Thursday, 7 December 2017

Grand Duke Sergei & Ella at home in Illinskoe

The Empress Marie Alexandrovna wrote her will disposing of her property in May 1868, twelve years before her death. The Illinskoe estate near Moscow was left to her daughter Maria but only on condition that with her marriage she lived in Russia. The will stipulated that in the event she moved abroad the estate passed to her son Sergei and, in case of his death without issue, then to her youngest son Paul. In January 1874 Grand Duchess Maria married the Duke of Edinburgh and left for England. Illinskoe then became the summer home for Sergei and Elizabeth (Ella) of Hesse-Darmstadt after their marriage on June 3rd 1884.

The two-story wooden manor house had a wide central balcony. It overlooked the Moskva River.

Photographs (below) of Illinskoe late 1800s and today

Lithograph c1867 (below) of Illinskoe

Plan (below) of the 1st floor of the manor house

Sergei’s future adjutant Vladimir Dzhunkovsky was invited to visit Illinskoe in the summer of 1886. Arriving on August 23rd he was shown to his rooms in one of the small dachas around the park. Sharing a drawing room he had his own study, bedroom and bathroom and was advised that he could order at any time coffee, tea, wine, etc. The routine for the day was as follows: mornings free, lunch at 1:00, afternoon walks, dinner at 7:30 all together, then reading or playing cards and tea at 11:00.

Photograph (below) of the small dacha today

When Sergei returned in the afternoon from picking mushrooms, he greeted Vladimir in his study. He showed him the room and said it was exactly as in the years of his mother.

K. Lemoch’s 1886 painting (below) of Sergei in his Study

The dinner guests that night included Sergei’s sister Maria, her lady-in-waiting Miss Johnson and Ober-Hofmeister Ozerov, his brother Paul, Count Stenbock who was in charge of the palace, Ella’s lady-in-waiting Maria Vasilchikova and her Russian teacher Ekaterina Schneider, a distant relative of Dzhunknovsky. The dinner started disastrously for Vladimir. He poured too much vodka in his glass, spilling it on the tablecloth.

After dinner they gathered in the drawing room. Other evenings they would walk around the park, laughingly playing tricks and frightening each other in the dark. Ekaterina Schneider, a quiet and innocent young woman, was surprising good at instigating jokes. One night she placed a peach under the sheet of Maria Vasilchikova, scaring her when she crushed it getting into bed. Maria and Ella retaliated the next evening with a watermelon as a head and a white sheet, frightening all who were not in on it. Another time Ella filled her glove with sand, extending it when greeting Schneider the next morning who then turned pale, totally confused.

Vladimir, appointed adjutant in 1891, was entrusted by Sergei with the care of his niece Maria and nephew Dmitry in Illinskoe when he was away. On July 22nd 1893 he wrote Sergei that he gave Maria his presents of a doll and watering can. ‘If you could have seen her delight when she saw the doll and its many clothes, which she immediately wanted to take everything off and dress her up.’

Later in November 1895 Valdimir’s sister Evdokia was appointed governess to the grand duchess.

Photograph (below) of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna and Evdokia Dzhunkovskaya in 1908

Photograph (below) of Evdokia’s room in Illinskoe


  1. Lovely post! Fun to read about their hijinks; they were all still quite young. And I love photographs like the last one, being able to scan the pictures on the wall, identifying so many familiar faces. : )

  2. Thank you very much. The portrait of Vladimir in the center was painted by Ella.

  3. Lovely article. Does the palace still exist?

  4. Fantastic post Joanna! I absolutely enjoyed reading it :)

  5. Thank you very much Maria. The manor still stands with changes (3rd photo above). The same with the recent photo of the small dacha above. The rotunda, sun dial etc. in the garden have survived also.

  6. Thanks Ghostie. I was thrilled to discover that Ekaterina Schneider kept a diary - she lived on the 3rd floor of the Winter Palace!

  7. To Maria Cristina - yes, it is still exist. I am not sure for all buildings but palace park and some historic building remains there with combination of ugly soviet" construction. Unfortunately, there is no entrance for tourists, only if you book local hotel, "pancionat". We tried to visit this site just for seeing with my wife about month ago but refused to enter.