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Project 1917 is a series of events that took place a hundred years ago as described by those involved. It is composed only of diaries, letters, memoirs, newspapers and other documents

The Emperor now walked in the Park every day, and each time he returned greatly depressed at some fresh mark of disrespect.

“But,” he said, “it’s very foolish to think that this behaviour can affect my soul—how petty of them to seek to humiliate me by calling me ‘Colonel’... after all, it’s a very worthy appellation.”

The Empress was a tragic figure, and, in her invariable Red Cross uniform, she symbolised Pity, in a world which knew not the meaning of the word. Every hour that I knew her, I loved her more. One day, Kotzebue told me that Titi was ill; in fact, very ill, but I did not like to agitate the Empress until Kotzebue came to ask her to permit me to go with him and telephone from the basement of the Palace.

She was greatly distressed to hear that her godson was ill, and equally concerned at not having been told before.

“My poor girl, what you must have suffered!” she said.

Kotzebue and I descended into the basement: two soldiers guarded the telephone, and I was informed that I could only be allowed five minutes’ conversation.

“How is the child?” was my first question.

“Very ill, Madame,’’ answered my maid.

“Please, please bring him to the ‘phone.” I waited impatiently, and then a little feeble voice whispered:

“Maman… c’est vraiment toi! quand viendras-tu?” At that moment a soldier interposed. ‘

“Your five minutes is up!”

I returned to the Empress, almost heartbroken, but I endeavoured to appear cheerful. The interminable day wore away, evening fell, and I assisted at what had now become a sort of nightly routine. Every evening the Emperor wheeled the Empress in her invalid-chair across the Palace in order to visit the suite. It was a melancholy pilgrimage. She first stopped to talk with the Benckendorffs, and afterwards passed from group to group of her faithful adherents, taking Anna’s room on the way back—Anna, so to speak, representing the last word in dejection, as she was ever full of terrors and presentiments. That night I was glad to seek refuge in the red drawing-room and find myself alone, and able to indulge in what is described as “a good cry.”

As I left the mauve boudoir, the Emperor and the Empress kissed me, and made the Sign of the Cross. I felt instinctively that they loved me, and were sorry for me. A bright fire was burning in the red drawing room, but I did not undress—I sat in front of the fire thinking of Titi. Yet even the knowledge that my son was seriously ill did not suffice to make me feel that my place was not here. I knew in my soul that the Empress came first, and would always be first where my duty was in question. I was well aware that I might never see my husband or my child again… but I knew that I should follow the Imperial Family wherever Destiny might beckon me. I confess I had my moments of weakness, when I longed for the security of home, and the peaceful existence which had hitherto been mine. Tonight I felt more than usually despondent. The fire burnt low, and I sought to read the future in the red embers, just as I had done at Revovka in the long ago. Suddenly I heard the door of the salon open very softly, and a line of light pierced the darkness… someone was coming in! I turned quickly to face the person who dared intrude upon the privacy of the apartments occupied by the Imperial Family… Was it some fresh assumption of power on the part of the Revolutionaries? But my visitor was no emissary of the Revolution —the slender figure standing in the doorway was that of the Empress. She looked more than usually fragile… she breathed with difficulty, her face was pale with fatigue, and, when I remembered the arduous ascent of the stairs, I was terrified lest a heart attack would ensue.

“Madame, Madame,’’ I cried, “is anything amiss? Are you in danger?”

“Hush, Lili,’’ said the Empress. “The Emperor and I are quite safe. But I couldn’t rest without coming to see you. I know all about Titi, I quite realise what you feel.” She took me in her arms just as a tender mother might have done, and she soothed me and caressed me. “My poor, dear child,” she said. “Only God can help you. Trust in Him as I do, Lili.”

We mingled our tears, and she stayed with me for some considerable time. It was a strange scene, but I wish that those who revile the memory of the Empress could have seen her then, and experienced the pity, love and understanding which were so essentially her prerogatives. She strengthened and consoled me as no other could have done, and her last words of comfort before she left me were:

“Perhaps they’ll let us bring Titi from Petrograd to the Red Cross Hospital opposite the Palace, then you could always see him through one of the windows.”

The Empress has aged and become very thin these past few days. She's been sitting in complete silence and no one has dared touch upon recent events.

One day my cousin, Kotzebue, told me that an English gentleman, Mr. A. Stopford, a friend of the Grand Duchess Marie Paul, was desirous of being of use to the Empress. He had, it appeared, a cult for the Imperial Family, and, as he was about to return to England, he asked Kotzebue whether the Empress would not like to send some letters by him to her relations. I told the Empress at once. It seemed such a wonderful chance… Her first cousin, King George V, and his devoted consort, would surely welcome news from the Imperial Family!

The Empress was deeply touched by Mr. Stopford's offer.

“l’ll think about it, Lili,” she said. But the next day she told me that she had decided not to communicate with King George and the Queen.

“I can't write. What can I say? I’m too hurt and wounded by my country's behaviour… But even with this I can't speak against Russia… Besides, the Emperor is more worried than ever; he is so fearful that his abdication, and the unrest, may spoil the Great Offensive… No... we can't communicate with our cousins.”

Both the Emperor and the Empress constantly referred to England. The first idea of the Duma liad been to induce the Imperial Family to go to England, but certain powers there were antagonistic to the proposition, as it was considered likely to be unfavourably received by the Labour Party. But those who were fearful of sheltering a defenceless family, whose only crime consisted in being defenceless, need have had no apprehensions. The Emperor and the Empress did not wish to leave Russia.

“I’d rather go to the uttermost ends of Siberia,” said the Emperor.

Neither he nor the Empress could face the prospect of wandering about the Continent, and living at Swiss hotels as ex-Royalties, snapshotted and paragraphed by representatives of the picture papers, and interviewed by amazing American journalists. Their retiring spirits shrank from cheap publicity; they considered that it was the duty of every Russian to stand by Russia, and face the common danger together.

Apart from their personal disinclination to go to England, the Soviets were opposed to the suggestion, and it was stated that, if any train left Tsarkoe with the Imperial fugitives, it would be stopped, and everyone murdered, as the Emperor knew too much to be allowed to leave Russia.

The Emperor brought me the newspaper which contained this statement. He was in a terrible rage. . . . He could scarcely contain himself, and he almost threw the paper at me.

“Read this, Lili,” he exclaimed, his face white with passion. “Beasts! How dare they say such things… They judge others by themselves!”

“Oh, Your Majesty!” I answered, greatly troubled, “please don’t read these horrible papers.”

“I must, I must, Lili. I feel that I must know all,” said the Emperor.

Occasionally he was in better spirits, and more like his old cheerful self. The Emperor was generally able to see the humour of any situation, and he would sometimes laugh at the idea of being, what he called, “an Ex.” Everything was then “Ex.”

“Don’t call me an Empress any more — I’m only an Ex,” laughed the Empress; and one day, when some especially unpalatable ham was served at lunch, the Emperor remarked,

“Well, this may have once been ham, but now it’s nothing but an ‘ex-ham.’”

He was always amused by the likeness between him and his cousin. King George. One day he showed me a photograph of the latter, saying,

“Have you seen my last photograph, Lili? Doesn’t it flatter me?”

He had a great admiration for his cousin, and the Empress often spoke of Queen Alexandra, ‘... her beauty, her sympathetic nature, and her boundless charity. “I would so much like to see my married sister in England,” she invariably added, whenever she discussed her family. “Darmstadt is only a little spot in the garden of my memories,” she would say, “but my mother died there, so I can’t really be blamed for liking Darmstadt… Isn’t ‘Home sweet Home ‘ typically English?”

“None of my daughters shall marry German Princes,” she said on one occasion. It was suggested that Anastasie’s future home might be in England, and the Empress welcomed the idea. ... An English marriage would have been very near her heart. But “I’homme propose, et Dieu dispose.” If Russia had not betrayed herself, or if she had remained as solidly united as France, nothing would ever have been heard of the pro- Germanism attributed to the Empress. She was essentially English—English in her dress, her personal habits, her absolutely Victorian outlook; some of her ideas respecting a manage were akin to those of the Hausfrau, but even these were English, as domesticity has always been a British attribute.

Burned letters together with Lily. Dined with Nicholas, Alexei and Olga in the playing room. Went to Annushka’s and spent some time there together with everyone else. The commandant reads all our correspondence, while all our parcels undergo thorough checks, along with everything else.

Life at first went on much as usual after the Emperor's return: he always insisted upon reading the daily papers, but the filth of the gutter press sickened and pained him. One evening I happened to come into the library where the Emperor was reading a newspaper: his expression showed that something had seriously displeased him. See more

Мария Николаевна первой из незамужних великих княжон спала на собственной «настоящей» кровати: Она так расхворалась, что с узкой походной кровати мы переложили Ее на более удобную постель. Ее Величество очень умело выполняла обязанности сиделки; особенно ловко, в считанные минуты, Она меняла постельное и нательное белье, не причиняя никакого беспокойства пациентам. Когда я вслух высказала свое удивление, Ее Величество сказала совсем просто:

— Делать полезные вещи Я научилась в Англии... Я не забыла, чем Я обязана своему английскому воспитанию.

All was silent, save for the footsteps of the “Red” sentry as he passed and repassed up and down the corridor. At first the Revolutionaries had celebrated their sojourn in a Palace by singing seditious and obscene songs, but little by little these had ceased… the soldiers slept. My mind reverted constantly to the sick girls and to their brother, who, happily, unlike them, did not share their apprehensions. What a contrast this night presented to the quiet, happy nights of long ago! I confess it was difficult to see the hand of God in this—to me — unnecessary suffering, and to accept all in the spirit of humility which the Empress manifested. At seven o'clock the Empress told me I had better return to the red drawing-room, so I gathered my bedclothes together and slipped unperceived and unheard up the staircase.

On the morning of Thursday, March 9th, the Empress came into the Grand Duchesses 'bedroom; she was agitated and anxious, as she had been informed that the Emperor would arrive at the Palace between eleven and twelve. I went with her to see the Tsarevitch, and we sat by his bed talking to him. The little boy was very excited, and he kept on looking at his watch, and counting the seconds which must pass before his father's arrival. Presently we heard the sound of an automobile, and Volkoff entered. The faithful servant had refused to accept the fact of the Emperor's abdication, and, in a manner worthy of Imperial traditions, he announced:

“His Majesty The Emperor!”

The Empress sprang from her chair, and ran out of the room. I, too, rose. The meeting between the reunited family must not, surely, be witnessed by any outsider! But the Tsarevitch seized my hand.

“No, no, Lili, you're not to leave me,” he insisted, so I sat down by him for five minutes, and eventually I managed to slip away and take refuge in Anna's room— where I remained until after lunch, when I was summoned to the Imperial presence. Following my instructions, I went into the Grand Duchesses' room; the Empress was not there. Suddenly I heard the sound of footsteps. I knew to whom they belonged—but they were no longer the footsteps of a confident and happy man. They sounded as if the person who was advancing was very, very tired. I trembled from head to foot—I dared not at first raise my eyes. When I did so, I encountered the tragic, weary eyes of the Emperor. He advanced to where I was standing, and took my hands in his, saying, very simply:

“Thank you, Lili, for all you have done for us… and I?... what have I done for you? Absolutely nothing! Why, I have not even kept Dehn near you.”

“Your Majesty,” I answered, now unable to speak without crying… “it is for me to thank you for the privilege of being allowed to remain with you.”

As we went into the red salon, and the light fell on the Emperor's face, I started. In the darkened bedroom I could not see clearly, but I now realised how greatly he had altered. The Emperor was deathly pale, his face was covered with innumerable wrinkles, his hair was quite grey at the temples, and blue shadows encircled his eyes. He looked like an old man; the Emperor smiled sadly when he saw my horrified expression, and he was about to speak, when the Empress joined us; he then tried to appear the light-hearted husband and father of the happy years; he sat with us and chatted on trivial matters, but I could see that he was inwardly ill at ease, and at last the effort was too much for him.

“I think I'll go for a walk—walking always does me good,” he said.

We passed through the corridors to Anna's apartments, where the Emperor left us, and went downstairs. The Empress and I entered the bedroom, and stood by one of the windows which looked out over the Park. Anna was very excited; she kept talking and crying, but we had eyes only for the Emperor, who by this time was outside the Palace. He walked briskly towards the Grande Allee, but suddenly a sentinel appeared from nowhere, so to speak, and intimated to the Emperor that he was not allowed to go in that direction. The Emperor made a nervous movement with his hand, but he obeyed, and retraced his steps; but the same thing occurred — another sentinel barred his passage, and an officer told the Emperor that, as he was now to all intents and purposes a prisoner, his exercise must be of the prison-yard description!... We watched the beloved figure turn the corner… his steps flagged, his head was bent, his whole aspect was significant of utter dejection; his spirit seemed completely broken. I do not think that until this moment we had realised the crushing grip of the Revolution, nor what it signified. But it was brought home to us most forcibly when we saw the passage of the Lord of All the Russias, the Emperor whose domains extended over millions of miles, now restricted to a few yards in his own Park. The Empress said nothing, but I felt her hand grasp mine; it was, for her, an agonizing experience. After an interval, she spoke...

“We'll go back to the children, Lili; at any rate we can be together there.”

The Grand Duchesses were delighted to know that their father had returned, and I think the knowledge of his safety acted on them hke a tonic. Poor Marie, who had so longed to be the first to welcome the Emperor, was now delirious, with intervals of consciousness. When I entered her room, she recognised me.

“Well, Lili, where have you been?” she exclaimed. “I’ve been waiting and waiting for you. Papa is really here isn’t he?”

The next moment she was back in the fantastic and terrible kingdom of fever.

“Crowds of people… dreadful people… they’re coming to kill Mamma!! Why are they doing these things?”

Alas, poor child, others have since asked the same question.

That day the Emperor and the Empress dined and spent the evening together. The Empress told me afterwards that the Emperor lost his self-control when he was alone with her in the mauve boudoir; he wept bitterly. It was excessively difficult for her to console him, and to assure him that the husband and father was of more value in her eyes than the Emperor whose throne she had shared.

I cannot say that the Revolutionaries treated us with excessive discourtesy, but some of their methods were reprehensible. For instance, when certain complications ensued with Marie, it became necessary to have another medical opinion. This request was at first refused, but afterwards the authorities agreed, on condition that an officer and two soldiers were present at the medical examination! Colonel Kotzebue, the first Revolu tionary commandant, had formerly been an officer in the Lancers, and, as he was a distant cousin of mine, I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw him in this official capacity, and I asked him to come and talk to me in Anna’s room, as I considered he owed our family some explanation of his conduct.

“I can’t imagine why I was nominated for the post,” said Kotzebue. “All I can tell you, Lili, is that I was awakened in the middle of the night, and told to report myself at Tsarkoe Selo. Will you assure Their Majesties that there is nothing I will not try and do for them. This is really the happiest moment of my life, since it enables me to be of service to them.’’

When the Empress sent for me on the morning of March 10th, I found her lying on the couch in her boudoir. The Emperor was with her; she motioned me to come and sit beside her, and the Emperor talked to us. He first described an incident which had impressed him most strongly that very morning. See more

My time was now fully occupied. The Grand Duchess Marie was seriously ill, and I relieved the Empress in nursing her… I had taken upon myself the task, formerly performed by the Empress, of sponging poor Marie’s body, and, when the child was conscious, she liked me to brush and comb her lovely hair, which became sadly tangled as she tossed to and fro in her delirium. Marie was the first unmarried Grand Duchess to sleep on a "real" bed of her own, but, as she was so ill, we moved her from the narrow camp-bed to a more comfortable resting-place. The Empress was a skilful nurse; she was especially expert in changing sheets and nightclothes in a few minutes without disturbing the patients. When I showed my surprise, she said quite simply:

"I learnt to do useful things in England... I’ve never forgotten what I owe to my English upbringing."

One awful day a lorry full of soldiers, in charge of an excessively ill-favoured officer, arrived at the Palace. Kotzebue interviewed him.

“I’ve come to fetch the Emperor,” said the officer, with an unprintable oath.“He's going to be imprisoned in ‘Peter and Paul’.”

“You cannot remove the Emperor,” answered Kotzebue. “I am commandant here. I refuse to give up the Emperor at your orders.”

“Ah… ah… I knew it,” shouted the officer. “The Emperor has fled!... we were told so in Petrograd. Let's search the Palace.”

Kotzebue almost came to blows with the man.

“I tell you the Emperor is here… I'll prove it.”

He then sent for Count Benckendorff and told him to ask the Emperor to pass through the corridor whilst the soldiers were looking. In a few moments the Emperor came slowly down the corridor… the officer rushed threateningly towards him, but Kotzebue restrained him, saying,

“Well, you , now you've seen the Emperor. Go back to the Soviet, tell them he's still here, and don't come again on a fool's errand.”

Age: 31


in Petrograd
in Moscow