Life in the Romanov Palace

Maria and Anastasia’s Bedroom

from The Alexander Palace Time Machine

Immediately after the departure of the Romanovs for Siberia in August 1917 the palace was closed for a short for inventory, and then a series of rooms, mostly Parade Halls, were opened to the public. At first the upstairs rooms of the Imperial children were turned into an ill-fated children’s home, but the lack of heating and the inappropriateness of having kids in a museum resulted in them moving elsewhere. This short-term use of the children’s rooms caused a great deal of damage. It took a considerable amount of work by museum curators and restorers to recreate the rooms. Furniture that had been either stolen by communist party officials or transferred to other uses had to be located and hopefully returned. Most of the personal effects, pictures and such, had, fortunately, been placed in storage and were preserved. These items could easily be placed back in their original places through the recollections of servants and checking photographs. The rooms were then open to the public into the 1930’s when they were ordered handed over to KGB officials as a kind of private weekend retreat for senior officals and the furnishings finally sold off.

The beds in this picture were used by the girls when they were small children. Their camp beds went with them to Tobolsk and Yekaterinburg and never returned to the palace.

Lady-in-Waiting Sophie Buxhoeveden, who knew the girls well, has given us a description of Maria and Anastasia from her unique perspective:

“Marie Nicolaevna was like Olga Nicolaevna in colouring and features, but all on a more vivid scale. She had the same charming smile, the same shape of face, but her eyes, “Marie’s saucers,” as they were called by her cousins, were magnificent, and of a deep dark blue. Her hair had golden lights in it, and when it was cut after her illness in 1917, it curled naturally over her head. Marie Nicolaevna, alone of the sisters, had a decided talent for drawing, and sketched quite -well, always with her left hand. “Mashka,” as her sisters called her, was ruled entirely by her youngest sister, Anastasia Nicolaevna, nicknamed by her mother “the imp.”Perhaps Anastasia Nicolaevna would have grown up the prettiest of the sisters. Her features were regular and finely cut. She had fair hair, fine eyes, with impish laughter in their depths, and dark eyebrows that nearly met. These combined to make the youngest Grand Duchess quite unlike any of her sisters. She had a type of her own and was more like her mother’s than her father’s family. She was rather short even at seventeen, and was, then decidedly fat, but it was the fatness of youth. She would have outgrown it, as had her sister Marie.

Anastasia Nicolaevna was the originator of all mischief, and was as witty and amusing as she was lazy at her lessons. She was quick and observant, with a keen sense of humour, and was the only one of the sisters who never knew the meaning of shyness. Even as a baby she had entertained grave old men, who were her neighbors at table, with her astonishing remarks.

Grand Duchess Anastasia knitting in her mother’s boudoir

Extracts from the Letters of Anastasia to her Father

These extracts have been chosen to provide an idea of daily life for the Tsar and his family and specifically to give a picture of life in the Alexander Palace.

May 8, 1913 “…I am in Tatiana’s room. Tatiana and Olga are here… I am sitting and digging in my nose with my left hand. Olga wanted to slap me but I ran away from her swinish hand…”

Oct. 25, 1914
“…It’s 9.10 a.m. now. We are waiting for Grigory (Rasputin) to come. Olga is sitting idly and digging in her nose. She is just a “swine”… I am in a great hurry to write as Grigory is coming soon… He has just come…”

Oct. 28, 1914
“…Ortino and Tatiana are running about the room now. Mother is going to receive Maklakov at 9 a.m. and Malama will come, too, which is very pleasant. I took this picture of myself looking at the mirror. It was very hard as my hands were trembling. …I had 7 classes today and tomorrow I am going to have 4 or 5… I am having a Russian class now and Pyotr Alexeyevich is reading Turguenev’s “The Hunter’s Notes” to us…”

Jan. 30, 1915
“…I taught Ortino to sit up and beg and today I’ve taught her to give her paw and now she can do it. She is so sweet…”

March 7, 1915
“…I’m so grateful to you that you allowed us to use your bath. We bathed there yesterday. It was such fun! I was the first to go. There was much water. I was able to swim around the bath and then jumped down from its sides. It was terrific! Then Maria and I played in the water for some time but, unfortunately,I had to get out soon. Ortino was running about all the time and barking. After that Olga and Tatyana bathes and also enjoyed themselves!.. . Mother has already got in her room the flowers which you like. You know those blue flowers which grow in front of Grandmother’s windows. They have just opened. Tomorrow is Sunday. It’s so good not to have lessons when you can lie about in bed longer than usual… All of us are kissing you including Ortino who is running about here like a mad dog… She is such a dear…”

Apr. 7, 1915
“…We have just finished dinner. Mother is lying and sisters are sitting nearby. Tatyana is out, of course, as usual. Shvybzik and Ortino are lying in Mother’s bed and sleeping. They are such darlings…”

Apr. 8, 1915
“…The sun is so warm today. In front of the house there are some white and yellow little flowers and some little daisies but they are few. We’ll have to go and break the ice today with Maria and Nagorny…”

Apr. 16, 1915
“…They bring different dishes to taste for Aleksey and we all and Pyotr Vasilievich come and gobble them. They are so delicious. Terrific!… It’s evening now. We’ve just finished dinner and are sitting with Mother. The dogs are running about the room and barking loudly…”

June 14, 1915
“…We’ve just had breakfast in the balcony. It was so pleasant. At the service the choir sang “Lord, have mercy upon us!” by Tchaikovsky and we were all thinking about you, Father dear. Yesterday evening we were at Anya’s (Vyrubova). Demenkov, Shvedov and Zborovsky were there, too. We were to rehearse the comic item of the programme. We were dying of laughter looking at the actors… Uncle Pavel will, of course, have tea with us. So dull… When we are at home we sit in the balcony all the time and have dinner there, too… Ortino has rushed into the room and is running about looking for you. When she failed to find you she jumped up on Mother’s lap… I am sitting now and grating carrots and radishes. Very tasty. At 11 a.m. I go to Aleksey’s room and gobble Aleksey’s food samples. Almost all teachers also take part in it. I miss dear Shvybzik (Anastasia’s dog). I still have the cigarettes you gave me and I smoke them sometimes with pleasure and thank you very much. The lilacs are finishing blossoming already…”

June 22, 1915
“…My and Maria’s bed is in the middle of the room. It’s better to sleep there. We open the window and it becomes very pleasant and comfortable… Sometimes we have classes in Mother’s balcony and once we had to go to the garden while they were leading the wire for the lamp there…”

Aug. 26, 1915
“…I am sitting on the sofa near Aleksey who is having dinner with M. Gilliard and Maria is running about making very much noise. After that we spent some time with Alexey. When we are free we usually do it…”

Sept. 4, 1915 “…In the afternoon we were in our hospital at the concert. There was De La Zari, then 3 people who sang, a young lady who danced, then a young lady who danced and sang. And there was also the little man whom we had seen at Anya’s in winter a long time before. He told such funny stories that everybody was dying of laughter.”

Sept. 13,1915
“…It’s so disgusting! There lives a mouse in Maria’s and my bedroom. I saw it in the morning and at night I heard it make a scratching noise… Now I am sitting in Mother’s big room and Anya is reading aloud to Mother…”

Sept. 20, 1915 “…Yesterday was Saturday so I had dinner with Mother and stayed with her up to 10 p.m. and we were making an album…”

Oct. 3, 1915
“…Tell Aleksey that I play the balalaika as well as the sisters…”

Oct. 8, 1915
“…It’s cold and foggy here, but cosy. They have already put the winter window-frames in all the windows but not here…”

Nov. 1, 1915
“…Sisters and I went to the Palace’s hospital to see the concert there. The Tolstoys and a lot of their acquaintances played the balalaikas. Not bad… Olga is having a rest now and Maria is playing the gramophone. I like it…”

Nov. 6, 1915 “…Nothing is changing here – classes and nothing else but the hospitals which we visit almost everyday. I was sitting in the W.C. and playing the gramo- phone there. It was much more enjoyable. Maria and I still sleep the way we did in summer and don’t want to remove our beds but Mother doesn’t like it, I don’t know why. I think, it’s quite O.K…”

Jan. 5, 1916
“…Nothing special is happening here. Mother is lying and we usually have breakfast and dinner nearby. But we have tea in the bedroom. We all have pistols now and we like to shoot very much. In the evenings after dinner we go to play in the Corner room where Olga, Maria, Alexey and I hide from each other and then shoot at each other in the darkness, but Alexey is sometimes scared and does not enter the room…”

Jan.11, 1916
“…I have recovered after the bronchitis already. In the mornings before breakfast I usually lie in bed and write or Sasha reads aloud to me. I have breakfast in the playing-room and after that I lie in bed there. Mother comes before tea-time and stays up to 6 p.m. Aleksey was in a very bellicose mood and did a lot of funny things…”

Feb. 15,1916
“…Yesterday the three of us, “the little ones” so to say, went to Anya’s hospital and there was a concert there. It was very nice there. A small 10-year old girl danced a Russian folk dance to concertina’s accompaniment. She looked so sweet. I felt a sort of pity for her. De La Zari was there as usual as well as Yu.Morfecy, Sasha Makarov and your friend Lersky. He told such a funny story about a drawing lesson that all tha soldiers cried of laughter. Then he told them a funny story about playing the piano in three different rooms on different floors and how it all sounded for someone who listened. It was also very funny and finally he told them about the Zoo… Olga and Tatiana were in their hospital at that time and also saw a concert there. The Ferzens, the Bezobrazovs, some young ladies and a lot of other people were playing the balalaikas there…”

March 5, 1916
“…Maria asked me to tell you that the Tower was very good and that (…) poured rotten water on it which they took from the small pond near the Tower. Sidor was very funny when he gave it orders where and how it was to function. Fyodorov did not forget his duty either and gave orders to everyone…”

March 11, 1916
“…Aleksey rarely comes to the Tower. We walked a lot there yesterday. They carried lumps of ice up the Tower. One lump was as big as Aleksey and very broad so they could hardly carry it up the ladder. They slipped and fell down. Fyodorov shouted loudly and gave commands standing on top but fortunately they didn’t break the lump…”

March 31, 1916
“…Maria and I are playing musical instruments together now. She is playing the piano and I am playing the balalaika. It sounds good but it’s better when we play with Olga…” Apr.4,1916, p.127. “…We don’t have classes this week but Alexey does have them because he is naughty when he has nothing to do…”

May 27, 1916
“…The weather is still nasty, it rains every day, but we still have breakfast and tea in the balcony…”

May 31, 1916
“…I am listening to your and Alexey’s letters eagerly at hors-d’oevres and breakfast. Sorry I am using a different colour of ink now but I am writing in Mother’s room…”

June 24, 1916
“…Maria and I have just been lying on the grass in front of the balcony… Yesterday the four of us made a fire and jumped over it. It was wonderful…”

July 3, 1916
“…Today they will show films to the wounded in the Manege. I am very happy as we all go and Mother, too… Maria and I rock in the hammock sometimes and she overturns me each time and I fall down right on my face…”

July 17, 1916
“…There’ll be christening of Loman’s grandson at 2 p.m. and Mother will be there as she is his Godmother and we four will accompany her to make a crowd…”

Aug. 12, 1916
“…It’s 9.30 a.m. now. We’ve just had tea and now I am writing to you. I’ll have a class soon and shall finish the letter there…”

Aug. 16, 1916
“…In the evenings Olga and Maria and I sometimes ride our bicycles about the rooms at full speed. Olga tries to catch me up or vice versa. We fall down some- times but are still alive. The lessons are over and I am going to have breakfast (she is using a German word for “breakfast” written in Russian) with Mother and sisters though I don’t know if they have come back.”

Oct. 31, 1916
“…Yesterday we were at the concert in the Grand Palace. They celebrated the second anniversary of their hospital. It was rather nice there. Your friend Lersky was there. Mother saw him for the first time and liked him… Olga’s cat is running about here now. I think she has grown up and looks rather nice…”

Nov. 9, 1916
“…I am writing to you between the classes as usual. Olga’s cat is running about here all the time but now she can be heard as she is wearing a little bell on her neck with a blue ribbon…”

Feb. 25, 1917
“…I am sitting in a semi-dark room now with Olga and Tatiana (they are ill with measles)… We have breakfast upstairs in our classroom. Only Mother, Maria and me. Very nice…”

The Alexander Palace Time Machine began in 1996. It was the creation of Bob Atchison, whose life has been dedicated to the Alexander Palace and its restoration. His passion for the palace began when he was a boy of eight in Seattle, Washington, when he first read about the palace and the fate of the last Tsar and his family. Since its creation, the site has grown to become the largest and most popular website for Romanov and Russian history, an archive of over 2,000 images of the palace, St. Petersburg area and Romanov family.

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