Diaries and Letters - Grand Duchess Olga Nicholaievna
As Princess Alix of Hesse the Empress had been the Queen's favourite granddaughter, this visit had been eagerly looked forward to. She looked very handsome, dressed all in white, when she arrived at the castle, but when the Queen drew back in courtesy to allow her to precede her, the young Empress had, without a word of acknowledgement, sailed into the drawing-room in front of her grandmother, who had followed with a little flush of annoyance on her cheek. She had not expected that her gesture would be accepted, she was afraid "gentle little simple Alicky" had changed. She had lost some of the dewy freslmess of youth which had so enhanced her beauty, her complexion had become a little florid; her mouth, when it was in repose, was set in a hard, thin line; and there was a stiffness and formality in her manner that had not been there before.
As her grandmother the Queen thought she had the right to admonish her gently, and advise her to be a little more amiable; but the reproof was not well received, and the Empress had become, if anything, even more restrained and withdrawn. Nevertheless the visit passed off well, there were drives and picnics on the moors, in her conversations with the Emperor the Queen was relieved by his assurance that Russia did not intend to side with France, over the matter of Egypt, nor to conclude an alliance hostile to England. On October 3, Mr. Downey came to take the first moving pictures of the royal family, and the Queen thought it very extraordinary when she was photographed walking on the terrace, or holding on her lap baby Olga, who was jumping up and down.' The Queen was sorry when the visit was over, and the Emperor and Empress left to go to Paris. "I am so fond of them both," she said sadly, for Russia seemed very far away. She kissed little Olga's pink cheeks and wondered when she would see her again. It was a pity the fIrst child had not been a boy, but there was no doubt a brilliant future in store for this little girl whose father and mother ruled over such a vast country.
The Queen hoped that Nicky would govern that country with prudence and far-sighted discernment, that he would be firm but benevolent, and that he would grant some of the concessions that had been planned by his grandfather, Alexander II.
It was after their visit to Paris that the Emperor and Empress came to stay in Darmstadt, and watching the official reception,' the mounted troops, the State carriages, I wondered what had brought that look of cold aloofness to the face of the woman I had known as Princess Alix of Hesse. That night there was a torchlight procession in front of the old Schloss; the next day I went to tea in the New Palace, and saw the Grand Duchess Olga on the knee of her English nurse, Miss Orchard. "Is she not a beautiful baby?" Miss Wilson, Princess Elizabeth's nurse, asked me. I was too overcome with awe to do anything but agree in an almost inaudible whisper.
It was many years before I saw the Grand Duchess Olga again and during that time her life was not really very different from that of any other child whose parents had large country estates, except that in her case those estates were widely apart. There was the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, not far from St. Petersburg, a big, low-built, white house on the shore of an artificial lake, surrounded by a beautiful park and gardens. There was the Alexandrai Dashka (or cottage), at Peterhof, almost hidden in the woods, near the big palace built by Peter the Great, overlooking the Gulf of Finland. There was the lovely white palace of Livadia in the Crimea, with terraces and gardens sloping down to the shores of the Black Sea. And lastly there were the hunting-palaces of Belovej and Spala, surrounded by vast, almost primeval forests.
Wherever they might be, the apartments shared by the Emperor's daughters were simple almost to the point of austerity, and the lives they. led were unostentatious, and governed by routine. They spent their days studying under various tutors and governesses, they shared the midday meal with their father, their mother not always being present. They rode and went for drives and walks in the grounds of their various palaces, they played games and went out in boats, they hardly ever quarrelled, they were happy and united, but they had no young companions and seldom even saw any of their numerous cousins. Perhaps they sometimes wondered why their mother always seemed so anxious and distressed, and why the little brother, who had been born in 1904, was so often ill. He could not. play games with them, or take part in violent exercise, the slightest blow or fall bringing on bleeding, fever, and agonizing pains. The Grand Duchess Olga was the eldest and most intelligent of all the sisters. She was strong and healthy, full of vitality, intensely patriotic, and it must have sometimes filled her with regret that she had not been born a boy, that she could not succeed her father on the throne and rule over Russia like her ancestress, Catherine the Great.
To the Empress the fact that her only son suffered from haemophilia was a continual, torturing anxiety. She knew that her younger brother, Prince Frederick William, one of her uncles, a cousin, and a nephew had all suffered from the same disease. Passed on only from mother to son, she realized that it was through her that the heir to the throne had inherited this incurable disease. She tried to hide it from the world, she hoped against hope that a cure might be found, and when doctors and surgeons appeared unable to find a remedy, she turned in prayer for a miracle to the man of God who had been introduced to her by the Archimandrite Theophane in 1905, with the assurance that this simple peasant from the village of Pokrovskoie, in the Government of Tobolsk, had been endowed with holy powers.
Rasputin, the name he had been given in his village, and which comes from/the word "Raspoutnik" (debaucher) was not a true monk or priest; he had led a dissolute life, but had spent some time in a monastery, and when he returned to his village he seemed changed. He cured the sick, and had come to be regarded as a man who could work miracles, and his reputation spread through the country until eventually it reached St. Petersburg. There he had been introduced to various people in society, and finally to the Empress.
There can be no doubt that he possessed a certain magnetic power, for when he talked to the Tsarevitch, either in person or by telephone, there appeared to be an immediate improvement in his condition. The Empress became more and more convinced that in him lay the only hope for her son. What this power was, it is impossible to say. Was he merely a charlatan, trading on his ability to hoodwink those who believed in him: Or had he a supernatural gift of healing and of prophecy: How can one explain his repeated warnings that if anything happened to him the Russian Empire would fall: Or that it was imperative to avert war, as it would bring ruin and disaster: Or those solemn words to the Empress, "Remember my death means your death" ?
The infamous libels at one time spread, concerning his relationship with the Empress and her daughters, have been entirely refuted by responsible witnesses. In his book, The Tragic Destiny of Nicholas II, M. Gilliard, tutor to the Grand Duchesses and the Tsarevitch for many years, has categorically stated that Rasputin never came near the children's private apartments, that he only entered the Palace when the Tsarevitch was ill, and that the little boy regarded him merely as a curious, amusing man who told him stories, and often seemed able to ease the pains from which he suffered so continuously. The young Grand Duchesses rarely saw him, or if they did, only in the presence of their parents, and the Empress herself kept in touch with him chiefly through Madame Wyroubova, to whom she had given a small house in the grounds, befriending her because of her unhappy marriage. Madame Wyroubova, foolish, gullible, credulous, believed in Rasputin, and was used by him as a tool to maintain his influence over the Empress.
The Grand Duchess Olga Nicholaievna was only fifteen when we arrived in St. Petersburg in 1910. I first saw her in 1912, at a ball given in the Hall of the Nobles in honour of the Tercentenary Celebrations of the Romanoff Dynasty. That evening, the only time she appeared at a big public ball, she wore a pale-pink chiffon dress of almost classical simplicity, a silver ribbon was bound round her golden hair, which was parted in the middle, and her only jewels were a string of pearls round her slender neck. She had not the regular features, the almost mystical beauty of her sister, Tatiana Nicholaievna, but with her rather tip-tilted nose, her wide laughing mouth, her sparkling blue eyes, she had a' charm, a freshness, an enchanting exuberance that made her irresistible.
In a dress of blue-and-silver brocade, crowned with a magnificent tiara of diamonds, the Empress opened the ball with her husband in the old traditional polonaise, to Chopin's beautiful music. She passed dose to where I was standing; she was very pale, her eyes lowered, her mouth unsmiling. Then she vanished, leaving her husband and her daughter to continue the evening without her. She sat for a while in the Imperial box at the gala pcrformance at the Marinsky Theatre, the diamonds, which covered the front of her bodice, shooting iridescent fire as her breast rose and fell with her quick, convulsive breathing, her hands trembling so violently that she seemed hardly able to hold her fan of white eagle's feathers. Some stress of emotion, some physical torment, seemed to possess her, and before the performance was over she had retired to the back of the box, and had not reappeared.
Accustomed to the genial charm and case of manners of the Romanoffs, society grumbled and complained. People recalled that other Hessian Princess, the Empress Marie, who had also suffered from ill health, who had also been cold and distant, and had seldom appeared in public. Some people compared the Empress Alexandra to her grandmother Queen Victoria, who had also withdrawn herself to nurse her sorrow at Windsor and Osborne. hl the winter of 1913-14 these murmurs and complaints grew in bitterness, for by then the Emperor's daughters Olga and Tatiana Nicholaievlla were aged respectively eighteen and seventeen, and it was time, people said, that balls and entertainments should be given for them. Did the Empress think that contact with society would contaminate them? Were all the great families of Russia, the Kourakins, the Shouvaloffs, the Galitzins, the Cheremetieffs, the Orloffs, not good enough? Why were they kept sequestered at Tsarskoe? Why were they never seen, except at Te Deums, or Reviews, or on some State occasion?
But the Empress was already making her plans for entertainments to be given during the following season and was discussing with certain intimate friends the impossibility of including the whole of society at one big ball to which the members of the Duma and their wives would have to be invited. She was arranging to give several smaller balls, and concerts, and perhaps some informal dances as well. It was so easy to criticize and condemn her; few knew the inherent shyness which affiicted the Empress; she had never been able to overcome it, nor did they guess how she had suffered when she realized her own unpopularity. They did not see her by the bedside of her son, they did not know the anguish that was in her heart when she watched his sufferings. Over and over again, in their ignorance, people misjudged her, and more and more, realizing how prejudiced society was, she withdrew herself in proud and aloof disdain, happy only when she was alone in her family circle, and with the husband who was the centre of all her thoughts.
The Emperor's daughters accepted the life they led at Tsarskoe, the lack of gaiety, the hours of study, the various teachers of French, of English, of Russian, of history, geography, mathematics, of music and painting, who came and went. They seldom questioned the monotony of their days. Only the Grand Duchess Olga, with her discernment and her shrewdness, may have sometimes wondered why they lived so cut off from all contact with St. Petersburg. We know little about this great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria. We have seen pictures of her sitting with her sisters, standing alone in Court dress, or on horseback in the uniform of her regiment. We have heard details of her life, of her devotion to her sisters, her parents, her little brother, but few know that her mentality, her intelligence, her gifts, would have made her a remarkable personality, had she lived.
The teacher from the Conservatoire of Music who gave her piano lessons once said that she possessed a talent that would have won her fame, had she been born in another sphere. She had only to hear an air once, to be able to play it by ear; she could transpose without hesitation any piece of music into another key; her touch and execution were remarkable. She read voraciously, studying the classics, the history of Russia, the lives of the peasants, the ancient traditions, the customs, the laws, the geography of her country. Her memory was extraordinary, and she never forgot anything that she had learnt, or that had once been told her. She took a keen interest in the lives, the problems, the difficulties of others, and the help she was able, so seldom, to give, was always practical rather than ostentatious. It was she, for example, who on her drives through the park at Tsarskoe, noticed a little crippled girl in one of the keepers' cottages. She insisted on taking the matter up and arranged for the child to be sent to an orthopaedic hospital, and when she was asked who was going to pay for the treatment, replied, "Will you please find out what my allowance is, and deduct the necessary sum,"
None of the Emperor's daughters touched the vast allowances set aside for them. They never bought their own clothes, or spent money on themselves, the small sum they received as pocket money always went in giving presents to their parents, or members of their household, and when that was expended they were without a penny. They had very little knowledge, or idea of the value of money or how far it went; the Grand Duchess Tatiana once asked a lady-in-waiting how much one could buy for a hundred roubles, and would it, for instance, pay for a pair of gloves. She was very surprised when told that even the most expensive gloves would not cost more than twenty-fIve roubles.
When, on rare occasions, the two elder Grand Duchesses appeared at services in the Kazan Cathedral, the eager interest they took in their surroundings was very apparent. The Grand Duchess Olga's alertness, her shrewd, mischievous eyes examining the women's dresses and hats, scrutinizing the faces round her, contrasted with the Grand Duchess Tatiana's reserve, her eyes discreetly lowered if she found anyone watching her. Tall and slender in their light dresses and big hats, I tried not to stare at them, but wondered what their thoughts were as they stood so motionless during those long services, while the voices of the choir rolled up to the roof of the great cathedral, and the blue incense drifted round us. Before the golden doors of the Ikonasatas the celebrant, in his jewelled mitre, raised his hands in prayer and intoned the hymn for the safety of the Emperor. What did the Imperial sisters say to one another, what remarks and observations did they make, when the service was over and they were alone, Had they noticed that the American Ambassador had copied my father's uniform, saying that he could no longer bear to be the only man in a frock-coat at these ceremonies, Had they seen the new, goodlooking secretary at the Austrian Embassy? Had they noticed that the wife of one of the Italian diplomats had put more rouge on one cheek than on the other? Uneasily I felt that nothing much escaped them. I had seen the Grand Duchess Olga turn her head to whisper to her sister, had noticed the latter's dark amber eyes survey me with a secret amusement that made me wonder if my hat was on straight or my hair untidy; or had they, I asked myself in dismay, seen me blush when one of their cousins, standing close behind the Emperor, turned to smile at me?
During the winter of 1913-14 the engagement of the Grand Duchess Olga was frequently discussed in society, and several young men were mentioned as possible suitors. The Grand Duke Dimitri, Prince Arthur of Connaught, the Duke of Leuchtenberg, even at one moment the Prince of Wales. With the visit of the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Roumania, accompanied by their eldest son, Prince Carol's name was on all lips, and everybody waited anxiously for news of an engagement. But although, with his parents, he stayed for several days at Tsarskoe, it was evident from the first that the young Grand Duchess was not attracted to him, and that there was no sympathy between them. Discussing the situation, the Empress and Princess Marie of Roumania agreed not to force matters, but to arrange further meetings in the hope that closer acquaintance might lead to mutual affection, or at least to a sympathetic understanding.
On June 11, therefore, the Emperor with his wife and daughters embarked on the Standard, the Imperial yacht which they often used for cruising in the Baltic and the Black Sea, and sailed to Constantza.
Olga Nicholaievna was too sharp-witted not to know the reason for this journey. She told M. Gilliard that she realized what people were saying and thinking, but that her father had promised her that she should not be forced into a distasteful marriage. She was, she said, averse to leaving her own country, and changing her nationality. "I am Russian, and I want to remain Russian," she concluded firmly. Had she known what lay ahead, would she have consented, in spite of her reluctance and want of sympathy? No one can tell, but those who knew her well believe that she would not have faltered in her decision. That day at Constantza, during the Te Deum the Cathedral, the lunch in Queen Elizabeth's pavilion on the shore, the tea on board the Standard, the dinner in the apartment which had been built for the occasion, she tried to appear unselfconscious, though she knew very well that her sisters were watching her with avid curiosity. Sitting next to Prince Carol at lunch and at dinner, she chatted with her usual spontaneity and natural gaiety; at dinner it was noticed that they seemed to be in earnest conversation, although what they said has not been recorded. But when the long day was over, and the Imperial family once again boarded the Standard, it was announced that there would be no engagement at present, although: it was added, all hope of a future rapprochement must not be abandoned.
Towards the end of June the First British Battle Squadron, Wlder the command of Sir David Beatty, came on a visit to St. Petersburg and anchored off Kronstadt. On the last day of their stay the Emperor and Empress, with their daughters, lunched in H.M.S. Lion, and the Grand Duchesses spent the afternoon examining every corner of the ship, winning the hearts of every man and boy on board. The Naval officers I met at the ball, which took place on board that night, could talk of nothing but the Emperor's daughters, their beauty, their charm, their gaiety, the unaffected simplicity and ease of their manners. There was a wistful regret on many a face because the Empress had refused to allow them to remain for the ball. The girls had apparently accepted her decision without demur or argument, but they had looked a little crestfallen.
When the Grand Duchess Olga had followed her father and mother into the Imperial launch waiting to take them back to Peterhof, she looked back at the big grey ship, and waved her hand to the officers standing to attention on deck, but although she had smiled, there had been, it was declared, a hint of tears in her eyes.
After the British fleet had sailed came the French ships bringing the President, M. Poincare, on a visit. There was a State dinner at Tsarskoe, a big review at Krassnoe, which was the summer camp of the Guard Regiments, near Peterhof, a gala performance at the Marinsky Theatre, a lunch on board the French cruiser. Hardly had the President sailed when war was declared with Germany.
At the review at Krassnoe I had seen the young Grand Duchesses smiling and gay, under their big flower-trimmed hats. On August 17 I saw them again in the Uspenky Cathedral in Moscow, when the Emperor, according to ancient usage, laid the plans of campaign at the feet of the wonder-working Ikon of Vladimir. That day they were all a little subdued and grave, their faces pale, their eyes lowered to hide the tears that were not very far away. At the head of a long procession the Emperor descended the famous Red Staircase leading from the Kremlin palace, and passed across the square to the open doors of the Cathedral, the crowds, kneeling on eidler side of the strip of red carpet, bending to kiss his shadow as he passed. When the ceremony was over and he came out again into the blazing sunshine of that cloudless summer day, everyone spontaneously burst into the National Anthem. That day he was to them not only the Emperor, as far away as the skies, but the Little Father, who held their fate in his hands and would deliver them from their enemies. Transported by emotion, their voices rose in a roar of applause, of praise and devotion that almost drowned the thunder of the bells clanging out from all the churches in the Kremlin. "This acclamation," the Emperor said, turning to my father and the French Ambassador, M. Palcologue, "is not only for me; it is for you both, for England and France."
Twice, during those years of the war, I saw the two elder Grand Duchesses again; once when, with their mother, they visited the British Colony Hospital where I was working, and once when they came with the Dowager Empress, to the official opening of the big English hospital run by Lady Muriel Paget and Lady Sybil Grey. On both occasions they were dressed in red velvet gowns, with ermine stoles; and hats trimmed with ermine; they went round the wards talking to the wounded soldiers, the Grand Duchess Olga often making them laugh with her whimsical merriment, her sister talking to them gently, but with a greater reserve. How kind they were, the soldiers told me afterwards, how lovely they looked. Was it not wonderful that the daughters of the Emperor should come to talk to them! Some said that OIga Nicholaievna, with her frank simplicity and gaiety, was the more charming, others again declared that her younger sister, with her dark hair and golden eyes, was the more beautiful.
Immediately upon the declaration of war the Emperor's two elder daughters had started training as nurses, working with their mother in an auxiliary hospital at Tsarskoe. There was no question now of marriage, of suitors, of entertainment; all plans for Court balls had been put aside, their lives became more isolated, more monotonous. Nor was there any good news from the Front to cheer them with hopes of a speedy victory. The fIrst successes had been transient; supplies, ammunition and transport were all breaking down; the Russian armies were suffering defeat after defeat; refugees from Silesia were streaming into St. Petersburg, or Petrograd as it was now called. Rumours of treachery and sabotage were rife, food was short, fuel was scarce, prices were soaring, despair, frustration and disillusion were taking the place of the earlier enthusiasm. Eventually, in 1915, the Emperor sent the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaievitch to the Caucasian front, and himself took command at Staff Headquarters at Mohileff-a decision which came as a complete surprise to Russia and caused general consternation.
The Emperor, however, regarded his action as a sacrifice demanded of him, and which he must accept as a sacred obligation. "In the moment of danger the duty of a Sovereign is to be with his army, and if need be perish with it," he told the Prime Minister M. Goremykin, when urged to reconsider his decision. In an audience he had with the Empress my father tried to warn her that it was laying on the Emperor the whole responsibility for a fresh disaster; that it was too heavy a burden for one man, to combine the duties of commander-in-chief with those of a ruler of a great Empire. She told him coldly that it had been a great mistake her husband not having taken command from the beginning. "I have no patience," she continued, "with Ministers who try to prevent him from doing his duty. The Emperor unfortunately is weak, but I am not," (Note: I find it impossible to believe the Empress would have said this to the English Ambassador. Bob Atchison)
Recovered from the injury inflicted on him by a woman in his own village, Rasputin was once more by the Empress's side, for in her distress and anxiety she had turned to him for comfort, believing in the potency of his prayers to save Russia from destruction. "All my trust", she wrote and told the Emperor, "lies in our Friend, who thinks only of you and Baby and Russia. Guided by him we shall win through."
By the end of 1916 the growing political unrest, and the skilful propaganda disseminated by German agents in Petrograd, fomented bitter hostility against the Empress. She was pro-German, people said; she was corresponding with her brother, the Grand Duke of Hesse; she was appointing men, known to be suspect, to high positions in the Government solely because they were friends of Rasputin, accusations which were wholly untrue, but they were believed by many who saw in her actions the confIrmation of the lies so skilfully built up against her. In vain some of her relations tried to reason with her. Her sister the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, the Dowager Empress, the Grand Duchess Vladimir, the Grand Duchess Cyril, the Grand Duke Paul, all warned her, but their appeals were received with the same dctermined assertion that she knew what was right for Russia, that a firm autocracy would preserve the Empire for her son. "We must give a strong country to Baby," she wrote and told her husband. "For his sake we dare not be weak."
Spending her days working in the hospital, butting for the wounded, caring for her brother who had fallen ill again after a visit to Headquarters, the Grand Duchess Olga saw her mother daily more exhausted, more strained, more unhappy, and eventually overwhelmed with grief when Rasputin was murdered on December 16, 1917. She was keenly aware of the growing menace and dangers of the situation. "Why has the feeling in the country changed against my father?" she asked a lady-in-waiting, and then the latter replied that to explain that it would be necessary to go back to the reign of her grandfather who had countermanded all the progressive, constitutional plans of her great-grandfather Alexander II. She was silent and pensive, not entirely satisfied perhaps, wondering if there were not more ominous reasons for the 'unrest and ferment that she sensed rather than knew about, but which ftiled her with a growing anxiety. '
Early in March 1917, the Tsarevitch fell ill with a severe attack of measles, and having helped to nurse him, the Grand Duchess Olga and her sisters, Tatiana and Anastasia Nicholaievna, caught the complaint, aggravated, as in the case of their brother, by an abnormally high temperature, and agonizing pains in the throat and ears.
Meanwhile riots had broken out in Petrograd, the Central Police Station was set on fire, the prisons stormed and the inmates set at liberty, the police butchered and a Provisional Government, under Rodzianko, President of the Duma, set up. Distracted over her children and especially over her son, whose condition gave rise to grave anxiety, the Empress received fresh repons of disorders every day, and on March 13 was told that the regiment in Tsarskoe had mutinied, and that a rabble of soldiers, workmen and deserters was advancing on the Palace. Throwing a fur coat over her white nurse's uniform, and accompanied by her daughter, the Grand Duchess Marie, she hurried out to the courtyard where the regiments guarding the palace were preparing to resist the revolutionary troops. Her thin shoes soaked through with the snow that covered the ground, the Empress went up and down the line of soldiers, begging the officers to try and negotiate with the assailants, imploring them not to open fire, not to provoke bloodshed, until at last they promised to obey, and the battle which might have ensued, and could have ended only in one way, was averted.
By this time the electric light and the water had been cut off in the Palace; but all during that night with the mutineers camped outside the gates, and the possibility that, urged on by some hot-headed fanatic, they might launch an attack, the Empress remained calm, and collected, pacified the servants, visited her sick children, mvented excuses for the failure of the light, not allowing them to know the extent of the danger.
Early the next morning the mutineers withdrew, but reports came from Petrograd of other regiments shooting their officers and to add to her trouble there had been no news of the Emperor for several days. It was known that he had left Headquarters on his way to the capital, but the train had not arrived and nobody could explam what had happened. On March 17 the Grand Duke Paul came to the Palace, and one look at his face warned the Empress that he brought bad news. He told her that the Emperor had abdicated in favour of his brother, not only for himself but for the Tsarevitch. She refused at first to believe it. At last, convmced that it was true, she accepted the hct with the courage that came to her in adversity, which remained with her all through the following months. "God grant that it may save Russia," she told Count Benckendorff. "That is the only thing that matters."
Her fourth daughter, the Grand Duchess Marie, had now also falIen ill with the measles; the Tsar was still absent. On March 21, General Korniloff came to tell her that the Grand Duke Michael had refused the throne, and that the Provisional Govemment had decided to hold her and her family prisoners at Tsarskoe. Whatever her feelings wefe she gave no sign of the despair in her heart, and there was no trace of her former arrogance, as she told him gently, "I am at your disposal. Do with me what you will."
Her children were still ignorant of what had happened, but now it was no longer possible to hide the truth from them. She asked M. Gilliard to break the news to the Tsarevitch, while she herself went up to her daughters. What words she found to tell them that they were now prisoners in their own palace, and that their father was no longer Emperor of Russia, we do not know. It is possible that with the exception of Olga Nicholaievna, whocertainIy realized thefull import of what had happened, the young Grand Duchesses did not really take in the seriousness of their position. A fresh anxiety was occupying all their thoughts, for the Grand Duchess Marie, who had been sickening for measles when she went out with her mother to parley with the soldiers, had developed pneumonia, and was so dangerously ill that her recovery seemed doubtful.
On the Emperor's return to Tsarskoe, on March 22, he found the park and the Palace full of soldiers, who accosted him at every step, many of them insolent in their manners, untidy in their dress, slovenly in their bearing. "My God, what a difference," he noted in his diary, the words onIy a feeble and inadequate expression of what he must have felt.
He has been called weak, incompetent, obstinately stupid; by some he has been accused of treachery and disloyalty. But although he lacked decision and judgement, there can be no doubt of his incorruptible integrity and his determination to continue the war to the end. He had abdicated, hoping that by so doing he would avert civil war; he was unwilling to let blood be shed on his account, trusting that the men at the head of the Provisional Government would hold Russia together, and would fight the war to a successful finish. All who, like his mother, knew him well would have said with her, "Nicky is so pure in heart himself, that he cannot see evil in others."
In those early days few people understood the disintegration, the devastating upheaval of a revolution, but the prisoners at Tsarskoe must have realized the change in their position when Kerensky drove up to the Palace in one of the Emperor's former cars, driven by one of the Imperial chauffeurs. He came again a few days later, and gave orders that the Emperor and Empress were no longer to share the same apartments but were to meet only at meals, when an officer of the guard would always be present. The full comprehension of their helplessness and subjugation must have become abundantly clear.
The days passed, the Emperor's request to be moved to Livadia, which he and his family loved so dearly, had been refused and no news came of the projected departure to England. Neither the Emperor nor the Empress nor their eldest daughter wanted to leave Russia, but the thought of England brought the assurance of immunity from danger and humiliation, and before leaving Staff Headquarters at Mohileff the Emperor had told Sir John Hanbury Williams that if he was not permitted to go to Livadia he hoped to be able to go to England. On April 5 he wrote in his diary: "Worked for a little in the garden, then I went indoors. . . . I began to pack the belongings which I shall take with me if fate wills tllat I am to go to England."
In my book, The Dissolution of an Empire, I have given full details of my father's attempt to get the Imperial family safely out of Russia, his many interviews with M. Miliukoff, the newly appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs, his telegrams to the British Government, warning them of the growing power of the Soviet, and the weakness of the Provisional Government who, he said, would not be able to protect the Emperor if the Soviet demanded that he should be handed over to them, or, incited by extremists, attacked the Palace. His appeals for immediate action did not apparently fallon deaf ears, for on March 23 he received a telegram saying that a British cruiser would be sent to Port Romanoff to take the Imperial family to England, if arrangements could be made for their safe transport by the Murmansk railway. My father accordingly went again to see M. Miliukoff, who said that steps would be taken to protect the train as far as Port Romanoff. The Provisional Government, he added, would be very glad to get the Emperor safely out of Russia, though they would require a guarantee that if he reached England he would not leave again, so long as the war lasted. Through the intermediary of a neutral government, an lmdertalcing was obtained from Germany not to molest the cruiser, and it only seemed necessary to wait till the Grand Duchess Marie, who was now out of danger, was well enough to travel.
But on April 10 came another telegram instructing my father to cancel all arrangements because the British Government feared that strikes would break out in the coal-mines and munition factories, the Labour Party having threatened to create industrial unrest if the Emperor was received in England. How violent this feeling was is shown by a speech made by a Labour Member of Parliament who came to Moscow in the spring of 1917, and, at a dinner given by the British colony, , armounced, "Now I am going to be diplomatic and tell you a secret. People are saying that the Tsar is going to England. Let me tell you at once, that this is not true. If he is not good enough for Russia, he is not good enough for us."
One can only hope that the Member of Parliament who made that speech had the grace to feel remorse and shame when he later heard the story of Ekaterinburg; but the responsibility for the tragedy rests to a certain degree with Mr. Lloyd George, for it was he who predicted strikes and tIDrest, it was he who told the King that the danger to the Emperor had been grossly exaggerated, and who insinuated that the British Ambassador in Petrograd was an alarmist, completely under the influence of the old Court faction, and inclined to listen to all the fantastic, fabulous stories of scaremongers.
Meanwhile the prisoners at Tsarskoe were occupying the long days by making a new vegetable garden, taking walks within the prescribed limits, attending divine service, and, on warm days, bathing in the lake. The Grand Duchesses continued their studies with M. Gilliard, and although the Professor from the Conservatoire no longer came to give her lessons, Olga Nicholaievna spent hours at her piano. Now that so many of the former teachers were debarred from coming to Tsarskoe, the Emperor and Empress insisted on taking a part in their son's education, and the Emperor laughingly called M. Gilliard, "Man cher colIegue".
Nobody from the outside world was allowed to visit them, but they still received the papers, and the news they read was not consoling. Lenin and Trotsky, with their satellites, had arrived in Petrograd, having been given free passage through Germany in a guarded train. They were inciting the people to violence and revolt, and the Provisional Government seemed powerless to control the anarchy that was daily gaining ground. At the Front the soldiers were disobeying their officers, refusing to fight, and deserting in hundreds; powerless in his captivity, the Emperor watched the inglorious disintegration of his army.
Early in August the Imperial family were told that they were to be moved from Tsarskoe, news which at first filled them with elation, thinking that now at last they were to be taken to Livadia. Their hopes of the sunshine and warmth of the Crimea, however, were dashed when they received an order to take thick clothes with them. August 13 was the day fixed for their departure, and they were told to be ready to leave at midnight, for it was a cunning, diabolical habit invariably to fix any move or arrest during the hours of darkness.
With aching hearts the young Grand Duchesses visited their favourite haunts in the gardens, lingering sorrowfully on the little island in the lake that had been such a well-loved retreat, looking with wistful regret at the rows of vegetables they had planted, taking a last farewell of the two big bedrooms and the sitting-room they had shared, which held so many things they loved and could not take with them. For the last time, too, the Emperor and Empress walked slowly, hand in hand, through the rooms of the Palace in which they had lived so many years. In the sitting-room was a portrait of Marie Antoinette and her children, which the Empress had always loved: maybe she looked upon it now with dark foreboding. There were the big reception rooms with their parquet floors, their crystal chandeliers, the Emperor's study, where he had received so many foreign ambassadors, so many Ministers of State would they ever return to this house, where every room, every picture, every table and chair, held memories of the past?
Sadly they said farewell to those remaining behind. Count and Countess Benckendorff, who had been with them for many years but now, on account of age and infirmity were unable to accompany them. Baroness Buxhoevenden, the Empress's lady-in-waiting, who was seriously ill. Mr. Gibbs, the English tutor who had not yet obtained permission to go with them. There were tears in many eyes, voices broken by sobs as they said good-bye; there were whispered blessings on those who were leaving for a far-away destination. Among those to accompany the travellers were young Countess Hendrikoff, whom I remember looking radiant and lovely on the first day she had worn the ruby velvet dress of a Demoiselle d'Honneur attached to the Empress; Prince Dolgorouky, General Tatichtchef, M. Gilliard, Doctors Botkin and Derevenko, Mademoiselle Scnheider, the Empress's secretary, her maid Mademoiselle Dernidoff, the tall dark sailor Nagorny, who was so devoted to the Tsarevitch and always carried him when he was ill, some men servants, valets, maid, cooks and kitchenboys. This was the party that with their trunks and bags and coats, assembled at midnight in one of the big rooms of the Palace. Sitting on their boxes and suitcases, they were kept waiting for fIve long weary hours, while Government officials argued with workmen as to whether the train was to be allowed to leave.
Various reasons have been given for the action of the Provisional Government in sending the Emperor and his family to Tobolsk. Kerensky explains it by saying that he could not guarantee the safety of Tsarskoe if any serious riots broke out in the capital. Some people on the other hand declare that it was done in order to curry favour with the extremists, and that the Provisional Government thought they would win popularity by sending the Emperor, who in the past had banished people to Siberia, to Tobolsk. Others, again, say that tlle Soviet, hearing rumours of a rising in the army in favour of the Emperor, ordered the Provisional Government to remove him as far away as possible and that they were too weak and powerless to do otherwise.
The first months of their captivity at Tobolsk passed drearily, but in comparative peace. They inhabited the house of a former governor which had large rooms, and even a certain amount of comfort. They had sufficient food, were permitted occasionally to go under guard to a neighbouring church, and some members of their household were lodged near by, and were permitted to come and go without question. But they were watched continuously, there was only a small plot of garden in front of their house, only a courtyard where they could take a daily walk, a courtyard overlooked by the barracks, where soldiers were always leaning out of the windows. Feeling the lack of exercise acutely, the Emperor begged that he and his daughters might be allowed to saw logs of wood, which would come in useful for heating in the winter months, and, permission having been obtained, this became their daily occupation.
They were now cut off completely, receiving only occasional letters, and no papers, except the local news-sheet. Watched and guarded by soldiers who were often surly and rude, the winter months passed in monotonous sameness. When the first frosts came the young Grand Duchesses, helped by M. Gilliard and Prince Dolgorouky, managed to erect an ice-hill in the courtyard, and sliding up and down this gave them for a time a certain amusement and pleasure. But it was soon destroyed by order of the Committee of Soldiers and they were left with the sole distraction of walking round and round the courtyard, or of sawing endless logs of wood.
There was no piano in the governor's house; deprived even of this comfort and joy, Olga Nicholaievna played games of cards in the evenings with her sisters, or, wIllIe the Emperor read aloud, made small gifts for her parents, and members of the household, or tried to alter and mend the few clothes she had been permitted to bring with her. How often, gazing out of the windows at the dreary, treeless road leading past the house, at the few people trudging along in the mud or snow, did her thoughts go back to the park at Tsarskoe, to the lovely white palace of Livadia with its flower-filled gardens, to journeys in the Standard along the coast of Finland, or to her rides in the woods of Peterhof. I remember seeing her there, reining in her horse at the edge of one of the small, willow-bordered canaIs, a young Diana on horseback, with the morning sun on her face, and the morning light in her eyes, which looked at me with a puzzled recognition, wondering what I was doing there.
In September the English tutor Mr. Gibbs obtained permission to join them, and his coming brought a little change into the dreary sameness of their days, for he had news of friends and happenings in Petrograd, though none were very encouraging. When Baroness Buxhoevenden, bravely risking the discomforts and perils of the journey, arrived in December, she was forbidden to enter the house, and had to find lodgings in the town. She could only wave to them from the road outside the windows, or send occasional messages through Countess Hendrikoff.
The Provisional Government fell in October 1917. Lenin and Trotsky were now in power, and new restrictions, new humiliations, were imposed on the prisoners in Tobolsk. The regiments that had at first guarded them, and been comparatively humane, were withdraW'll, and were replaced by troops imbued with the Bolshevik doctrine. Orders were received that the prisoners were to be allowed only soldiers' rations, and the allowance they received to pay for these was so small that coffee and butter became prohibitive luxuries.
The winter days dragged on. News came that negotiations had been set on foot to conclude a separate peace with Germany, and the fact that his abdication had not saved Russia from ruin, had not inspired the army to continue the war, weighed heavily on the Emperor. Outwardly he remained resigned, showing no signs of his anxiety; neither he nor the Empress ever uttered a word of complaint, of discontent or vexation.
And then, on April 25, Yakovleff, the newly-appointed Commissar from Moscow, informed them that he had orders to take the Emperor away, intimating that he was to go to Moscow. The Tsarevitch had fallen gravely ill again, but, tortured though she was by anxiety, the Empress insisted upon accompanymg her husband, and obtained permission to take her daughter the Grand Duchess Marie with her. It was the first time since their imprisonment that the famiJy had been separated, and in his book M. Gilliard gives a description of that last evening at Tobolsk, and the despair and apprehensions that filled all their hearts.
Going up to the sitting-room after the evening meal, M. Gilliard found the Empress sitting on a sofa, with two of her daughters beside her, their faces swollen and blotched by crying. A sense of doom and foreboding oppressed them all, for nobody knew what fell purpose the new rulers of Russia had in their minds, or what their intentions were regarding the Emperor. All those present knew that he would never agree to put his signature to a treaty of peace with Germany, they realized the perils that confronted him, and the discomforts of the journey at that season, when the river was still covered by half-frozen ice, and it would be necessary to drive for miles along roads covered with snow and slush, instead of going by boat. However, none dared show their misgivings; the Emperor appeared serene and undaunted, the Empress showed no signs of fear, and seemed occupied only with anxiety for those who were being left behind.
It was not until she had gone to take farewell of her son that she lost her self-control, and her voice was broken by sobs when she begged M. Gilliard not to come outside to see them off, but to remain with the Tsarevitch. It was again a midnight departure. m the bitter cold of the Siberian spring, the carriages waited-ordinary, open peasants' carts, with straw on the floor, only one of them boasting a hood. Seated by the side of the Tsarevitch, who was crying bitterly, M. Gilliard heard the noise of departure, the shouts of the guards and the drivers, the rattle of the wooden wheels, and a little later caught the sowld of heavy, dragging footsteps on the stairs. Through the open door he saw the three Grand Duchesses, Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia Nicholaievna, pass along tlle passage, on their way to their room, clinging together, sobbing pitiably, forlorn and desolate in tlleir desperate grief and fear.
On May 10 the soldiers who had accompanied the Emperor and Empress returned, and gave a description of that nightmare journey, of the bitter winds, the impassable roads, the arrival at Tioumen. Red Guards blocked their way there, refused to allow them to go on to Moscow and took them instead to Ekaterinburg, where Prince Dolgorouky was thrown into prison. The Emperor and Empress and their daughter were taken to the house of a merchant named Ipatieff, together with Doctor Botkin and their three remaining servants.
The news was not consoling, but a few days later a company of Red Guards arrived, with orders to take everybody to Ekaterinburg. The three Grand Duchesses were overjoyed at the thought of rejoining their parents, and disregarded the warnings of both M. Gilliard and General Tatichtchef, who pleaded that the Tsarevitch was not yet well enough to travel, and tried to delay their departure. Nothing mattered, the Emperor's daughters said, so long as they were all together. Olga Nicholaievna certainly realized their terrible danger, for when on May 20 they started on their joumey, she told Baroness Buxhoevenden whose repeated requests to be allowed to join them had now been granted that they were lucky to be still alive, and able to see their parents once more, whatever the future might bring.
M. Gilliard has described their arrival at Ekaterinburg. The train stopped some way outside the station, and from the window of the third-class carriage where he had been placed, he saw the sailor Nagomy pass, with the Tsarevitch in his arms, followed by the Emperor's three daughters, slipping ankle-deep in the mud that covered the road, staggering under the weight of their suitcases. The Grand Duchess Tatiana was further encumbered by her little dog, which she was holding in her arms. Nagorny turned back to try and help her, but he was brutally pushed forward by the guards who surrounded them, and when M. Gilliard attempted to get out of the train in order to go to her assistance, he found the door of his carriage locked, and was told by the soldiers to remain where he was.
Sitting there, imprisoned and helpless, he watched General Tatichtchef, Countess Hendrikoff, Mademoiselle Schneider, and several of the servants pass the window, passing hours in agonized anxiety and frustration waiting to be called out himself. At last, in the late afternoon, an officer of the guard opened the door of his carriage, and told him that he was free to go where he liked. He found Baroness Buxhoevenden, Mr. Gibbs, and Doctor Derevenko on the platform, having all of them, for some unknown reason, been set at liberty.
Why these four members of the household were spared whilst all the others were done to death has remained a mystery; but although they were free they were not permitted to enter the Ipatieff house. They could only pass it on the road, see the high palisade of wood surrounding it, which hid the windows from sight, could only dimly surmise how the family they had grown to love so deeply were faring within those walls, bereft of the loyal servants, who, of their own free will had followed them into captivity. Sverdlov, the valet, and Nagorny had been taken away and were shot a few days later; there remained only Dr. Botkin, Mademoiselle Demidoff, the Empress's maid, a cook, one or two menscrvants and a little kitchen-boy, aged fourteen.
Admiral Kolchak, supported by several Czech battalions, was meanwhile driving back the Red Armies in Siberia, and advancing on Ekaterinburg, filling the men who ruled Russia with anxiety lest their plans should after all miscarry; for the fate of the Imperial family had been determined in Moscow, although by cunning artifice it had been contrived that the blame should rest on the Ekaterinburg Soviet. There was one man in the Kremlin who was resolved that the plan should not miscarry, a man who held only a subordinate position, but of whom Lenin had said: "Stalin is infmitely more dangerous than Trotsky, his double-faced methods can only be measured by the intensity of his political frenzy, and the greatness of his ambition, which is unlimited." It was Stalin who said, "It is understood that Nicholas Romanoff must on no accouIit be freed by the White Armies."
On June 23 Baroness Buxhoevenden, M. Gilliard, Doctor Derevenko and Mr. Gibbs were ordered to leave Ekaterinburg. They were taken back to Tioumen, and kept prisoners there in the train until, on July 20, they were liberated by Admiral Kolchak's armies. When Ekaterinburg fell, a few days later, and communication was re-established, they made their way back there. Ignorant of what had happened, but desperate with anxiety, they hurried to the Ipatieff mansion. They found the doors open and an empty deserted house, rooms in a state of indescribable confusion, the stoves full of half-burnt clothing, heaps of ashes and cinders on the floors, in which were charred bits of hairbrushes, toothbrushes, buttons, safety-pins and hooks and eyes. With growing horror they continued their search, until at last they came to the basement, and to that room with the small barred window, where the walls were riddled with the marks of bullets, where the plaster was peeling off, and in one place there was a large gaping hole.
At first it was impossible to ascertain what had happened, or how many people had perished in that basement room. It was only many months later that the lawyer Sokoloff instructed by Admiral Kolchak to make a searching requisition, was able to reconstruct the crime that had been committed on the night of July 16, the ghastly details of which need not be repeated. Bit by bit the evidences and depositions were pieced together, and at last, after endless search, the distant place in the forest was found where Yourovsky and his companions had burnt the bodies, having made their careful preparation for days beforehand, gradually carrying there three hundred litres of benzine and a hundred and seventy-five kilogrammes of sulphuric acid. "The world will never know. what we have done with them," Voikoff, one of the murderers, boasted; telegraphing to Moscow, Beloborodoff, the Commissar at Ekaterinburg, declared with specious sophistry, "Officially the family will perish during evacuation."
The tragedy of Ekaterinburg has been told before, so much has happened since, and people's memories are short. But because the Grand Duchess Olga Nicholaievna was not known by many, and was loved by all the few who carne in contact with her, I have outlined it again very briefly, in the hopes that those who read her story may perhaps remember with pity what was done to her. Not because she was the daughter of an Emperor, and the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, but because she was young and gay and gallant, and steadfast until the end.
Not quite twenty-two years had passed since Queen Victoria held "Dear Baby Olga, so big and beautiful", on her knees; but how far removed were those peaceful autumn days at Balmoral from that basement room in Ekaterinburg! What worlds apart for this young girl, who spent sixteen months of her short life as a prisoner, who, during the last weeks of her martyrdom had to sit at table with her drunken, brutal jailers, who was watched every hour of the day and night by men who gloated over her humiliation. This young girl was sacrificed to her father's indecision, to his vain attempt to save Russia from civil war, to her mother's mistaken policy, and to the besotted blindness of those who refused to recognize the danger which threatened her, and would not lift a finger to save her.