Countess Natalya Sergeyevna Brasova

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This was originally written on 18 June and 2 July 2015, and scheduled for 16 April 2016. I opted not to use it for that year’s Blogging from A to Z because it seemed too much a repeat of my post about Grand Duke Mikhail and focused too much on Natalya’s relationships instead of her life as a whole. Regardless, I put too much work into it to keep it gathering cobwebs in my drafts folder!


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Countess Natalya Sergeyevna Brasova (née Sheremetyevskaya, formerly Mamontova and Vulfert), 27 June 1880–26 January 1952

Countess Natalya Sergeyevna Brasova was Grand Duke Mikhail’s wife. It was her third marriage, and his first and only marriage. This was a woman like Yoko Ono or Natacha Rambova, someone most people either strongly love or hate. There aren’t too many people taking a more balanced opinion. I personally lean more towards sympathy.

Natalya was the third of three daughters born to Sergey Aleksandrovich and Yuliya Vladislavovna, a bourgeois Muscovite couple. Her older sisters were Olga and Vera. Theirs was an intellectual home, full of serious conversations about world events, literature, art, music, social movements, all the things which were judged too heavy for Imperial society to discuss. All three sisters received a very good education, including a live-in French governess.

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Natalya with Grand Duke Mikhail

Natalya married pianist Sergey Mamontov in 1902, and had a daughter, also named Natalya, the next June. Her daughter was called Tata, instead of the more usual Natasha. Their life was anything but domestic bliss, though, as Natalya quickly bored of his retiring nature. She loved going to parties and the homes of people just as intelligent and educated as she was, while Sergey preferred to come right home from work and not be very social. They amicably divorced in 1905, with Sergey pretending infidelity, the only reason divorce was permitted in the Russian Empire.

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Natalya and Grand Duke Mikhail with their son Georgiy

Natalya divorced Mamontov to marry Vladimir Vladimirovich Vulfert, a Blue Cuirrassier officer of Baltic–German descent. Their life in Gatchina was happy at first, but then they met Grand Duke Mikhail at a Blue Cuirassier event, and their marriage began heading for the rocks. Mikhail was instantly smitten by Natalya, and for a long time cultivated a friendship with them as a couple so as not to give away his true intentions. However, the attraction became mutual, and Vulfert eventually discovered his wife’s emotional infidelity. Things got extremely ugly, complete with domestic abuse, spousal rape, and threats to shoot Natalya or himself.

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Natalya (centre) and Grand Duke Mikhail (far left) with friends

Natalya separated from Vulfert in 1909, and she and Mikhail finally became lovers in August of that year, when Mikhail was on holiday in Denmark with his mother, the Dowager Empress. They continued seeing one another when they returned to Russia, and set up a living arrangement in Moskva. This was no small feat, since a woman couldn’t live apart from her husband without his permission. If the husband refused, the police could apprehend the wife and compel her to come home. Such a couple could live apart only after a lengthy investigation into their relationship, to determine who was at supposed fault. A wife could get a temporary permit to live alone in the interim, but she still wasn’t free to leave permanently without official permission.

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Natalya and Grand Duke Mikhail in 1912

Natalya gave birth to a boy named Georgiy in July 1910, when she was still legally married to Vulfert. She was terrified her estranged husband would take her child from her, and quite a lot of money and legal trouble was expended to not only get a divorce, but also to get a second birth certificate. The second birth certificate listed Georgiy as the “bastard” son of an unmarried woman, but at least that was better than a birth certificate claiming him as the child of a man who wasn’t his father. Mikhail had to fight his brother long and hard to get Georgiy made “legitimate,” and in 1915, he was created Count Brasov. Natalya was also created Countess Brasova.

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Following their marriage in October 1912, Mikhail was banished from Russia, and also received many other draconian punishments from his brother. Almost everyone in the Imperial Family was furious Mikhail had married a twice-divorced commoner, and some very ugly things were said about Natalya. The little family spent the next few years living in France, Switzerland, and England. Only after the outbreak of war did they get permission to come home. Mikhail was sent to the front lines as punishment for having married morganatically, but he served very bravely and got to come home a few times.

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May 1909, the first known surviving photograph of Natalya and Grand Duke Mikhail. The believed photographer is her then-husband Vulfert

Natalya escaped the new Soviet Union with her children in 1918, after Mikhail’s murder. They started a new life in England, though money was tight. The family later moved to France. Sadly, Georgiy was killed in a car accident in 1931, and Natalya died alone, in poverty, of cancer.

Miscellaneous Imperial Family photos

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Because I’ve been singularly working on finishing my alternative history in time for its 17 July release, I didn’t have any time left to put together a proper post. Instead, here are some of my photos of Russia’s Imperial Family.

1922 engagement photo of Prince Nikita Aleksandrovich (grandson of Aleksandr III) and childhood friend Countess Mariya Vorontsova-Dashkova. Their oldest son, Prince Nikita Nikitich, appears in my alternative history, as one of the five princes held as ransom by the Eichmann–Kommando in Budapest.

Tsar Ivan V, Peter the Great’s very handsome halfbrother and initial co-Tsar. Though Ivan was very severely disabled, he had a wife and five healthy daughters, and Peter was always so compassionate towards him. He never excluded him from co-ruling, even knowing it was mostly symbolic.

Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich, second surviving son of the rival Vladimirovichi branch of the family. Though he was quite the womanizer and overspender, he was also known as an excellent host, very friendly and cheerful, with gourmet foods and wines by his tables. He and his little brother Andrey were let out of Bolshevik captivity when their captor recognized Boris as the one who’d bought some of his artwork when he was a struggling artist in France.

Grand Duchess Yelizaveta Fyodorovna (née Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine), known as Ella, Empress Aleksandra’s older sister, widow of Grand Duke Sergey Aleksandrovich, in 1887. She later became a nun, and was murdered by the Bolsheviks. In comparison to her sister, she was popular from the moment she arrived in Russia.

Prince Igor Konstantinovich, who marries Grand Duchess Mariya in my alternative history. They have eleven children, ten of whom survive. Had they both lived, he would’ve been a great husband for her, since she wanted so much to marry a nice Russian soldier and have a large family. Knowing she was a hemophilia carrier, and such a sweet person, I gave them eight girls and only three boys. Their second hemophiliac son survives into adulthood and plays a very important role in capturing Hitler alive near the end of the war. Their surprise youngest child, Oleg, is the healthy son they’ve long dreamt of.

Found this among a few blurry pictures while going through my downloads to free up space on my computer, prior to reinstalling and updating my OS. I really hope that photo isn’t what it looks like!

Prince Oleg Konstantinovich, Igor’s favorite brother, said to be the most intelligent of the Konstantinovichi siblings. His death in the war in 1914 devastated their father.

Meet some of the people in my alternative history, Part I

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I ran out of time to put together a proper post for Monday, so I decided to do a quick photo post highlighting some of the real people who feature as characters in my alternative history. This is my primary writing focus these days, since it deserves all my attention.

These are some of the real-life characters I haven’t featured here yet.

Princess Yelena Petrovna, née Princess Jelena of Serbia (4 November 1884–16 October 1962), wife of Prince (né Grand Duke) Ioann Konstantinovich, daughter of King Petar I and Princess Zorka of Montenegro. Yelena studied medicine at the University of St. Petersburg, but gave this career path up after her son Vsevolod was born. Her daughter Yekaterina was the final child born in Imperial Russia.

In my alternative history, she and Ioann have two more children, Lyudmila and Kazimir, and settle back into Pavlovsk Palace. Yelena eventually returns to med school and becomes a doctor, serving as head of the women’s medical team in St. Petersburg’s Mariyinskiy Hospital during WWII.

Grand Duke Nikolay Mikhaylovich (14/26 April 1859–24 January 1919), called Bimbo, a grandson of Tsar Nicholas I. Because he and his siblings were raised in Georgia instead of St. Petersburg, they were much more progressive-minded than the rest of the family. His  traumatic experiences in the Russo–Turkish War of 1877–78 made him a lifelong pacifist.

Bimbo’s two attempts at marriage were denied, because the first woman was a direct first-cousin (forbidden by Orthodox law), and the second was a Catholic whose parents wouldn’t let her convert. Without a wife or legitimate children, he threw himself into a life of the mind, and became a venerable historian, writer, and scientist.

Like many others, he was horrified at the trajectory Nicholas II’s reign took, esp. the political influence of Empress Aleksandra and Rasputin. In response, Nicholas exiled him. Sadly, this didn’t save him from being murdered by the Bolsheviks.

In my alternative history, Aleksey makes Bimbo his second-in-command because of their shared political beliefs and love of learning.

Grand Duchess Mariya Pavlovna the Elder (née Princess Marie Alexandrine Elisabeth Eleonore of Mecklenberg–Schwerin) (14 May 1854–6 September 1920), called Miechen, the matriarch of the rival Vladimirovichi branch of the family. She had an open rivalry with both her sister-in-law, Empress Mariya Fyodorovna (later the Dowager Empress), and her niece-in-law, Empress Aleksandra.

She and her two oldest sons, Kirill and Boris, made no secret of their ambitions towards the throne. When Tsar Aleksandr III and his family survived a train accident, she lamented that such a chance would never come again.

In my alternative history, Miechen, Kirill, Boris, and their wives are sent to the Shlisselburg dungeon by Grand Duke and Regent Mikhail, and kept there until late 1940. A year later, during the siege of St. Petersburg, Aleksey takes her into his home, the Aleksandr Palace, so she won’t be alone and vulnerable during her twilight years. Whatever underhanded things she’s done and said, she’s still family.

Grand Duchess Yelena Vladimirovna (17/29 January 1882–13 March 1957), Miechen’s only daughter, and her husband Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark (22 January 1872–8 February 1938), called Greek Nicky. Due to political turmoil, they were twice exiled from Greece, and lived for a time in France.

In my alternative history, they’re very good to Aleksey while he lives in Paris and attends the Sorbonne, in spite of the bad blood between their branches of the family, and Mikhail’s outrageous behavior towards them.

Crown Princess Ingrid of Denmark (née Princess Ingrid Victoria Sofia Louise Margareta of Sweden; ultimately Queen of Denmark), 28 March 1910–7 November 2000. She loved sports, esp. tennis, skiing, and equestrianism; modernized court life; and served as official patron of Denmark’s Girl Guides.

During the Nazi occupation, she often rode her bike and pushed her baby carriage on the streets of Copenhagen, and put the flags of Denmark, Sweden, and the U.K. in the nursery window. These acts made her hugely popular. When her grandfather, King Gustav V of Sweden, demanded she stop it, she angrily told him she’d do no such thing.

In my alternative history, Ingrid invites Aleksey’s oldest niece Isidora and her husband Prince Gorm to move into Amalienborg Palace with her and Crown Prince Frederick, for safety’s sake. She also helps with rescue operations of Danish Jewry.

Grand Duchess Xenia (Kseniya) Aleksandrovna

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Grand Duchess Kseniya Aleksandrovna, 6 April 1875–20 April 1960

Grand Duchess Kseniya, usually called Xenia in English literature, was the fourth of Tsar Aleksandr III and Empress Mariya Fyodorovna’s six children. She was born at Anichkov Palace, and moved to Gatchina Palace after her parents assumed power in 1881. In the wake of her grandfather’s brutal assassination, and with the general instability of the Russian throne, Gatchina was felt to be safer than the Winter Palace. Perhaps because she had three surviving brothers and only one sister, Kseniya was a so-called “tomboy.”

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Kseniya as a toddler, with her mother

Kseniya had a passionate attachment to her first-cousin once-removed Sandro (Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhaylovich) from a young age, even though he was nine years her senior. By the time Kseniya was 15, they ardently wanted to marry, though her parents didn’t really approve of Sandro. They only came around after Sandro’s father, Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolayevich, intervened in the matter. After the engagement was finally approved, it took a long time for the marriage date to be set, which caused the couple no amount of grief. During their betrothal, they horrified Kseniya’s older brothers with their wanton passion. One time, they almost broke an Ottoman.

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Kseniya and her husband Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhaylovich (Sandro)

Kseniya and Sandro married on 6 August 1894, at Peterhof Palace, and had to spend their wedding night at Ropsha Palace. On their way there, the carriage took a nasty spill in mud, and the newlyweds arrived looking quite undignified. In his diary, Sandro recorded how unhappy he was to have to wear a very heavy silver robe and other wedding night clothes dictated by tradition. The Imperial Family’s insistence on kowtowing to rigid, archaic rules even as the 20th century approached was yet another factor keeping Russia centuries behind the modern world.

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Kseniya and Sandro at an 1894 ball

The unbridled passion Kseniya and Sandro displayed during their betrothal continued after marriage, in the form of seven children—Irina, Andrey, Fyodor, Nikita, Dmitriy, Rostislav, and Vasiliy. This was quite a thorn in the side of Kseniya’s sister-in-law Aleksandra, who could only wish she’d had six boys in a row, all of them healthy. The two sisters-in-law started out cordially, but over time, their relationship disintegrated.

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Kseniya at the 1903 17th century costume ball at the Winter Palace

Kseniya was heavily involved in charities, for causes including poor and working-class children, widows and orphans of Navy men, and tuberculoid patients. In addition to keeping busy with charity work and raising seven children, she also recorded in her diary, with growing concern, the horrifying trajectory her brother’s reign was taking. Sandro was also upset with Nicholas’s inept rule, and fruitlessly tried many times to intervene and get him to show some backbone and common sense.

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Kseniya, Sandro, and their seven children

Sandro had an affair during Kseniya’s final pregnancy, and a year later, Kseniya herself had an affair. Each admitted their infidelity, and their marriage began unraveling. They slept in separate rooms, lived separate lives, and spent much time outside of Russia. Kseniya refused to grant a divorce, though they eventually separated physically, not just emotionally. Sandro tried and failed to get Nicholas to relax the ridiculous House Laws forcing equally-ranked marriages on dynasts, though all of Sandro’s children married titled, non-royal Russian aristocrats anyway. All but firstborn Irina married without permission.

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During the cataclysm of the Great War, Kseniya became even more concerned over the direction the Russian Empire was taking, her brother’s disastrous rule, and how much influence Empress Aleksandra and Rasputin had. Her father, Aleksandr III, might’ve been extremely reactionary and responsible for many pogroms, but at least he’d kept Russia strong and out of war. Under Nicholas II and his wife, the empire fell into tatters, and the tide of revolution wasn’t nipped in the bud with necessary reforms and an appropriately strong arm.

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Kseniya and her surviving brothers as children. Mikhail is the little boy, Georgiy is standing, and Nicholas is on the right.

In 1917, Kseniya’s family fled to her Ai-Todor palace in the Crimea, where her mother and sister Olga already were. On 11 April 1919, minus Olga, they escaped the new Soviet Union on HMS Marlborough, sent by King George V. Olga escaped with her commoner second husband and their two little boys in February 1920. Though Olga and the Dowager Empress settled in Denmark, Kseniya made her home in England. Sandro settled in Paris.

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In my alternative history, Kseniya, like the Dowager Empress, isn’t shy about offering her opinions on the late Empress Aleksandra and what contributed to the dynasty’s overthrow. She also strongly disapproves of Aleksey’s unequally-ranked marriage with a morganatic princess, and how he all but throws out the Pauline Laws.

The Winter Palace

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Copyright User:Matthias Süßen

Once upon a time, long ago and worlds apart, the Winter Palace was the crowning jewel among all the palaces of Tsarist Russia. This massive edifice was the Imperial Family’s official residence, and the location of court during “the season,” October–March. All of high society and the Imperial Court would turn out for lavish, decadent, extravagant parties, balls, and other society functions. Sadly, after the October Revolution of 1917, the Reds ransacked this beautiful seat of splendour. Priceless artwork, crystal, china, books, furniture, pictures, everything was destroyed or looted.

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Malachite Room, painted by Konstantin Andreyevich Ukhtomskiy

The Winter Palace went through several incarnations, with the first built from 1711–12 for Peter the Great. He eventually bored of this small, humble abode, and the second Winter Palace was built in 1721. The third Winter Palace was finished in 1727, under the reign of the unmemorable Peter II. In 1730, under the reign of Empress Anna, the Imperial court was re-established at the Winter Palace. However, she didn’t care for the existing palace, and so commissioned a fourth Winter Palace in 1732. Construction continued under the reign of Empress Yelizaveta, and that final product became today’s Winter Palace.

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St. George’s Hall (The Great Throne Room), painted by K.A. Ukhtomskiy

This immense triumph of Imperial power has 1,500 rooms, 117 stairwells, 1,786 doors, and 1,945 windows. In Tsarist days, it was painted red, but today it’s been repainted white and jade green. It takes up prime real estate between Palace Square and the Palace Embankment, along the majestic Neva River. A massive fire broke out in 1837, and the palace was almost immediately rebuilt.

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Small Throne Room, Copyright Hajotthu

The ground floor contained mostly bureaucratic and domestic offices; the first floor (in the western wing) was for the Imperial Family; and the second floor was for high-ranking officials and senior courtiers. The eastern and northern wings were for state rooms. The palace’s four corners contained rooms for lesser members of the Imperial Family.

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Gold Drawing Room, painted by Aleksandr Kolb

The Winter Palace boasts stunning examples of architecture, beauty, splendour, and decoration including the Jordan Staircase, Malachite Room, Arabian Room, Gold Drawing Room, Great Throne Room (St. George’s Hall), Concert Hall, Nikolay Hall, Great Antechamber, Armorial Hall, Grand Cathedral, Field Marshals’ Hall (where the 1837 fire began), Small Throne Room, Military Gallery, White Hall, Rotunda, Aleksandr Hall (new after 1837), and Apollo Room.

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Concert Hall, painted by K.A. Ukhtomskiy

The Great Throne Room was the site of the First Duma’s opening in 1906, the first time commoners had been inside the palace en masse. The members of the Imperial Family in attendance thought they saw hatred in the Duma’s eyes, and couldn’t understand it. The Imperial Family were staggeringly, mind-boggingly out of touch with how the masses of ordinary Russians lived, and insisted on upholding a severely outdated autocracy and ridiculously draconian house laws even in the face of their own relatives rebelling. So many things should’ve been done differently to prevent the Revolution.

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Armorial Hall, painted by Eduard Hau

Though the Winter Palace was the official home of the sovereign and his or her family from 1732 onwards, the last Tsar who really used it as his home was Aleksandr II. After his assassination in March 1881 (on the eve of his granting a constitution), it was judged to be too unsafe for the Imperial Family. Aleksandr III (an extreme reactionary whom I hate as a Tsar but like as a family man) moved his family to Gatchina Palace. Nicholas II (whom I also hate as a Tsar but like as a person) chose the Aleksandr Palace as his family’s primary residence.

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Arabian Hall, painted by K.A. Ukhtomskiy

The last hurrah for the Winter Palace was a February 1903 17th century costume ball, in which Nicholas and Aleksandra dressed as Tsar Aleksey the Meek (another Tsar I hate) and his first wife, Mariya Ilyinichna Miloslavskaya. The photograph of the decadent celebrants in the Hermitage’s theatre was the final photograph of the entire Imperial Family together.

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Aleksandr Hall, painted by Eduard Hau

Following Bloody Sunday in January 1905, the Imperial Family used the Winter Palace even more rarely than they already did. In 1914, war was declared from the balcony, and the palace was turned into a hospital for the war wounded, rechristened the Tsesarevich Aleksey Nikolayevich Hospital.

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Garage, Copyright Tura8

In my alternative history, the Winter Palace is used as the Imperial Family’s home during part of the winter, and for celebrations like weddings, but isn’t restored as the official residence. In 1944, during the rescue of Hungarian Jewry, all the palaces are used to house the refugees.

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The Winter Palace in the 19th century, prior to being painted white and jade green