Tsarskoye Selo publishes rare Romanov Family Archive

NOTE: the source of the this article is from the web site of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum, it has been edited and updated with additional information by Paul Gilbert. ALL the photographs are © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum.

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum has composed and published a new research catalogue based on an archive of materials of Romanov family members. This priceless archive was purchased for over ₽ 5,300,000 [$65,000 USD] from a private collector in London in 2017, thanks to financial support from Sberbank, also the sponsor of the catalogue’s publication.

The new Russian language catalogue includes private correspondence, drawings and photographs of members of the Imperial Family. The catalogue is authored by researchers Irina Raspopova and Victoria Plaude of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum.

The presentation of the catalogue was held on 7th April 2023 [see poster above] by the Director of the Tsarskoye Selo Olga Taratynova and the Chairman of Sberbank’s North-Western Office Viktor Ventimilla Alonso. The museum’s deputy director for research and education Dr Iraida Bott, delivered a talk on the Alexander Palace after the Romanovs. 

The archive includes more than 200 previously unpublished private correspondence, drawings and photographs spans over half a century, of the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century, from 1866 to 1922.

The catalogue contains full texts with detailed comments to all the letters, telegrams and notes, as well as detailed descriptions of the photographs. An annotated name index includes 215 names mentioned in the texts. 

Most of the documents relate to Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna (1875-1960), Emperor Alexander III’s daughter and Emperor Nicholas II’s sister, and to Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich (1878-1918), Nicholas II’s brother, as well as to George Vladimirovitch Shervashidze (1894-1978), titular Prince of Abkhazia, who was close to members of the Imperial Family.

Xenia’s letters to her brother Michael, whom she always affectionately addresses as “my darling Misha”, date from the early 1880s to 1914. She wrote them on her monogrammed paper and on the headed paper of the palaces and hotels where she stayed. Her letters include those penned by her children, decorated with vignettes and drawings.

In a letter dated 23rd November 1916. Michael writes to Xenia from Ai-Todor in the Crimea. All their family quarrels settled by then, he ends the letter saying, “Natalya Sergeevna [known as Countess Natalya Brasova, from May 1911] thanks you very much and also sends her greetings, and I hug you tightly. Loving you heartily, Your Misha.”

Of particularly great  interest are three letters of 1917-18 and a postcard dated 25th February 1918 to George Shervashidze from Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich, a first cousin of Alexander III and an eminent historian. The author describes in detail the situation in Petrograd during the days of the October Revolution and mentions Trotsky, Kerensky, Lunacharsky and Lenin. The envelopes have no postage stamps because the grand duke’s  letters were delivered by trusted individuals. His postcard of 25th February 1918 ends with somewhat prophetic words: “Little by little, all our acquaintances move to where there is no sadness or joy.”

Of great value to the Museum is Nicholas II’s autograph in his laconic note of 1899 to his sister, Grand Duchess Xenia. Also valuable are Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna’s short English messages to her sister-in-law, funnily addressed “Darling Chicken” and signed “Your old Hen”.

Taken away from Russia by Romanov family members, the archive was partially kept by Xenia and later inherited by her descendants.

Besides the Romanovs’ correspondence, Sberbank helped the Museum purchase twenty-three photographs taken by General Alexander Nasvetevich (1837-1911), an aide-de-camp to Emperor Alexander II. The shots include the photographer’s self-portrait, Alexander III and his son Nicholas at a parade in Krasnoe Selo, Empress Maria Feodorovna at Gatchina, and other important events at the imperial court.

The materials in the catalogue will be of interest to historians, archive specialists, museum workers, and anyone interested in the history of the Romanov dynasty and their last representatives in particular. The catalogue is currently only available at the Tsarskoye Selo Museum Shop in the Catherine Palace and at Dom Knigi in St Petersburg.

© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum. 21 April 2023