Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Friend and ‘Secretary’ of Nicholas I

‘He kept a diary about us which was sent to Papa on a weekly basis. He answered with the next courier writing on the edges of the same sheet. I do not know if these letters with drawings and full of jokes have survived’. When writing her memoirs in the early 1880s, Grand Duchess Olga was unaware the letters between Prince Alexander Golitsyn and her father Nicholas I were preserved in the Winter Palace’s 2nd floor library.

Alexander Golitsyn (1773-1844) was a confident of Nicholas who entrusted him with the care of the children while absent from St. Petersburg. Beloved by the young grand dukes and duchesses, one of their nicknames for the prince was ‘dear papa’s papa’.

Golitsyn added at the end of his September 7th 1834 letter: ‘Having already written, I met Grand Duke Nikolai and asked him if he would bow to Papa. He answered ‘yes, yes’ and Mikhail said ‘and me please’. Nikolai was three years old and Mikhail a toddler of one and a half.

Painting (below) of Nikolai and Mikhail in the Dark Corridor at the door to the ship playroom in the Winter Palace

Copy (below) of Prince Golitsyn’s letter [on the right] dated September 9th 1834 Tsarskoe Selo with Nicholas I’s reply in pencil [on the left]
In the above letter, the prince wrote that Grand Duke Konstantin was sick from the 7th during the night to the 8th  where after dinner he was again healthy and merry. The doctor Arendt believed he was very upset by the departure of his parents. In his note in pencil, Nicholas added ‘I hug all the children’.

On September 12th Golitsyn related that when he told Nikolai he would write about him to his father, he hugged the prince and said to write ‘he kisses papa’. Mikhail, when he heard his brother, also hugged and kissed Golitsyn. Nicholas replied that he ‘kisses all the children’ and ends the note with a joking plea about himself to his friend ‘Do not forget the old man with the long nose and wig’.

Horace Vernet’s 1836 sketch (below) of Nicholas I with his youngest sons Nikolai [Nissi] and Mikhail [Missi]

Golitsyn was so trusted by Nicholas that he handled the emperor’s correspondence while he was away, sorting and forwarding letters and reports. In the Alexander Palace on October 4th 1834, the prince wrote that the day before when he entered the emperor’s study with the younger sons, the toddler Mikhail said ‘there is no papa’. Then both started beating on their drums and the three year old made the prince dance with their English nannies in the study. Nicholas replied that he hoped Golitsyn ‘did not get too tired from dancing to the drum’.

Hau’s watercolor c1860 (below) of Nicholas I’s Study in the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo

In 1842 Prince Golitsyn retired and moved to his estate in Crimea. Nicholas lamented the loss of his friend writing in 1843 ‘with heartfelt reverence we look at the chair where you sat and we still think of seeing you but you are no longer with us’.


  1. This is all so sweet. It's so easy to think of these people as mere historical figures, and this is very touching, charming. Thank you. : )

  2. It is fascinating to discover the everyday life. As babies and toddlers, it is a treat to have these glimpses. A different reaction reading Nissi and Missi diaries in their late teens and twenties.

  3. What a sweet lovely post to read, thank Joanna!
    Why was it called the dark corridor?
    Ghostie x

  4. I do love reading Golitsyn's letters and Nicholas replies! It is lovely to imagine the toddlers roaming around the palace.

    The Dark Corridor is #303 on the 2nd floor plan. It was dark with no windows. At one end was the Rotunda, the other the Small Fieldmarshal Hall. It was lit with candles until the late 1880s when electricity was installed. The 1st floor corridor below had more light. At either end were large windows into the small inner courtyards. At the center was the Saltykov Entrance to the private garden and the Guards' Entrance to the Large Inner Courtyard.