, Long Jane Silver lives quite happily in one of the model ships I have in my study. As long as she stays there that's fine! Thanks for the post - really interesting!

  2. Thank you very much. Wasps are a pain here right now with the warm autumn weather. I go out my screen door and a wasp sneaks in. I can dither for hours trying to figure out how to get me in and it out!