Nicholas II’s battle with typhoid in 1900

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II recovering from typhoid at Livadia, December 1900

During Tsarist times, typhoid, or “spotted fever”, affected every one from paupers to emperors—the often fatal illness did not discriminate. This intestinal infection caused by a specific type of Salmonella bacterium was a frequent guest in the imperial residences. And all because of poor sanitation. For example, the kitchen of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, only stopped taking water directly from the Neva River in 1868, while mineral filters and urns for boiling water were only installed in the palace in the 1920s! And we are talking here only of the water used by the Imperial Family: servants, valets, stokers and porters lived in, and bustled in and out of, the Winter Palace. The common folk and acquaintances that came to visit the Imperial Family in their tiny rooms had a very careless attitude to personal hygiene and as a result, the palace was teeming with lice, bedbugs, cockroaches and, of course, mice.

It is not surprising then that under these conditions that Empress Maria Alexandrovna, the spouse of Emperor Alexander II, their son Alexander Alexandrovich (future Alexander II) and the latter’s daughter Xenia Alexandrovna all caught typhoid fever.

During his stay in Livadia[1] in the autumn of 1900, Nicholas II became gravely ill with typhoid. Initially, doctors were afraid to diagnose the disease for a long time and then they argued about what medication to prescribe.

The Emperor fell ill with what proved to be a rather serious from of typhoid. The Empress had a great horror of the illness, but a crisis always found her self-possessed and resourceful. She nursed the Emperor herself, even doing the night nursing, and acted as his private secretary when he was able to attend to papers, transmitting his decisions to his Ministers. The Empress wrote to her sister, Princess Louis [aka Victoria of Battenberg], at the time:

“Nicky really was an angel of patience during his wearisome illness, never complaining, always ready to do all one bid him. His old valet and I nursed him. The shock of his illness and feeling myself necessary gave me new strength, as I had been very wretched before. I rebelled at a nurse being taken and we managed perfectly ourselves.”

Orchie [Alexandra’s old nurse] would wash his face and hands in the morning. She would bring the Empress her meals, where she would take them while resting on the sofa in her husband’s room. She suffered from head and heartache, the latter from nerves and many sleepless nights. When Nicholas began getting better, she read to him.

He first had a digestive upset on 22nd October 1900, and almost immediately the Emperor’s temperature rose to 39-40 degrees Celsius (102-104 degrees Fahrenheit). The high temperature and severe headache, coupled with food poisoning, continued until 12th November.

PHOTO: Alexandra Feodorovna standing behind her husband, who is seated in a wheelchair while recovering from typhoid. Nicholas II is seated in front of a table, wearing a dressing gown, and a rug placed over his legs. Livadia, Crimea. December 1900

The Emperor actually received no treatment. Despite being pregnant for the fourth time and in a lot of pain, Alexandra nursed him back to health, rarely leaving his side. While Alexandra Feodorovna was the one who looked after him, his sister Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, recorded her brother’s illness and recovery:

“Poor Nicky is lying in bed, he didn’t sleep at all at night because of terrible pains in his back. In the morning his temperature was 38.2 – during the day 38.7. His eyes are tired and pale! [Dr.] Girsh says that it’s influenza! Thank God there’s nothing in the lungs, or in general anywhere else. Poor Alix [Alexandra Feodorovna] – she looks very tired.” – Xenia’s diary, 27th October 1900

“Later on I drove to Livadia and looked in on Nicky for a minute. The back of his neck hurts terribly, and he doesn’t know where to turn his head. All the pain from his back and legs has gone upwards, and he is suffering terribly. Poor Alix has forgotten about her own sickness and is moving around more. Girsh is adamant, that it isn’t typhoid (we asked him). Girsh asked Nicky to call someone else, to put everyone’s mind at rest – it was decided to call for [Dr.] Tikhonov.” – Xenia’s diary, 29th October 1900

“We met Tikhonov, who told us that several symptoms of typhoid had developed, and that they were almost sure that it was typhoid! At Livadia we immediately questioned Girsh. It’s astounding that influenza should suddenly turn into typhoid!

“At Livadia we immediately questioned Girsh. It’s astounding that influenza should suddenly turn into typhoid! With Alix’s permission Professor Popov was sent for; we had lunch alone together downstairs; a little later [Count] Fredericks arrived, tearing his hair and saying he was in a terrible position, that everyone wanted news, while he was not allowed to tell anyone anything. He wanted us to persuade Alix to allow a bulletin to be published, which we were able to do. She agreed that there is nothing worse than trying to conceal things! We telegraphed poor Mama. Thank God Alix is so calm.” – Xenia’s diary, 31st October 1900

“Thank the Lord, Nicky had an excellent night – he slept until morning, his temperature was 38.7 and he felt well. Alix called me to see Nicky – he was in remarkably good spirits, and chatted and joked. Alix was also in a good mood, having slept well. They didn’t want to let me go, but in the end I left of my own accord, as he needs complete rest and had been talking to much.

“All the unnecessary furniture has been removed from the bedroom, and will be taken into Alix’s drawing room this afternoon. Alix is now sleeping in another bed, at least the doctors have achieved that much.” – Xenia’s diary, 1st November 1900

“They are not happy that Nicky’s temperature is so low 36°, but the pulse is good at 66. They are afraid of a haemorrhage, God preserve us! It’s so terrifying, help us God, save our Nicky!” – 13th November 1900

PHOTO: Nicholas II recovering from typhoid fever, with his sister Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna. Livadia, Crimea. December 1900.

Against this background, discussions about who should succeed Nicholas II, in the event that he should die. The Empress attempted to persuade her husband to change the Laws of Succession to allow females to inherit the throne in the absence of any male heirs in order for their four-year-old daughter Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna [2] to inherit the empire, as opposed to her uncle, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich. Ultimately, these changes did not take place.

After 13th November, the Tsar’s temperature started coming down and on 30th November, for the first time, Nicholas spent half an hour on his balcony. “It was sunny, warm and still… Thank God my typhoid was mild and I didn’t suffer at all during the whole time. I had a strong appetite and now my weight is increasing noticeably every day…”

Nicholas recovered six months later, in May-June 1901, however, little Olga came down with typhoid. Alexandra would nurse their eldest daughter through her illness.

On the 24th November 1900 Nicholas wrote to his mother:

“About my little wife I can only say that she was my guardian angel, looked after me better than any sister of mercy!”

NOTES:

[1] Up until 1911, Nicholas II and his family stayed in the Small Livadia Palace during their visits to Crimea, after which they lived in the iconic white stone palace, which was constructed on the site of the Large Livadia Palace. The Small Palace survived until the Great Patriotic War (1941-45).

[2] The Succession Prospects of Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna (1895-1918) by Carolyn Harris, published in Canadian Slavic Papers, Volume 54, 2012 – Issue 1-2

© Paul Gilbert. 6 February 2021

On this day in 1894: Nicholas II ascended the throne

PHOTO: Tsesarevich and Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich. 1894

On this day – 2nd November [O.S. 20th October] 1894, Tsesarevich and Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich ascended the throne as Russia’s last emperor and tsar.

Nicholas was only 26 years old when his father, Alexander III, died suddenly after a long and serious illness, at the age of 49.

It was on this historic day, that Nicholas Alexandrovich inherited the throne. Government officials, courtiers and troops of the Imperial Russian Army, among others, all took the oath of allegiance to their new emperor.

In the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross [adjacent to Livadia Palace], Nicholas pledged his oath of allegiance to Russia solemnly promising to protect the autocracy firmly and unswervingly, like his late father.

NOTE: The Church of the Exaltation of the Cross has survived to this day – PG

PHOTO: the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross [adjacent to Livadia Palace]

In the same year, 1894, Nicholas Alexandrovich married Princess Alice of Hesse-Darmstadt (Empress Alexandra Fedorovna) in St. Petersburg.

During the reign of Nicholas II, the Russian Empire reached an unprecedented level of economic development. However, this time was also marked by the growth of revolutionary sentiments.

His Imperial Majesty Sovereign Emperor Nicholas II reigned over the Russian Empire for more than 22 years. He abdicated on 15th March 1917 (O.S. 2nd March) 1917.

Some historians argue that the act of abdication was invalid for two reasons: one, because it was signed in pencil, violating all the necessary legal and procedural methods and format, and thus had no legal force; and two, because the instrument of abdication was never officially published by the Imperial Senate.

Regardless, as God’s Anointed, Nicholas II could not be displaced during his lifetime. Since the will of God was nowhere manifest, neither in the naming of his brother Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich to the throne, nor in the Tsar’s signing of the instrument of abdication, his status as Tsar remained inviolate and unassailable. He remained Emperor until the day of his death and martyrdom on 17th July 1918.

In 2018, a commemorative medal was issued, marking the 124th anniversary of Nicholas II’s ascension to the throne in 1894. The medal was the first of The Romanovs. Golden Collection to be minted by the Imperial Mint in Moscow.

© Paul Gilbert. 2 November 2021

Street in Crimea named in honour of Nicholas II

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A street leading to the Livadia Palace has been named in honour of Emperor Nicholas II. It is the first street in Russia named in honour of Russia’s last sovereign.

No. 1 Nicholas II Street is home to the Embassy of the Russian Empire, a multimedia project that features three exhibitions: Crimea in the fate of Russia; Nicholas II Living Pictures and The Holy Warriors of Russia.

Construction on Livadia Palace began on 21 January 1910, and after 17 months of construction, the palace was inaugurated on 11 September 1911. Emperor Nicholas II spent about 4 million gold rubles on the palace.

The Imperial family visited Livadia in the fall of 1911 and 1913 and in the spring of 1912 and 1914.

© Paul Gilbert. 5 January 2019

Watercolours of Livadia Palace and Gardens

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Monument to Nikolai Krasnov (1864-1939), unveiled on 9 December in Belgrade, Serbia

This month marks the 155th anniversary of the birth (5 December O.S. 23 November 1864) and the 80th anniversary of the death (8 December 1939) of the famous Russian-Serbian architect Nikolai Petrovich Krasnov.

In 1919, the architect emigrated with his family from the Crimea, lived in Malta for several years, before settling in Belgrade in 1922. For the next seventeen years, Krasnov served as an inspector of the Architectural Division. He left a significant mark in the architecture of present-day Serbia. To this day, the Serbian people deeply revere the memory of the Yalta architect, the architect most famous for Livadia Palace, the Crimea residence of Nicholas II and his family.

On 9th December 2019, celebrations were held in the Serbian capital, which included the opening of the Architect Krasnov exhibition and the unveiling of a monument to Nikolai Krasnov. As part of the Russian delegation, the Livadia Palace Museum took part in the celebrations.

The monument to Krasnov by the sculptor Neboisha Savovich Nes, was unveiled in the park of the Archive of Serbia. The sculptor captured the eminent architect sitting at his desk working on the design of the Archive building.

Krasnov died on 8 December 1939, he was buried in the Russian sector of the Belgrade New Cemetery. The architect’s grave is located near the monument of ‘Russian Glory’, the first monument in the world erected in honour of Emperor Nicholas II and soldiers of the Russian Imperial Army who died in the First World War. 

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Watercolours of Livadia Palace painted by the famous palace architect himself
Nikolai Petrovich Krasnov (1864-1939)

Livadia must have been beautiful when it was an Imperial residence before the First World War. Construction on a new white limestone palace began on 21 January 1910, and after 17 months of construction, the palace was inaugurated on 11 September 1911. Emperor Nicholas II spent about 4 million gold rubles on the palace. In November 1911 Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna celebrated her 16th birthday at Livadia.

The Imperial family visited Livadia in the fall of 1911 and 1913 and in the spring of 1912 and 1914.

Sadly, on 30th April 30 1918, German troops entered Livadia, who immediately began to plunder the palace. 

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Northern facade of the Livadia Palace
Watercolour by Nikolai Petrovich Krasnov (1864-1939)

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Northern facade of the Livadia Palace
Watercolour by Nikolai Petrovich Krasnov (1864-1939)

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Iron grille gate leading to the Italian courtyard of the Livadia Palace
Watercolour by Nikolai Petrovich Krasnov (1864-1939)

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Gallery of the Italian Courtyard in the Livadia Palace
Watercolour by Nikolai Petrovich Krasnov (1864-1939)

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Gallery of the Italian Courtyard in the Livadia Palace
Watercolour by Nikolai Petrovich Krasnov (1864-1939)

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Corner of the park of the Livadia estate
Watercolour by Nikolai Petrovich Krasnov (1864-1939)

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Corner of the park of the Livadia estate
Watercolour by Nikolai Petrovich Krasnov (1864-1939)

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Arch of blooming roses in the park of the Livadia estate
Watercolour by Nikolai Petrovich Krasnov (1864-1939)

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Laurel gazebo in the park of the Livadia estate
Watercolour by Nikolai Petrovich Krasnov (1864-1939)

© Paul Gilbert. 16 December 2019

‘The Holy Tsar in Crimea’ – vintage newsreels from Livadia, 1902-1914

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In 2018, a DVD entitled ‘Святой Царь в Крыму (Ливадия, 1902-1914)’ / Tr. ‘The Holy Tsar in Russia. Livadia, 1902-1914)’ was issued in Russia. The release of the DVD was timed to the 100th anniversary of the death of Emperor Nicholas II, on 17th July 1918.

The 36-minute DVD is a compilation of 24 newsreels, all filmed at Livadia, the Imperial estate and residence of the last Tsar and his family. All 24 newsreels are accompanied by pre-revolutionary marches and waltzes.

We see vintage newsreel footage of Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and their five children, set against the backdrop of the old wooden palaces in Livadia, and after 1911, set against the backdrop of Nikolai Krasnov’s elegant white Crimea granite palace Neo-Renaissance-style, which has survived to this day.

The vintage newsreels feature a variety of events at Livadia, including the celebration of the birthday of Empress Alexandra Fedorovna and Holy Easter, White Flower Day, parades and receptions. They are surrounded by officers, Court officials, and members of their extended family, including the Grand Dukes and Grand Duchesses, Count Frederiks, Anna Vyrubova, among many others.

The last time the family of Nicholas II visited in Livadia, was in the spring of 1914. They were due to return in the autumn, however, the outbreak of the First World War on 1st August put an end to this visit. 

‘The Holy Tsar in Russia. Livadia, 1902-1914)’ – Part I (duration 18 minutes

‘The Holy Tsar in Russia. Livadia, 1902-1914)’ – Part II (duration 18 minutes

© Paul Gilbert. 27 October 2019

Livadia Hosts Nicholas II Conference, 20-22 October 2019

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Earlier this week, Livadia Palace was the venue for the international conference ‘Crimea and the Fate of the Romanov Dynasty. The Beginning and End of the Reign of Emperor Nicholas II.’

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Grand Duke George Mikhailovich seated under a portrait of Emperor Nicholas II

The conference was attended by leading Russian historians, publicists, archivists and writers. Several descendants of the Romanov dynasty were also present, including Grand Duke George Mikhailovich.

The objective of the conference was to discuss the truth about the Tsar’s family and the and the achievements that Russia made during the reign of Nicholas II.

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Grand Duke George Mikhailovich in the Working Study of Nicholas II

The international conference was timed to the 125th anniversary of the accession to Orthodoxy of Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt – the future Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and the 100th anniversary of the escape of members of the Russian Imperial House from Crimea.

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Grand Duke George Mikhailovich seated at the desk of Nicholas II in the Tsar’s Working Study

In addition, this year marks 125 years since the death of Emperor Alexander III in Livadia. Crimea played a crucial role in the fate of the Romanovs, who played an important role in the development of the peninsula.

© Paul Gilbert. 24 October 2019

Unique Photo of the Old Wooden Grand Palace, Livadia

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Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, Grand Palace, Livadia. Autumn 1909

This vintage photo depicts Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna at Livadia in the early 20th century. It is set against the old wooden Grand Palace, built in 1861 for Emperor Alexander II and his family, by the architect Ippolit Antonovich Monighetti (1819-1878).

The Church of the Exaltation of the Cross (also by Monighetti) and bell tower can be seen to the right. A gallery connected the church to the palace. The church was small, because it was designed only for the imperial family, and was used by three respective emperors: Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicholas II.

It is known that the Imperial family arrived in Livadia with their children on 5th September 1909. It was during this visit, starting from 27th October, that Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna met with the architect Nikolai Petrovich Krasnov (1864-1939) on numerous occasions, to discuss in detail the design of their new white palace, and the decoration of its halls and other rooms. The August couple approved the design on 12th December, just 4 days before leaving Livadia for St. Petersburg.

The old wooden Grand Palace was demolished in 1910, to make way for a new Italian Neo-Renaissance style stone palace, which would serve as the residence of Nicholas II and his family during their visits to Crimea. The Imperial family visited their new white palace in the fall of 1911 and 1913 and in the spring of 1912 and 1914.

© Paul Gilbert. 20 October 2019