Grand Duchess Olga

15 November 2014

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Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, with Grand Duchess Olga Nicholaievna, Pasetti, 1896. Photo: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.

‘Tsarskoe Selo

A day I will remember for ever, during which I suffered a very very great deal. At about 2 o’ clock, dear Mama arrived from Gatchina; she, Ella and I were with Alix the whole time. At exactly 9 o’ clock a baby’s cry was heard and we all breathed a sigh of relief! With a prayer we named the daughter sent to us by God ‘Olga’! When all the anxiety was over, and the terrors had ceased, there was simply a blessed feeling at what had come to pass! Thank God, Alix came through the birth well, and felt quite alert in the evening. I ate late at night with Mama, and when I went to bed, I fell asleep at once!

– Diary of Nicholas II, 3rd November (OS), 15th November (NS) 1895.

Tsarskoe Selo

The birth of a daughter (Olga) to Nicky and Alix! A great joy, although it’s a pity it’s not a son! The birth pains began already last night.

At 10 o’ clock we went to Tsarskoe. Poor Nicky and Mama were quite weak with exhaustion. The baby was huge – weighing ten pounds – and had to be pulled out with forceps! A terrible thing to witness. But thank God everything ended well. I saw dear Alix, she looks well; little Olga lay next to her on the bed!’

– Diary of the Grand Duchess Xenia (Nicholas’ sister), 3rd November (OS), 15th November (NS) 1895.

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Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia, Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of Russia and Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna, Levitsky, 1896. Photo: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.

‘Tsarskoe Selo,

Although Alix slept very little at night, she felt well. Of course I was present for our daughter’s bath. She is a big baby weighing 10 pounds and measuring 55 centimetres. I can hardly believe that it’s really our child! God what happiness!!! At 12 o’ clock the whole family arrived for a service of thanksgiving. Lunched alone with Mama. Alix spent the whole day lying in the mauve room, for a change of air. She felt well, so did the little darling. There was a mountain of telegrams.’

– Diary of Nicholas II, 4th November (OS), 16th November (NS) 1895.

Tsarskoe Selo,

Alix started feeding herself. During dinner, the wet nurse’s son started to take her breast and we all took turns to go in and watch the spectacle! The wet nurses stood next to her, looking very satisfied!

Alix looks wonderful and is once more in good spirits. I saw Ott (Doctor) – he is delighted that everything has turned out well. The little one has the longest black hair!’

– Diary of the Grand Duchess Xenia (Nicholas’ sister), 5th November (OS), 17th November (NS) 1895.

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Queen Victoria with Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and Tsar Nicholas II and his family, Balmoral, Milne, September 1896. Photo: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.

Tsarskoe Selo,

Darling Grandmama,

I thank you deeply for your kind letter which your special messenger just brought – and for the kind things you say. Dearest Alicky, who is lying near me in bed, begs to thank you most tenderly for your letter and good wishes. Thank God everything went off happily and both she and the little child are progressing most satisfactorily. She finds such a pleasure in nursing our sweet baby herself. For my part I consider it the most natural things a mother can do and I think the example an excellent one!

We are both so pleased that you have accepted to be a Godmother of our first child, because I am sure it will prove a happiness to her after your constant signs of kindness and motherly affection towards us. The name of Olga we chose as it has already been several times in our family and is an ancient Russian name.

You don’t know, dearest Grandmama, the state of utter happiness that I am in. It seems so strange to be a father!

Baby is going to be christened so early, so as that the event can take place on our wedding-day and Mama’s birthday. Dear Mama remained with us the whole time since the event and was such a comfort during the hours of expectation. We shall certainly send you some of baby’s long hair; she is a wonderfully big child and promises to have large eyes. We both kiss you very tenderly and I remain ever your most loving and faithful grandson,

Nicky.’

– Letter from Nicholas II to Queen Victoria.

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Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of Russia and Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna, Levitsky, 1896. Photo: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.

Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna Romanov was born in Tsarskoe Selo in November 1895, the eldest daughter and first child of Nicholas II and his wife, Alix of Hesse, who had been married just under a year earlier. Adored by both her parents, Olga was a delightful baby who enchanted all who beheld her, quite making up for any disappointment that she was not the much longed for male heir. Her father was particularly besotted and recorded almost every detail of his daughter’s daily routine and activities in his diary, from her initial feeding problems to her bath times and even, very sadly, recorded the day that she moved out of their bedroom and into her own room in the nurseries under the care of her English nanny.

Nicholas’ diaries make for fascinating reading, especially the juxtaposition of such entries as ‘At 10.45 our daughter was taken in the golden carriage to the Great Palace‘ on the 14th November (the day of her christening) and ‘I myself washed our daughter in her bath‘ on the 18th December. Yet, his tremendous love and pride really shine through and are made evident by the constant and clearly very happy repetition of the words ‘our daughter’, just like any excited, pleased as punch first time father today, although to Nicholas’ credit, he doesn’t seem any less enthusiastic about his other daughters when they eventually came along. Olga seems to have had a special place in his heart though and she in her turn utterly idolised him, although relations with her mother would always be rather more strained as the Tsarina occasionally found her forthright manner difficult to deal with and, perhaps, put too much reliance on Olga’s ability to restrain and influence her younger siblings during her own extended periods of ill health.

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Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia, Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of Russia and Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna.

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Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna.

The adored baby Olga would grow up to be a serious minded, strong willed girl and, out of all the Tsar’s daughters, the one most keen on reading and her lessons. She even took a serious interest in current affairs, which led at least one observer to note that out of all the family, she was the one who seemed the most aware of the dangers of their situation, which no doubt contributed to the states of anxiety and depression that she fell into during the war and their captivity.

Within her sibling group, she was closest to Tatiana, her younger sister and they were known collectively as The Big Pair while the two younger girls, Maria and Anastasia were The Little Pair. Both pairs were dressed in the same clothes and shared a room, becoming extremely close. In fact, even their names were intentionally a pair – Olga and Tatiana were the names of two sisters in Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Although the lives of the grand duchesses were relatively and intentionally austere, as Nicholas II replicated his own wholesome upbringing of camp beds, cold baths and rigorous exercise, there were comforts too in the rose scented oils that the family used in their icon lamps, the pretty white muslin and lawn dresses the girls habitually wore and the warm baths they took at night, scented with their favourite Coty fragrances. We know that Tatiana’s favourite was Jasmin de Corse, while Olga favoured La Rose Jacqueminot, Maria liked Lilas and Anastasia loved Violette.

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Grand Duchess Olga and Grand Duchess Tatiana of Russia, Hahn, 1898. Photo: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014.

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Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana Nikolaevna.

However, serious minded though Olga was, she still took delight in her coming out ball in November 1911, where she wore pink and appeared with her hair up for the first time. The self imposed isolation of the royal family had already made its mark though – the young Grand Duchesses knew barely anyone at these court balls and even their father, the Tsar, was heard to remark that he recognised barely a soul there – a strange and potentially dangerous situation for any ruler to find himself in.

As Olga was not only the eldest daughter of the Tsar of Russia but also expected to inherit an enormous personal fortune of her own, it was only to be expected that she would have plenty suitors for her hand and indeed rumours were always rife about prospective matches with various European princelings including Edward, Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII, who was frankly not at all worthy of her anyway) and Prince Carol of Romania. However, Olga, who took great pride in her Russian heritage, was not at all keen on the prospect of a foreign match and was rather hoping that she might be permitted to marry a Russian, perhaps even one of the handsome young officers that she was smitten by on the royal yacht Standart or later in the army hospital where she worked. Sadly it was not to be.

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Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna (1895-1918).

Further reading:

A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra – Their Own Story

Four Sisters:The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses

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Set against the infamous Jack the Ripper murders of autumn 1888 and based on the author’s own family history, From Whitechapel is a dark and sumptuous tale of bittersweet love, friendship, loss and redemption and is available NOW from Amazon UK, Amazon US and Burning Eye.

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