Monday, March 29, 2010

Something new about Rasputin

Sasha told me. I always thought Father Grigory was fairly harmless, that he is a very spiritual man and gives mother and father comfort about Alexei. But Sasha says he has influence. If he does not approve a minister, mother gets father to fire him. I can't believe this. But I believe Sasha, so I don't know what to think.

Worse than that, I overheard Count Witte talking to father about Rasputin. Father wanted to go and lead the armies himself in the war, but he has been persuaded against it. The people, Count Witte said, are suspicious of Mama, especially because of her ties to Father Grigory. He mentioned cartoons.

"Are you certain you want to see them?" Sasha asked me when we met in the gardens at the Alexander Palace.

"Of course, or I wouldn't ask."

Sometimes he makes me cross, assuming I can't take anything just because I am still young. But I really wanted to know.

"These are only two. Others are worse."

I stared at those cartoons for a long time. They made Father Grigory look like a demon, and Mama and Papa like puppets. Not just Mama and Papa, but ministers in the government.

"Is there any truth about these?" I asked.

Sasha shrugged. "It doesn't matter, really. What people believe is what matters."

I couldn't accept that. Surely only the truth was important! What did it matter what anyone believed?

Sasha wouldn't let me keep the cartoons. I wanted to show my sisters, but he thought it would be hard for me to explain how I got them. Instead, I'll just have to describe them, and we'll talk it all over, and decide together what to think.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


It has happened as Sasha said it would. We are now at war with Germany. Mama's brother, the grand duke of Hesse, is against us, but we side with England. Sasha tried to explain the reasons to me.

"Did Germany invade Russia or England?" I asked him.

"No, but they didn't have to."

"Why not?"

"Because first of all, Russia, England and France are allies, and Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy are allies." He waited. I knew he was trying to confuse me, to prove that I couldn't understand.

"So that means of one of either of the three does something to the other camp, the two allies must join in."

He looked a little surprised that I could comprehend that much, but he tried to hide it. But I've come to know his expressions. "True, but none of those countries' territory has been invaded."

Irritating! Why won't he just tell me? "So the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand—that is the cause?"

"Now why would a Serbian killing the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne cause Russia and Germany to declare war on each other?" I could see the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. The freckles nearby always twitched, so he couldn't fool me.

"Because," I said, knowing that now he would really be shocked at how much I knew, what I'd been able to pick up by listening in when nobody noticed me, "Serbia and Russia are allies."

He clapped, slowly, in a manner I found disrespectful in the extreme. "That doesn't explain England and France."

"You asked only about Russia!" I stamped my foot. "Why can't you just tell me what you know? This isn't like the day you showed me the poor camp. I can't very well go to the front, or sit at the councils where the generals decide what to do."

"No." He looked down at the grass and picked a wild daisy, which he handed to me. "Friends? I'm not trying to be mean. I just want you to understand."

I took the daisy. I didn't want to admit that the whole thing was still very obscure to me.

"Germany invaded Belgium. Belgium is neutral. We are pledged—as are France and England—to protect the neutrality of Belgium. Germany knew that this would provoke us and we would have to act."

"Now what did Belgium have to do with any of this in the first place?" My irritation was giving way to complete exasperation.

"It's the final piece of the puzzle. France mobilized to protect itself. England had to enter the war when Belgium's neutrality was compromised. Germany entered Belgium to attack France. So you see, it's like a game of dominoes. Only one piece need be unbalanced to make the whole structure of Europe fall to pieces." Sasha flicked his fingers at an imaginary domino castle.

I understood after that, but it all seemed so very far away and unreal. No battles had yet been fought, but everywhere the cry of war resounded.

"And what about you, Sasha?" I couldn't ask him directly if he would go and fight.

He smiled a closed-lipped half-smile. "I shall do as I am ordered, whatever that is."

I fought to resist the urge to throw my arms around his neck and beg him to leave the guards so he would be safe. But I couldn't have said it, or done such a thing. We said our goodbyes. I didn't see him again for several months.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My new friend

Yes, I can truly say that I have a friend, and no one but me (and he, of course) knows about him! I've been able to see Sasha only a few times during this Jubilee year. He is a funny sort sometimes. He teases me terribly, but not in a mean way. I tease him back just as much.

Still, sometimes he can make me cross, when he treats me too much like a child and thinks I don't know anything about life. I dared him to show me what he was talking about. He said the poor people were unhappy, that my Papa had not done enough to help them, and that everyone wants their own government, not just to be ruled by Papa. I can't believe it. How could they not want a tsar like Papa?

Sasha took me to see some very poor people and it upset me a great deal. I wish I could do something, but I don't know what more. We help with hospitals and churches, and we give money to the poor. He says the problem is bigger than that.

When I ask Tatiana, she tells me to go away and play, as if that's all I'm capable of doing. But I'm nearly 14 now—well, 13 and a half—and I can see things as well as the others. I can see that a war is coming and that Mama and Papa don't want to talk about it.

Sasha will, though. The next time I see him, I shall make sure he tells me everything he knows.

Sometimes it's very difficult being the youngest daughter.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Once the young man looked up I had to say something. Silly me! I asked him what he was doing there. Perhaps he thought I was a ghost, because of my white dress.

I found out his name is Sasha, and he's in the composites. He's young, so not really a fully-fledged guard. We talked for a while. What a feeling! Talking to someone my parents and brother and sisters didn't know. I felt wicked—and free. But what am I saying? I was in the safety of the Peterhof gardens. Hardly very dangerous!

We said goodbye after only a short time. He says he'll come back so I can talk to him again. Will he? Will I dare see him? I don't know. We're so busy. But we'll be in Peterhof for a few weeks, so perhaps I'll have the chance.

This is very exciting for me!
  x x    x x
x       x     x
 x            x
   x         x
     x      x
       x   x

Saturday, February 27, 2010

More about my mystery

I stood for a long time watching the young guard playing the balalaika. He didn't see me. I don't often have that opportunity for anyone outside my family, because wherever we go people are looking out for us, lining up to see us, or making sure we're all right and have everything we need. When we enter a room—even me—everyone looks up, stands, and curtsies or bows. It's a novel feeling to see someone else so close by and not have him turn all his attention to me.

I thought I might just steal away without letting him know I was there, but something about him made me want to get to know him. Why was he there? How did he dare enter the tsar's garden alone, and to play the balalaika at that! He was either very brave or very foolish. And his face—it is handsome, but young. On the edge of being a man, but there is sorrow in it too.

So, I slowly crept forward. I didn't want him to see me too soon. The closer I got, the more I liked the way he looked. I tried to be very quiet, but the toe of my shoe caught a stone. He looked up. His eyes were so blue! The moment was over. I was no longer seeing him without him seeing me. But it wasn't the end. I decided right then to make sure.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Something incredible has happened

I've been so busy with the Jubilee that I've hardly had a minute to think. I decided to run away for a little while and disappear in the garden at Peterhof—probably the only place I can do that, since the gardens are so big and full of little nooks and corners. It was just before lesson time, and I knew I wouldn't get away with it for long, but I was just tired of all the parties and visits to hospitals and schools. I know I should count myself lucky, but it just gets to be too much sometimes.

Anyway, I found a place alone: no gardeners, no guards that I could see (the Okhrana, our secret police, watch everything we do—very annoying!) and I just sat down by myself on the grass.

Then I heard a balalaika being played, very prettily, an old Russian song that I love. Some of the servants play, but none would dare to do it in the garden, so I thought perhaps it was someone just outside the gate.

I went to explore, but the wind kept tricking my ear and I'd think I'd found it and then the sound would come from somewhere else.

Finally, I turned a corner that led into the deepest, farthest part of the garden, and I saw the person playing the balalaika. He was young. And handsome! and a member of the guards.

I don't have time to write more, but I promise I will soon!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Olga has changed

I know I've talked about my sisters before, but it seems as if lately they are becoming almost strangers. As if wearing long skirts and putting their hair up has made them into different people. Mashka and I try to get them to play or get into mischief, but instead they sit by themselves, whispering.

I suppose it started with all this business about Prince Carol of Rumania. Mama really hoped that Olga would like him so that they could be married. Frankly, I thought he was very handsome and I couldn't understand why Olga treated him as if he was a fly on her sleeve. I suspected that she was in love with someone else, but afraid to tell Mama. What she said at the time was that she didn't want to marry a foreign prince, because she would have to leave Russia.

Now she looks far away sometimes, almost sad. I don't know what she has to be sad about. Perhaps she knows things we don't. Papa talks to her more than the rest of us. Sometimes she is even allowed to go and sit with him in his study. Papa spends a lot of time there. He has books, a billiard table, and places to sit. I've only been in it a few times. Alexei goes there.

But really, I think Olga can see the future sometimes, she looks so much as if she is elsewhere. When I ask her what she's thinking, she just smiles. Then I see her love for me and I just want to hold onto her forever, even if I don't understand her.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


If there's one cure for the strange tension I feel all around me now, it's activity and exercise. Even though the Jubilee activities involve many hours of sitting and greeting people, or walking in processions, we always find time to play.

Things we like to do: play tennis, swim, ride bicycles. Not much else really. But we have a lot of opportunities to play outside unless we're at the Winter Palace. When we're at Livadia, we swim every day. But our swimming costumes are heavy and annoying. Alexei is allowed to swim without a shirt on, which is much easier. This is when he was younger, with some cousins I don't even remember.

At Livadia we also play tennis. Papa loves tennis, and we always have a fierce competition. I like to win, and my sisters get mad at me because sometimes I cheat just so I'll make the point. It's all in fun though.

Bicycling is something we can do just about anywhere. There are always bicycles to ride at Peterhof, the Alexander Palace and in Livadia. We still have to wear skirts, but we have some that are split in the middle like big trousers that make it easier to ride. Again, Alexei's lucky he doesn't have to wear such cumbersome clothes, but his nurse is always with him so he won't fall on his bicycle. And that's not as much fun for him.

Here's Olga on a bicycle with me walking next to her. We're not allowed to ride really fast, like Papa does sometimes, especially when he's angry or wants to think. Sometimes I wish I could ride and ride my bicycle out across Russia, all by myself. But I'd miss my sisters and brother, mama and papa, so it's not so much a wish as a fantasy.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mashka's soldier

Mashka cried herself to sleep last night. Nothing I could say would comfort her. She is in love with a soldier. Even though she's only14, she is very passionate in her likes and loves. She once had a cat who died, and she cried for a whole week. Even when Mama got her a new kitten.

This soldier who has made her so unhappy is the one she made a shirt for, hand-sewn so carefully, with embroidered cuffs and embroidered initials on the collar. He is going away. He won't say where, he's not allowed.

I tried to cheer her up. Usually if I make jokes or funny faces she'll laugh, but not this time.

"I know it's because there will be a war," she said. Her face was pale, and her eyes red from weeping.

"Hush, Marie, my Mashka darling. I only overheard something and that isn't certain. Count Witte said Papa would favor peace."

"Then why," she asked, "are all the guards being transferred, and only the old ones coming here? They are training them, I'm certain. He will be killed! I'll never see him again!"

After that nothing I could say would soothe her. I listened to her sobbing until she finally fell asleep.

Then I was thinking about my own frinds, the soldiers I knew. Most of them not very well. They treat me like a little sister. All except for one, and I can't talk about him to anyone. If there is war, will he go too? Will he have to fight, even though he is so young? I hadn't thought about it until Mashka raised the possibility with what she said.

Now I can't sleep.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Threats of War

Something is happening. Papa and Mama seem tense, on edge. They think we don’t notice it, but we do. They hush each other when we walk into the room. They say things in front of us that don’t make sense in themselves, but obviously refer to some private conversation they were having before.
And Papa’s ministers have been coming to talk to him. Not just the ministers, but the generals. Count Witte is one of his chief advisors. He is a very old man, and extremely wise. He has known Papa since he was a child, and still calls Mama and Papa mes enfants. I overheard him talking in the hallway before he could go in to see Papa. He spoke with Count Benckendorff, another of Papa’s aides de camp.

“I think the tsar is inclined to favor peace.”

“But we are bound by treaty to guard Belgium’s neutrality,” Count Benckendorff answered.

There was a pause, then Count Witte said, “You know that Nikki cannot risk another debacle like the Japanese war.”

“True. Perhaps, nonetheless, he will see this as a way to set the record aright.”

War! With whom? I didn’t have anyone to ask. If it was such a big secret, I could hardly talk to Nastinka, or Isa, or Anya about it.

Before we went to bed, my sisters and I had a secret conference. I told them what I heard. Olga smoked a cigarette while she thought about it. She’s the only one who might be able to find anything out from Papa.

“I think it’s all just alarmist nonsense,” Tatiana said, but something told me that she knew more than she was saying.

Mashka looked pale. I’m sure she was thinking of her guard, the one she has such a crush on. If there is a war, the young men will go off to fight, and have a chance to be wounded or killed. Mashka has such a tender heart. She has already let her imagination lead her to the most dire possible consequences.

I’ll tell her a funny story before we go to sleep. That will take her mind off things.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The maids of honor

Wherever we are, lots and lots of people take care of us and work for us. It's a difficult job, being tsar and tsaritsa. But sometimes it feels as if we are never alone. I think that is partly why Mama and Papa take us everywhere with them. They want us to be just a family, but it's impossible. I see it, and it's partly why I try so hard to make everyone laugh.

The maids of honor, though, are our special friends. Even though they are employed by the court with salaries, and don't live in the palace but come to do their jobs when they are on duty, like anyone with a job, they are as much like family as our tutors and Alexei's nurses and doctors. I'd like to tell you a little about them. There were so many over the years and I don't remember them all, so I'll just concentrate on the ones we have now.

Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden 
We all call Sophie Isa, I'm not certain why, except that we're terribly fond of her and people we're fond of always get nicknames. She is a calm, capable person, and often the one to accompany the four of us when we have official duties to perform on our own. Opening a school, visiting a hospital, touring a factory. She's a very trustworthy person. Her father was Danish, hence her name. She is not married, although she is still young, so who knows? Perhaps one day soon. Olga and Tatiana sometimes tease her about officers she has danced with, or nobles she knew as a young girl. I'm glad she's not thinking of marrying soon because that means she's certain to stay with us.

Lili Dehn
Lili is married to one of our favorite officers on the Standart, Karl Dehn, whose family is from Sweden. Because he is often busy with his military duties, it suits her very well to be a maid of honor, and we're all glad about that. Mama considers her a dear friend, and she is always around to help when Mama does not feel well. We have very few pictures of Lili, but you can see how pretty she is in this one.

Countess Anastasia Hendrikova
I've saved her for last, our dearest Nastinka! It is Nastinka we talk to when we cannot talk to Mama, when Alexei is ill especially. She keeps us up to date with what is happening, what the doctors have said. If we need anything, all we have to do is tell Nastinka, and she will see that we get it. And Olga and Tatiana said that it was Nastinka who helped them when they began to get the curse, and they lacked the necessary supplies. We could tell her anything, and she would keep our secrets. Often she is the one to come upstairs and bid us good night when Mama and Papa are busy. This is Nastinka with Isa, Nastinka on the left, Isa on the right.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Standart

Every year we take a journey on Papa's yacht, the Standart, around the beautiful coast of Finland. My sisters and I share a cabin. It's like camping, I think, and it's fun to be all together like that. Alexei has his own cabin which Nagorny shares with him—Nagorny is a sailor who is Alexei's nurse. He carries him when necessary and protects him from harm. There's another nurse, Derevenko, who helps him, but Nagorny is the most devoted.

Here is Alyosha and Papa on the yacht:

Mama and Papa each have their own staterooms, and even my grandmama has her own room too. Sometimes she comes with us. But lately she and Papa haven't been getting along well. When they are alone I hear her voice raised, scolding Papa. She tells him he is not strong enough, that he is making the wrong decisions, and blames Mama for a lot of it. I don't understand what they're talking about, but I wish I did. I'll ask Tatiana, or Olga.

This is what the Standart looks like. Beautiful, isn't she?

Life on the Standart is fun. The sailors play with us and indulge us in everything—not just letting us rollerskate, but skating with us. I think it's like a holiday for them as well.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Some disorganized thoughts

I've been so confused lately. I love my sisters, and poor Alexei needs us, although he is not as bad as he sometimes can be, not writhing in pain, just uncomfortable and weak. Mama is exhausted from the traveling we've been doing. Dr. Botkin has ordered her to rest. Anya, Nastinka and Isa are—Mama's best friend and her two principal maids of honor—have been taking on more and more of Mama's duties for her, going to visit hospitals and distributing alms to the poor.

I have a vague feeling of disquiet. I'm not sure where it's coming from. Oh, no one in my family knows. I still play the impish rogue, getting them all to laugh whenever I can. Sometimes I even convince myself something is funny.

Perhaps my feeling will dissipate when we go to Livadia, or when we board the Standart for our annual cruise around the beautiful coastline of Finland. I should be happy. I have this wonderful secret that I can dream about before I go to sleep, and think of when I awake. But I cannot shake a feeling that storm clouds are gathering above us.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Contest starts today!

So, here's how it works: I'll ask a question about my family. You answer it by email to Susanne Dunlap. On March 2nd, the person with the most correct answers wins, and if there's a tie, it's resolved by a drawing. So, here it is, question #1:

What is the name of Alexei's dog?

Good luck! Remember, the prize is a signed copy of Anastasia's Secret.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


It's glorious. Even on a normal trip, where we just come to the city for functions or visits, Moscow is beautiful. Majestic. There's something so ancient about it. I wonder sometimes why the Tsars chose to make St. Petersburg the capital. Moscow is the Holy City, the center of our faith.

We left the cars a little away from the Kremlin so that we could enter through the great gate of Kiev on foot. A dozen chanting priests with censers and holy icons walked in front of us. Mama and Alexei rode in an open car, Alexei being still too unwell to walk. It was a clear, sunny day, and banners waved from every window, bells pealed out from every church in a city full of churches.

Russia is beautiful in May. Flowers grow everywhere, and people were throwing them at our feet as we walked through the city. Alexei had to be carried in the church service, and did not stay long at the gala dinner on the evening of May 25th. There were only 700 guests at that one. Here is the menu:

The first Romanov Tsar, Mikhail, is pictured in the center.

There were many things created to celebrate the tercentenary. Postage stamps. A special cross . Papa had them blessed when he could.

There were even samovars, and pictures, and toys that celebrated the Jubilee. But most beautiful of all was Faberge's Tercentenary egg. He made them every Easter for us, but this one was extraordinary. Such perfect pictures and detail.

On May 26th there was another dinner, this time for 2000 nobles. I shall never forget that time in Moscow. It was all the sweeter because I had my secret in my heart, to make it seem all the more glorious and extraordinary. I still think of that week, visiting monasteries and villages around Moscow, as one of the happiest times of my life, marred only by Alexei's ill health.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hints about my secret

I've never had a secret, not really. It's hard when you live so closely with your family. I can't hide anything from Mashka. We share a room after all! But even Olga and Tatiana can get things out of me if they try, and Alexei—if he's been ill, I'll tell him anything he wants to know just to make him better.

But this is different. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I'm getting tired of wearing either the same clothes as Mashka, or hand-me-downs from Olga and Tatiana. They're very pretty, of course. But every once in a while I want something that's just mine. Not something, as in an object. I don't care about those very much. I suppose that's because I have only to ask for something and I receive it, if not from Mama and Papa, from one of the maids of honor or other court officials.

We'll soon be taking our trip to Moscow for the biggest festivities of the Jubilee. I'll enjoy everything all the more with this secret in my heart. It's nothing bad, nothing wicked. Not even anything very exciting, in the cold light of day. But it's mine. And I cherish it.
You see, here we are, all dressed the same, and my dress looks as if it wasn't quite made for me!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Jubilee Spring

We stayed in St. Petersburg longer than we planned because poor Tatiana got typhoid! She drank some infected water. She had to have all her hair cut short. I think it looks nice and neat, but she cried. We went back to Tsarskoe Selo so she could recover, which was fine.

Here she is with short hair:

See how lovely she is?

In the spring, though we went on a journey throughout the empire. We took our boat down the Volga to visit the home of the first Romanov monarch, Michail Feodorovich. People were so excited to see us that they wade out in the water in their clothes, up to their waists, to get close to the boat! It was very gratifying.

But all the celebrations tired Mama, who had to stay in bed in our train through some of them so that she would be ready for the trip to Moscow.

It was this year, during the spring, that something extraordinary happened to me. But it's my secret, and I'm not going to talk about it just yet.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about Moscow, which was extraordinary. I'll never forget it as long as I live.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

More Jubilee

Or should that be, More Jubilation? Frankly, there hasn't been much of what I'd really call jubilation here in St. Petersburg. I'm looking forward to going to Moscow soon. I love Moscow. It really feels like Russia there. Much more traditional than St. Petersburg, which is a little snobbish and closed. At least, that's what Olga says. She goes out more than I do, since I'm not yet of age.

I love Moscow so much. I don't have very many pictures, but I can show you a movie of us opening a cathedral there last year.

We have lots of ceremonies like this, even more in the Jubilee year. There's a lot to tell, so I'll save some of it for tomorrow.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Jubilee

It's been 300 years of Romanov rule in Russia.We started celebrating right away in the New Year, after coming back from Spala in Poland. After a short while at Tsarskoe Selo, where we feel most at home, we had to go to St. Petersburg and stay at the Winter Palace. It's all right in the winter, but there isn't much of a garden to play in.

Everything started with a very long church service in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan. It's a beautiful church, and it was full to the brim. Everyone was standing shoulder to shoulder, and when it was time to kneel, you could see people having to apologize to each other as they bumped elbows and knees. I wasn't supposed to be paying attention, but it struck me as rather funny. Here is the famous icon of The Lady of Kazan:

In the middle of the service, I noticed Papa looking up at the ceiling and I didn't know why. Then Alexei looked, and I had to do the same. It was the most wonderful thing! Two white doves were floating over their heads, like a message from God. It was wonderful. Perhaps he was blessing our family for 300 years of rule.

After that, we had lots of receptions and parties at the Winter Palace. I especially enjoyed watching from above. Everyone came in traditional, national dress. Even Mama was wearing the kokoshnik, a traditional headdress. We wore simple white gowns with the order of Catherine the Great. Madame Zanotti gave us the diamond stars to pin on the red ribbons right before we went to greet the guests.

Greeting the guests was tedious, I have to say. We stood for hours. But there were so many people who came to pay their respects, I really don't mind. It seems very little to endure. I only felt sorry for Mama, who tires very easily. Alexei didn't stand with us. He was carried through the crowd, since he hadn't completely recovered from his last illness, and went back to his room completely exhausted. As for me, I could stand for hours, if only I was allowed to jump up and down every once in a while! Here's what the throne room looks like at the Winter Palace:

I'll tell you more about the jubilee tomorrow!

An adorable video

This was when I was about six and Alexei was three. We were playing on the Standart. I must say, we're a very attractive family!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What I want most

Probably you think I couldn't want anything in the world, being a grand duchess and living in splendid palaces and on yachts. But there are some things I wish for.

1. I wish Alexei could be cured. Recently he was sick again, and it was horrible. He curled up in a little ball, his hip swollen from the inside and so painful. He could hardly open his eyes the pain was so terrible. At times like that I don't even try to make him speak, let alone laugh. We all kneel and pray. Mama stays with him around the clock and has to be reminded to eat.

2. I wish I could have more friends. I love my sisters. Mashka and I are inseparable. But sometimes I really wonder what it's like out in the world, the real world, where the peasants live and where people are concerned about money. How do the children learn? Do they have tutors like ours?

3. I wish I could be kissed—a real kiss—before my sixteenth birthday. Then I would beat Olga.

4. I wish I didn't always have to wear hand-me-down clothes. They're lovely, certainly, but sometimes I think Mama and Papa dress us all the same because then they can think of us as one. But then, we are in our way. OTMA. I wouldn't want to give that up.

5. A puppy of my own. Tatiana has Ortino, Alexei has Joy. I'd love to have a puppy to love me best.

So now you probably think I am the most selfish girl ever. With all those wishes granted, life would be perfect. And nothing can be perfect, except for God. That is what Mama says. So I guess I'll just be content with the way things are.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Love and my sisters

You'd better believe that love is a frequent topic of conversation among four girls, who at this minute are ages 13, 14, 17 and 18. As I said before, there's talk of Olga marrying. But she doesn't want to marry a foreign prince because she doesn't want to leave Russia. But that doesn't mean she doesn't have her romances.

First of all, we're surrounded by the elite guards of the empire, the Composites, who are representatives of the principal regiments: The Semyonovsky, the Preobrezhansky, the Ismaelovsky, plus the Cossacks. Wherever we go, they go. And there are officers always more than willing to dance and listen to music.

Mashka already has a huge crush on a guard. She made him a shirt! If that doesn't speak of love, I don't know what does. And Tatiana—well, there are many, many young guards who are in love with her, but she stays aloof. I'm not sure what she's waiting for. Olga told us once that she had a real kiss, in the garden, with someone from the Preobrezhansky regiment. I remember him: he used to come often to the soirees that Anya would have for us, with musicians. I loved the balalaika orchestra.

As for me—because I'm still in short skirts, they don't really think of me that way. But I sometimes find myself dreaming of a pair of kind eyes staring into mine. And I love to dance as much as anyone! Here is a little film of us dancing on the Standart last June. You can see that I am just as good as my sisters, and I like to think I have even a little more spirit:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Baby pictures

Well, so not all baby, but me when I was younger. I guess I was a rascal—everyone says so. But really, it's Alyosha who gets away with things because he's a boy. I love him anyway, as you can see!

I had my share of babying by my sisters, though. Especially Mashka, who was so little when I was born that I think she thought I was a doll. Mama breast-fed all of us, which wasn't the thing to do—so Olga tells me. She sometimes knows things the rest of us don't.

Look at me here: pretty cute! My hair was very blonde when I was small, but it's darkened some now.

This wasn't very long ago, a few years, when we put on a little play in our lovely theater at the Alexander Palace. I always play the comic parts.

So, who could resist me? I'm afraid I'm at that awkward age now, not quite an adult, no longer a little girl. I can't wait until it's over, and I can wear long skirts like Olga and Tatiana. Sigh.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Doctors and other questions

With Alexei's illness and Mama's fragile health, doctors are a part of our everyday life. Dr. Botkin is our family doctor, and he cares mostly for Mama. The rest of us are in excellent health, except for the usual childhood illnesses, and when one of us gets them they go around all of us like a forest fire. Then we have nurses and Mama caring for us night and day.

Tatiana got typhoid a year or so ago and had to have her hair cut short, but she's fine now.

Alexei's doctor is Dr. Derevenko. He's practically a member of the family, he's here so often. He has a young son, Kolya, who Mama allows to play with Alexei, because he understands Alexei's illness and won't be too rough with him.

The only picture I have is of Dr. Botkin. I wish I had one of Kolya, he is a sweet boy.

Now I wonder what people really want to know about us? I could go on and on like this for days and days, telling stories and talking about my family. But what do you want to know? Please tell me!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Jewels and baubles

I've been told by a friend of mine—someone I'll tell you about later—that people think we run around dressed in jewels all day. Well, that's not at all true, and we wouldn't like it if we did! I have some official jewelry, but I almost never wear it. Madame Zanotti takes care of all the jewels for my mother and my sisters. When I turn 16 and come of age, I'll receive a pearl and diamond necklace, like Olga and Tatiana have already. And we wear pearls for our official portraits. Like this one:

When Mama attends state functions, she has to wear jewels that are very heavy. She says the crown gives her a headache. These are some of her crowns and jewels:

There is a portrait of Mama all dressed up that I like very much as well. She is beautiful. I only wish she were not so unhappy. She only smiles when Alexei is well and Papa is by her, or when Father Grigory comes to visit.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A contest!

It's my favorite thing. I like to play games, especially when I win. But this one would be unfair for me to enter because I already know all the answers.

It's simple: Starting February 1, there will be a daily question related to my family's life. If you answer correctly, you get a point. At the end (March 2nd), the person with the most points will win a signed copy of Anastasia's Secret.

All you have to do is give your answer in an email to:
Anastasia's Secret Contest 

After all, you don't want other people seeing your answers! I'll remind everyone when the contest starts, don't worry.

My father and fitness and ruling

Papa, the tsar, is a fitness buff. He walks. He runs. He rides his bicycle. He had his bathroom in the Alexander Palace designed so that his bathtub is really an indoor pool. Once in a great while we get to bathe in it. It's splendid! There are two servants whose only job is to look after it. There is a huge fireplace in it too, as well as a bar for doing chin-ups. Here's a picture:

Papa works very hard as well, and is always in meetings and consulting with his ministers, especially Count Witte. But we all know that deep down, he did not want to be tsar.

He acceeded to the throne seven years before I was born, when my uncle, his brother, Alexander III died of kidney failure. Uncle Alexander was young—not yet 50. Papa, I have heard some of the maids of honor say when they thought I wasn't listening, was not well prepared to be tsar.

Here he is the year he became tsar, which was the same year he was engaged to Mama and they married:

He and Mama are very in love still. He calls her Sunny, because she always smiled when they first met. Now, as I said, she doesn't smile very much, because of Alexei.

I love my papa. He is a very handsome man. See him here in his full formal dress:

He doesn't pay much attention to me though, except when I'm clowning around or doing amateur theatricals. He only listens to Mama or Olga. Olga is very like him in the way she looks. She can go and visit him in his study, and talks about politics and such.

Two years ago, Olga, Tatiana and Papa were at the opera in Kiev, and the prime minister, Piotr Stolypin, was there too. Suddenly an assassin shot Stolypin twice, right in front of my family. He was in the stalls, Papa, Olga and Tatiana were in a box. He was mortally wounded, but he stood and said, "I am happy to die for the tsar," and made the sign of the cross to my Papa. I was only 10, but I remember all that my sisters told me. Papa was distraught. He stayed at Stolypin's bedside. He died four days after being shot.

That was like Papa. He is very loyal to those who agree with him, but he can get very cross with people who don't. He doesn't get along with his mother—but that's too complicated to get into here. I'll save it for another time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My mother the tsaritsa

She is first of all my mother—our mother. Queen Victoria of England is her grandmother, and she was brought up there. You'd think she was comfortable in splendid palaces and at grand state occasions, but she's really very shy. She would much rather stay at home and goes to events only when she absolutely must.

I think she's very beautiful, but she almost never smiles. I think that's partly because of all the worry she has about Alexei. Here she is in court dress:

In official pictures she always looks as if she is being tortured a little, I think. I try to catch her at lighter moments with my Kodak camera, but it's very difficult. Here's another formal one, with Alexei when he was two. Her face looks softer, but she's still sad.

She loves her mauve boudoir at the Alexander Palace, and we often spend time with her there. You can see why in this picture, that shows me and Mama in front of the tall windows:

I wish I could make my mother not be sad. I do the best I can, but it's difficult. If Alexei were all cured, perhaps that would help. I'd like that too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

White Flower Day

I mentioned that we sell paper flowers when we're in Livadia to raise money. We go through the streets of Livadia with our tall posts stuck with the flowers we've made and collection boxes. Lots of other people do the same thing, but we sell our flowers fastest. I heard that some think it's good luck to have a flower made by one of the grand duchesses. Here we are getting ready to go:

Charity work is very important to us all, especially Mama. She often endows hospitals and homes for the poor with money from her own fortune. We visit them when we travel, and Mama and her best friend, Anna Vyrubova, sometimes make special trips to see these institutions. People cry when they see us and are very thankful. I know I should be more enthusiastic about visiting hospitals and such, but seeing people suffer makes me very sad. I don't like to be sad, I like to be gay and to have fun.

But soon I will be too old for pranks and such anymore, so I suppose I should get used to doing the things a grand duchess is supposed to do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

We love animals

All of us. Mama, Papa, Alexei and all my sisters. We've had so many pets. Once a man came from Siberia with a pet sable, who was so beautiful we wanted to keep him. But once the man went away, the sable ran wild and messed all over the place. We gave him back. Dogs and cats were our pets from then on.

Alexei has a beautiful spaniel, called Joy. Here she is:

She is very sweet. She doesn't mess indoors very much, and when she does we clean it up quickly. She loves Alexei. When Alexei is ill, she stays in his room and mopes. Even when we offer her treats she won't touch them until Alexei is better and can give them to her himself.

Tatiana has a French bulldog called Ortino. Ortino has a lot of character. We tease him, I'm afraid, but he is devoted to Tatiana. Here he is, with Tatiana:

Mama's dog is a little mean and rather nippy. He chases people's feet and bites them. I don't like him much, but Mama does. His name is Wolf. Here are some of us all together, with my little cousins. Mama is holding Wolf.

I love our pets. They are part of our family, just like the rest of us.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Love, love, love going to the Crimea for our vacation! Even before Papa had the new palace built for Mama it was our favorite place. It wasn't so much the building—which was dark and old—but the beautiful scenery, and the swimming in the sea. We had ladders that went down and spent hours and hours bathing there.

Olga had her sixteenth birthday at Livadia in November. It's still mild at that time of year, compared to St. Petersburg.

The new palace makes it even more wonderful to be there. It's made of granite that was quarried in the Crimea, and it's full of light and air. Great tall windows give us views of the sea, which is sometimes so blue it hurts to look at it. Mama is always happier there, because we're far away from most of our official duties.

But we do a lot of charity work anyway, selling paper flowers we make ourselves to raise money for local hospitals. And we have dances and invite the officers. Olga and Tatiana flirt a lot. I'm afraid Mashka is going to fall in love any minute, as you see in this picture:

I only hope it's not with one of them!

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I've often wondered what happens to other people when they travel. Wherever we go, we're in one of our homes.

The Winter Palace

In St. Petersburg, it's the Winter Palace. We don't like it there all that much, it's very big and formal. And dark. It doesn't feel much like home, so we only go there when we have a state occasion. It was built in the days of Peter the Great, who first made this part of Russia the capital instead of Moscow.

This is us at the Winter Palace at the opening of the Duma years ago. I was only 5:

Our Train

Mama and Papa always bring us everywhere. We have our own train. Zhilik tells us that the trains in Russia are a much wider gauge than the trains in Europe, so a train car can be almost like a room. Our train has bedrooms for all of us, a dining room, a parlor, a study for Papa and a boudoir for Mama, plus rooms for all the maids of honor and guards who accompany us.

Here's Alexei and Papa with the generals on our train:


Peterhof is a little outside of St. Petersburg, and we're often there in the summer. It has fabulous gardens and fountains. We love to play in them. I was born in Peterhof.

This is a picture of Olga and Tatiana in front of the palace:

That's probably enough pictures for the moment. I'll save Livadia for tomorrow. It's my favorite place to be. It's where we go for the summer holidays in the Crimea.