TATIANA ROMANOV: GRAND DUCHESS TATIANA NIKOLAEVNA OF RUSSIA
“The second bright happy day in our family: at 10.40 in the morning the Lord blessed us with a daughter – Tatiana. Poor Alix suffered all night without shutting her eyes for a moment, and at 8 o’clock went downstairs to Amama’s bedroom. Thank God this time it all went quickly and safely, and I did not feel nervously exhausted. Towards one o’clock the little one was bathed and Yanyshev read some prayers. Mama arrived with Ksenia; we had lunch together. At 4 o’clock there was a Te Deum. Tatiana weighs 8 ¾ pounds and is 54 centimeters long. Our eldest is very funny with her. Read and wrote telegrams…”
~ From the diary of Nicholas II, 29th May, 1897 ~
Tsar Nicholas II’s second daughter, Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna, was born to the growing Romanov family on May 29 (Old Style) 1897, in Peterhof – a town located on the Golf of Finland, just outside of St Petersburg. While her big sister Grand Duchess Olga resembled their father, baby Tatiana looked more similar to her mother, and the Tsar often remarked that she reminded him of his wife. Nicholas II loved his second daughter dearly; later her sisters used to joke that if it was necessary to appeal to him with any request: “Tatiana must ask Papa to allow us to do this.”
The little Tatiana Romanov was a calm, balanced child, with dark auburn hair and large wide-set grey eyes. Growing up, the Grand Duchess wore simple white muslin dresses and sailor suits decorated with intricate embroidery, usually made by her mother. She played with toys which once belonged to her older sister, to whom she was very close. Together the two girls made up the “Big Pair” – as they were affectionately known within the family, and among their relatives and friends. When they started writing in their diaries, the Romanov sisters referred to themselves simply as “we 2”.
Tatiana Romanov was very direct and practical, even as a little girl. One of Romanov family nannies, Margaretta Eagar recalled: “One day the children and I were walking in the garden of the Winter Palace. The Emperor has some really beautiful collie dogs, and these were taking exercise in the garden at the same time. One of them, a young untrained creature, jumped on Tatiana Nikolaevna’s back, and threw her down. The child was frightened and cried most bitterly. I lifted her up and said: ‘Poor Sheilka! She did not mean to hurt you; she only wanted to say ‘Good-morning’ to you.’ The child looked at me and said, ‘Was that all? I don’t think she is very polite; she could have said it to my face, not to my back.’”
Grand Duchess Tatiana was growing up to be straight forward, honest and pure of nature; she had a tendency towards establishing order in life and had a highly developed sense of duty. She was always in charge of the household routines, and because of her mother’s illness she usually was the one who took care of her frequently ill little brother Tsesarevich Alexei. Tatiana was also often the one who accompanied her father for walks when no aid-de-camp was available. She was intelligent, highly developed, and loved to be in command, and in particular enjoyed to embroider and iron clothes.
A close Romanov family friend, Anna Vyrubova remembered that when Empress Alexandra taught needlework to the children, Grand Duchess Tatiana did it much better than the others. She had very deft hands, made blouses for herself and for her sisters, embroidered, knitted and brushed her mother’s hair perfectly when the maids were not available. According to Count Peter Grabbe, Tatiana Romanov was “the family’s manager and organizer, and possessed more than her sisters, a highly developed sense of her position as the daughter of the Tsar.” Although Grand Duchess Tatiana was always aware of the duties that came with her high station, she was also at times embarrassed by it. One time, Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden addressed Tatiana as “Your Imperial Highness” and the Grand Duchess, so used to being called simply by her patronymic, kicked Sophie under the table with her foot and whispered “Are you crazy to speak to me like that?!”
Tatiana was often the one who stopped her siblings when she thought they were being too naughty, and reminded them of their mother’s will, which earned her the nickname “The Governess”. Willingness to work hard and be useful was part of her character. “Tatiana, as always, helps everyone, everywhere,” – wrote the Empress in 1918, in one of her letters from Tobolsk. At the same time, the young Grand Duchess Tatiana had a very kind heart. She was often seen surrounded by small children, who she loved to play with and treat with candy. Tatiana Romanov loved animals and her beloved little bulldog named Ortipo slept in the “big pair’s” bedroom – to the chagrin of Olga, who was frequently kept awake by the dog’s snoring.
Although the ‘big pair” were very close, according to Grabbe “Tatiana was very different from Olga in temperament and interests. She was more confident of herself and more reserved, with more perseverance and balance… As the Empress became more and more of an invalid, Tatiana, eighteen months younger than Olga, took over much of the responsibility for the younger children and the household. Had her life run its natural course, she would have graced many a ball, but with the advent of World War I, Tatiana would instead find herself laboring long hours with her mother and Olga in hospitals, caring for the wounded.” The Romanov family French tutor, Pierre Gilliard, observed that “Tatiana was as religious as Olga, but was more patient at long orthodox services; she also loved to read books of spiritual content. While Olga was sometimes a bit brisk in her conversation with strangers, Tatiana tended to be more shy at first.” Lili Dehn recalled that Grand Duchess Tatiana “was as charming as her older sister, but in her own particular way. She was often perceived as haughty, but I do not know anyone who was less prideful. Her shyness and reticence was often mistaken for arrogance, but as soon as you got to know her better and gain her trust, all her restraint disappeared and the genuine Tatiana emerged. She had a poetic nature and yearned for true friendship”.
While both of the Tsar’s eldest daughters were inclined to introspection, Grand Duchess Tatiana seemed to be more critical and demanding of herself. In one of the letters to her father, Tatiana wrote: “I just wanted to ask your forgiveness dear Papa, for all that I have done to you, my dear, for all the trouble I have caused. I pray that God makes me a better person…”
Like others who knew Tatiana Romanov, Gilliard remarked that she was “a mixture of sincerity, straightforwardness and perseverance, with the inclination to poetry and abstract ideas. She was closest to her mother and was probably the Empress’s favorite, [as well as] her father’s. Completely devoid of vanity, she was always ready to abandon her own plans if there was an opportunity to take a walk with her father, or do something for her mother, or anything else she was asked.” It was Tatiana who nursed her younger siblings, particularly little Alexei, arranged things at the palace and made sure that the official ceremonies were consistent with personal plans of the family. She had a practical mind inherited from her mother, and a detail oriented approach to everything.
Grand Duchess Tatiana always knew how to surround her often ailing mother with constant peaceful care, and to listen and understand her. She never allowed herself to show that she was not good spirits. In a 1916 letter to her husband, the Empress wrote, “… You cannot imagine how terribly I miss you – such utter loneliness – the children with all their love still have other ideas and rarely understand my way of looking at things… Only when I speak quietly with T[atiana] she grasps it. …”.
Gilliard specifically noted that “if the Tsarina made any difference between her children, Tatiana Nikolaevna was her favorite. It was not that her sisters loved their mother any less, but Tatiana knew how to surround her with unwavering attention…”
Claudia Bitner, the Romanov family governess, made a rather unexpected conclusion after getting to know Grand Duchess Tatiana better: “If the family lost Alexandra Feodorovna, their ‘rock’ would be Tatiana Nikolaevna. She was the most devoted to the Empress. The two were very close friends”.
Inevitably, a lot of attention was paid to the Grand Duchess’s looks. Count Grabbe remembered Tatiana as being “the prettiest of the grand duchesses…In her physical appearance and her serious and ardent nature, she most resembled her mother… Slender with auburn hair and clear gray eyes, she was strikingly good looking and enjoyed the attention her beauty commanded.” Lili Dehn described Grand Duchess Tatiana as “very tall, slender as a reed, [with] an elegant cameo profile, grey eyes and brown hair. She was fresh, clean and fragile, like a rose”.
Anna Vyrubova also portrayed the Grand Duchess as having “dark hair and [being] very pale, but unlike her mother, she never blushed”. Baroness Sophie Buxhoveden agreed that Tatiana “was the prettiest. She was taller than her mother, but so thin and so well built that her height was not a hindrance to [her attractiveness]. She had beautiful, regular features, and resembled some of the beauties among her royal relatives, whose family portraits decorated the [walls of the] palace. Dark haired, pale, with wide-set eyes – she had a poetic, faraway look that did not fit her personality.” According to Vyrubova, “when Tatiana grew up, she was the tallest and most graceful of all the Grand Duchesses, beautiful and romantic. Many officers fell in love with Tatiana, but there were no appropriate suitors for her.” In his memoirs Count Grabbe recalled that one of Tatiana’s favorite officers was Count A. Vorontsov-Dashkov. All the grand duchesses were “allowed to have a little preference for this or that handsome young officer with whom they danced, played tennis, walked and rode”, as long as they were properly chaperoned.
In 1911, Tatiana was very excited to receive her own regiment, the 8th Voznesensky Ulans whose uniform was navy and yellow. Henceforth she often signed her letters as “Ulan”. Unlike Olga, Tatiana Romanov never got another regiment.
In 1913, when the Romanov family moved from Tsarskoe Selo to the Winter Palace, Grand Duchess Tatiana fell ill with typhoid fever. During this severe illness, she was forced to have her beautiful long hair shaved off. Sometime later, Empress Alexandra wrote to her sister-in-law, Eleonore of Hesse: “Tatiana’s hair has grown nice and thick, which means she no longer needs to wear a wig; all four are very busy the whole time crocheting or embroidering, for which Tatiana and Marie have a particular talent…”
The 16-year-old Tatiana Romanov bore her illness with unfailing patience and composure characteristic of her, the trait that would emerge again some years later during the times of strife.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, Tatiana Romanov was just seventeen years old. Along with her elder sister and mother, Tatiana got certified as a military surgical nurse, the “Sister of Mercy”. Among the three imperial ladies, Tatiana was undoubtedly the most suited for the arduous work at the military infirmary. This challenging job fully revealed not only Tatiana’s kindness and mercy, but also her emotional stability, great organizational skills, and her special calling as the Sister of Mercy. Work at the infirmary seemed to come more easily and naturally to the attentive and calm Grand Duchess Tatiana than to her older sister, and people who worked along her side always admired her professionalism. Even Dr. Derevenko, a very strict and demanding man by nature, stated that he rarely met such a calm, intelligent and businesslike surgical nurse.
Vyrubova, who worked as a nurse along the side of the imperial Sisters of Mercy, also remembered that “all the doctors who saw the Grand Duchess Tatiana at her work [said] that she was born to be a nurse, that she gently and fearlessly touches the most serious wounds, that all of her dressings are done by a confident and skillful hand. Meanwhile, just the sight of some of these injuries could deprive [another] person of sleep and rest.” Vyrubova continued: “I have seen a lot of grief, having spent three years in a Bolshevik prison, but that was nothing compared to the horrors of a military hospital”. While Olga could hardly bear the sight of open wounds, Tatiana “even complained that due to her youth she was not allowed to work on the most serious cases.”
Sophia Ofrosimova, another nurse who worked at the royal infirmary, wrote in her memoirs: “To the right of me sits the Grand Duchess Tatiana. She’s a grand princess from head to toe, so aristocratic and regal. Her face is pale matte, only the cheeks are slightly rosy, as if pink satin is trying to escape from just under her thin skin. Her profile is flawlessly beautiful, as if cut from marble by a great artist. The widely set eyes provide uniqueness and originality to her face. . The nurse’s Red Cross kerchief is more flattering to her than to her sisters. She laughs more rarely than her sisters. Her face sometimes has a focused and stern expression. In those moments she looks like her mother. On the pale outlines of her face are the traces of deep thoughts and sometimes even sadness. Without any words I feel that she is special, different from her sisters, despite their common traits of kindness and friendliness. I feel hers – is a wholly secluded and unique world.” Ofrosimova continued: “If, as an artist, I wanted to paint a portrait of a Sister of Mercy as she would ideally appear, all I would have to do is paint a portrait of the Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna, I would not even have to paint it, but only to point to the photograph of her always hanging over my bed, and say, ‘That’s a nurse’.”
Shortly after the abdication of Tatiana’s father Tsar Nicholas II in March of 1917, the Russian revolution broke out in full force. The Romanov family was placed under house arrest, initially imprisoned at the comfortable and familiar Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, where they were still allowed to walk in the park and even work in their vegetable garden. In a few months however, the Provisional Government decided to transfer the imperial family to Siberia, allegedly for their own safety.
Despite the imprisonment, the Romanov family remained relatively comfortable for a while longer, living quietly at the Governor’s house in Tobolsk. They were content as long as they were allowed to remain together, take daily walks in the small yard, attend religious services, tend to their farm animals, saw wood for the stove, read, write letters, and put on plays; in general they did not particularly seem to mind their new simple life.
The Romanov family’s peaceful existence came to an abrupt end when the radical Bolshevik coup took power from the moderate Provisional Government in late 1917, which was considered the second Russian revolution. The prisoners’ circumstances changed drastically when in April of 1918 the close knit family was separated for the first time since their imprisonment.
The Romanov family was separated for the first time since their imprisonment – Nicholas, Alexandra and Maria were moved to the town of Ekaterinburg in the Urals, a region which was notoriously hostile to the Tsar. The three sisters remained in Tobolsk, Tatiana being left in charge of the ailing Alexei, until the boy was well enough to travel. About a month later, the family rejoiced at being reunited, in May of 1918. At this time they were not aware that they only had about two more months left to live.
On July 14th, 1918, local Ekaterinburg priests conducted a private religious service for the Romanov family, and later reported that the imperial prisoners – contrary to custom – got on their knees during the prayer for the dead.
As her final notebook entry, Tatiana Romanov copied down the words of a Russian Orthodox holy man, Ioann of Kronstadt, “Your grief is indescribable, the Savior’s grief in the Gardens of Gethsemane for the world’s sins is immeasurable, join your grief to his, in it you will find consolation.”
Along with her entire family, as well as several loyal servants, Tatiana was shot and bayonetted by the Bolshevik guards, on the night of July 16th to 17th, 1918, in the cellar of the “House of Special Purpose” in Ekaterinburg. Tatiana Romanov was only 21 years old at the time of her murder.