found herself pregnant once again in the autumn of 1900. It was not
the best of times, Nicky laid terribly ill with typhoid fever. Thought
to be near death the question of succession now weighed heavily on
the Imperial Couple's minds. Though she had given birth to three charming
girls, the Empress had yet to fulfill her one true duty, to provide
the Emperor's Heir. On the insistence of a French Soul Doctor named
Phillipe, Alix was convinced that the child she carried was a boy.
In the early summer of 1901 the family was on schedule with their
travels, and were living in Peterhof. Here one of the most famous
names in history was born.
At about 3 o'clock in the morning, Alix started to have strong pains.
At 4 o'clock I got up, went to my room and dressed. At exactly 6
o'clock in the morning a little daughter -Anastasia- was born. Everything
went off splendidly, quite quickly and thank God without complications!
Thanks to the fact that it all began and ended while everyone was
still asleep, we both had a feeling of calm and solitude! After
that I sat down to write telegrams to relatives and friends in various
parts of the world. At 11 o'clock Yanyshev said prayers. At 3 o'clock
there was a Te Deum at our church. Mama arrived from Gatchina. Went
for a short walk. After tea, Mama left. Luckily Alix felt quite
cheerful. The little one weighs 11½ pounds and measures 55
centimeters. Went to bed early.
~Nicky's Diary, Peterhof, 5 June~
Alix feels splendid - but my God!
What a disappointment! ... a fourth girl! They have named her
Anastasia. Mama sent me a telegram about it, and writes, "Alix
has again given birth to a daughter!"
~Xenia's Diary, Sevastopol, 5 June~
The new born Grand Duchess Anastasia
entered this world at 6 in the morning, the birth was normal and
lasted three hours, the baby is quite big. Forgive us Lord, if
we all felt disappointment instead of joy; we were so hoping for
a boy, and it's a fourthdaughter.
~KR's Diary, Strelna, 6 June~
Just as Olga and Tatiana were
tenderly devoted to each other, Maria and Anastasia were best friends
beyond compare. Since she was a toddler Nastas used her influence
over Marie's good nature. The youngest's dominant personality shone
through and grasped Mashka. Their
room in Tsarskoe Selo just happened to be directly above the Empress's
reception room. Both girls would wait, quietly listening, until
the Empress brought in a guest, then, they blasted their phonograph
as loud as the music would play. They bounced on their camp beds
and all over the floor, dancing and shrieking, and generally just
making as much noise as possible.
was fearless and courageous, always full of energy. She was naturally
an actress and played her audience with ease. In
many ways Shvibz was like her Grandmama the Empress Mother. Both
were, as children, lively and mischievous.
Being the fourth
daughter, it was natural to feel lost in the shuffle, so she developed
her own sarcastic humour that gave her the attention she desired.
She was the clown, always able to make others laugh and was notorious
for her mischief. Ana once hid underneath the table once at a State
Dinner Party, only to be escorted out and scolded by her father.
It didn't matter to her who was in audience, Shvibz made faces and
pulled pranks with the best of them. Usually it was the Tsar coming
to get his daughter out of trouble..
She was an admirable
mimic and quickly picked up the weaknesses of those around her.
Those in her company had to always be prepared for her questions,
which sprang to her mind the instant her curiosity was aroused.
One was never sure what to expect in Anastasia Nicolaievna's presence.
When she laughed she would never make direct eye contact with the
subject of her laughter, instead she would peer out of the corner
of her deeply set blue eyes.
My favorite goddaughter
was she indeed! I liked her fearlessness. She never whimpered or
cried, even when hurt. She was a fearful tomboy. Goodness only knows
which of the young cousins had taught her how to climb trees, but
them she did, even when she was quite small. It was not generally
known that she had a weak back and the doctors ordered massage.
Anastasia or "Shvibzik," as I used to call her, hated
what she labeled "fuss." A hospital nurse, Tatiana Gromova,
used to come to the palace twice a week, and my naughty little niece
would hide in a cupboard or under her bed, just to put off the massage
by another five minutes or so. I suppose the doctors were right
about the defective muscle, but nobody, seeing Anastasia at play,
would have believed it, so quick and energetic was she. And what
a bundle of mischief!
But she was a
Shvibzik indeed. As she grew older, she developed a gift for mimicy.
Ladies who came to see my sister-in-law never knew that somewhere
unseen in the background, their Empress's youngest daughter was
watching every movement of theirs, every peculiarity, and later
it would all come out when we were by ourselves. That art of Anastasia's
was not really encouraged, but oh the fun we had when we heard duplicated
the fat Countess Kutuzova, one of my mother's ladies-in-waiting,
complaining of a heart attack brought on by the appearance of a
mouse. Very naughty of Anastasia, but she was certainly brilliant
~Olga Alexandrovna's Memoirs~
This one, also
nicknamed Malenkaya (Little One) by her father, was proud, stubborn,
and had a particular weak spot in her height. She was a tomboy who
rarely cried. Once her Aunt Olga slapped her across the face as
Ana was teasing so harshly. Shvibz turned bright red, but she ran
silently out of the room. One day her jokes went too far, she rolled
a stone up into a snowball and threw it at her sister Tatiana. The
snowball hit Tanya in the face, and the shocked Grand Duchess fell
to the ground. Tears finally sprang from Nastasia's eyes, and a
hard lesson on thinking before acting was learned that day.
very roguish and almost a wag. She had a strong sense of humour
and the darts of her wit often found sensitive spots. She was rather
an enfant terrible, although this fault tended to correct itself
with age. She was extremely idle, though with the idleness of a
gifted child. Her French accent was excellent, and she acted scenes
from comedy with remarkable talent. She was so lively, and her gaiety
so infectious, that several members of the suite had fallen into
the way of calling her 'Sunshine,' the nickname her mother had been
given at the English Court.
~Pierre Gilliard's Memoirs~
The imperial party
arrived a few moments after we had taken our seats - the Empress
Mother, the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, and trooping after her,
not only the two older daughters, Olga and
Tatiana, but the younger pair, Maria and Anastasia. It was the first
time I had seen any of the four. The two older ones were in simple
white, each with a single string of small pearls, and with their
heavy dark hair hanging over their shoulders looked very girlish
and sweet. Olga carried a little bunch of violets, and Maria and
the ten-year-old Anastasia had boxes of silver-wrapped chocolates.
The two ladies bowed to us and Anastasia sat down nearest me and
gave me a demure little smile as she set her box of chocolates on
the railing between us. I went in to my seat before the bell, and
in the box a curious thing happened which has a particular niche
in my memory gallery. The imperial party had retired to a reception
room in the ream for the intermission, and the Empress Mother and
the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna were not yet in evidence, only
the two youngest daughters were in the box. Anastasia's chair next
to the railing was close to mine. She was not a beautiful child,
but there was something frank and winning about her. Her hair was
drawn back in a one-sided whorl, perhaps to hide a small scar whose
edge I fancied I saw under its dark loop. On the flat railing sat
the now depleted box of chocolates and her white gloves were sadly
smudged. She shyly held out the box to me, and I took one. Music
behind the curtain was playing in a very low key, and she began
to hum the air softly to herself. It was a haunting air, with a
minor strain suggestive of the Volga Boat Song.
that song you are humming?" I asked.
she said, "It is an old song about a little girl who had lost
The music faded
out then, the people were crowding in from the foyer, and she was
biting into another chocolate. The white gloves were now quite hopeless.
There were many
more songs to come, songs of love and of battle, some sung by the
Tsar's own choir from the chapel at Tsarskoe Selo, some by famous
prima donnas, all cheered to the echo. But the odd little strain
went weaving through them all. When I went to sleep that night it
was humming away tantalizingly in my head.
~Hallie Rives recalling her 1911 visit to St.
I have just finished
a lesson with Olga Nicolaievna; by myself again, I am expecting
her sister Tatiana. The door opens and instead I see a very small
girl coming towards me. She is carrying under her arm a big picture-book,
which she ceremoniously put down on the table in front of me; then
she gives me her hand and says in Russian: "I would like to
learn French too." And without waiting for my answer, she climbs
on to a chair, kneels on it, opens her book, and asks me, putting
her tiny forefinger on a huge elephant: "What's this called
in French?" Then I am confronted with a whole succession of
lions, tigers, and well, almost all the creatures in the Ark. I
join her in the game, very pleased with her great seriousness about
this first lesson. Then the door opens again, and this time Tatiana
comes in. The little girl, whose finger has just lighted on the
boaconstrictor, claps the picture-book shut and jumps up. She holds
out her hand to me once more, and in a very low voice says: "I'll
come again tomorrow." Then she runs out of the room, clasping
the book to her chest.
This was how
I first made the acquaintance of Anastasia Nicolaievna, who was
then four and a half. I need hardly say that no lesson took place
on the next day.
During the following
months I saw more and more of her. She would come running into the
schoolroom as soon as she knew I was alone, and would tell me all
about the important happenings in her life. She had a child's picturesque
turn of phrase, and the melodious Russian gave her voice a soft, almost
wheedling note. Sometimes she even got me to let her sit and listen
when I was teaching one of the older girls. She would sit on the carpet
for preference, and watch every-thing in devout silence, for she knew
that at the first interruption she would be banished from the schoolroom--which
at that time she evidently regarded as a sort of forbidden paradise.
But these good intentions were seldom strong enough to resist the
terrible temptation of making a voyage of discovery under the desk,
and such adventures usually ended with a humiliating expulsion from
the room, causing a flood of tears.
years passed, and in 1910 Anastasia became my pupil. She was then
eight and a half, and I have seldom seen such zeal for learning in
a girl of that age. She had a remarkable memory and made amazingly
good progress. It was like a game to her to learn by heart anything
she wanted; and as she had an excellent French accent, she recited
it very successfully, whether prose or poetry. Grammar, alas, was
never her strong point, even in Russian, and disaster occurred when
we came to participles. Facing this difficult part of speech, she
developed the instinctive fear of a young colt with which one is trying
to jump a fence it thinks too high. Again and again I led her up to
the obstacle, but every time at the last moment she shied back.
In the autumn of
1913 I was appointed house-tutor to the Tsarevich and moved over into
the palace. About this time I noticed that Anastasia's zeal for learning
was less and less in evidence; in fact she became distinctly lazy.
My colleagues and I were in despair, for till then we had always been
very satisfied with her. I tried in vain to fight against the pronounced
indifference she showed during the lessons, but it only turned them
into tearful scenes without producing any results: right to the end
she remained a lazy pupil. This did not in the least spoil our good
relations, however, and since I had got to know her as a very little
girl, I was on more familiar terms with her than with her sisters.
Because of her age she was much closer to her brother, and was far
more interested than her elder sisters in his life and even in mine.
She would come running into my study just to get a "yes"
or "no" in answer to a question she wanted to ask me. Sometimes
she came to me with scarlet cheeks, trembling with emotion, to tell
me in her comical French about all the little upsets of her life.
Often, too, there was great joy she wanted to share with somebody
at once and couldn't keep it to herself a moment longer.
and utter simplicity were the most characteristic qualities of Anastasia
Nicolaievna. As a small child she was very mischievous, spotting
at once the comical traits in people's characters and afterwards
imitating them very skillfully, so that it was irresistibly funny.
But as she grew older, this rather irreverent habit became less
I never noticed
in her the smallest trace of mawkishness or dreamy melancholy, not
even at the age when girls fall a prey to such tendencies. She was
the imp of the whole house, and the glummest faces would always brighten
in her presence, for it was impossible to resist her jokes and nonsense.
She was very boisterous, and sometimes a good deal too temperamental.
Every impulse, every new sensation was something she immediately had
to indulge to the full; she was aflame with life and animation. Even
at sixteen she still behaved like a headstrong young foal that has
run away from its master. In her play, in her realising her wishes,
in her schemes, in everything she did, there was the same impetuousness
and youthful enthusiasm - except, alas, in her lessons. I have mentioned
that when she was younger this failing caused many scenes. When I
rebuked her then, I felt she positively hated me, and her eyes went
quite dark; but her rage vanished as quickly as it had come. A quarter
of an hour later all was forgotten, and happy smile would appear on
her cheeks, where the tears were still drying. She took calmly any
punishment she felt was justified, but was deeply injured by any unfairness,
and fought against it with every fibre of her being. For all her weaknesses
you were bound to love this child, because you could not escape from
her irresistible charm, made up of freshness, enjoyment of life, ingenuousness
~Pierre Gilliard's Memoirs~