A Russian lady-in-waiting’s memoirs of the court and revolution
After the Russian Revolution and the fall and murder of the ruling Romanov family in 1918, many books were written by those close to the personalities of the time describing the final days of the imperial Russian court. These books were eagerly read when first published and interest in this subject has endured to the present day. This book, originally published under the less than informative title ‘Memories of the Russian Court’ may have escaped the notice of many readers interested in the period. It was written by a lady-in-waiting at the court, who held the distinction of being an intimate of the Tsarina Alexandria Fyodorovna. So close was their relationship that they became confirmed ‘best’ friends. It is widely accepted that no one knew the Tsarina better than Anna Viroubova and the Tsarina shared her fascination with and admiration for the controversial monk, Rasputin. Viroubova was an acolyte who loyally and dangerously championed Rasputin’s cause as his influence declined. During the Great War, Anna Viroubova trained to become a Red Cross nurse, created her own hospital and worked closely with the Tsarina in the care of the wounded. With the onset of the revolution Viroubova was arrested, imprisoned, interrogated and narrowly avoided execution. A chance meeting with friends gave her the opportunity to escape and she suffered many hardships while fleeing from the Bolsheviks before she arrived in Finland, where she lived until her death. This book vividly describes the author’s life during this period.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket; our hardbacks are cloth bound and feature gold foil lettering on their spines and fabric head and tail bands.
After that first day in the palace gardens he gave his jailers no opportunity of insulting him. With Prince Dolgorouky he walked out daily but only along near pathways to the palace doors. The snow was heavy on the ground and the two men vigorously exercised themselves shovelling it from paths and roadways. Often the emperor would look up from this strenuous work to wave a hand to those of us who were watching from the windows. In the solitude of my sick chamber I tormented myself with thoughts of what might be in store for the emperor and the beloved family whose happiness and well-being were more to him than the most exalted throne.
They were all prisoners of the Duma now, and what dark and hapless fate was the ruthless, irresponsible Duma preparing for them? Not a comforting question to haunt the mind of one ill in body and soul. From my first waking moment on I lived in anticipation of the daily visit of the empress. She who had all at stake still kept her wonderful courage alive. She came in tall and stately, a smile on her gentle, melancholy face, bringing me the news of the nurseries, messages from the children, making me work, doing everything possible to cheer and to lighten my mind. In the evening the emperor usually came, wheeling his wife in her invalid’s chair, for by night her strength had all but gone. They stayed with me for an hour and then went on to say goodnight to the suite in the drawing room. Sadly, diminished in numbers was that suite, but unchanged in fealty and affection for fallen majesty.
Among those devoted friends who appeared almost like the survivors of a shipwreck were Count Benkendorff, brother of the former Russian ambassador to Great Britain, and his wife, who had boldly arrived at the palace when it was first surrounded by mutinous soldiers; two maids of honour. Baroness Buxhoevden and Countess Hendrikoff; the faithful Miss Schneider (“Trina”), Mme. Dehn, Count Fredericks, General Voyeikoff and the Hussar officer. General Groten. The two devoted aides-de-camp. Lieutenant Linevitch and Count Zamirsky, who had flown to the palace to be near the empress after the abdication, had been forced to leave, or they too would have remained to the end. Of the household M. Gilliard and Mr. Gibbs, the French and English tutors of Alexei, had elected to remain. Madeleine, and several other personal attendants, including three nurses, also stayed. These honest souls said:
“In good times we served the family, never will we forsake them now.”
Not once, after the very first of our conversations, and not at any time I believe to others in the palace did the emperor or the empress make the smallest complaint of their captivity. They seemed to suffer for Russia rather than for themselves, for they knew, and said so, that the army, suddenly in the midst of war released from all discipline, would soon cease to fight efficiently, or perhaps to obey orders at all. This of course the world knows is precisely what did happen. The emperor, I must admit, sometimes betrayed a gruesome kind of humour over the fantastic blunders of the self-styled statesmen who were so rapidly making general shipwreck of their revolution.
In every way they showed their weakness and bewilderment. Whether or not they feared to trust old officers of the Empire with the custody of the Imperial Family I cannot be sure, but the men they sent to Tsarskoe were a constant source of ironic mirth to the suite. Most of these men were young, raw, underbred, and inexperienced, the best of them being junior officers promoted since 1914. One day one of the guard officers, just to show how democratic Russia had become, swaggered up to the emperor and offered to shake hands with him. Unfortunately, as he afterwards told me, the emperor was so busy shovelling snow that he could not take advantage of the man’s condescension.
The newly appointed commandant of the palace was a young man named Paul Kotzebou, before the war an officer of the lancers, but for some piece of misconduct cashiered from the service. I had long known Kotzebou and aside from his doubtful army record I was not sorry to see him in the palace, for I knew that if weak of character he was at least kind of heart. Kind indeed he proved himself, for he visited my sickroom in friendly fashion, risked arrest by consenting to smuggle letters to my parents in Petrograd, and was the first to warn me that the Provisional Government was contemplating my arrest.
Many of the old friends and advisers of the emperor were already in prison, but the proposal to arrest a woman whose sole crime had been devotion to the empress and her children gave us all an uncomfortable, premonitory shock. The distress of the empress was greater almost than her pride. The mercy she would have scorned to ask for herself she was ready to beg for me, and she did most earnestly implore Kotzebou to intercede in my behalf.