The Life and Tragedy of Alexandra Feodorovna Alexandra Feodorovna - The Life And Tragedy Of Alexandra Feodorovna
A Biography By Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden

Chapter XVIII

Last Years of Peace, 1913-1914


The year 1913 was the jubilee of the Romanov dynasty, when the completion of three hundred years of monarchy was celebrated with great rejoicings. Expressions of fealty reached the Imperial Family from every part of the country. It seemed scarcely possible that the people who hailed the Revolution with enthusiasm four years later could have moved such addresses of loyalty and taken part in such celebrations. In the winter of 1913 the Emperor and Empress spent some weeks in St. Petersburg. The St. Petersburg nobility gave a splendid ball in their honour, to which came all the available members of the Imperial house and h hundreds of guests. The two elder Grand Duchesses went with their parents to this ball. They were not yet officially "out " (Olga Nicolaevna was seventeen, Tatiana Nicolaevna not quite sixteen), but the importance of the occasion justified their appearance. The Empress dragged herself with difficulty to all the functions. She had been completely worn out by her son's illness, but she roused herself to appear at the fetes.

1913 Ball

Above: The 1913 Ball; from a painting in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

At the great ball in the Salle de la Noblesse she felt so ill that she could scarcely keep her feet. She underwent tortures from the feeling of faintness that overwhelmed her, before she was able to attract the attention of the Emperor who was talking at the other end of the room. When he came up it was only just in time to lead her away and prevent her from fainting in public.

The Emperor and Empress held a reception at the Winter Palace, but their stay in town was cut short. The Grand Duchess Tatiana fell ill with typhoid, and had to be taken home to Tsarskoe Selo, where the Empress nursed her back to health, paying for her exertions by long weeks afterwards spent on her sofa.

Jubilee celebrations were held in the summer in Moscow, and the Imperial Family had promised to go to all the various Russian towns associated with the first Romanoffs. The Emperor and Empress and their children left Tsarskoe Selo on May 28th and went first, via Moscow, to Vladimir and Bogoliouboff (May 30th), then to Nijni Novgorod, where they embarked on a river boat and sailed up the Volga. After nearly twenty years the Empress had her wish. They went first to Kostroma (June 3rd), where the first Romanoff Tsar had received the offer of the Russian crown from the Boyars. Here all the Imperial Family, except the Dowager-Empress, were awaiting them. As the small flotilla sailed up the river, the Imperial Family in one boat, the suite in another, the banks were crowded with people, and at every village the peasants waded into the stream in their eagerness to see the Tsar's boat, and perhaps to catch a glimpse of him.

The Ipatiev convent at Kostroma was the goal of their journey. It was there that the Tsar Michael had received the deputation of Boyars. People from all the surrounding provinces had assembled, dozens of ikons were presented, loyal speeches were made and answered. It was a triumphal progress. Everyone seemed enthusiastic and full of loyalty. From Kostroma the Imperial Family sailed up the river to Jaroslav, where they left their boat, and went by tail to Pereieslavl and Rostov Veliki. The Empress was quite exhausted, and did not go with the Emperor to these last two towns, but stayed in the train, saving up her strength for Moscow. Here the festivities were on a grand scale, for the ancient capital was always anxious to out-do St. Petersburg in hospitality.

In the autumn of 1913 the Imperial Family went to Livadia. The old Palace had been pulled down and a beautiful new one had been built on its site. This was in the Italian style, and the Empress had taken the keenest interest in planning it, remembering and reproducing many things that she had seen in Italy, the cloisters of San Marco in Florence being used as a model for the central courtyard, where all assembled after lunch. There were many beautiful antiques in the reception rooms, and ancient Greek marbles, found in excavations in the Crimea, in the gardens. The Empress was specially interested in the gardens, and spent hours driving about in her pony carriage, planning improvements. The scenery was lovely. Livadia was situated half-way up a mountain, with the majestic Ai-Petri as a background, and the rocky beach below. The wide expanse of the Black Sea was to be seen from nearly every one of the Palace windows. The Crimea lies far to the south, and the vegetation is like that of the Riviera. There were wonderful groves of olive trees, cypresses among the rose gardens, and luxuriant southern creepers. The whole Imperial Family loved Livadia. They went there chiefly on account of the health of the Empress and the Tsarevich, but the beauty of the surroundings and the free life were a delight to them all. The Empress really rested there, lying much on her balcony and avoiding fatigue, joining the family party in the cloistered courtyard after luncheon. Out of lesson hours, the Grand Duchesses bathed, and rode, and played tennis with their father. Nearly all the other members of the Imperial Family had villas dotted along the coast. Balls were given for the young people by the Grand Duchess Peter, by the Grand Duchess George (nee Princess Marie of Greece), by Princess Bariatinsky (sister-in-law to the Empress's friend), and sometimes by the officers of the one or two regiments stationed in the Crimea. Dances were also given by the Empress at Livadia, delightfully informal gatherings, to which not more than one hundred and fifty guests, mostly young people, were invited. There were many villas round Yalta, for this was a favorite resort of Russian society in autumn, and at Livadia the Empress's daughters had a glimpse of the life led by young girls of their own age, and enjoyed it to the full. They never had any further opportunities for dancing.

Many excursions were arranged when the Grand Duke of Hesse paid a visit to Livadia in 1912 (May - June). The Empress could not go about much, as motoring tired her, but she took part in an excursion by sea to Novy Sviet during her brother's visit. Novy Sviet was a beautiful place, with celebrated vineyards, which an eccentric old Prince Galitzine had given to the Emperor. Prince Galitzine loved the Crimea and the Tartar people. He had settled down on his immense Crimean property after having spent the best part of his life in Paris, and as he had no son had handed over half his estate to the Emperor. His two modes of life were shown in his costume, a combination between a Tartar merchant's full dress, and that of an old-fashioned Parisian artist, a frock coat, long hair under a high sheepskin hat, and a flowing gaudy tie. He received the Imperial party with semi-Oriental hospitality, with wonderful food, and the choicest wine from his celebrated cellars. There was, however, a certain amount of discomfort, for Novy Sviet was miles away from everything, but perhaps the unconventional things were those that pleased his Imperial guests the most.

After the Grand Duke of Hesse had left, the Imperial Family sailed to the Caucasian coast and paid a flying visit to Gagry. Here a popular fete was organized in their honour, but the weather was bad and the Empress had to stay on board.

Though their Majesties seldom gave formal audiences at Livadia, in point of fact they saw more people there than they did at Tsarskoe Selo. Everyone living in the Palace was asked to luncheon, even the children's teachers and the priest, as well as four or five of the officers of the Standart, which was anchored at Yalta during the Imperial sojourn in the Crimea. In addition to these three or four people, local residents or visitors, were invited every day, as well as the Ministers who came from St. Petersburg to report to the Emperor. After luncheon, conversation could be much longer than at Tsarskoe, where every hour had been filled in advance. Once or twice a week the whole Household dined with the Imperial Family, and after dinner either the Balalaika orchestra of the yacht would play, or the Cossacks of the escort would sing. During the Hessian visit there were some special command performances given by singers and musicians who happened to be passing through Yalta. Among the occasional guests was the Emir of Bokhara - son of the Emir who had attended the Coronation - who owned a villa near Livadia, to which he came every year. The Empress used to be much amused at the solemn conversations which the Emperor carried on with him through an interpreter. The Emir could talk Russian perfectly, having been educated at the Corps des Pages, but Oriental etiquette forbade him to talk anything but his own language on such an occasion. Two of his Ministers were always present at these interviews-immense Orientals, with long beards dyed bright red, and the most gorgeous silver and gold embroidered khalats. They were real figures out of the Arabian Nights, and looked as if any of the Arabian Nights adventures might have been theirs. Once the Dalai Lama of Tibet sent envoys, who brought gifts to the whole family, though Tibetan custom prevented the Empress and her daughters from being present at the reception.

Sometimes foreign ships came to Yalta - French torpedo boats, or Turkish cruisers with a Pasha on board, sent by the Sultan to greet the Emperor; but there were very few official functions at Livadia. Indeed, when the Spanish Ambassador, Count de la Vinaza, came to present his letters of recall, there was great difficulty in organizing the reception suitably. Finally all ceremony was abandoned, and the Ambassador was simply received before the dinner given in his honour, for there were neither State carriages nor gala liveries at Livadia.

The Empress took an active part in all the charities of the place. She organized bazaars every year at Yalta, working for them for weeks beforehand, while she and her daughters sold at their own stall for several days. Needless to say, these were successful bazaars. There was a sad side to the Crimea, as there is to the sunny Riviera; for it was full of sanatoria for consumptives seeking sun and warmth, and these sufferers were always in the Empress's mind. It was her nature, in the sunniest moments and on the brightest days, to remember sad things, and here, too often, they were forcibly brought to her notice. She took part personally in a Flower Day in aid of the Anti-Tuberculosis League, both she and her daughters selling marguerites. She visited the hospitals and started two new sanatoria, a naval and a military one on the Imperial property of Massandra. She visited many individual cases, going unobtrusively to pay unexpected visits. When she could not go herself, she sent her daughters. It was often pointed out to her that it might be dangerous for the girls to sit at the bedsides of people who were full of tuberculous germs, but she swept these objections aside, and the Grand Duchesses visited many of the worst cases. " They should realise the sadness underneath all this beauty," she once said to me.

The Imperial Family stayed only a short time at Tsarskoe Selo in the winter of 1913-1914. They returned from the Crimea on January 3, 1914, and left again for Livadia on April 5, 1914. During the winter the Empress was present at a ball that the Dowager-Empress gave at her Anitchkov palace in honour of her granddaughters. This was the event of the season, and was one of the few public appearances that the Empress made with her daughters. The Emperor took them to the theatre and to one or two afternoon dances; and at the Anitchkov ball he had to stay till 4.30 in the morning (the Empress Alexandra had gone home at midnight), as the Grand Duchesses refused to be torn away any earlier. When we were all having a late cup of tea in the train that took us back to Tsarskoe, I said to the Emperor that I was glad Her Majesty had no receptions before luncheon, which would have meant early rising for me. "Yes," he said, "you can sleep. As for me, I have X. at 9:30, and as I did no work to-night I must look through some reports from the Ministers before that. So I shall have to get up at 7! " Every late outing with his daughters meant so many hours taken from his rest. It is not surprising that the Grand Duchesses were taken to very few balls by their father!

On June 13th, 1914, the Imperial Family went from Livadia to Constanza to return a visit paid by King Carol of Rumania many years before, and also a visit paid by the Crown Prince Ferdinand of Rumania and his wife and Prince Carol who had spent a couple of weeks at Tsarskoe Selo in the winter of 1913. The setting of that State visit gave it a place by itself among the many journeys that the Russian Imperial Family had taken to foreign Courts. The details of the reception had been arranged by the Crown Princess Marie. The whole Roumanian Royal Family stood on the landing stage at Constanza as the Standart came slowly up. The lovely Rumanian children were in a group round their mother, the Crown Princess, and Queen Elizabeth, " Carmen Sylva," with her white hair and long white robes, looked like a priestess of ancient Greece. She was charming to her guests and welcomed them warmly. She had spent some time in Russia during her youth and had always been very enthusiastic about the country. The stay of one day was too short for all that had been planned, and the Empress was almost in a state of collapse when the visit was over. After a State drive through the town came a service at the Cathedral. Then came a family luncheon party, to the accompaniment of appropriate airs played by a Rumanian band. The Ministers and suite were, at the same time, entertained by the Rumanian Prime Minister, M. Bratiano, to another sumptuous luncheon.

After lunch the Emperor and the King visited the Russian and Rumanian ships, while the Empress rested before the tea party she was giving on the Standart for the Rumanian Royalties and officials. About twice the number of guests expected came to the party - I believe that there were several hundred - and the Empress was confronted with the worry, usual to most housewives but most unusual for her, of wondering if there would be enough to eat! Count Benckendorff had not gone with their Majesties on this journey and his absence was much felt. After the tea party all the Royalties, with the exception of the Empress and Queen Elizabeth, went to a review of the Rumanian troops, the Grand Duchess Olga driving with the Crown Princess. The young Grand Duchess was the centre of all eyes, for it was much hoped that a marriage would be arranged between her and Prince Carol.

The day closed with a State dinner at the Palace, at which the King and the Emperor exchanged speeches. The Emperor's clear elocution made his speech much more impressive than King Carol's, which was spoilt by the strong German accent with which he spoke French. A special hall designed by the Crown Princess in the Byzantine style in green and gold had been built on to the small Palace expressly for this dinner. The lovely room, the flowers and the wonderful Hohenzollern plate brought specially from Bucharest took away the formal impression usual at such State banquets. The Empress was dressed in flowing classic draperies with a diamond bandeau in her hair. Queen Elizabeth had forgotten her Orders, and the Empress took off hers to be in keeping with her hostess. The Crown Princess Marie alone wore her Orders, and her only other ornament was a large diamond cross on a long chain. It was amusing to note that this fashion bad been copied by all her countrywomen. Most of the ladies present wore huge crosses, some in diamonds, some in gold, which dangled about their persons; but the effect on others was not always so successful as it was on the Crown Princess.

The Empress could scarcely get through the cercle after dinner, and from sheer exhaustion could take but little interest in the fireworks and torchlight procession, which was the students' share in the entertainment, and which the Emperor and his daughters watched from the balcony of the Palace with the Roumanian Royalties. It was about midnight when the last adieux were said on board the Standart and the yacht weighed anchor. The Empress had only strength to wave a limp hand to the people on the landing stage. Fortunately the journey back was not so tough as the coming had been, for the next day there was a visit to Odessa. The Empress just managed to get through a large reception of ladies and a service in the Cathedral before she had to retire, leaving the Emperor and the children to carry out the rest of the programme alone. The stay at Odessa was followed by a journey to Kischineff, for the unveiling of a monument to Alexander I.

A few days after the return to Tsarskoe Selo the King of Saxony came on a State visit, and the usual ceremonial of dinners and reviews took place, but as this was a visit of a "Queenless " King, it was far less fatiguing than such visits usually were for the Empress. After the King left, the British Fleet under the command of Admiral Beatty arrived at Kronstadt, the Emperor and Empress with their children going on board the ships. Admiral Beatty and his wife and members of his staff were entertained at lunch by their Majesties at Tsarskoe Selo. After this the Court went to Peterhof, and there, soon after their arrival, they heard the news of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand's murder at Sarajevo. This news greatly impressed and horrified the Imperial Family, but at first it was never supposed that this tragic event would be followed by such terrible consequences. Preparations were being made for the visit of President Poincare, and everyone believed that the Balkan question could be settled without Russia being involved. The Empress was making plans for spending the autumn in the Crimea and had already invited her guests. Before the Presidential visit, the whole family went for a few days' cruise in the Finnish waters. The President arrived at Peterhof on July 19th and was met on the landing stage by the Emperor, the Empress receiving him later in full state at the palace. He lunched privately with their Majesties, and delighted the Tsarevich and the Grand Duchesses with the presents he brought them. A big official dinner was given in his honour in the Peterhof Palace - an eighteenth-century building, kept unchanged since the days of Peter the Great, even to the wax candles that lit up the halls. The whole Court and the President and his suite attended the tattoo at the camp of Krasnoe Selo. At this great review President Poincare saw the eIite of the Russian army, so many of whom were soon to lay down their lives for their country. The review was followed by a command performance at the local theatre; and the French President gave a return entertainment on board the battleship France, to which the Empress and her elder daughters went with the Emperor. The political future was uncertain, the horizon was dark, but no one imagined that these were the last days before the outbreak of war.

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Alexandra Feodorovna was the last Romanov Empress of Imperial Russia. This online book - The Life and Tragedy of Alexandra Feororvna was written by Countess Sophie Buxhoeveden, Lady-in-Waiting to the Empress, who served the Empress for many years and followed the Imperial family into exile.
Table Of Contents
  1. Early Surroundings
  2. Childhood
  3. A Young Princess
  4. Engagement
  5. Marriage
  6. Her New Home
  7. Coronation
  8. Journeys
  9. Charities and Life
  10. Queen Victoria
  11. Foreign Trips
  12. Birth of Alexis
  13. Gathering Clouds
  14. On the Standart
  15. Rasputin
  16. Her Family
  17. Empress at Home
  18. Last Years of Peace
  19. Wartime 1914
  20. War Work
  21. Without the Emperor
  22. Visits to Headquarters
  23. Before the Storm
  24. Warning Voices
  25. Rasputin's Murder
  26. Revolution 1917
  27. Abdication of the Emperor
  28. Prisoners
  29. Five Weary Months
  30. Tobolsk
  31. Ekaterinburg 1918
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