Eighteen months after the birth of Olga, the Imperial Household was en route to welcoming another addition to the family. By May, all of Russia was bustling with excitement as Alix prepared to give birth to her second child. This pregnancy had been more difficult than the first one, and the young Empress was kept to her bed for seven weeks. The birth pangs began at night, and yet an entire commission of family members and doctors rapidly collected itself at her bedside. Holding its breath, Russia waited.
On May 29, 1897, a second little girl made her way into the Tsar’s family. Though she was not quite the heir the Court had hoped she would be, the parents and relatives were overjoyed. They were young and had years of youth before them, so there would be plenty of time for an heir. Meanwhile, they had the miracle of parenthood to relish. Once again, Tsar Nicholas’s diary radiates with joy:
“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 Mama’s bedroom. Thank God this time it all went quickly and safely… Towards one o’clock the little one was bathed and Yanyshev read some prayers. Tatiana weighs 8¾ pounds and is 54cm long. Our eldest is very funny with her.”
She was a startlingly pretty baby, with wide, serious gray eyes and a somehow rapt expression on her brow, as though the world fascinated her immensely and she wished to contemplate it carefully from start to finish. Her name delighted the Russian people, for it was not usually considered aristocratic. Rather, it came from the working class, and to give it to a Grand Duchess was a beautiful and considerate gesture indeed on the part of the young Tsar and Tsarina.
From the very start of their relationship, Olga and Tatiana were inseparable. There was barely a year and a half between them, and that in itself was a strong bond. They did everything together, sharing all their toys and a bedroom. They exchanged nicknames, too — Olga was “Olya” or “Olenka” and Tatiana was “Tanya” or “Tatya.” From babies to toddlers to children, they were beautiful, bright little girls, tenderly devoted to one another.
One spring when both were very young, Olga fell ill with typhoid fever, hastening the family’s move to their summer palace at Peterhoff, where doctors felt the little girl could benefit from sea air. When they arrived, she was put right to bed, and stayed there for the next five weeks, isolated so as not to spread the contagious disease.
All along, the sisters longed to see each other. At last, the family doctor conceded and permitted a brief meeting of five minutes. As the nanny fetched Tatiana from the nursery and led her into the sickroom, Tatianaa knelt by the bed and spoke softly to the pale little child on it. Soon the five minutes were over and Miss Eagar led her small charge back out. As soon as the door closed behind them, Tatiana looked up at her nanny:
“You told me you were bringing me to see Olga and I have not seen her.”
Miss Eagar then explained that the girl they had seen was indeed Olga, marveling to herself how gentle and considerate Tatiana had been, even at her young age, to a sick child she hadn’t as much as recognized. Meanwhile, shocked at how much her sister had changed, Tatiana burst into tears. It took a lot of comfort and reassurance from the entire family and servants to make the little girl believe that Olga would soon be normal again.
Though soon their looks and personalities made them quite different from each other, Olga and Tatiana continued to be perfect compliments of one another. Olga was the star in the classroom, grasping most concepts with remarkable ease. Tatiana counterbalanced with her love of household responsibilities, practicality and natural gift for leadership. She was clever, too, but seemed indifferent to her education and the arts. She mastered languages, painted and sang well, but without much passion; her technical skill at the piano was remarkable, but dry and academic. Olga had considerable will and stubbornness, sometimes even yelling to prove her point. Tatiana, though sure of her own opinions, was more reserved and compliant, finding arguments a waste of time and developing a way of charming, logical persuasion. Both girls loved reading. However, Olga tended to focus more on the classics while Tatiana had a tendency towards the fashionable and, perhaps, French romances.
Their appearances were compared incessantly, though they looked best together, one blonde and one dark, dressed in the identical flowing silk-and-chiffon gowns that were so fashionable then. In her early childhood, Tatiana usually surprised visitors with her concentrated little frown and a seriousness that seemed to belie her age, and thus they tended to gravitate towards the more carefree, forthright Olga. Pierre Gilliard, the girls’ tutor, recorded his first impressions of Tatiana thus: “The second girl, Tatiana, was eight and a half. She had auburn hair and was prettier than her sister, but gave one the impression of being less transparent, frank, and spontaneous.” However, as she blossomed into a tall, slender, graceful girl, elegant of bearing and exotic of features, Tatiana came to be seen as undeniably the prettiest of the Romanov sisters. She was taller even than the Empress, but so well-proportioned that her height was not remarkable. Her features were finely drawn and delicate, recalling pictures of ancestresses who had been famous beauties. Her dark hair was contrasted by a fair complexion, and her eyes were so deep gray that in the evenings, they looked almost black. This gave her a very romantic look, and most men were haunted by her.
Lili Dehn, a close friend of the Tsar and Tsarina, remembers Tatiana as having a “cameo-like profile… A lovely rose maiden, fragile and pure as a flower.”
Tatiana was deeply religious, devout like her mother and very diligent about her Bible studies. She believed faithfully in Rasputin’s prophetic gift and miracles, keeping a notebook where she recorded some of his maxims. She took a great interest in theology and from an early age pondered the eternal struggle between Good and Evil. Also, among the topics she discussed with her mother was Man’s Destiny on Earth. Her abstract thinking skills were developed starting from the early years of childhood, and by her morals she often came across as being older than she really was.
If Empress Alexandra made any difference between her children, Tatiana was her favorite. She was definitely most like her mother in her highly poetic, religious ideals, and her love of detail and organizing. Unlike Olga, she never complained when asked to do a chore for her parents, being completely unselfish and always ready to give up her own plans to go for a walk with her father, to read to her mother, or do anything else that was needed. She planned and managed everything in the children’s quarters, earning the playful nickname of “Governess” from her siblings, and it was she that took care of her little brother and sisters, making sure that none of them fall or hurt themselves, scolding them if they were naughty. When her little brother was ill, Tatiana often took Alexandra Feodorovna’s place at his bedside, following the doctor’s directions diligently and playing with the sick boy for hours. Often, she was jokingly called Aleksei’s second mother. In her diary, she leaves us further evidence of her tender care for him: “Yesterday night before going to bed Olya and I decided to find out if Aleksei was sleeping. It turned out that he was not. To amuse him we began to sing songs with him. We sang “From Manglisse to Tiflisse” and others… Then he fell asleep and we left.”
More so than her sisters, Tatiana understood her mother’s personality and preferences. It was not that the other girls loved their mother any less, but it was Tatiana who knew just how to surround her with attention and who never gave in to her own capricious impulses. Due to their extremely close relationship and understanding of each other, Tatiana was usually the one who was chosen to ask for difficult favors from her mother. Gleb Botkin, a family friend (in fact, the son of the family doctor who would selflessly follow the Tsar into exile and execution) recalls that “Grand Duchess Tatiana resembled her mother most, except that she was more cheerful.” It was often evident, too, that it was Tatiana who enjoyed being in her mother’s presence most of all the children.
A touching memento of Tatiana’s tender devotion to the Empress is a note she sent her once, apparently after a quarrel:
26 November – Livadia
My sweet, darling, own Mama dear,
I beg your pardon that I don’t listen to you and that I contradict you, that I am disobedient. At once I never feel anything but afterwards I feel so sad and miserable that I made you tired of telling me always to do that and so on. Please forgive me my own precious Mama darling. Really now I’ll try and be as good and as kind as I can be, else I know how disagreeable it is to you when one of your daughters don’t listen to you and behaves bad. I know it is very bad of me to be so horrid with you my dear Mama, but really, really my sweet one I will try and be as good as I can and never tire you and always listen to every word you will tell me. Forgive me deary. Write to me please a word only that you forgive me and then I can go and sleep with a clear conscience. God bless you always and wherever you go – show this letter to nobody. Kisses from your own loving, devoted, thankful and true daughter,
Like her mother, Tatiana had a great love of fashion. The palace was filled with chic fashion magazines that she ordered from all over Russia and from abroad. Clothes, jewelry, furs and perfume were of great interest to her and she was conscious of how attractive she could look in a smart dress. Though many contemporaries noted that any frock, no matter how old, looked well on her, Tatiana always dressed with style and a measure of splendor. She knew very well how to put on her clothes, noticed compliments and liked them very much. She had a special quality that set her apart as the most aristocratic of Tsar Nicholas’s daughters, and no one ever mistook her for anything other than royal. Her regal, feminine bearing added to the effect, and before she knew it she was the darling of Russian and European newspapers. Royal houses in Europe all but clamored for her, and soon it became known that the Windsors wanted to marry her to the Prince of Wales. She was too young to seriously consider the idea at the time when it first surfaced, but had she lived through 1917 she may well have become the Queen of England.
Tatiana’s moments of flirtation: Left, sitting with an officer and studying her hand. Right, watching someone play tennis with playfully admiring eyes…
Having friends was very important to Tatiana, and she eagerly sought them out. She made it a point never to forget an acquaintance — her love of writing letters and the number of people, in Russia and abroad, who remember her as a dear friend after the Revolution testify to that. However, in the realities of her life, people found it difficult to forget who she was and this often left her romantic dreams of close, devoted friendships unfulfilled. Also, meeting new people was hard, for the secret police haunted the Grand Duchesses constantly. Walking in the streets of St. Petersburg, visiting a park, or even moving within the enormous palace grounds were all complicated operations planned out in advance. Of course, most of the stress lay with the bodyguards who crawled in bushes as the Grand Duchesses frolicked nearby, and who often had to deal with the innocent pranks and teasing of sprightly young girls.
Miss Eagar, her nanny, recalls an incident which illustrates well Tatiana’s attachment and care for everyone, even the servants:
One of the under-nurses was married last year. She had come to the palace straight from her school, at seventeen years of age and was there for nearly seven years. She was naturally very much attached to the children, and when her last day came was in floods of tears all through the day, and the children were terribly distressed to see her in such grief. The little Grand Duchess Tatiana told her she could stay on if she liked, she knew we all loved her and would be sorry to part from her; and then she came running to me to beg me not to send dear Telga away. I answered that she might stay if she liked, but that she had promised to marry Vladislav; it was her own wish, and I did not think she would like to break her word.
The other girls gave a little party to celebrate her leaving us, and the young man was amongst the guests. When Tatya heard that he had arrived her grief broke forth again. She realized that the time of parting had come. The children all cried most bitterly. Little Tatiana Nikolaievna took a sheet of paper and a pencil, and wrote with great difficulty a letter which I translate:
“Vladislav, Be good with Telga.
She placed this letter in an envelope, and sent it to Vladislav by the housemaid. I went in later to speak to the man and wish him happiness. He pulled this letter out of his pocket, and with tears in his eyes begged me to thank the little Grand Duchesses, and assure her that he would never forget to be good with Telga. All the more, because it was Tatiana Nikolaievna’s wish. He always carries the letter about with him. Telga came to visit us several times after her marriage and was very happy. Whenever she writes she always sends a special message to Tatiana to say that Vladislav is very good to her, and the little one looks so pleased and says, “Well, I am glad.”
Tatiana soon gained an independent manner that set her ahead of her elder sister in public. She was very confident of herself and how she looked to others, and had a great deal of calm perseverance and balance. Out of a sense of duty, she undertook more than her share of public appearances, and her sense of compassion allowed her to recognize people’s initial unease about being in the presence of a Tsar’s daughter, so she always made a point of putting people at ease. She took more trouble about the people she met than Olga, and her natural friendliness made her want to say pleasant things to everyone. She had a lovely voice, elegant and aristocratic, and more formal than that of her sisters, making it easy for her to speak at charity or diplomatic events. Gleb Botkin remembers her as “a very energetic and active person, with what is usually called an executive mind.” “Oh, we must help poor so-and-so,” her spontaneous sister Olga would say. Tatiana, always more prudent and practical, would note names and details, and take the project to its victorious end.
Still, Tatiana liked to maintain a close and personal relationship with everyone she worked with, shrinking away from everything that appeared to her to be too formal. A family friend recalls one particular occasion:
“Once at a committee I had to address my President, the Grand Duchess Tatiana, officially, and naturally began with “May it please Your Imperial Highness.” She looked at me with astonishment, and when I sat down again beside her I was rewarded by a violent kick under the table and a whisper: “Are you crazy to speak to me like that?” In common with all the Household, I called the Emperor’s daughters, in the Russian fashion, by their names and patronymic, and she thought it quite absurdly formal for me to have given her the full title! I had to appeal to the Empress to persuade her that on official occasions it was really necessary.”
Two extremely funny stories have come out of Tatiana’s childhood appearances in public:
THE FIRST — From their childhood the Grand Duchesses were accustomed to shake hands with ladies and give their hands to be kissed by gentlemen. This chivalrous tribute appealed especially to little Tatiana, who as a child never lost an opportunity to bring herself under general notice. In the course of one of the Sovereign’s journeys through the country, the little girls were left in the train at the station whilst the Tsar and Tsarina attended a function in town. Curious to see the Imperial children, a crowd assembled in front of the carriage allotted to the nursery. Tatiana came to the window, climbed onto a footstool in order to look out, and calmly surveyed the people. At first she smiled and looked coyly at them, and then timidly put out her hand, giving it to the lady standing nearest. The lady, delighted, kissed the chubby little hand, and this served as a signal for the others to come forward; the seven-year-old Tatiana ended up giving her hand to every individual of the assembled group. The Tsar, when he heard of it from the delighted crowd, considered it a tremendously amusing event and proudly declared that his little daughter had held her first reception.
THE SECOND — Once, when the Imperial Family was visiting Moscow, the children were sent home from a review, which they had been taken to see, whilst the Emperor and his Consort went on somewhere else. The carriage was an open one, and as it was very windy the little girls had to hold on to their hats to prevent them being blown off. The Imperial equipage was recognized by the crowd, and the Grand Duchesses, holding on their hats with both hands, were bowing right and left as they had been taught to do in answer to the flourishing salutes they received. At first Tatiana was amused, and she bowed and laughed and looked delighted, but after a while she grew tired, until at last she gave up, dropped her hands, and put out her tongue at the bowing crowd. This childish outbreak was received with a delighted roar of laughter. “Just like our own children!” exclaimed some. An eye-witness declared it was a most amusing scene, vastly appreciated by the crowd.
During the First World War, Tatiana’s skill in public leadership and organization bloomed. There were few motor ambulances at the Russian front at the beginning, and for the most part transportation for the wounded was quite primitive, causing much suffering. Hearing of this, Tatiana immediately got in touch with the appropriate authorities, and before long an American ambulance service was established. She was personally involved in all of its deployment and operation, and the ambulance cars were brought to the Alexander Palace for her personal inspection.
Sophie Buxhoeveden recalls a Refugee Committee that Tatiana Nikolaievna formed for those Russians who fled the oncoming Austro-Hungarian and German armies. According to Buxhoeveden, the committee was so efficient and affected favorably so many lives that it became almost a Department of State. Members of the Duma, Imperial council and the Union of Towns belonged to it. “The young Grand Duchess took the greatest interest in it and, young though she was, had quantities of papers sent to her every day, which she went over with her mother‘s help, making notes and writing her decisions. the housing, feeding and general welfare of refugees all over Russia were in the hands of the Committee, the budget of which rose rapidly to several millions of roubles.”
Another serious problem she dealt with was the growing number of children orphaned by the war. A colony was established near Petrograd, with her help, where over ten thousand little boys and girls were cared for, all entirely at the expense of the state and the Grand Duchesses’ personal fortunes.
Tatiana also became a nurse like her mother and sister, and her uncomplaining, cheerful disposition and stunning beauty made her exceedingly popular among staff and patients. Smiling and naturally affectionate, but without loose familiarity, she was both approachable and a princess. Many of the officers she treated fell under her charm, and often, after her death, their fairy-tale affections for her continued in an even more passionate and magical way. She was well-qualified for the position not only by virtue of her looks and congenial personality, but also by her heartfelt sense of duty and cool head. She could make up her mind in an emergency quicker than most, and always remained calm and in control of the situation.
Her deep devotion to her work is seen in many diary entries, alternating between bursts of her natural optimism and trust in God, and a deep, selfless compassion for her charges:
“We are going to the hospital now. Today they are going to dress the badly-wounded; they usually cry and groan, poor things. It’s terribly painful for them…”
“It’s the first summer that we are not going to live in Peterhof. We cannot drop our work in the hospitals. It would be distressing to live there…”
(In a letter to her father) “We were working on the ice today. It was fine. Mother spent some time near us sitting in her arm-chair. We saw and heard a hundred of Escort pass by. They were singing very well. As soon as they noticed us they stopped singing, but I ordered them to go on. I played you, wasn’t that fun?!”
“After dressings in the hospital we usually sit in the balcony or in the garden and watch the wounded soldiers carried out. Yesterday evening when we were sitting there one of the wounded played the violin to us. He played wonderfully. To tell the truth I was never very fond of the violin, but I liked his playing very much. He is from the 10-th Intermanlandsky Regiment. Very handsome.”
As the revolution and imprisonment struck unkindly upon Tatiana’s world, she was affected suddenly and cruelly by it, falling ill with the measles and becoming fragile, withdrawn much like her elder sister. However, she recovered rather quickly, seeing the torment of her mother and father, the fear of her sisters and little brother. Once again, it was her devotion to the people she loved, and to human kind in general, that became her guiding force. She became in inspiration to her family, maintaining her regal bearing and her sensitivity towards everyone around her. Beautiful and congenial as always, she chatted with some of the soldiers that guarded her family in house arrest, and became the most well-liked of her sisters among the guards in Siberia. Under her guidance, she and her sisters steadily sewed jewels into their clothing — corsets, hats and even buttons — by the light of a candle at night, to save the from the commissars. In a letter to a friend only a few months before her death, we see bursts of humor:
“Another time I was going down the hill backwards and banged the back of my head really hard against the ice. I thought nothing would be left of the hill, but it turned out that neither the hill nor my head burst. My head didn’t even hurt. I’ve got a hard head, don’t I? Eh?”
The last recorded image of her is heart wrenching. During her departure to Ekaterinburg, where she and her family would meet their unfair, untimely, tragic deaths, her tutor Gilliard watched her and wrote down these lines:
“Tatiana Nikolaievna came last, carrying her little dog and struggling to drag a heavy brown valise. It was raining, and I saw her feet sink into the mud at every step. Nagorny [her little brother Aleksei’s sailor nanny] tried to come to her assistance; he was roughly pushed back by one of the commissars.”
And of course, we have the last words she wrote herself. Handwritten on the last page of what should not have been her last notebook, they could be her own, or they could be something she had read, or a sermon she had heard. But whatever they are, they express the nature, the humility and strength of this very religious girl.
God’s Blessing And His Words Upon Us.
Why, seeing an orthodox cemetery, do we begin to feel dull at heart?
Because life on earth is bustle, we’ve never striven against the desires,
We’ve served our flesh and have cared for idle comfort, in spite and slander.
And why, standing by the shrine of pious people, do we feel contented?
Because their life was sacrifice; as Christ suffered and after His suffering
There was Easter.
Thus a pious person endures spite and persecution.
~ Tatiana Nikolaievna Romanova