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  • History Friday: The Princess Who Went Her Own Way

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on October 23rd, 2020 (All posts by )

    (History Friday is back – this is part one, of two.)

    She wasn’t actually a princess, through it is the usual understanding that the sons and daughters of a ruling monarch are princes and princesses. But they did things differently in Russia; up until the Russian Revolution, the legitimate offspring of the Tsar were grand dukes or grand duchesses, born to the purple and far outranking mere princes and princesses, who seem to have been, in the Russian scheme of things, merely mid-ranked nobility.

    This grand duchess was named Olga; the youngest of five children of Tsar Alexander III and his wife, the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, originally Princess Dagmar, daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark. (Her older sister Alix was married to Albert, Prince of Wales.) Born in June, 1882, the infant Olga was not in the most robust of health. Her father as the Tsar of all Russians, and her mother being a veritable whirlwind when it came to duties social and administrative, Olga and her next-oldest brother Michael were raised day to day by governesses and tutors, as was customary for the upper classes. They had a comfortable, but rather Spartan lifestyle at Gatchina, the country palace of the Romanovs. She and her brother slept on plain cots, ate porridge for breakfast, bathed in cold water, rarely saw other children and had daily lessons – and private time for walks in the nearby woods with their formidable father. Olga excelled at painting and sketching – and in fact, for the remainder of her life, most always had a paintbrush in her hand, and as an adult earned a modest living from her watercolors. (a selection of her watercolors is here)

    From all reports, including Olga’s own words, the three were very close; Olga adored her father, who always had time for her and Michael, and she was his favorite child. (Her relationship with her mother was formal – civil, but rather distant.) Tsar Alexander died suddenly when she was twelve – and she was devastated with grief. Olga’s oldest brother became Tsar Nicholas II. It was suspected by many at the time that Nicholas was not ready to assume the crushing responsibilities of that high office and was temperamentally unsuited for it in any case. This suspicion proved tragically accurate, but it took more than twenty years to play out.

    At the age of 19, Olga married a distant cousin; a union which came as a surprise to all; Duke Peter Alexandrovich of Oldenburg was thirty-three, an inveterate gambler, a hypochondriac, and famously uninterested in romancing women. He may have been pushed into proposing by his ambitious family. Possibly Olga agreed to marriage in order to escape from the authority of her mother and avoid marriage to a noble or royal foreigner – which would mean leaving Russia. In any case, the marriage was never consummated. Following a honeymoon in the South of France and Italy, they moved into a palace in St. Petersburg, a stately home gifted to them by Nicholas II. Duke Peter and Duchess Olga maintained separate bedrooms at either end of the 200-room palace, although they maintained a courteous front in public and perhaps in private as well.

    At a military review in 1903, Olga’s brother Michael introduced her to an officer in the Blue Cuirassier regiment, a regiment of which the Grand Duke Michael was the honorary commander.  Captain Nicolai Kulikovsky was from a landowning Russian-Moldavian family with a tradition of military service (a grandfather had been a general in the Napoleonic wars). Some stories have it that Olga saw Captain Kulikovsky at a military review and importuned her brother to arrange it so that they were seated close to each other at a social function shortly thereafter. Soon after the meeting, she asked her husband for a divorce – a request which was refused. Duke Peter (who did have military duties of a cursory sort) did offer to reconsider the question of divorce after a period of seven years and generously made Captain Kulikovsky his aide-de-camp, which permitted him to move into their residence in St. Petersburg.

    For a relatively sheltered, but not unintelligent daughter of royalty in the late 19th and early 20th century, Olga Alexandrova had quietly managed to get things her way; not a hundred percent, but still – close enough to it. For the next ten years, she and her husband got along; Duke Peter had a two-year long military assignment to the royal complex at Tsarskoye Selo, where Nicholas II and his Tsarina Alexandra lived with their growing family. Olga was a doting aunt to her four nieces. There was talk among society regarding her closeness to Captain Kulikovsky, based on nothing much more than occasionally being seen out and about together, and even daringly holding hands. As far as sexual scandal in high circles went, that was small beer.

    And then – historical events intervened; a world war, which went badly for Russia, and then the Red revolution, which in the long run proved even more disastrous. When the war began, Captain, now Colonel Kulikovsky went to the southwestern front as was only expected – and Olga Alexandrovna followed … as a battlefront nurse in an understaffed Red Cross hospital, which was not … well, not entirely. It was expected for the women of the imperial family to take such an interest. The Tsarina Alexandra and her two oldest daughters also volunteered as nurses, although somewhat farther from the front.

    After living apart from her husband for two years, the matter of a divorce was settled for Olga Alexandrovna and Duke Peter. Tsar Nicholas annulled the marriage in 1916, allowing Olga to finally marry her gallant Kulikovsky – a private wedding at a church in Kiev late in 1916, a wedding attended only by her mother, her older sister’s husband, four officer friends of the groom and two nurses from Olga’s hospital. This was her chance at something like a normal, settled married life, to include children. Olga became pregnant almost at once – just as the outer world around the Romanovs collapsed. Her brother Nicholas abdicated. He and his family and reduced household were under house arrest, first at one of their palaces, and then – ominously – to close confinement in the industrial city of Yekaterinburg. Other members of the extended family were luckier.

    (To be continued)

     

    22 Responses to “History Friday: The Princess Who Went Her Own Way”

    1. MCS Says:

      I remember reading that the reason there are so many princes and princesses is because Russia came late to the notion of primogeniture. All the offspring of a prince were princes or princesses, ad infinitum. Estates were also divided, so, the tradition of impoverished princes was established as well. I think it was Peter the Great that mandated primogeniture and forbade the division of estates but the title was still passed down.

    2. David Foster Says:

      “I remember reading that the reason there are so many princes and princesses is because Russia came late to the notion of primogeniture. All the offspring of a prince were princes or princesses, ad infinitum. Estates were also divided, so, the tradition of impoverished princes was established as well.”

      Sort of like all the Vice Presidents at a bank.

    3. David Foster Says:

      Sgt Mom….the story sounds like it would make a great movie.

    4. MCS Says:

      “the story sounds like it would make a great movie.” I’m not familiar with that comic, what was her super power?

    5. Bill Brandt Says:

      I have been reading this excellent book on the first world war, and it is astounding the effect it had on us – to this day. I hope she escaped the communists.

    6. David Foster Says:

      What book, Bill?

    7. Bill Brandt Says:

      It’s the 11th Month, 11th Day, 11th Hour by Joseph Persico, David.

      https://www.amazon.com/Eleventh-Month-Day-Hour-Armistice/dp/0375760458/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=joseph+persico&qid=1603563551&sr=8-1

      It really goes into depth about the origins of WW1 and its commanders and tactics. And by the title, a good part of it goes into 5 hours between the signing of the Armistice and the hour of cease-fire.

      Surprisingly, some allied commanders still sent their men “over the top” into the disbelieving German’s fire – 6600 allied solders lost their lives in that senseless 5 hours. Including 1 at 10:58.

      Also interesting, he details the times of such people as Adolph Hitler, George Marshall, George Patton, Douglas MacArthur, Bill Donovan, Harry Truman and others…

      Well worth the read IMO.

    8. david foster Says:

      MCS…” I’m not familiar with that comic, what was her super power?”

      Love, perhaps?

      If that counts…

    9. MCS Says:

      We seem to have lost the ability to make movies about real people.

    10. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      “It’s the 11th Month, 11th Day, 11th Hour by Joseph Persico”

      It is always fascinating how different readers respond to the same book! I was particularly taken by this comment from one of the reviewers on Amazon at Bill B’s link:

      “I have read many books about the First World War, but this was definitely the worst one. I normally take books which I have read to a charity shop, but this one went in the bin. It is a badly structured and very uneven account, spending a lot of time repeating familiar information and gossip about the whole of the War, and not saying enough about the end of it.”

      Perhaps an individual’s expectations have a lot to do with whether he finds a book to be worthwhile?

    11. Bill Brandt Says:

      It is always fascinating how different readers respond to the same book! I was particularly taken by this comment from one of the reviewers on Amazon at Bill B’s link:

      “I have read many books about the First World War, but this was definitely the worst one. I normally take books which I have read to a charity shop, but this one went in the bin. It is a badly structured and very uneven account, spending a lot of time repeating familiar information and gossip about the whole of the War, and not saying enough about the end of it.”

      Perhaps an individual’s expectations have a lot to do with whether he finds a book to be worthwhile?

      It is always fascinating how different readers respond to the same book! I was particularly taken by this comment from one of the reviewers on Amazon at Bill B’s link:

      “I have read many books about the First World War, but this was definitely the worst one. I normally take books which I have read to a charity shop, but this one went in the bin. It is a badly structured and very uneven account, spending a lot of time repeating familiar information and gossip about the whole of the War, and not saying enough about the end of it.”

      Perhaps an individual’s expectations have a lot to do with whether he finds a book to be worthwhile?

      Of course you get opinions all over the spectrum. But it got 4.5 stars out of 5.

      While the author’s title is about the last day, he does go back and forth between the origins of WW1, some famous combatants, tactics…I am in the last 100 pages or so and he is concentrating on that last day.

      Did you know, for example, that had the chauffeur for the Archduke listened to the local police advisory he wouldn’t have taken that planned route but one the police had changed due to expected trouble on the original one? Or upon realizing his error, he stops in the street to make a U-Turn and that’s when the assassin (who had never previously fired a weapon) got him?

      Or the events that set the whole deck of cards to fall?

      The whole thing started from this…

      I would think if he talked only about the last day without giving any background…that would have been a bad book.

      Now a book that I gave up on was this:

      https://www.amazon.com/Dresden-Tuesday-February-13-1945/dp/0060006765/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=dresden+frederick+taylor&qid=1603596819&s=books&sr=1-1

      It also has 4.5 stars but when I started reading it the author droned on about the history of Dresden from the middle ages. Too many pages of a preamble having nothing to do with the title.

      Forget how many pages I finally went though before I put it aside. That is going into the trash. Won’t even donate it to the library and inflict that on someone else.

      Note to authors: Either keep the content true to the title or change the title…

    12. Phil Schockaert Says:

      Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna was the last child born to a reigning Russian monarchy and her passing was the end of the Romanov line. Not to spoil the next installment, I’ll simply say, the tale ends above a barber shop in the east end of Toronto.

    13. Helian Says:

      FWIW, I think “The Sleepwalkers” by Clark is the best book out there about the origins of the war. I doubt that historians will ever agree on the question of responsibility, but it was hardly as cut and dried as the victorious powers portrayed it at Versailles. For example, in late July 1914, before the shooting started, Lord Bertie, the British ambassador to France at the time, thought that if war started it would be Russia’s fault, not Germany’s. His diary entry for July 26 includes the following:

      “It seems incredible that the Russian Government should plunge Europe into war in order to make themselves the protectors of the Servians. Unless the Austrian Government had proofs of the complicity of Servian officials in the plot to murder the Archduke they could not have addressed to the Servian Government the stringent terms which the Austrian Note contained. (The Austrians did have very credible evidence to that effect, and it turned out to be true, ed.) Russia comes forward as the protectress of Servia; by what title except on the exploded pretension that she is, by right, the protectress of all Slavs? What rubbish! And she will expect, if she adhere to her present attitude, France and England to support her in arms. Public opinion in England would never sanction such a policy, but unfortunately we might be dragged into a war through reverses to French arms and the necessity to prevent the annihilation of France.”

      Of course, Bertie changed his tune after Britain was “dragged into the war,” supposedly in reaction to the violation of Belgian neutrality.

    14. MCS Says:

      Compared to WWII, the start of the Great War has always seemed hazy. My eventual conclusion was that, as far as Europe is concerned both were the same. Namely, German acquisition of territory to the east.

      It was German guarantees that encouraged Austria to issue an ultimatum that was essentially a capitulation on the part of Serbia. Then, when Serbia did the unthinkable and actually accepted the ultimatum, goaded Austria into attacking anyway.

      The action in the West was always just an unfortunate side effect of the main goal in the east. WWII went the way it was supposed to go the first time, with the quick elimination of France and the ejection of British forces from the continent. Hitler, like Napoleon, toyed with the idea of attacking across the Chanel before giving it up and turning his attention back to the East.

      In WWI, I think the Belgian provocation for the British entry was convenient rather than necessary. I don’t think they would have stood by while the balance of power was overturned against them. Given the technology of the time, it was never possible that the German army could have completely overrun France. Where they ended up was as far as their initial thrust was ever going to get, give or tale Paris. They simply couldn’t have fed their army much farther from their rail heads. The French may well have buckled with the loss of Paris but the Army wouldn’t have been beaten.

      The rest, to hazard the obvious, is history.

    15. miguel cervantes Says:

      soltzhenitsyn’s the red wheel series (I’ve only been able to read the first two volumes,) puts some degree of the downfall of the czars on the okrana, who opposed stolypins’s reform agenda, among other things, they were in contact with bogrev, the assasin, they also ran azev, the chief action man of the social revolutionaries, a thinly disguised azev plays a role in bely’s petersburg,

    16. Kirk Says:

      It’s an interesting point to consider just how little control over things that the “absolute monarch” types really had; Kaiser Wilhelm really had no idea what the hell his diplomats and intelligence types were up to, nor did he really have control over the military–After all, when he wanted to stop the mobilization westwards, what happened? He got shut down by the General Staff, and he went away obediently. Same with Tsar Nicholas; do you really think that he had any inkling at all what the hell his intelligence people were up to, in Serbia? Serbians will tell you, to this day, that they got played by the Russian intelligence operatives that instigated the Black Hand movement without consultation with the then-Serbian government. Truth of that? I suspect there’s more than a little; rogue intelligence agencies are not a new thing, at all.

      It is something worth thinking about, as we contemplate our own betrayals by the “professional intelligence” types, here in the US. Who was it, again, that got us into Iraq? It wasn’t Bush, per se, but the people who told him what was going on in Iraq. Had someone said “Yeah, Saddam is full of sh*t, he doesn’t have any WMD…”, then what would have happened?

      Although, TBH, the entire idea that there were no WMD in Iraq is specious, and a product of the media’s propaganda arm. Still, the intel types machinated behind the scenes to make that war happen, and here we are.

      I’m growing to like the idea of open-source intelligence; everything ought to be out in the open, no secrets whatsoever.

      Put a camera and a microphone on every politician 24/7, and let their constituents watch them in real time. Hell, I’d even go so far as to included an electroshock collar, one that would be actuated by a majority of their constituencies agreeing that the Congress-creature was misbehaving… For really egregious acts, and enough of a consensus, the collar could be made to explode.

      Imagine the scene, if you will: Congress in session, business as usual, voting to take away our rights and blow our tax dollars on the usual BS. Suddenly, a Congressman’s head is taken off by an exploding “Congressional Censure Collar”, and then a wave of similar events sweeps across the floor of Congress, necessitating a whole bunch of elections for replacement Representatives and Senators…

      Ah, a man can dream…

    17. OBloodyHell Says:

      }}} “the story sounds like it would make a great movie.” I’m not familiar with that comic, what was her super power?

      Painting.

      Yeah, as super powers go, it’s not a spectacular one.

      :-D

    18. OBloodyHell Says:

      Bill: I found this essay, by John Steele Gordon, to be particularly interesting.

      What We Lost In The Great War
      https://www.americanheritage.com/what-we-lost-great-war

      Seventy-five years ago [1992, when written] this spring a very different America waded into the seminal catastrophe of the twentieth century. World War I did more than kill millions of people; it destroyed the West’s faith in the very institutions that had made it the hope and envy of the world.

      I found this particularly interesting in terms of how it affected liberalism (my own extension of the above piece). Classical liberals viewed the West as the shining light of humanity, so proud — and arrogant — of their accomplishments, and what humanity had demonstrated it was capable of.

      Then they saw the horrors of WWI, and what all those wonders were also capable of… With that, they turned on Western Civ with the vengeance of a woman scorned. Classical Liberalism morphed into PostModern Liberalism, and has been a literal social cancer ever since, aimed unerringly and directly at the destruction of the West.

      ——-

      One fun part of American Heritage magazine, BTW, as a magazine of history is the meta-aspect of it. They’re writing history, but the history very clearly ties to the views and events of the times. Reading about Cold War history written in the mid-70s, vs. the mid-80s, vs, post-1990 can be interesting just in and of itself. Racial views also are informative.

      Another piece was interesting, as these have been all but forgotten.
      From Mutual Aid to Welfare State: How Fraternal Societies Fought Poverty and Taught Character
      https://www.heritage.org/political-process/report/mutual-aid-welfare-state-how-fraternal-societies-fought-poverty-and-taught

      Mutual aid was one of the cornerstones of social welfare in the United States until the early 20th century. The fraternal society was a leading example. The statistical record of fraternalism was impressive. A conservative estimate is that one-third of adult American males belonged to lodges in 1910. A fraternal analogue existed for virtually every major service of the modern welfare state including orphanages, hospitals, job exchanges, homes for the elderly, and scholarship programs.

    19. Anonymous Says:

      For general military history, I found this one to be quite good…

      The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny
      by Victor Davis Hanson
      https://www.amazon.com/Soul-Battle-Ancient-Liberators-Vanquished/dp/0385720599

      Examining in riveting detail the campaigns of three brilliant generals who led largely untrained forces to victory over tyrannical enemies, Hanson shows how the moral confidence with which these generals imbued their troops may have been as significant as any military strategy they utilized. Theban general Epaminondas marched an army of farmers two hundred miles to defeat their Spartan overlords and forever change the complexion of Ancient Greece. William Tecumseh Sherman led his motley army across the South, ravaging the landscape and demoralizing the citizens in the defense of right. And George S. Patton commanded the recently formed Third Army against the German forces in the West, nearly completing the task before his superiors called a halt.

    20. OBloodyHell Says:

      }}} Kirk Says:
      October 25th, 2020 at 3:23 pm
      It’s an interesting point to consider just how little control over things that the “absolute monarch” types really had;

      Similarly for Emperor Hirohito in WWII, though there appears to be debate.

    21. !053 Says:

      Regarding intense fighting on 11 Nov 1918, my grandfather was wounded by shrapnel that morning. He had escaped serious injury from direct fire until then. He said the artillery barrage was the most intense he had seen throughout the war – from both sides apparently.

      I’ve wondered if both sides were trying to get their licks in before the ceasefire. Or, as any veteran knows, any left other live ammunition would have to be carefully inventoried, packed, and shipped back to depot. Far preferable to shoot it all off before 11am.

    22. Stan Brown Says:

      Kirk,

      “the entire idea that there were no WMD in Iraq is specious, and a product of the media’s propaganda arm.”

      What I find most fascinating is the complete erasure of the Libyan part of the story. The US captures Saddam and Ghaddafi immediately reacts to save himself by revealing and giving up the nuke program that Saddam was funding in Libya. Since it doesn’t conform to the media propagandists’ narrative, it didn’t happen. It’s been erased like one of Stalin’s henchmen.

      Trump nailed it when he called the news media enemies of the people. Like with China and so many other things, he’s been proven correct and all the ankle biters who had the vapors proved to be idiots.